If you’re writing for small children, pictures are essential because young kids can’t read. Sure their parents can read to them, but it’s ideal to have them start picking up books at a very young age and illustrations are essential to catch their interest.

On the other hand, pictures in an adult book are a mixed blessing. For the reader there is a curiosity factor. Most individuals will have an idea how various characters look but seeming them from the writer’s perspective can be interesting. On the other, it limits the readers’ imagination—not something most authors would consider optimal.

This discussion is around works of fiction. In non-fiction, they’re almost mandatory, particularly in the sciences where a concept likely needs some sort of visual representation for comprehension. Here, I’m including such things as graphs, diagrams, and spreadsheets under the generic category of picture.    

Do illustrations cost a lot from a publisher’s perspective? In all probability, they cost more, but in these days of digital technology, it’s unlikely the difference is large. I took a sample of 20 graphic novels on Amazon compared to 20 text based and compared the average cost of a paperback between the two. The difference was only a few pennies suggesting factors outside of pictures drives pricing. It would be nice to compare production costs but those numbers aren’t available to me.  

When publishing in e-format, there are a number of issues. Intuitively, e-books should be more welcoming of illustrations since printing costs aren’t an issue, however, bandwidth may be. Uploading a 256k Word document can take a while but it’s nothing compared to uploading 256k per page. I use Smashwords.com for publishing and they have an upload limit of 10 megabytes. I’ve never come close to exceeding that since my books are text only outside of the cover, but my ISP provides upload speeds of only 10% of downloading so even a few hundred K can take a while.

Attempting to upload and publish something close to 10 megabytes would be painful.  Depending on the resolution of your images, total size can be a serious constraint. The good news is if you’re using Microsoft Word, right clicking on the illustration and choosing ‘compress’ can reduce the size by up to 80%. The bad news is, from my experience with Word, it has its own way of formatting pages and it may make some decisions you may not care for about where the pictures are located in the document.


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Unless you have artistic skill you will require someone to create the images for you. You might have someone in your family willing to take on the challenge for a few dollars or even for free. On the other hand, if you need to hire a professional, the cost is likely in the range of $90 to $120 per page; however, an online search yielded prices that were all over the map.

If you can make use of existing images, I found artwork on Tumblr priced as low as $13; however, you might have to perform an extensive search to find something close to what you want. In addition, since you’re planning to publish you need to ensure you’re purchasing the necessary rights as well as the picture. Some Tumblr artists accept commissions and the prices per picture I observed ranged from $25 on up but the artist was careful to stipulate a number of restrictions with respect to the background so from a practical point of view I think the cost would be much higher.

In general I prefer to stay away from illustrations. To even consider them, I’d want a publishing contract upfront because the cost far exceeds any revenue I’d likely receive from self-publishing. On the other hand, I might seriously consider tossing in a map or two for a fantasy book. That is something I could produce by myself so the only issue might be getting it where I wanted it in Word and then getting it through the publishers software in such a manner the end result didn’t look like a complete disaster. With so many online formats each with their own peculiarities, it can be hard enough getting text to format properly much less illustrations. Yes you need them for children’s books, no question about it. They’re also popular among young adults but it seems adults are far more focused on the story than any pictures so while I wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand, for me they’re a very low priority from both reader and author perspectives.



This guest post was contributed by Doug Lewars. Doug is not necessarily over the hill but he’s certainly approaching the summit. He enjoys writing, reading, fishing and sweets of all sorts. He has published fourteen books on Smashwords.com.