Penalty Points for Indie Writers

Published on Author templewms1 Comment

Media editors often penalize writers who use illustrations or photos in fiction, except, of course, in children’s books. In novels, they consider graphic support “unprofessional.”

In the case of indie writers, I believe they are wrong. Here’s why.

I was an editor at the Reader’s Digest for many years. We loved pictures with our stories, which were either original or condensed from established magazines. But the editors upstairs, in the condensed book department, shunned them. Novel prose had to live on its merits, with no illustrated or photographed support system.

As a journalist nominated twice for a Pulitzer, I loved pictures with my byline, but of course that was non-fiction (long ago, before fake news).

As a copy chief and a creative director at famous ad agencies like Leo Burnett and Ogilvy Mather, I understood the power of graphics with headlines, and, uh, a lot of that was fictitious, or at least stretching the truth to its creative limits.

Back to indie writers, most of whom have no means of competing with well-established authors. In my novels, I use photos with the lede of every chapter. I then take those photos and use them as graphics in advertising, with editorial review headlines, to promote my books. It is one way we can level the playing field in this Golden Age of Writing. My blog has an example of what I am talking about: http://warriorpatient.com/blog/2017/01/25/wrinkled-heartbeats-ad-campaign/ or http://warriorpatient.com/blog/2017/03/25/poison-heartbeats-ad-campaign/

It works quite well. Nevertheless, big time editors still slam me for putting the illustrations/photos in my book. One recently reviewed my latest novel very favorably, but in the second paragraph of an excellent review “professionalism” could not hold back:

“Each chapter is named and comes with an image and a short statement that sets the stage for what is about to happen. In some of the chapters, these pictorial clues and scene settings help the reader visualize what is happening, but on a whole seem unnecessary for such a well-written and descriptive novel . . . . it’s hard for me to fault an author for giving the reader something extra, but this is a story that can easily rest on its own skillful story-telling, rather than on pictures. Aside from this unnecessary distraction, the book is well-structured, well-paced, and often hard to pull yourself away from.”

I comfort myself with the fact that this editor used a preposition at the end of the review’s second paragraph, a no-no in The Chicago Book of Style. And I will continue to use graphics and photos at the start of every chapter I write in my fiction because it’s one way to compete with larger publishers.

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