Say Cheese! 12 Terrible Photos of Bestselling Authors

Whenever I get a new book, I give the thing a thorough once-over before I dive in. I check its teeth, kick its tires, and generally read every scrap of information that isn't the story proper. This includes author blurbs, the table of contents, and any introductions or forewards. Then I flip the book over to read the synopsis on the back cover. It makes me feel prepared, and gives me a frame of reference for the journey I'm about to embark on. I even check out the author photo, to give a current face to the name.

Unfortunately, some things are better left unseen.

Not all high-profile writers are what you would call photogenic. And even if they're easy on the eyes, that doesn't mean they know shit for photo composition. You know the old adage, that a picture is worth a thousand words? Well if that's the case, then these bestselling authors need an editor, stat. Because they have taken some of the worst dust-jacket, promotional, and personal photos known to man. I present this list not to shame them, but to help other writers learn from their mistakes.

Haruki Murakami

What in the holy name of collegiate-emo-stalker is going on here? I can't believe I'm saying this, but this picture forces me to take Phil Jourdan's assertion that Murakami is a creepy, underage-breastophile a little more seriously.

I wish I could hold her in my arms like this, Mr. Tree.
Do not be hasty, Master Murakami, haroom.
But I'm cute and non-threatening.
Tell that to campus security. This isn't even your alma mater.

A word of advice: If your author photo looks like the FBI took it with a telephoto lens, it's time to fire your photographer.


Ayn Rand

I understand Ms. Rand is a woman celebrated for possessing a great inner beauty (due to her many humanitarian efforts), but please—send this one back, it's under-cooked. Her smile says, I'm just a homely gal from the typing pool looking to fit in, but her eyes scream, Say the word and I'll drop this frock and drain you dry behind the dumpster in the parking lot. Then I'll eat your soul and loot your corpse. In the old days, they had a polite way of referring to a woman of her facial aesthetics: handsome. But that doesn't mean they didn't know crazy-eyes when they saw them.


Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein is a repeat offender, which made it hard to choose just one, but in the end I decided to go with a classic. If you were the author of such beloved children's books as The Giving Tree and Where The Sidewalk Ends, why would you put a giant photo of yourself on the back cover that makes it look like you're an ogre who eats children? Or one that makes you look like the father of the banjo player from Deliverance? Or one with your shoes off and your legs spread like a sex offender? Or one that looks like you're showing us where you buried the body? Are you actively trying to be creepy?


Clive Barker

It's okay, Clive, we understand. We all make mistakes. You were young and naive. So when your publisher said, we think you should cut your hair like Richard Dean Anderson before you take your author photos, you figured they knew best, that MacGyver would never go off the air, and that his haircut would become timeless, like the Caesar or the Aniston. Lesson learned. It's not like you'd go on to use a photo of yourself looking like Clark Gable ON THE COVER of one of your own books. That would just be silly.


George R.R. Martin

It's bad enough you look like the love child of Guillermo del Toro, Gimli the dwarf, and Harry Knowles, so why would you let this picture happen? And what kind of utensils are you wielding there? An unopened switchblade and a miniature tuning fork? Are you hitting A440 in this picture? Or is this what you do while millions and millions of readers wait years for you to write the next Ice and Fire book? Now that you have HBO money, it must be lobsters and opera all the time.


Dan Brown

Sweet dad jeans and blazer combo, Dan. That look was all the rage back in the 90s. Which begs the question: Why is this your most recent author photo? Styles come and go, but good literature is forever. Which, I guess, leaves you shit out of luck, huh? I want to look away, but I feel like if I keep staring at this picture I'll eventually uncover a massive global conspiracy in which publishers inundate mainstream readers with crap to keep them uneducated and docile. Or maybe I'm just entranced by the pleats around your fatherly bulge.


Stephen King

This is the author photo from the back of King's very first novel, Carrie, and it is way scarier than anything he's ever written. The unibrow... those squinty eyes and inebriated smirk... the mismatched patterns... it's horrible! PUT IT AWAY! PLEASE!


Leo Tolstoy

I know Tolstoy was an intense intellectual, but I had no idea he so resembled a homicidal Howdy Doody doll. Granted, nobody smiled in old pictures due to long exposure times and bad teeth, but lighten up! Being a 19th century Russian novelist can't be that bad. If anyone had reason to scowl, it was your poor wife. She was only 18 when she married your 34 year-old ass, thinking you were the man of her dreams. Then you went and gave her a diary documenting your extensive sexual exploits as a wedding gift. Slick move, Romeo. The eve of one's wedding is not the ideal time to find out your fiancee fathered a bastard child with one of his servants.


Anne Rice

Who the fuck brought me this room temperature Tab?

Before she became the pleasant old woman who writes books about Jesus, Anne Rice went through a bit of an eccentric phase. Take this gaudy gothic number she wore to a signing for Memnoch the Devil. Black lace, Egyptian headdress, poofy shoulder poofs—that is not the outfit of a sane person. It is Dia de los Muertos meets Mardi Gras meets The Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. And those eyes... Bryan Adams, what do those eyes say? Bryan: Look into my eyes, you will see... what a cold, carbonated beverage means to me...


