The book at the left shows my highly modified face on the front cover. It's a very personal book, so it's appropriate for my face to be there. If I was writing about Richard Nixon, chocolate cake or the Peloponnesian Wars, my face would be on the back.
Unfortunately, many authors use amateur photos with bad lighting, bad focus and distracting backgrounds. The price of a portrait shot in a professional photographer’s studio can easily be in the $300-$1,000 range, which is too steep for many writers who don’t have a big publisher to pick up the check.
Fortunately, there are good, low-cost alternatives which few authors think of—the photo studios inside retail stores such as JCPenney and Walmart (not Target or Sears anymore). Some shopping malls have portrait studios, too. While most of their business involves babies and family Christmas cards, those studios will take pictures of solitary adults, often at ridiculously low prices (typically $7.99-$65).
The photographer will be thrilled to have a subject who doesn’t vomit or require funny faces to elicit a smile.
If you’re getting one picture, choose a plain white background which can later be altered using Photoshop. Get a CD-ROM, not a bunch of wallet-sized prints.
(below) An author photo should be of the author—only. No kids or pets unless they are important to a particular book.