Choosing a photo: Would you buy a book from this man?

Choice A

Choice B

So smart!  So smart!  Who ever had a more insightful group of readers?  There are comments on the photos in three places:  here, and on my two facebook pages.  I don’t know which is which or how to post to one over the other, so I just write something and start pushing buttons.  Where the comments end up, I don’t know.  I do know that there are two sites where people leave comments, and all are worth reading.

Here’s the long form.  Like it or not, photos sell books.  The author photo is ranked up there with the cover for effect on impulse buyers and browsers, even more than endorsements.  The photo in some manner should reflect the contents of the book — a mystery novel should not have a photo of the author in a suit and tie sitting behind a desk, a book of spiritual meditations should not have a photo of the author mugging or making faces.  In the case of Lone Dog Road I had and have some decisions to make in this regard.

Nik took some wonderful photos, some of which I like better than these two in terms of revealing my character.  If I were producing a quiet book of reflections I would have chosen one of those.  But they either have my fundamental sense of melancholy about them or are so interior-facing as to look almost monastic.  Fine for revealing who I like to think I am, but not fine for drawing in readers to a road novel full of different voices.  As one perspicacious friend said, “I don’t want to read a book by a sad man.”  I can argue that they revealed weltschmerz and an honest gravitas, since a certain world-weariness permeates my character.  But if it makes the reader think of a sad man, well, that won’t fly for this book cover. If it’s a book from my hand and mind, of course it has a certain minor-key spiritual underpinning.  But LDR is a book of humanity more than overt spirituality.  And it is a book, once more, about Indian country and the American west.  So there has to be something outward -facing.  It’s a book of and for the world, not the quiet times of personal reflection.

The two photos I chose are outward-facing, though, as some of you point out, not looking at the camera.  That was by choice.  I can understand people who prefer a photo of the author looking at them, but since half my awareness is always looking away from the world, I felt justified in choosing photos that are looking beyond the human encounter.

But the nuances in each of them are a tough call.  I encourage any of you who are interested to go to the various facebook pages as well as the website post and read the comments.  You readers caught the nuances and seem to be split about down the midde, as am I.  I like the serious mindedness of the photo on the left.  In a vacuum it probably is my favorite of the two.  But it is, as some of you said, definitive and resolved; it does not speak of movement and unanswered questions.  To put it another way, it lacks the feeling of quest and animation that the other photo possesses.  Neither is a belly-laugher, but the photo on the right has a hint of humor about it, and that is something that exists in my work and in my character, but does not reveal itself in a broad, open faced way.  Still, if I were asked to say which of the two is a more singular representation of my character, I would take the photo on the left.

Technically, Nik did exactly what I wanted.  I didn’t want a presentational hand-on-chin author photo.  “Make me look like I look, not how I’d like to look,”  I told him.  I’m getting to be an old dude, and I find it unseemly to try to hide the fact.  I figure you should wear your years honestly.  Age reveals character.  And a metaphoric visual comb-over is not what I want.  Leave that to the old men wearing the puka shells with open shirts in Miami beach, or getting eye tucks and hair plugs and dustings of orange make-up in Washington D.C.  As that sage, Popeye, once said, “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.”  And that’s all that I want to be.

So I will keep reading all of your notes and observations.  I’m knocked out by how insightful you all are.  I still lean toward the wry smile — I hope it doesn’t come off as a smirk — because there is humor embedded in life’s mystery.  But I can be convinced to go the other way if the preponderance of evidence points in that direction.  You are making incredibly strong cases for each option, and I’m drinking in your insights.  After all, you all voted Low Dog Road off the island and I’m happy y9u did.  But this seems to be a closer call, which tells me that there is no bad choice.  And that’s about as good an outcome as anyone could hope.



26 thoughts on “Choosing a photo: Would you buy a book from this man?”

  1. These are both great photos. For the purpose you’re using if for, I like the photo on the right. It suggest a bit of surprise, whimsy, curiousity, almost like you were caught in a moment of noticing something wonderful yet oddly unexpected about to occur.

  2. I think I posted something but it wasn’t clear that it went through. If this is a duplicate, sorry. I like the one on the right with it’s bit of curiosity, and sense of seeing something wonderful and oddly surprising just off the edge of the page. And the tiny smile.

  3. Lynne de Jong-Decker

    yes, once again I choose the photo with the slight smile and curious, open attitude,

  4. Yes, I have bought 3 of his books and looking forward to the new book coming! I like Photo B

  5. I think the bottom one. When I pick up a book, I know something about the author already; he or she may be the reason I chose the book; but it’s definitely not the author’s photo. My wife and I enjoy reading Louise Erdrich’s books, but as lovely as she is, her author photo has never been the sell point. No offense, but I don’t think it’s yours either; your body of work precedes you, not your face.

