More Fun With Formatting: Why Not Illustrated Fiction?

One of my pleasures when reading is learning something new or unusual (I collect odd factoids the way trash hoarders collect empty soda cups). I truly appreciate writers who extensively research. Some of my finest obsessions (Vikings, forensic science, birds, etc.) spring directly from fiction. Even when my obsessions aren’t triggered, temporary fascination with people, places and things often send me haring off on Google expeditions to learn more about what the writer is talking about.

I’ve often wondered why more writers/publishers don’t indulge such reader impulses with their ebooks?

I had a project recently that did just that. Eye Sleuth, by Hazel Dawkins, and Eye Witness by Hazel Dawkins and Dennis Berry, are mystery novels that feature a sleuth with an unusual occupation–behavioral optometrist–set in visually interesting locations–New York city, coastal England.

The writers wanted a gallery with images of those visually interesting places along with images relating to the sleuth’s occupation. There are also illustrations for the chapter heads. A challenging project, but a lot of fun, too.


Manage your image sizes. I have found that using percentages to declare image sizes is a good way to make sure images aren’t cropped on small screens and don’t sprawl on large screens.


One of the sad facts of ereaders is that because of the way they are set up, it’s damned difficult (and impossible for the likes of me) to wrap text and to make sure text stays with an image. Depending on the device, images can be “orphaned” on a screen, which isn’t a good look. Two ways to make sure such occurrences don’t interfere with the text are to (one) give each image its own page; (two) create a gallery with links from the text.

internal linkInternal links in ebooks are easy. I have found that using a div id for the bookmarks reduces the chances of blown formatting. One thing I highly recommend when doing a gallery of images is to insert a link from the image back to the text. Even though ereaders allow a reader to Go Back, sometimes a reader will decide to browse a bit, then suddenly they’ve lost their place. (okay, maybe not all readers, but this reader does) Eliminate that annoyance with a link.

color image1Also, because of how I read–Now where was that cool picture of the whatsit?–I included all the images in the table of contents. It takes some extra time and effort on my part, but it makes navigation and referencing easier for the readers, so that makes it all worth it.

tocIt’s also important to check the quality of images. Black and white photos, crisp and sharp, look fabulous on all ereaders. Color images need to be checked lest what looks okay in color turns to a gray blur on an eink screen.

bw imagesAnother big consideration is overall file size. Amazon charges .15 cents per MB as a delivery fee. You don’t want to eat up your royalty with those fees. Lowering the resolution on images to around 77 to 96 pixels per inch reduces file size a lot without affecting the display too much. Keep track of image sizes and be prepared to trim if necessary.

Illustrating fiction isn’t difficult, but it does require some planning and organization. Put yourself in the reader’s place and consider how the book will be read and how to best use the device features to enhance the experience.

22 thoughts on “More Fun With Formatting: Why Not Illustrated Fiction?

    • Thanks Jon. The really fun part is getting them to work across the board on all devices. Devices and their capabilities are out of synch right now, but I suspect that will improve sooner than later.

  1. What fun to see our books featured in your blog, Jaye—and in such a worthwhile cause. Thanks so much for your terrific formatting of “Eye Sleuth” and “Eye Witness!”
    —Dennis Berry

  2. Pingback: Illustrated Fiction | dhberry

  3. Impressive — amazing how hard this is, how much you’ve learned and how much you accomplish. I’m just now considering a cookbook and wondering how on earth I will self-pub a cookbook with photos.

    • Will be most fun to find out how to create a useful, colorful, attractive–and i repeat–useful cookbook. I already use my Kindle in the kitchen. The things are sturdy, don’t mind food and grease splatters, and the pages never flip over so I can always hold my place. Perfect for cookbooks. The trick will be finding optimal display sizes and image types.

      Let’s do it, Julia! I’m hungry already.