Terry Goodkind

First of all, tight black Lycra t-shirt against an all black background equals floating head and disembodied arms (see also: Toni Morrison). Not the best creative choice, there. Secondly, Goodkind looks like that dude who practices his Devil Sticks on the boardwalk in Venice Beach every day, only with the eyes of a rapist instead of a jester hat. He is also more Drakkar Noir than patchouli. Don't ever accept a ride home from this man.


Dean Koontz

We all know the author of Must Love Dogs loves his dogs, but this one's a bit much. It's bad enough Koontz's helmet hairpiece makes him look like a phallus sitting between those two testicular orbs, but did he have to add Labrador lambada to the mix? It is the forbidden dance, after all. This picture is way scarier than anything Koontz has ever written.


V.C. Andrews

Young V.C. Andrews was a bit of a looker, but this photo—taken at a reading late in her career—is less than flattering. And by less than flattering, I mean she looks like Sloth from Goonies in a wig and pearls. Bay-bee-roooth! It looks like her neck is spontaneously trying to swallow her face from the inside. Or maybe the author of the lurid Dollanganger trilogy is still tickled pink by the thought of all the money she made off of eroticizing incest and child abuse. You go, girl!

There you have it, twelve terrible photos of bestselling authors. What do you think? Was I a little hard on these guys? Are there any particularly egregious examples I missed? Post your embarrassing author pics in the comments.

Joshua Chaplinsky

Column by Joshua Chaplinsky

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor of LitReactor. He is the author of The Paradox Twins (CLASH Books), the story collection Whispers in the Ear of A Dreaming Ape, and the parody Kanye West—Reanimator. His short fiction has been published by Vice, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Thuglit, Severed Press, Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, Broken River Books, and more. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @jaceycockrobin. More info at and

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rmatthewsimmons's picture
rmatthewsimmons from Salt Lake City, UT is reading I just put down 'A Game of Thrones' after 6 chapters....Couldn't do it. December 10, 2012 - 1:13pm

The Tolstoy photo looks like it could have been a screen shot out of the 1930's film Freaks.


Gretel (The Children of The Sun) Book One

Stacey Isbell Graham's picture
Stacey Isbell Graham from Washington, D.C. is reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow December 10, 2012 - 1:26pm

Capote looks how I feel when deadlines loom. 

drea's picture
drea from Rural Alberta, Canada is reading between the lines December 10, 2012 - 3:24pm

This is my new favorite Joshua Chaplinsky piece and I can't even explain why.


Edit: Yes, I can explain why I love this so. Joshua, this is funny as shit and I do not think you were too hard on any of the authors anymore than we're hard on ourselves while looking back on old photos groaning,"what were we thinking, man?" Your article made me laugh in a way tabloid shots of celebrity cellulite does not.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts December 10, 2012 - 5:48pm

Anne Rice looks totally hot there, like a more meaty Siouxsie Sioux.


What, no Pynchon?

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list December 10, 2012 - 6:39pm

I find that a lot of authors don't update their photos either. Charlaine Harris had the same picture on her cover foreverrrrr and I personally didn't like it. She got a new one and it is better. It's the angle that bothers me with the original and her hair. Yet, in the new one her smile looks forced.



One of my friends is an author, I won't post her author picture here out of respect for her, but her author photo is awful. And she's a beautiful woman, but she doesn't look beautiful in the picture. The photographer should be shot for producing such a horrible picture.

I think JK Rowling's new cover photo is one of my favorites right now. She looks classy as hell. Veronica Roth and Veronica Rossi both look gorgeous in theirs :)

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine December 10, 2012 - 7:24pm

@drea: Thanks. You are too kind.

@SammyB: Yikes, where did she take that first picture, the boiler room?

Lou's picture
Lou from AMERIKUH is reading Trainspotting December 10, 2012 - 7:46pm

I had a feeling that King would make this list, but I wasn't ready for it to be this terrifying. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a good photo of Dean Koontz though, and I remember the one on the back of my old copy of Icebound was worse than that. Freaking hideous moustache- I read that one in middle school and the picture used to freak out all my friends (and me too).

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading a lot more during the quarantine December 10, 2012 - 8:21pm

Yeah, I chose a pic of the "new" Dean Koontz, but "old" Dean Koontz is just as bad. I have a feeling he's been burying those old pics, because they are harder to come across.

Linda Adams's picture
Linda Adams December 13, 2012 - 4:06am

There was one author several years ago who was worse than all of these.  Photo's no longer up -- I think her agent must have told her to fix it.  It was in black and white, which wasn't very flattering to it.  She wore a sloppy t-shirt and had long stringy hair.  She looked like someone had told her she needed to put up an author photo so she was scowling in the photo as if she were saying, "I have to take this photo, but you can't make me happy."  And it was posted on her public website.

Not mentioning the name since if you search for her name now, all you will see are professionally done, nice photos.

David Lambrini's picture
David Lambrini February 19, 2013 - 7:20am

Ted Hughes was good at a photo.

Albina's picture
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DarrellSaunders's picture
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