  6. Windi Landis-Stermer

    I like the third photo, choice b. They all look great however, the first two show like you are looking at something, where the third one looks as though you are in thought. Buy his books? I have almost all of yours except a couple👌😊 The best! So Happy to have found you in the early 90’s! Great wisdom! Fabulous work! Take Good Care.,,,,

  7. I love reading everyone’s comments too, Kent, as I’m sure everyone does about our favorite author.

    I was in the Tattered Cover bookstore and made my ritual walk up and down the stairs to take in all the px that Joyce Meskis had taken of many authors who’d graciously visited her bookstore over the last 40 years.

    Getting your email was synchronistic.

    So I walked up and down the stairs again before commenting.

    A px does make a difference for many buyers, same as wine labels.

    But one doesn’t need to be a Jungian analyst to know we need to be ourselves without undue compromise.

    Our dreams may erupt to save us.

    Your gut reaction for the first px is the best choice. Both px are honest portrayals.

    But if you should have a dream about the other one, you might reconsider by trying to determine what the dream may be suggesting.

    You’ve been very thorough about how you feel about both. But as you know, there is a higher power at work that often has something to say, as Jung showed.

    There’s no question in my mind that Great Spirit is helping you be a voice for His people. You’ve taken us into their hearts and ours in this stolen land.

    The px you choose or are directed to choose, will be the one to speak most to a would-be buyer’s soul, maybe even shake them up a bit.

    The look in a person’s eyes can do it, especially in a dream.

    You may seem sad to some in the one px, but can a lone dog ever be?

    Ultimately, won’t we walk and stand alone before our maker?

    To me, that px speaks more volume to me.

    It’s what dreams convey.

    Someday.we’ll return to the eternal dream.

    Whichever one you choose, I will see about having it the TC because of the large Native American population in Colorado and the several pow wows they have each year bringing in more from the reservations, There’s one in a few weeks after the Stock Show ends.

    How would they feel about either px?

    To me, that’s most important.

    Your books are very important to them.

    You know how they’ve been exploited.

    Many live on the streets in Denver.

    Your books help us connect with those parts of ourselves that make us whole as much as possible, fractured as any of us can be.

    You may know that Joyce passed away last year. I had to ask why her px hasn’t been displayed but no one knows.

    So I’ll be contacting the owners about her px and whichever one you choose when your book arrives and you do a book signing again.

    I hope so.

    btw I was fortunate to have a wife once who’d look a book over and then hold it to her heart to see if it was a book she needed to read.

    Works for me, too.

  8. i would buy all books by Kent Nerburn. He is a wonderful writer and has taught me, through reading his books the dreadful history of the the North American Indians. I am a white woman living in the UK and Until reading Kent Nerburns books I had no idea about the genocides to the Indian nations committed by the white settlers and soldiers. I am ashamed.
    Anne Murray UK.

  9. A is the better photo, offers a bit more emotional info. I think I wrote a “fan letter” 30 years or so ago and you actually answered, important stuff, glad to find you still fighting the good fight.

  10. Choice A for sure. You look more engaged and thoughtful. Not blatantly happy but interesting. I want to know what you’re thinking. In B I think you look sad. Life is full of serious matters to consider, while at the same time, to live well, we need to see joy in our world.

  11. Douglas O'Neill

    Photo B is the one I would select.

    Less shadow or darker grey/white tones and, to me a more ‘thought or wonderment’ pose. Kinda an ‘aha’ moment.

    Both are nicely done. You can’t go wrong with either photo.

    Lastly, the ‘B’ pose illustrates more of a contemplation expression as if speaking to the young by an elder.

    Doug O’Neill

  12. Here’s a litmus test possibility: You quoted Popeye: “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.” And that’s all that I want to be.” There’s the test: Which photo most expresses the “I yam”? The second part of the test is figuring out why you’ve given the answer you did? If it’s ego-driven, put it in the drawer and choose the other photo. What’s “ego-driven”? The ego makes up what it wants to see, not what is. Without ego, the result is “things as they actually are, AND not being for nor against whatever choice you make.

    Wordy, I know; but this is not an easy choice. And as you say, it is critical.

    The picture is more about the book than about you. What does the book’s face look like?

    Another approach would be to throw your third choice back in the ring and see if it surfaces the “right” one.
    I’m wrestling with exactly the same challenge for a forthcoming book that I wrote about my Shihan’s life and teachings. How to present him? He is 1005 Japanese, a samurai descendent and a Buddhist priest, and totally Americanized. Whoa! Lots of possibilities. I think I’ve found the right pic, but like you, I’m letting it simmer.

    I hope this is of some help. // CatherineS

  13. Since there is no photo on the left but above and below in my viewing screen, my prefrence is the above – a hint of whimsey in the eyes. I will not address thoughts on the expression of ‘partially facing another world’ in the choice of pose, capture of the moment, or lighting treatment.

  14. It’s a hard choice. When I look at photo B, I can see that you’re processing what you’re seeing and hearing. There is a feeling of receptivity in that photo that I really like. We don’t know your reaction, just your thoughtful openness. For photo A, you are starting to react, and so a bit of mystery has dissolved.

    Looking forward to your book, Kent!

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