Goodreads Blog

Strike a Pose: Optimizing Your Goodreads Author Profile Picture

Posted by Cynthia on February 10, 2018
One of the last things writers probably think about when publishing their books is their author photo, and yet it's one of the most important things about your author brand after your name. Check the back flap of any published book and you'll likely find a headshot of the author, and you'll see a similar one used online. Readers want to find out what authors look like, if only to satisfy their own curiosity.

You don't need to hire a professional photographer to take your portrait—a cell phone camera and some good lighting will do. Here are a few tips for putting your best face forward:

The optimal size for your Goodreads Author Profile photo is 400x400 pixels. Why so square? Goodreads places images into circles in some places, like Ask the Author, so you'll want to make sure your face is in the center of the photo (like Jenny Han's is on the right), which a square image will help you accomplish.

Get ready for your close up. This is the most professional shot you can pull off by yourself, but that doesn't mean you're taking a selfie. Set up the camera a few feet away from you so that it captures you from the shoulders up, then have the timer go off after a few seconds so you can get into position. By focusing on your shoulders upwards instead of your entire body you're ensuring the image renders correctly in the places where Goodreads crops the picture.

Light up. Make sure the primary light source is shining on your face, like on Tayari Jones' picture, not from behind you, otherwise you risk being an outline. Avoid fluorescent lights as they create a sallow complexion. Gather up a few lights around your house to point in your direction from multiple angles, or set up a photoshoot outdoors when the weather is agreeable.

Take a flattering shot. The Germans have a word for this: Schokoladenseite (the Germans have a word for everything). It literally means your "chocolate side" or the side the camera likes best. Everybody has one, so ask a friend to help you find yours or just take a bunch of pictures to identify what angle works best. Experiment with different types of smiles too, from a gregarious grin to a somber smirk, whatever you think works best for your genre and brand.

Consider your background. Busy backgrounds or 'action shots' can be distracting to the observer, while a simple white background will make it appear like your picture has no frame. Find a place that provides a little dimension, like next to a tree outside, or create the right backdrop at home in front of a book shelf like Lois Lowry did here.

Dress the part. Find an outfit that matches your personality… and your writing style. A Young Adult writer might choose a colorful T-shirt while a business book author looks better in a suit and tie. Make sure your shirt doesn't clash with the background, or blends with the background to make it appear like you're a floating head.

Be selective with your props. While you might choose to incorporate your favorite pet or some other item that fits your brand (like the whimsical puppets included in Christopher Moore's picture), make sure it's not the primary focus of the picture so that the observer's eye draws to you.

Update your picture at least every three years. Perhaps you want to do this more frequently if you change your look drastically (for example, going from brunette to blond or vice versa), or haven't published in a while and need a refresh, but three years is a good rule of thumb to make sure your look stays current.

Avoid using a book as your author profile. Readers are looking up your author profile to find out about the author, not the book. While there are no rules against using the book in place of your author picture, it doesn't match the intention of the page and quite frankly, looks a little odd.

Using a pseudonym? Create a pseudo-picture! Assuming you want to stay anonymous if you write under a pen name (like Lemony Snicket on the right), you'll need a picture of anything but yourself. Perhaps you use a filter to blur the lines or create a custom brand icon. If you don't mind being recognized under the pen name, perhaps change the look slightly to align more with each brand, like Sylvia Day, whose other pen names are linked in her profile.

Black and white vs. color. Both can be used on Goodreads, so it's up to which one you like best.

Keep your images consistent across all social media. Once you decide on the right author photo, use the same one on all your social media accounts, cropping the image to the respective sizes. It helps readers immediately recognize you when they search for you and helps you maintain your author brand identity.

Browse the list of authors on Goodreadshere to see for yourself how top authors are presenting themselves.

Putting some time, thought, and effort in your image will help you present a more professional package to a potential reader. While authors might not get hounded by the paparazzi like some actors do, you'll definitely appreciate the work you put into your author photo when when a person recognizes you at your local bookstore or supermarket and asks for your autograph.

How did you select your profile picture? Tips on taking the most flattering shot? Tell us in the comments below!


Next: Marketing Tips from Self-Published Author Josiah Bancroft

You might also like: Three Things Readers Want to See from Authors on Goodreads

Goodreads Authors can subscribe to the Monthly Author Newsletter by editing their account settings. Not a Goodreads Author yet? Learn about the Goodreads Author Program here.


