Beauty Mark

The Makings Of A Literary It-Girl

We know their names and devour their books, but what happens before and after being dubbed a literary it-girl? Allie Rowbottom breaks down the label — the good, the bad, and the very ugly.

Allie's rejected author photo for her book, Jell-o Girls.


Beauty Mark is a monthly column by Allie Rowbottom, where she answers readers' pressing beauty questions. To submit your question, email

Picture me newly thirty, my first book under contract with a Big Five publisher. It’s the start of my career, the sort of start I’ve dreamed of, and I can’t stop feeling that with one false move my dreams will be revoked. But it’s time to take my author photo, and lord help me, I want to look like a woman who believes herself deserving. Already, I’ve had a friend shoot me, but the results weren’t what I’d hoped: too black and white, too sweet, too innocent, with none of the edge I want to conjure, the edge I feel is in my writing and therefore part of who I am.

At home I set the stage to try again. Daytime. Sheepskin rug over the couch, pink lights in the background, casting it all in a soft, softcore glow. I thrift a silk blouse and button it all the way to the top, pair it with my favorite jeans, the high-waisted ones I have to lay on my back to zip. I hand my husband the camera. We take one hundred photos and of them I can stand to look at three.

In the photograph I like most, I’m smiling, coy. I’ve exposed only the skin on my face and the top of my hand. It’s a colorful image, one I can picture fitting with the teal green of my book cover, which, between us, I don’t love. I had specifically asked for a different design, but bargaining the background from “millennial pink”–a color seemingly assigned, in 2018, to every female author’s book as a matter of course–to teal was itself a battle, so I feel grateful for what I’ve got. It is, I believe, very important to express my gratitude before voicing concerns about any element of book production. It’s important not to be labeled entitled, privileged, a bitch. Online, I watch other women writers with debut books perform their gratitude–effusive, self-protective–and wonder how they’re feeling. If they have reservations about the publication of their work, they don’t say so. Instead, they self-deprecate and apologize for self-promotion.

You have almost certainly guessed by now that my chosen author photo was rejected by my publishing team.. They were delicate about it. They didn’t want to have this conversation with me, the one I’m having with you now. But they had been discussing it privately and had come to a consensus: the photo had to go. They didn’t want readers getting the wrong idea about me, they said. They didn’t want readers to see me as unserious. Readers are weird and judgmental, they said. Next book, they promised. When you’ve blown up and become a bestseller, when you’ve proven yourself a real writer, we can paper every bus in New York City with this photo. I received these emails in the parking lot of a UPS store, where I sat in my car, crying tears of total mortification.

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