The Illustration Conundrum

To Illustrate or not to Illustrate, that is the (expensive) question!

To begin, I’ve always loved chapter books with illustrations. They breathe life and culture and feeling into a story. Sometimes, I wish to high heavens that Harry Potter books had come with full page illustrations every couple of pages. Not every page mind you, even just one per chapter would have been awesome. Obviously, the style of your book has to lend itself to illustrations. Personally, I think all books could use them in one form or another.

But Wait! You cry. “I have my own created image of what this world looks like, why should someone else make it for me?”

Someone else already has, if the book you are reading has cover art. From the moment you open a book, your mind is building the world that you are reading. The cover (to me) is like the section in a library – Does it have dragons on the cover? Trigger the fantasy imagination component of your mind. Man waving a french flag with a musket? Activate the Three Musketeers and Napoleon memory centers! Illustrations in a book are a way of guiding the reader’s imagination, like mileposts or markers on an old trail. The trail is laid out for you, but you are making the journey. The markers guide you, even shape some of the world for you. But illustrations are expensive, and only the most well paid authors or those with a great amount of extra money to use, those who have won the family/friend lottery (Hey, wanna illustrate my book? I’ll pay you in pizza!) can truly fill a novel book with illustrations. Even Scott Westerfeld of steampunk fame doesn’t have illustrations on every page.


So what is a new/upcoming author to do if they want illustrations. There are a few options.

1.) Sell your firstborn (Just kidding!)

2.) Compromise – Have only a few illustrations that are super critical.

3.) Never have any illustrations and pour that extra money into cover art or extra promotional things.

Of these, option two is the best, and really the only option, that makes the best sense if you have the money for illustrations. As a visual person myself, I love having maps in my book. If your story is going somewhere, have a map! They make great interior covers, and can break up a story neatly into chunks if that is what you need. In my book, I have plans for two maps – one of the entire continent of Europe, and the other of my semi-fictional city of Brittenburg.

My plan for Brass Legionnaire is to have two illustrations that are critical to the story and really tie into the theme and idea of my world. Not only can I have them in the book, but I can get enlarged ones as posters and other things to use as freebies and contest prizes. Theoretically I could sell them eventually too, but I like the idea of having control of a limited number of them in really nice form. Those in the book would be black and white, while the promo ones would be full color.

I suppose I could lay down a pretty penny for one illustration per chapter, but maybe I’ll save that for the omnibus (in the far, far future!) Of course, if you want to make it happen, check out my Kickstarter project and donate. I don’t have much time left on it, and I’m sort of sad that it won’t likely happen, but I’m excited to still have the chance to share the book with you guys regardless!



Author: Daniel Ottalini

Author of the Award-Winning Steam Empire Chronicles Series

6 thoughts on “The Illustration Conundrum”

  1. Hi, Mr Ottalini!

    I am professional visual artist myself who is trying to kick-start a career in writing: genre fiction, horror/thriller mostly. I shared some of your views. In fact, I have considered these same predicaments at length. As an artist writing my own book/story–why not enhance it with my illustrations? (My avatar is a freehand illustration, a detail of a proposed banner ad for a browser game, as my example.)

    Then again, it would looked like comics–aiding the story as it plods along, assisting the imaginations of those who read without much of the gift to visualize. Don’t laugh, but only a handful of us called artists can do it. If the illustrations were used as aids (maps, costumes, furniture, etc, or like the uniform of the Brass Legionnaire) meant to give the reader an idea of place, form, or colour, then I concur with your proposals.

    What I object to is to add several visuals to a serious book that will “eliminate” the readers’ own version of the story scenes, character, atmosphere, etc., to interpret the story. True, most cover designs did that to help sales, but for the more successful ones (design-wise, say, the old Exorcist cover–a distorted image of a face so blurred one can interpret it as a copy of demonic possession), the less the better.

    Illustrations is a good tool to aid easy comprehension of an idea. But when it becomes abundant like in children’s books (definitely geared to a market still learning to grasp a visual anchor of things), it lowers the standard of the book or novel or story. Not unless, the real intention was to do just that–an illustrated version of a story.

    I wish you the best of luck in your writing, Mr Ottalini, and hope one day we’ll share our thoughts again.

    1. I Agree that you don’t want the illustrations to overwhelm the story. It can detract from your writing, and I think that the idea of moderation is, as always, beneficial. By having some, but not many, illustrations, you can provide that visual aspect that many people enjoy. Just look at the advent of graphic novels! That being said, this is an issue because I wrote a novel, not a graphic novel. You make a good point about the cover art too.

  2. 4) Make friends with designers/illustrators and have them do it for you for free. So you can add illustrations whenever it is needed. (Thats what I did)

  3. Daniel,

    I share your appreciation for illustrations and think one per chapter is not outlandish. Expensive, yes, which is why I’m trying to groom one of my granddaughters to become an artist/illustrator! I even appreciate small, almost ornamental sorts of illustrations on chapter title pages, if they are suitable and evocative of the literature’s spirit. Now, I like the idea of befriending someone and persuading to donate their efforts, but unless they have a pretty decent job, they probably need to be paid a decent wage for their time… Thanks for the post.

  4. I settled on a happy medium all! Two maps (World map and city map) + One beginning, middle, and end illustration that I’ll also use as promo posters and the like. I’ll let you know how it is going 🙂

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: