January 29, 2019 § 8 Comments
My friend Erin Clark is Instagram-savvy, writes great blogs, and illustrates them with amazing photographs, most often of herself. I’m always astonished at just how terrific she looks—the photos are interestingly composed, she’s usually wearing something sexy or adventurous or high fashion, and her face and body look great. I figured it was due to great shopping/scavenging skills and nature’s gift of fabulous cheekbones.
When Erin visited me in Dubai, my husband and I took her to dinner at a restaurant in the Marina, a waterfront area with wide sidewalks and beautiful city lights. Erin wanted a photo, so we walked and wheeled along until we found a good background. My husband offered to take the shot. “Thanks but I’m good,” Erin said. I thought she’d get a couple of selfies, maybe a couple more of the two of us. Instead, she took more than fifty shots, posing like a model, tossing her hair, angling her face. A woman walked by and asked about Erin’s Instagram—clearly, there was Instagram involved—and they swapped names and posed together.
Back at my house, Erin sorted through nearly a hundred pictures, edited and filtered the best few, and posted one photo to her feed. And I realized, that’s why she looks great in every photo. She could pick the one with the best combination of light, background, facial expression, hair and body, because she had a lot to pick from. Smile not great in that one? Toss it. Hair’s good but eyes are closed? Delete.
I see a lot of author photos, in conference programs and on book jackets and here on the Brevity blog. Many of them aren’t doing justice to the writer’s personality, looks, or writing. Am I judging what you look like? In life, I try not to. But the author photo is part of the whole package. A good headshot helps writers sell their work the same way 1-inch margins and 12-point Times New Roman do. It’s one more way to look professional.
Headshots used to be a hassle. You had to book a photographer (not the JCPenney photo studio), do the shoot, wait for contact sheets, wait for prints, duplicate the photos expensively and mail them in an envelope.
Now, anyone can have a good headshot for basically free. Some tips:
- Use the best phone camera in your vicinity. Borrow the latest model if you can. (But your phone is probably good enough.)
- Pick a background with texture but not distraction. Brick walls, abstract wallpaper, tree trunks. There’s a reason a bookshelf is an author-background cliché.
- Wear solid-colored clothes that contrast with your skin. The old adage about don’t wear white on camera applies mostly to white people. If you have darker skin, pick a color that contrasts rather than blending in. Black tops are usually not great for anyone, so if you love dark clothes go for a jewel tone or another deep, rich color.
- Natural light. Stand near a window. If you’re outside, go for soft morning or evening light. Try a few where your head blocks the sun and you get a beautiful hair-halo.
- Make sure the phone camera is in focus. Seriously, touch the screen and let it do that thing where it sharpens on you.
- Take. 100. Photos. Smile and frown. Laugh and look serious. Take your glasses on and off. Move your hands. Do that fun thing where you turn away from the camera and then turn back fast so your hair flies around. Get silly. Having fun between shots makes a more natural photo, even with a serious expression. You’re not paying for film, and the more shots you take the more you’re likely to feel good about one of them. Generally, you should have 1-2 great photos for every 40-50 frames. (That ratio holds true for professional models and photographers, too!)
- When choosing the photos you like, ask friends for input. Often, others see the photo as a whole when we’re focused on an imperfection no-one else is looking for.
- If something’s weird in your background, or there’s one hair across your face in an otherwise perfect shot, use an app like Touch Retouch. (It’ll also remove telephone wires and no-swimming signs from your vacation photos.) Backgrounds can be fixed with a faux-depth-mode app like Portrait.
- When you save your photos, do so in high, medium and low resolution. You’ll need that 72kb file for Twitter, but a blog or journal needs one around 1.5mb, and a printed program or poster will turn out better with a TIFF or JPG of 5mb or more.
- Don’t put photos you don’t like into the world. I’ve heard authors complain, “Why’d they pick that awful photo of me?” (1, it was on your website so they assumed you liked it, and/or 2, you didn’t provide a photo so they googled and picked the first decent shot they found.) Even “this one or that one?” posts on FB should be about fine distinctions between a few great shots.
