What does a writer look like?

Much has been made recently in the blogosphere about publishers’ preferences for books written by stunning young women and publishers’ tendencies to invest heavily in tours and advertising for said hotties.

This is good news for stunning young women who are aspiring authors, and bad news for the rest of us.

That said, what do real writers look like — and why?

There’s always been the tweedy, academic type (think of the fellow played so brilliantly by Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys). And there’s the femme d’une certaine age romance doyenne (Jaqueline Susann, Danielle Steel); the wry, sumptuously credentialled literary woman, always in black (Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood); and the endlessly exuberant world traveler (Bill Buford, Bill Bryson, the late R.W. Apple). And now we have the rumpled, ironic McSweeney’s dude (Dave Eggers, Nick Hornby, Jonathan Lethem).

In the mystery field you find guys who write about cops and wise guys who look like cops and wise guys and women who write about eccentric detectives with cats who look like…eccentrics with cats. In the science fiction world, I can think of a quite few authors who look like they’d be right at home in the Cantina scene from Star Wars, in an alternate reality, or running a top-secret laboratory. And, yes, in the romance field, there are still a few blow-dried 1980s hairdos and a lot of long, flowing tresses in general.

My theory about writers’ tendencies to look like stereotypes is this: It’s easy, and it’s timeless.

Writers mostly stay at home writing, so they need only a few outfits for going out or (if they are lucky) going on tour. Unlike people who work 50 weeks a year in an office, writers rarely wear out their “good” clothes — and they probably don’t see enough of the outside world to even notice when fashions change. With the exception of chick lit writers (who probably toss out their whole closets and write off seasonal shopping sprees at Prada as “research expenses”) I suspect authors just find something classic…and stick with it.

Even so, I really do need do something about the fact that the only black dress shoes I own are pre-2000 — and only one pair can be counted as “retro/vintage.” Maybe I need to start writing chick lit?

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