June 26


When is a Picture Worth 1000 Words?

By Boni Wagner-Stafford

June 26, 2018

#businessbooks, #copyright, #memoir, artwork

If you’re thinking about artwork for your book, you’re right that it can greatly enhance your book. When I say ‘artwork for your book’, I’m talking about photographs, illustrations, maps, graphs and diagrams. However, to truly add to the value of your book, artwork shouldn’t simply be something you add haphazardly in an effort to make the pages look pretty. Carefully consider when and how to use artwork or it can do more harm than good.

Here are five things to ask yourself when considering artwork for your book.

1. Can it be said better in a picture?

Think back to the textbooks you had in school. Would you have understood some of the concepts you learned about if there weren’t diagrams to help explain them? Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. It can convey feelings and explain what you want to say in a way that words don’t always do.

Of course, finding the perfect visual to illustrate a concept doesn’t mean you can now become lazy in your writing. You’ll still need to explain what the visual is illustrating. After all, the visual is supposed to support the text. Not the other way around.

2. Will the artwork enhance the text?

A very important consideration to keep in mind when you’re thinking of artwork for your book is whether it’s really necessary. Artwork simply for artwork’s sake will detract from the flow of your text and may become annoying to your readers. However, a well-chosen visual can help bring the text on the page to life. If you’re telling someone’s life story, a photograph of the street where they grew up can help the reader imagine what living there was like. If you’re describing a particular place, a map will help the reader orientate themselves. A graph can help the reader visualize and compare statistics in a way a series of numbers simply can’t. When you’re describing a historic event, a cartoon from the era can help the reader experience the zeitgeist.

3. Will visuals work with the format of your book?

It’s very rare for visuals not to work well in the print book format. Your only real limitations are whether or not the book will be printed in full colour or in black and white. Some authors opt for using black and white artwork where relevant in the text and then adding one or two full-colour sections with maps or photographs.

When it comes to ebooks, though, you need to think very carefully about adding visuals. There are three main reasons for this.

  1. You may need to reformat every image for every kind of e-reader, since they tend to support different image sizes. This is incredibly time-consuming.
  2. Images don’t always flow well with text in ebooks. Ebooks are reader-controlled, which means the reader decides what font type and size and spacing. You are not in control of the page alignment. If not handled carefully, artwork for your book may end up cut off. Or they may show up on a different page from the corresponding text the image is supposed to support. And that has a negative impact on your reader’s experience.
  3. And probably the most important reason to limit the use of images in an ebook is that each image you add increases the book’s file size. The larger the file size, the longer it will take to download the book. This can affect your sales. Online publishers may even reject your book if the file is too big.

4. How will you find the needed artwork for your book?

There are different ways to find the artwork you may need for your book. If you have your own photographs or illustrations, you can use these. However, they need to be excellent quality. A poorly drawn diagram that you created in Word will look unprofessional and will affect the overall quality of your book.

A much better option is to source professionally-rendered visuals. There are myriad stock photo sites, like AdobeStock or Dreamstime, where you can easily enter keywords and search for photographs, vector diagrams, graphics, etcetera. You can even outsource this job to a picture researcher and then choose from the different options they find.

Another way to get professionally rendered artwork for your book is to commission an illustrator, graphic designer or photographer to create the images you need. This is more expensive, of course. But your book will have unique artwork. You’ll also have more control over exactly what the images depict.

As you write your book, make a list of the visuals you’ll need. Your editor can help you turn this into detailed briefs for the artists and/or picture researcher and help you find suitable artists. You may even commission a few different artists according to the type of work they specialize in: maps, graphs, line diagrams, cartoons, and so on. Once you’ve commissioned your artist, they will create roughs. You then need to check that the brief was followed correctly. At this stage you can also ask the artist to make changes. Then the artist will create the final artwork for your approval.

5. What about copyright?

Just because you find an image on the internet doesn’t mean you can simply use it in your book. Artwork, just like text, may be subject to copyright.

For stock images, there are different kinds of copyright and licensing. For example, some images may be in the public domain. This essentially means they’re not subject to copyright and you can use them as you wish. Others may have a Creative Commons licence that specifies where and how you may use them. A good picture researcher will be well versed in copyright issues and can help you avoid using an image illegally.

When you commission original artwork, you’ll sign a contract with the artist or photographer. This contract should stipulate who holds the copyright for the artwork and how you may use the images. Here you may want to get a publishing expert to help you navigate the legal waters.

Artwork can turn even the most mundane text into a reading pleasure.

What’s your experience with artwork for your book? 




What do you think?

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