  4. A rude n’ crude way to get the images to be forced one page is to embed the caption in the image. It actually works okay for comic books and certain types of children’s books. Jaye, you’re idea is cool–a gallery. Nice! Much better than messing around with the fixed-layout spec, which was a lame gambit by Amazon and Apple to get people to make eBooks for just one device (no thanks!)

  5. I have embedded captions on the images, Paul, and the problem is optimum display and readability across screen sizes. Big screens make them blur, small screens are too tiny to read. It really is a pain. If there were only one or two images, I’d kick up the resolution to 600 dpi and that at least would make the typography clear on big screens. But there is still the problem of tiny screens–and with the huge number of users who read on cell phones, I’m not shutting them out! Embedding would work fine with captions of four or five words max, probably, but anything else it’s not worth it. A shame.

    Like you, the more I look into fixed layouts, the more I see how specialized that is and what a poor choice it would be for fiction or text-heavy non-fic. Anyone who wants to see an approximation can load a pdf into their ereader. Not something you’d want to inflict on paying customers.

    • Jaye, the dpi metadata in an image usually only has an effect on images when something is in print form, unless I’m confused about something. eBooks are usually based on the pixel size. What software are you using to resize these bad boys?

      • I apologize, Paul. That’s me being sloppy with my terminology. I MEAN pixels per inch.

        To clarify for those who aren’t familiar, I’ll try to explain what I’m doing without making a big old mess of it. Let’s say I have a photograph that in print size is 5 by 7 inches and the resolution is 600 dpi (dots per inch–pixels per inch). If I degrade the resolution to 100 dpi and then print that same photo, I would end up with a very fuzzy image that is 6 times larger than the original, or 30 by 42 inches. But, if I were to reduce the dimensions of the same image back to 5 by 7 inches, then print that, the image would appear at a glance to be fairly close to the original, but the file size in kb would be reduced to one-sixth of the original. It wouldn’t be a great physical print, but on an ereader screen it would look very much like the original. THEN, if I reduce the actual dimensions in inches to fit an average ereader screen of about 3 by 5 inches, the image display gets sharper, and the file is reduced further in size. Some of the quality appearance of the image is an optical illusion, I suppose, but it works on the screen, and that’s what matters.

        I use a program called Paint,net. It allows me to manipulate the resolution (dpi) and the image dimensions (in pixels OR inches). (It took me a while to figure out there is a difference between the two,) Here, by the way, the Kindle Previewer is a pretty good tool. The Kindle for iOS in iPad mode has a large display. If an image looks fairly crisp in that mode, then I am comfortable that it will look good on almost any reading device.

      • As a matter of course, I degrade the quality on almost everything, Paul, just to reduce the overall file size. Since I get better results with jpeg images, I tend them almost exclusively. I’m a bit paranoid about file bloat, especially with MOBI files.

        By the way, I HIGHLY recommend It’s not quite Photoshop, but it’s extremely powerful in its own right–there are apps available to do some really fancy stuff, too. Unlike Photoshop, it’s free and it doesn’t send me daily notifications that an update is ready to install.

    • Me, too, Nila. I have never outgrown my love if illustrated books. With printing costs now taken out of the equation, illustrations are a viable option in any ebook. Right?

      • I agree. I include illustrations in the anthology I helped put together last year. I hope readers thought they added to the whole reading experience. I know I enjoyed including them.

  6. Nothing wrong with a little bit of graphic art to lighten or liven things up. I had wee Charlie and Holly (7) over last weekend, as as usual one of our conversations turned to books and I said that you and Holly should write a book Charlie, how cool would that be to see your name on the front cover of a book co-authored with your sister. His reply Holly can write it and I can be the artist but then I found this on his ipod, he wrote it in the back of the car on his way to visit his other g/parents, bless

    great post as usual Missy Jaye

    • Good for Charlie. As an artist AND writer, he can keep ALL the royalties. Heh. Tell him I said, very nice review. (Thor is one of my favorite characters and I even wear a hammer for luck–not that I’m superstitious, mind)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s