Comments Showing 1-20 of 20 (20 new)

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message 1: by Claire (new)

Claire Belberg I needed my profile pic in a hurry so I looked through photos I already had. The background was not ideal so I had to crop it severely! I have had good feedback about it from readers so I’m not in a hurry to change it.


message 2: by Ken (last edited Feb 14, 2018 04:27AM) (new)

Ken Cressman I used a photo I already had from a play I was in a few years ago, where I happened to be playing an author. I thought the photo conveyed just the right image I wanted to project for the books I write.


message 3: by Denitta (new)

Denitta Denitta Ward Chose this as the pic -- I write historical fiction ... and hope I look approachable. I LOVE to hear from readers!


message 4: by Kari (new)

Kari Trenten I'll admit, I was feeling shy. I had this idea of being like Blofeld in SPECTRE where all you saw were my hands stroking a cat in my lap. My cats vetoed this idea. :) Thus we have Cinnamon on my foot instead and Sage sitting in his cat carrier, pretending it's a time machine. :)


message 5: by Diana (new)

Diana Sobolewski I finally invested in a professional head shot (hair and makeup too). I explained to the photographer that I was hoping for a glamorous look because I write contemporary sexy romance. I was happy with the results. I have gotten much use out of the photo for branding with very good feedback.


message 6: by Jonah (new)

Jonah Ian Diana wrote: "I finally invested in a professional head shot (hair and makeup too). I explained to the photographer that I was hoping for a glamorous look because I write contemporary sexy romance. I was happy w..."

Well worth the investment - you look glamours and professional. Nice photo!


message 7: by Diana (new)

Diana Sobolewski Jonah wrote: "Diana wrote: "I finally invested in a professional head shot (hair and makeup too). I explained to the photographer that I was hoping for a glamorous look because I write contemporary sexy romance...."

Jonah wrote: "Diana wrote: "I finally invested in a professional head shot (hair and makeup too). I explained to the photographer that I was hoping for a glamorous look because I write contemporary sexy romance...."

Thank you for the kind words and encouragement Jonah!


message 8: by Ted (new)

Ted Bun This was a tightly cropped section from picture taken for a different project ... It need the pipe and gundog to complete the image! Shame I don't write country mysteries :-(


message 9: by Rudy (new)

Rudy Lopez I used a self-portrait pen and ink drawing with the intention of it standing out amongst common photographs and to highlight another skill I have. Unfortunately, the intense concentration of drawing a self-portrait makes for a rather serious, almost distraught, looking image. I'm working on other versions more in keeping with my mild, positive temperament.


message 10: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Shannon Rudy wrote: "I used a self-portrait pen and ink drawing with the intention of it standing out amongst common photographs and to highlight another skill I have." I think it looks cool! Two quick tips: make sure you add a few sentences to your bio, since Goodreads pulls that info into certain sections but can only do so if it's populated. Also make sure to complete the 'genres' section of your bio since Goodreads may also use that occasionally (and it helps readers quickly assess what kind of books you write!)


message 11: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara The post mentions taking your 'glamour shot' - maybe the writer doesn't know that a professional model who has glamour shots in her portfolio is showing herself in her underwear or less.


message 12: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia Shannon Clare wrote: "The post mentions taking your 'glamour shot' - maybe the writer doesn't know that a professional model who has glamour shots in her portfolio is showing herself in her underwear or less."

Oh ha! I was actually thinking of those pictures with the big hair and make-up that were popular in the early 90s... but fixed to "portraits" as to not give any authors here the wrong idea ;)


message 13: by Rudy (new)

Rudy Lopez Cynthia wrote: "Rudy wrote: "I used a self-portrait pen and ink drawing with the intention of it standing out amongst common photographs and to highlight another skill I have." I think it looks cool! Two quick tip..." Thanks Cynthia. Good tips I've acted on already. Cheers.


message 14: by Richard (last edited Feb 19, 2018 04:18PM) (new)

Richard Todd As a writer in the GOLF ⛳️ genre I made sure to mirror that theme and used a green background, a golf polo shirt, and a suitable hat to pull everything together.
Dozens of pictures were taken around my house in varying degrees of light but this was the one I chose and have used on on my book jackets.
Richard E. Todd


message 15: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara I agree that some authors show a backlit photo, or sidelit. Their face is long and their remarks may be along the lines of not expecting to connect with any readers... self-fulfilling.
Imagine you are standing in your favourite bookshop in front of a stack of your books, with a queue of readers looking for autographs. Got that in your head? Now get a photo!


message 16: by Clare (new)

Clare O'Beara Richard wrote: "As a writer in the GOLF ⛳️ genre I made sure to mirror that theme and used a green background, a golf polo shirt, and a suitable hat to pull everything together.
Dozens of pictures were taken aroun..."


Great photo Richard and extremely suitable!


message 17: by Michael (new)

Michael My author headshot is from a radio broadcast I did to promote my debut novel. I liked the color and expression (the latter a rarity since I usually don't photograph well), though I did have to crop the background to make the photo suitable. The cropping is why mine might seem slightly off-center. Those who know me might suggest my personality has seemed slightly off-center! :-)


message 18: by Pia (new)

Pia Manning Rudy wrote: "I used a self-portrait pen and ink drawing with the intention of it standing out amongst common photographs and to highlight another skill I have. Unfortunately, the intense concentration of drawin..."

But it is so very unique that you've used a self-portrait. I wish I were as talented.


message 19: by Jay (new)

Jay Sprenkle Diana wrote: I finally invested in a professional head shot

Money well spent!


message 20: by Amy Charles (new)

Amy Charles I'm new so I don't know what to do😋😘


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