It’s OK to hate being in photos. But sharing your work with the world means sharing part of yourself—so make your author photo something you’re happy to share, too.
Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor.
December 3, 2018 § 48 Comments
By Ona Gritz
When I was four years old I caught a case of chickenpox that had been making the rounds in my neighborhood. My mother’s reaction to those first telltale spots was to say, “Uh-oh…” but I felt delighted. My big sister had just gotten over the virus, and a few of my older friends—kids already in school!—had had it too. I was, of course, unfamiliar with the phrase rite of passage, but I recognized one when it spread across my skin in a connect-the-ots rash.
“I can’t come out to play,” I yelled from my window when my recently recovered upstairs neighbor happened by, pushing a doll carriage. “I’ve got chicken box now.”
One morning, fifty years later, I checked my email and discovered I’d been contacted by a troll. He had read an essay of mine about marriage and disability that I’d had the good fortune of publishing in a national newspaper—a first for me. “I think your article got way more praise than it deserved,” he wrote, “so I critiqued it here.”
Staring at the link he’d provided, I felt only the slightest temptation to click on it. I’d received lovely responses to that essay from good friends, strangers, and even a few writers I admired. Did I really need to know what this one disgruntled reader thought? I moved his message to the trash.
That was the end of it. Except it wasn’t. I wondered about this stranger who, for whatever reason, felt compelled to tear me down. It was disturbing but also oddly flattering. The next morning, I posted about it on the wall of an online writers’ support group. Even as I clicked the share button, I recognized my four-year-old self, calling proudly out the window about my chickenpox. I’d gotten trolled just like writers in the big league do. I wanted people to know.
Members of the group quickly jumped to my defense, as I knew they would.
Gross. Delete and move on!!!
How wonderful that your piece made him think?
Love your haters. They’re your biggest fans.
Later, I tried to recall the first time I’d read an online essay and noticed a rash of vitriol in the comments section. Five years before? Ten? I remembered feeling shocked and also queasy. What was it, I’d wondered, about this author’s writing that made people want to hurt her? The answer, I now knew, was quite likely nothing in particular. Anonymity together with access to a very public platform is a potent combination. Hating had become a thing.
Is this really who we are, I’ve asked myself since then, whenever I make the mistake of browsing the comments section of nearly any online essay. Are most people fuming, jealous, and condemnatory at their core? Inevitably, I had to ask an even tougher question. Am I?
The answer is no, but unfortunately it is also yes.
I’m almost unfailingly kind to people. As a writer, I have no trouble genuinely celebrating the successes of my peers. Where I falter is in the private recesses of my brain. A city dweller, I’ve spend many hours of my life on public transportation, and that’s usually where I hear it—the bitchy, judgy nattering that passes for idle thought.
Do you think we’re in your living room? I silently ask the woman fighting with the person on the other end of her cell phone.
How many times can you use the word like in one sentence? I imagine saying to the teenager chatting with friends in the seat behind mine.
Perhaps worst of all, I catch myself thinking something along the lines of, Are you really wearing those shoes with that outfit? As though I’m some kind of fashionista, which, believe me, I’m not
I don’t know why I have such a vocal inner troll, though I suspect it mostly points to my own insecurities. Whatever the cause, once I noticed the tendency, I worked to counter it by consciously making positive observations as I passed through crowds in my travels. Such soulful eyes. What an infectious laugh. And, yes, Nice shoes!
Not unsurprisingly, I got waylaid on my road to recovery during the 2016 election season. When, along with pollsters and nearly everyone I knew, I felt confident Hillary would win, I took pleasure in watching her opponent prove himself to be a bumbling, lying, hate-filled, scandal-ridden, racist, ablest, xenophobic, sexist buffoon. (Truth be told, I’ve taken genuine pleasure in lining up those adjectives just now.) “We’re so much better than this,” I scoffed, even as I relished the taste of disgust like a SweeTart on my tongue.
Certain his presence on our airwaves and in our consciousness had an expiration date, I allowed myself this relapse. But now that this bombastic hater actually holds the most venerated office in our nation, I’ve come to see kindness as a crucial act of resistance.
