There was a time when publishers would invest in an author photo. Yes, they would actually hire photographers and set up a shoot. That’s rare these days, unless you’re a very big deal.
The author photo is incredibly important. It projects your image. It establishes (yes, I am going to use that over-used term) your brand. It will not only be used on your book jacket but in publicity, social media, and countless other media impressions. It needs to be high quality and show you to the best advantage. Ladies, I hate to say this, but you may need professional make-up and styling. Bare arms? Not for everyone. Men, you may also need help figuring out what to wear and how to get rid of that shine on your nose. Skin tone needs to be evened out. No fly-away hair. That’s for everybody.
This may mean hiring a professional, and they don’t come cheap. There are photographers who specialize in author photos. (Your publisher or writer friends may be able to make some recommendations.) Sometimes they actually read your book! They talk to you. They want to understand who you are and what message your photo needs to send out. If you’re a romance writer, you don’t want to wear a suit jacket, but you also don’t want to look silly. You want to be taken seriously. If you’re a serious expert on a topic, you need to project more gravitas, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be smiling. You also want a photo that will stand the test of time. So you don’t want to wear something too trendy that will be out of fashion in a year or two.
Of course, not everyone can afford to pay top dollar for the best photographers. If your budget is tight, try discussing this with the photographer. He or she may cut you a break or suggest a simpler way to set up the shoot (your place?) that will be more cost-effective. Or hire a local photographer who does standard studio shots, but at least has professional standards and will give you a good, clean image. Whatever you do, make sure that the final result is one that you are pleased with and that your publisher feels is acceptable.
And who knows? If your book sells, maybe your publisher will cough up the cash for your author photo for the next book!