September 24, 2013

Ladies, looks are everything


George Eliot.

Dear authoresses,

In case you missed The New Yorker’s gentle reminder last Friday, it would behoove you to keep in mind that, beyond your ability to weave a delicate sentence or pleasantly color your character’s state of mind, the biggest impression you will make as your literary career progresses is the one you make with your face.

Remember that, although we shouldn’t, we often do judge a book by its cover. It is imperative that you keep in mind the elements of style—personal style, that is—when you make plans to be viewed by the reading public.

If your publicist is kind-hearted he will see to it that every mention of you in the media is accompanied by your finest headshot. If you have no publicist there is no need to fear! Learn from the mistakes of your predecessors. Any old photo won’t do: find a skilled photographer who will find a way to elicit your outer beauty. You should appear serious, yet inviting. Sultry, yet unavailable. If you must be ugly, be exceptionally so. History will do its best to venerate your homeliness anyway, so make it easy and embrace the intrigue of the female troll.

Do avoid being photographed beyond the age of 35. Instead your visual legacy should see you frozen in the appeal of budding authoress: naïve, hopeful, struck by the mystery of accidental greatness.

When you conduct interviews you must expect your female experiences to be highlighted. Remember: as an authoress you are an exotic creature to the vast majority of readers, and it is their right to understand not only your artistic intent, but also your choice to break the normal bounds of womanhood.

Your love life should be chaste or extraordinary. If you write about the human condition in a clear and straightforward manner it is best that you project a virginal image. If, on the other hand, your writing is experimental, crude, or unusual in any way, it would benefit you to play the role of a she-devil. Begin with a series of married men—preferably those whom history can refer to as your mentors—followed by some women who take as much care with their appearances as yourself. Avoid female lovers who do not fit the traditional notions of beauty—this will put you in a niche genre.

Once you have established a comfortable career, you may be tempted to meditate on your authorial experiences with a memoir. But is that really worth your time and effort? You’re too old for the publicity game: look how many mature authoresses are vying for a single review. You would do better to spend time with your family—after all, your good work has made all this possible and if you have done your job effectively your writing will be enjoyed by eager female fans and curious male readers for many years to come.


Amy Conchie was formerly assistant to the publisher at Melville House.