Meanness, after all, really is a virus. Once airborne, it quickly spreads. And if the Troll-in-Chief can be said to have any genius at all, it’s that he knows just how to spread that particular germ. We either rage along with him or rage at him. This may fuel us, but it in no way nourishes us. Compassion does that, as does community, as does sharing our stories. This, of course, is where we writers come in.
These days, there’s a vaccine for chickenpox, which is to say we can put a little of the illness into our bodies and it will protect us. Not so with hate. But what we can do—particularly those of us whose work involves sharing our experiences, ideas, and discoveries on the page—is make sure hate never has the last word.
Ona Gritz’s essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Utne Reader, MORE magazine, and elsewhere. “It’s Time,” which appeared in The Rumpus, was named a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2016. Her books include the memoir On the Whole: A Story of Mothering and Disability, and the poetry collections Geode and Border Songs: A Conversation in Poems, written with my husband, Daniel Simpson.
October 24, 2018 § 9 Comments
I’m sorry I cheated with Twitter. I know you think all the years we spent together don’t mean anything to me. All the likes and loves and angry and funny emojis, all the exploding congratulations and mazel tovs—don’t think I didn’t notice how hard you worked to make a Jew like me feel comfortable on your site. And who can forget all the times we reduced meaningful issues to profile frames together? Not me, Facebook, not me. You let me go on and on, no matter how boring or tired or offensive I became. You never cut me off. Never showed me how many characters I had left or that I had used too many, so no, you wouldn’t post my tweet. How could I give all that up? For what?
I didn’t mean to stray, but I guess no one ever does. It started small, just a few retweets while I waited for a barista to make my coffee. I have a book coming out, and I thought, what’s the harm in doing more than one social media channel? I thought I’d spread the love. I thought you’d never find out. And Twitter was funny! I’m not saying you’re not funny, Facebook, of course you are. It’s just your sense of humor is a little like my Aunt Roslyn’s. Videos of talking dogs? They’re funny, Facebook, just not that funny. You’re like my hometown, filled with people I’ve always known. I’m comfortable around you. But Twitter was like the big city, teeming with strangers whose tweets I might never see again. Twitter was exciting. Twitter was edgy. And the chance to go viral on Twitter? Do you know what that could mean for a writer? The woman who wrote the cat story got a million dollar advance for a book of short stories not so different from mine. How could I resist?
And then there was that whole Cambridge Analytica privacy situation, Facebook, and the election. I started to wonder if I really knew you. I know. It’s no excuse. You were always there for me. You cared about my memories. You kept my posts around for days. With Twitter, it’s wham bam thank you ma’am. Before you know it, you’re old news.
You’re nice, Facebook. Really nice. But what woman can resist a bad boy? The thing is, you don’t have to worry anymore. I got burned by Twitter too often. Tweets liked by only one follower, the same one who always liked my tweets, the one with only 17 followers. Tweets no one liked—no one!—that I deleted, hoping they’d be forgotten. The times I retweeted my own tweet in desperation, telling myself there’d been some mistake, that people had just missed it somehow. I’m not proud of myself. But I’ve gotten help. I installed one of those Twitter blocking apps on my laptop. It’s true, I can still see Twitter on my phone. But I hardly ever check. Maybe once when I wake up. And occasionally during lunch. You’ll hardly even know I’m on there. Really.
Facebook, I miss those sappy videos you put together to remind me I’m friends with people I already know I’m friends with. You think Twitter would ever make me something like that? Please take me back. Don’t make me return to Twitter. I can’t keep up with the feed.
Yours Forever If You’ll Have Me,
R.L Maizes‘ short story collection, We Love Anderson Cooper, is forthcoming in July from Celadon Books/Macmillan. Her stories have aired on National Public Radio and have appeared in the literary magazines Electric Literature, Witness, Bellevue Literary Review, Slice, and Blackbird, among others. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Lilith, and elsewhere. She was born and raised in Queens, New York, and now lives in Boulder, CO, with her husband, Steve, and her muses: Arie, a cat who was dropped in the animal shelter’s night box like an overdue library book, and Rosie, a dog who spent her first year homeless in South Dakota and thinks Colorado is downright balmy.