To illustrate or not to illustrate? A question.

Frontier IncursioRecently we nominated Leonie Rogers’ Frontier Incursion for the Independent Book Publishers Association’s Benjamin Franklin Digital Awards. The Awards were established to honour the best in Digital Book innovation with nominees being judged on 5 criteria:

  1. Content,
  2. Use of Platform and Technology,
  3. Innovation,
  4. Design, and
  5. Overall Reaction.

As a publishing award rather than a literary award we knew it was a bit of a long shot and unfortunately we weren’t successful. What was interesting, however, was the feedback we received from the judge about how they believed the book could be improved.

When I launched Hague Publishing it was with the intention of producing well edited eBooks, with a fast load, and a clean appearance. A book where the words did not get in the way of the story, but in fact supported that reading experience. Despite the failure to win the Award, it reassuring to have the judge recognise that the goals I had set myself had been achieved. It was also pleasing that the judge had enjoyed the story, particularly liking ‘the plot elements of genetic engineering and people-cat empathy’.

However, the suggestion that the book would benefit from the addition of internal illustration is not one that I would necessarily support. From a purely publishing perspective the use of internal illustrations would significantly add to the costs of production. While from the reader’s perspective illustrations would slow load time and chew up valuable storage space if they are like me and tend to leave previously read books on their eReader. It also raised the question of whether it would actually add any benefit to the reading experience.

In support of the judge I can see where they are coming from, and certainly from the perspective of the judging criteria they do have to reward/push the question of the ‘Use of Platform and Technology’ and ‘Innovation’. In addition, it was clear from the feedback we received that it was not only a technical matter, but the the judge felt that ‘it would benefit a great deal from illustrations, as some of the alien lifeforms are not described strongly enough to visualise them without being confused by their variety.’ While the last concern is in my view a personal one, and not indeed one I share, the question of a more interactive and ’emersive’ experience from eBooks is one that Shawn Graham’s has also supported in a recent blog subtitled: ‘Get ready for digital tomes that are a lot more immersive, and a lot less simply scanned in.’ It is a view that I do not share, however. In my view a book is a text based experience, it is not a cartoon or a comic.

Leonie also had some questions about the desirability of introducing animations and illustrations and took the opportunity of getting some from feedback from three Goodread groups she is a member of. Here are a few, representative responses:

  • “I personally don’t like them, I like to guess and picture stuff in my own head because your immagination is better than any illustration. That’s why movies mess up books constantly becasuse the characters are never what you pictured yourself. “
  • “I’ve never read an ebook with those features but I feel that they would be distracting…. “
  • “I don’t mind illustrations, but animations and interactive stuff can be distracting. They tend to reinforce what’s in the text, so there’s a break in my reading every time they catch my eye, something they do pretty much consistently. I think I would appreciate them more if they were better integrated with the story. “
  • “I’ve never encountered animation of interactive stuff in ebooks. I do enjoy illustrations in books, but I’ve found that the ebook versions of them often get a bit messed up. “
  • “I love chapter headers in eBooks. Most eBooks now have chapter headers and I think they make the books more attractive [and yes Frontier Incursion has them, and Frontier Resistance will have even more – Andrew]. As for illustrations, I don’t think they are that important. Illustrations might be great for some horror fictions (I love them in Zom-B) and middle grade fictions, but not for romance.”
  • “Generally I think the book itself is the most important thing to focus on. The other components such as covers and layout are just icing on the cake. Books with beautiful covers may attract more readers, but if they are not well-written, it will lead to low rating and bad reviews. “
In summary Leonie believes that “having read those kinds of comments (from avid readers) makes me think that perhaps the interactive features thing is moving ahead of the readers.” A view I support, however, this is a developing area and if you have any comments I’d love to hear them.

2 thoughts on “To illustrate or not to illustrate? A question.

  1. I have encountered a couple of impressive illustrated YA books recently. I loved the look but these were print books. I think child readers often expect pictures, but as early as the 1990s many kids’ books were going to design/chapter headers/embellishments rather than actual illustrations. I prefer ebooks to be simple. I don’t like websites with animations much even. They often get stuck. Even Youtube is forever spinning its wheels on my computer. So – plain for me if the book is not for younger children.

  2. I too love illustrated books, the ‘House at Pooh Corner’ for one. I have also received a number of illustrated manuscripts, one of which I would have liked to have published, but I just don’t see that the reading experience of ‘Frontier Incursion’ would have been improved with illustrations.

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