Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Face Made for Radio

Let's talk about looks.

I'm pretty honest with myself, and I know I'm not going to win any beauty contests.

Under low-lighting conditions, after a lot of drinks, I might be considered average. This doesn't bother me. I'm not a vain guy. And I know that good looks and charisma are two different things, which helps compensate for the fact that the celebrity I most resemble is John Belushi.

But in this business (and in all businesses for that matter) looks do count.

If you've ever watched someone browse the bookstore isles, they always glance at the author photo in the back. Always. And many bestsellers possess above-average looks. I don't think this is coincidental.

As a society, we prize beauty. We use it to sell products. We use it in our media and entertainment. We're bombarded with it from all directions. Mystery conferences even have unofficial beauty contests for male and female writers (the Bouchercon Babe and the Sleuthfest Stud come to mind.)

This is genetic. Studies with infants have shown they stare at beautiful people for longer than they stare at average people. We imbue attractive folks with qualities like intelligence, health, wisdom, humor, and kindness, before we've even met them. We're more forgiving of them, and more anxious to help them.

When I decided to go with the name JA Konrath on my books, rather than Joe, it was a subtle attempt to make readers think I was a female. My idea entirely. After all, I'm writing for a female protagonist, and 80% of all mysteries are purchased by women, and many of my favorite authors in the genre are women.

As a result, my author bio on the book is asexual, and lacks a photo.

Which may have also been a little bit calculating on my part. If I looked like Lee Child, or Robert Crais, or Barry Eisler, or David Ellis, I might not have been so eager to use "JA." And my publisher may not have been so eager to comply.

Do publishers care about looks? Absolutely. I had to FedEx an 8x10 glossy to my future publisher before being offered a contract. I guess my picture hadn't been bad enough to be a deal-breaker (thank God for Photoshop,) and the aforementioned charisma I believe I possess helped my cause. If you can't be gorgeous, be funny or nice.

But everyone knows that publishers do consider looks at acquisitions meetings, along with the quality of the book and the marketability of the concept. Is this author photogenic? Does the camera like her? Does he give good TV? Will she captivate a room full of people? Do the women want him, and the men want to be him?

Which is why, even though I'm sexless on my books, I try to look decent for public appearances. I bought a few nice suits. An expensive pair of designer eyeglasses. I wear a touch of cologne. I even, on occasion, cover up a blemish with make-up.

Still, I can't help but feel I'm just putting a fresh coat of paint on a condemned house.

I got an email the other day from someone who wondered why I made fun of myself on my website, namely in the photos. He seemed angry at me for being self-disparaging, and told me I was taking away from the professionalism of my site by cracking jokes about my weight.

He also pointed out that it seemed I was uncomfortable with my body, and was targeting out my own problems before anyone else had a chance to.

I thought about this for a few hard seconds, and dismissed it. I make fun of everyone, including myself. I like to joke that I lost ten pounds, but then found them again in my ass. I think it's funny.

And I'm also guessing the guy who wrote the email had some issues of his own he needed to deal with. Issues involving Doritos, Twinkies, and husky pants.

Am I uncomfortable with my body? Sure. Who isn't?

Would life be better if I was more attractive? Of course it would.

But the most important question is: would I sell more books?

Which is why I'm currently working hard to lose weight. You can read about my efforts HERE.

In the meantime, I'll continue in my efforts to be funny and nice, and take some solace in the fact that the most famous writer who ever lived, William Shakespeare, looked a lot like Mr. Potato Head.

Didn't seem to hurt his sales.