On the Subject of Covers

When is it appropriate to put your own picture on the cover of your book? Most authors place a photograph of themselves on the back cover, or on one of the inside flaps. Do you need to have a giant picture of your face on the cover too? With the rise of digital photography, Photoshop and cosmetic surgery the practice of blessing your book with your own likeness has become more and more popular. I have observed four situations when an author will grace us with their beauty and knowledge, all with varying degrees of correctness:

1. Your book is autobiographical

Who can argue with this? Of course, if you wrote a book about yourself it only makes sense to slap your best photograph on the cover. A snapshot of you at your most elegant and impressive moment. Your hair is perfect, your pose is graceful and your setting (whether you are sitting on a couch or staring reflectively through a window) commands respect and speaks to your poise.  This works especially well if you’re a celebrity and your book details every glorious aspect of your star-studded life (yawn…).

Here are a few of my favorites…



Bill Clinton is so awesome his picture needed to grace the cover AND the spine. I mean, c’mon…






Check out Slash, shrouded in the same smoky decadence that defines his music.






Melissa Gilbert’s is great. The pose, the elegance, the hands clasped reverently, the makeup the hair. Striking.






Check out Mandela, smiling in all his  “I’m free now, suckers!” glory.




But what if your autobiography isn’t so glorious?

Eric Clapton did something cool. He didn’t use his photograph, he used his autograph. Check out his cover. It’s simple, classic and kicking complete butt.







And if you’re not famous, say no one knows who you are – it makes no sense to put your picture on the cover. Check out A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. This cover tells us that the book is more about his experience than about him.

boy soldier






2. Your book is not an autobiography but it’s still pretty much all about you

Politicians do this when they decide to run for president…



Makes sense. If you run for president, there is a good chance no one will ever know what you look like, you’ll certainly never appear on TV or the newspaper, so it’s important to write a book with your face dominating the cover.





Check out what John McCain did. He used a picture from his war hero days. I guess that’s why he got the nomination.




kerry unfit


Someone used the my-face-on-the-cover-of-my-book trick and cleverly fooled a small but significant part of the population into thinking this John Kerry book was autobiographical….



I guess they got the last laugh.

3. You (claim to be) an expert in your field

dr phil



Look how smart Dr. Phil makes himself look. It actually appears that he knows something besides how to sound folksy on TV. Way to go Phil!






Suze is a little less self-important – note how the title is bigger than her hair? She’s actually pushed into the background on this, trying to sell you on the book’s message instead of her charm.





Check out good old Stephen Hawking. You don’t get any more expert than him. He’s sitting there looking out at us saying “I’m 3×10^9 times smarter than all of you combined.” And we love him for it.




4. You are incredibly vain

This last category is where I have the biggest problem. These people are not experts, though they certainly claim to be. They have not really accomplished anything in their lives and are famous for being famous. Meet the cast and crew of the American political punditry!

I mean really – we see your yapping mugs on TV every night. Do we also need to see you on the cover of some timely 30,000 word book?

There are two classes that fit this demographic: the talk show host and their power panel. When it comes to the panel, some are legitimate journalists, others are “Fox News Contributors” while some have more vague titles like “Democratic Strategist.” The group I want to focus on are the hosts themselves.

These are not attractive people. They are carnivorous, hateful human beings concerned only about Macing their equally venomous opponents while scoring cheap political points during their segment of the 24-hour news cycle. They are despicable people and the most loathsome maladies of our society. Only God knows why we consume their books like Irishmen draining pints of Guinness.

No matter what side you’re on the same phenomenon holds true: that for every Foxbot who springs from the cesspool of political discourse, an equally hateful Minion of MSNBC will appear and feed their hungry rabble with red meat. The books they write are an extension of their shows – so why do we buy them? We like their faces on TV, apparently we also like to see them sitting beside us on the crapper.

Here are some examples of American vanity at its worst:



Here’s Laura Ingraham trying to look like your pretty, everyday soccer mom. She should take lessons from her own cover and keep her mouth shut because when it opens, the image you see on the left morphes into a rabid, wild lipsticked pig.




Michael Medved just wants you to know that he’s constipated.






Is Keith Olberman trying to tell us that HE’S the worst person in the world???






I guess, if you say so.




So you see, punditry has become a lucrative home-based business and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

What are your thoughts? When is it appropriate to put your face on the cover of your book? Should this become a more widespread technique or have we had enough? Post your thoughts below!


6 Responses to On the Subject of Covers

  1. In the world of publishing today, where the competition is extremely fierce, I have a fairly small picture of myself on the back cover. I have fun with it. When someone in a store asks me for a picture ID, I hand them a copy of my book with the picture facing them. Even if they still need a drivers’ license, the book has been seen, a question or two usually ensues, and sometimes it even results in selling that copy of the book.
    Janet Elaine Smith, author of best-selling Dunnottar and 19 other books

  2. Excellent piece. Well written and refreshing. I enjoy learning new things or at least being introduced to them. I’ve never considered this topic before, and now I’ll never look at a cover with the author’s mug on it the same. I have one complaint. You missed a few (maybe many) of the incredibly vain. However, you really didn’t need to list them because just seeing the few examples reminded of their venom. Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh come to mind. Has Limbaugh plastered his face on a book? I go out of my way to ignore him so I wouldn’t know.

  3. Good discussion of covers, Mark. Since I don’t watch talk shows, those folks are completely foreign to me. The celebs are a turn-off, too. I’m a mystery reader (and writer). I think most of us are like Janet and include a thumbnail photo on the back cover. When I do a signing, someone will invariably look at the photo, glance up in surprise and say, “That’s you?” I want to act like Fred Allen and say, “You were expecting Mrs. Nussbaum?” (You probably have to be my age to get that.)
    Chester Campbell, author of the Sid Chance and Greg McKenzie mystery series

  4. Linda Austin says:

    Amusing and informative article! Basically, if you’re famous, publishers like to put your pic on the cover to attract attention. If it’s an autobiography or memoir, you’re almost required to have your photo on the front, and memoirs usually have a photo of the author during the memoir time frame. Otherwise, you’re on the back cover or inside jacket flap, if at all. I think I’ve seen b&w author pics on the last few pages of a book, too.

  5. […] former governor Palin has never looked better than she does in this cover photo, which goes back to our discussion of book covers. You can’t expect Sarah Palin to write a book and not put her picture on the […]

  6. […] suze orman women and money – This one actually does makes sense since it is in fact the author and title of a book. I also get a lot of hits for women and money and just suze orman. I mentioned this book once, in an old post from awhile back about book covers. […]

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