Friday, January 23, 2015

Stepping Up Your Game

When a potential buyer thumbs through our novel in a “real” bookstore or peruses a sample of our e-book online, what does she see? What makes our printed pages (or e-book) stand out from all the others? A great cover garners instant attention. Name recognition helps. However, many of us aren’t well known; we haven’t developed a fan base. We need an equalizer.

Equalizer? How about graphics?

Most hard-copy books are printed with black ink on a cream or white background. Line art can be very effective, and a grayscale graphic can be surprisingly detailed in printed books. E-books, on the other hand, can be full color.

Are you captivated by a gorgeous sunset? A turbulent sea? Ducklings paddling after their mother in a pond? An elderly couple holding hands? As the cliché says, a picture is worth a thousand words. Just as a stunning cover may inspire us to pick up a book, well-placed graphics in the interior may incite us to buy the book.  

Look at two scenes below — with and without graphics. Do the graphics enhance or clarify the scenes in your mind? How do they help to tell the story?

Martha Hanson walked into the noisy classroom. Ninth grade boys and girls huddled in small pods, some whispering, some laughing, some tossing books and papers into the air and letting them fall to the floor. Miniskirts and shorts showed too much leg, and pants belted below the derrière rather than at the waist made her cringe. Fourteen years ago she’d left her position in a parochial school to raise her family. Her husband’s death had forced her back into the workplace. Public school wasn’t where she’d ever expected to teach.

The third time she tapped her ruler against the desktop, some students began to turn her way. “Find a seat, please.” Adjusting her glasses, she struggled to be heard above the din.

A roomful of mostly fair-haired adolescents looked in her direction, at least momentarily. A Hispanic girl and three Asian boys rounded out the group. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak.

***

Harry Samson left the college campus and began the ten-block trek to his apartment. The fresh air always invigorated him after a day of teaching. Following his recovery from a football injury, he’d returned to his alma mater to get his Ph.D. and stayed when a position unexpectedly opened up. At the end of this term he’d have tenure. Not that job security was everything, but positions in his field weren’t as easy to come by as they’d once been.

He stopped to light his pipe and leisurely crossed the street. Halfway home, he heard a noise in the alley. A quick glance made him want to run the other way. An old man, a derelict most likely, lay on the pavement. Two strapping young hoodlums took turns kicking him. The man curled into a fetal position and cried out. With each blow, the cries grew weaker.

Conflicting thoughts stampeded through his mind. What can I do? I’m only one person, but I can’t just walk away. It hasn’t been that many years since I was a star on the football field. I stay in shape. I lift weights…

He stepped out of sight, put in a quick call to 911, and returned to the alley entrance. Drawing himself up to his full six feet, he limped toward the bullies.

***

Now let’s add graphics to the same scenes and see how they might enhance reader interest and understanding.

by Shannon Parish
www.illustratingyou.com
Martha Hanson walked into the noisy classroom. Ninth grade boys and girls huddled in small pods, some whispering, some laughing, some tossing books and papers into the air and letting them fall to the floor. Miniskirts and shorts showed too much leg, and pants belted below the derrière rather than at the waist made her cringe. Fourteen years ago she’d left her position in a parochial school to raise her family. Her husband’s death had forced her back into the workplace. Public school wasn’t where she’d ever expected to teach.

The third time she tapped her ruler against the desktop, some students began to turn her way. “Find a seat, please.” Adjusting her glasses, she struggled to be heard above the din.

A roomful of mostly fair-haired adolescents looked in her direction, at least momentarily. A Hispanic girl and three Asian boys rounded out the group. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak.

***

by Shannon Parish
www.illustratingyou.com
Harry Samson left the college campus and began the ten-block trek to his apartment. The fresh air always invigorated him after a day of teaching. Following a football injury, he’d returned to his alma mater to get his Ph.D. and stayed when a position unexpectedly opened up. At the end of this term he’d have tenure. Not that job security was everything, but positions in his field weren’t as easy to come by as they’d once been.

He stopped to light his pipe and leisurely crossed the street. Halfway home, he heard a noise in the alley. A quick glance made him want to run the other way. An old man, a derelict most likely, lay on the pavement. Two strapping young hoodlums took turns kicking him. The man curled into a fetal position and cried out. With each blow, the cries grew weaker.

Conflicting thoughts stampeded through his mind. What can I do? I’m only one person, but I can’t just walk away. It hasn’t been that many years since I was a star on the football field. I stay in shape. I lift weights…

He stepped out of sight, put in a quick call to 911, and returned to the alley entrance. Drawing himself up to his full six feet, he limped toward the bullies.

***

Do these graphics enhance the scenes for you? How could you incorporate illustrations into your books? To step up your game, you can insert graphics above chapter headings, at chapter endings (line art can be especially effective here), or with a text wrap, as shown above.

Graphics reprinted with permission.
ShannonParish.com

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at DenverEditor.com.

18 comments :

  1. debby turner harrisJanuary 23, 2015 at 3:31 AM

    You are so right to call our attention to the importance of presentation! If it's true in haut cuisine that "the first bite is with the eye", the same general principle applies when it comes to books. Graphic elements make wonderful garnishes.

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    1. Love your analogy, Debby. So much that we buy, eat, enjoy begins with the eyes.

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  2. You are right, Linda, that internal graphics could enhance visual appeal, but this would not work in all genres or cases. In much modern adult fiction, the results would likely seem sleazy, old-fashioned, or out-of-place. It's hard to picture a Tom Clancy thriller with chapter cameos.

