from manuscript to bookstore -- the publishing process

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From Simon:

"I have always wondered the value of an author photo on the back of a book. Does it really help selling the book??? I guess no one can answer that question categorically.

Does Bantam insist on including a photo of you on the back of the book? Could you have refused if you wanted to?"

First, no one can answer any question categorically in this business, because you have no control group. That's why publishers do what seem like crazy things sometimes -- because when a book sells big, it's almost impossible to say what about it "worked." Watch and see how many books come out in the next season or two with magenta covers, the color they used on The Da Vinci Code. Also watch for Catholic Church conspiracy books, and books with famous painters in the title.

The thinking on the photo is this: a lot of readers like to know something about the writer, in order to get a sense of context for the book. At home you could Google me or go to my website, you could ask your friends whether they've read me and if so what they thought; but when you're standing in the bookstore with the book in your hands, all you get is what little bio info is on the flap, a list of other books I've written, and my photo. Probably it doesn't help sell the book in the sense that no one says, "Gee, she's cute, I'll buy this." But to not have a photo would make people wonder why. What's this writer trying to hide? In my case, since my previous books alternate from book to book in first person narration between an Asian woman and a middle-aged man, it was imperative that we use a photo so no one would think I was trying to "pass." It never occurrred to me there was any reason to not use a photo for ABSENT FRIENDS; but to strictly answer your question, Simon, I actually guess I couldn't have refused -- it's in the contract.

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