by Joseph T. Sinclair
You can easily use and embed photographs for use in nonfiction digital books. They typically appear distinctive and sharp leaving little to the reader’s imagination.
In contrast, photographs are exactly what fiction digital books don’t need. Normal photographs are too definitive for fiction and interfere with the participation of the reader in forming the imagery that the author intends. But what about illustrations? Many novels, for instance, have used artistic illustrations down through the centuries. Presumably the vagueness of art, while adding aesthetic appeal to the book, doesn’t overly interfere with a reader’s participation in the literary imagery.
Perhaps the major reason that publishers have not universally used illustrations for fiction is simply the cost. Creating the illustrations runs up extra printing expense and requires hiring an artist. Moreover it requires collaboration between the artist and the author, a cost in both time and money. And few authors have the artistic talent to create their own illustrations.
Yet photographs now provide authors with an opportunity to create their own art illustrations easily and inexpensively. Granted, it takes an informed sense of aesthetics and a little bit of digital skill, but an author can use image editing software (e.g., Adobe Photoshop) to turn photos into art illustrations. An author can do this most easily by using art “filters.” One click of the filter turns your photograph of an Iowa cornfield into a van Gogh painting enriched with vibrant green and augmented with a golden sun.
Below is a photograph I took of the Chateau de Cercamp in Frevent, France.
It’s pretty sharp and well defined; not appropriate for fiction. But when transformed (via Photoshop) into various paintings, it becomes vaguer and more suitable for a fiction illustration (see below).
I took the next photo of a woman sitting at an outdoor cafe in Paris.
I transformed it into a silkscreen print (via Photoshop), and it looks like it could be an illustration in a modern novel about Paris.
For both fiction and non-fiction authors there’s the process of creating book covers, a task for which authors and publishers have to hire a cover designer. Yet being able to transform photographs into art illustrations gives a self-published author on a budget the opportunity to make attractive book covers by himself or herself. Again it requires an informed sense of aesthetics and some digital skill to pull it off, but many authors have both.
Here’s a photograph of the Canal St. Martin in Paris to use on the cover of a mystery novel. A photograph, however, is a little too sharp and realistic for a novel.
When rendered into a painting (via Photoshop), however, the cover becomes more elusive.
Add the text, and you have a cover.
OK, it may not be the greatest cover in the world, but I created it in a half-hour. Given a couple of hours, I think I could do better.
Using photos to create art illustrations isn’t for every author. But for those with good taste, a little software skill, an artistic inclination, and tight budget it’s an option worth considering. Sit down with an image editor and a few of your photographs and experiment.
Another option worth considering is using photograph-generated illustrations to create a prototype cover. Then hand the prototype off to a cover designer for refinement.
In the old print world of publishing, the publisher provided all the horsepower (and capital) to get a book from a manuscript onto the bookstores. In the new age of self-publishing, you have to do it yourself or pay someone to do it. And there are a lot of its. Anywhere you can use your skills (old or newly acquired) to complete part of the publishing process, you can substitute your own labor for the capital needed to publish profitably.
The author of this article, Joseph T. Sinclair, is the author of twenty How To books published by national publishers.
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©2015 Joseph T. Sinclair. All rights reserved.