    Still, the broad notion of finding ways to us graphics for an extra stylistic edge is valid. For the SF anthology Infinite Loop, I designed a glyph of a pen wrapped in a möbius strip to mark scene breaks, part of a "visual branding" of the work.

    --Larry Constantine (pen name, Lior Samson)

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    1. I agree that not every book will lend itself to the use of graphics. However, I can envision thrillers having line art of a revolver (or other appropriate weapon) at the end of a harrowing chapter -- or as the "signature" of the villain -- or perhaps bullets separating scenes (again, line art - the kind that go in a gun, not the ones that highlight items on a list). This would be much more interesting than asterisks or other mundane scene break markers (and similar to the one you mentioned for the SF anthology). I think the type of art chosen would make or break many readers' view of its effectiveness. What do you think?

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  3. One thing you lose with e-books is some of the truly gifted interior design aspects: special fonts, symbols, chapter heading graphics, overall page design. Not sure about illustrations for the types of books I read. It would depend on the quality and the purpose and whether they provided too many speed bumps. It might not be bad between chapters. Graphics can be difficult to insert successfully into e-books depending on the platform. Graphic novels are certainly doing well these days. There could be room for experimental hybrids.

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    1. I agree. Used discreetly and sparingly -- not overused -- I don't think they would become a distraction (speed bumps). Size should be small enough to avoid overpowering the effectiveness of the words, but rather to subtly support them. Of course, different genres might invite somewhat larger illustrations, such as some Science Fiction or Fantasies novels. Nonfiction, on the other hand, often benefits from the inclusion of appropriate graphics.

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  4. Like Larry, I've used teeny weeny graphics that relate to a couple of my books for scene breaks. For Dangerous Connections, it was an icon for a cell tower, and for Hidden Fire, it was a diamond. But there are other wingding symbols easy enough to insert in place of asterisks.

    As for "pictures" in novels, after a post I did on finding images of characters with the IF List, I'm not sure how well they'd work unless you made sure they showed up the first time you introduced the characters. In romance novels, cover art of the characters rarely matches what the author is describing (or the reader's image), but they're stuck with whatever the art department can find.

    Also, I wonder if there's a negative feeling about including images in novels because as we learned to read, a book with "no pictures" was a sign of growing up.

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    1. Your comment about "no pictures" being "a sign of growing up" made me stop and think. I do believe our intended audience needs to be taken into consideration in any use of graphics. I also believe line art personalized to our stories offers a unique option that would set us and our books apart, particularly if we use small but relevant pieces ("teeny weeny graphics") for scene breaks and chapter ends. Bits of art created exclusively for our book take it out of the typical clipart realm and make it part of our branding, as Larry noted.

      If we work with an artist, we might get something small that ties in well with our cover. Suppose we're writing a romance, and the cover depicts a woman in a hat, looking out over the landscape. Perhaps a tiny representation of the hat could be used for scene breaks and the woman's face and head with the hat on (also small) could signify the end of the chapter -- both in the form of simple line art. Of course, this is one of those cases where "less is more." Overdoing it would become an instant negative. If done right, however, do you think this might bring a special appeal to a number of books?

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    2. I think it might (briefly) enhance the experience, but I doubt the reader will pay much attention after the first few uses. I can't imagine it as something that would have people talking about the book, or giving it any exposure. (I can just see a review--the book sucked, but man, those scene break graphics were awesome!)

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  5. As one who only read Playboy magazine for the articles, I had think about this ... but certainly, on occasion a well placed illustration could be an enhancement.

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    1. "Only...for the articles" -- you're a good man, Christopher. I knew I could count on you to see the value of illustrations for those who take time to look at such things. :-)

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  7. As one who creates her own cover art, the one tricky element to putting faces to characters, is it must be the right one. Readers will use that image throughout the book, and if it's wrong, it sends a bad message. Cover designers should read the book before creating the cover. That goes for inside illustrations as well. I do like the idea that Terry mentioned about using more interesting graphic at scene breaks. Wish I had thought to be more creative there. I have seen maps used well to give the reader an idea of the area setting. I liked that a lot.

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    1. You're exactly right, Polly. Just any ol' graphic won't do. It has to fit the book like a designer gown. I really like the idea of a well-suited and eye-catching cover, tiny parts of which are recreated as line art and used as scene breaks and chapter endings. This provides great continuity and keeps readers "in the zone."

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  8. Graphics would make a book more interesting, but I have a hard enough time just getting my books done, without adding extras!

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  9. Maybe if you used just one, it wouldn't seem like an extra. For example, a very small piece of line art that related in some way to the story could be used as scene breaks. That should be quick and easy, and you wouldn't have to worry about any other ones.

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  10. The idea of graphics as scene breaks is a good idea, as long as they are small. I thought of using something different for my last book, and convention won out, but I wish I had gone with the impulse and not convention.

    I do agree with some of the other comments about the pictures, though, especially for most commercial genre fiction. I think illustrations would be intrusive. For literary, mainstream and memoir a well-placed ink or pencil drawing could be effective.

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    1. Different books, different genres -- I do think the addition of pictures, illustrations, or line art must be considered on a case by case basis. I love the idea of using simple, small ones as scene breaks, and I have seen graphics at the beginning of a fantasy novel that are absolutely stunning and that promote reader interest. The one thing I would suggest is originality. If a writer chooses to include any of these, the graphics (whatever kind they are) should be unique to the story.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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