Thursday, March 3, 2016

On Self-Publishing an Illustrated YA Novel

I wanted to just write this up as an offering to the Google gods, because when I was looking into publishing The Vengeful Half I had a hard time finding initial resources about indie publishing and illustrated novels. I found stuff about comics and picture books but nothing about just weaving little pictures into the books.

So I'm going to write up the little FAQ I could've used. I am by no means an expert, but at least it might help someone.

Q: Can you add pictures to an e-book and if so, how is it done?

Yes! I used the software Vellum (which is only for Mac) which very easily allows you to plug pictures anywhere in the text. Vellum forces you to choose between four sizes, but I didn't find this to be a problem. There is no way to 100% control the size of your pictures anyway, because different e-readers will display them differently. Vellum has a preview feature you can look at as you go, that shows what the picture will look like on different common e-readers. I found this very helpful! However, I have gotten one feedback already that a large picture got cut off even though this didn't show on any of the e-readers in Vellum's previewer. I adjusted the size to be a tad smaller but I have yet to find out if any other readers will have this problem.

Q: What about the print copy for Createspace or other print-on-demand publishers? How do I create that?

I got my partner to do this for me. He used iStudio, a $30 program for Mac. You can also use older versions of Pages but not the latest version. I can't comment on software for PCs. I also can't tell you anything further about how the heck he did it...

Q: Are there any issues I should be aware with uploading picture-heavy files to Amazon, etc.?

Yes, unfortunately, Amazon will charge you a delivery fee for your files to Kindle IF you choose the 70% royalty option. Therefore, an image-heavy file will take money out of your royalties. I added either a single illustration or a multi-panel comic to about 40 chapters or so, and my delivery fee is $0.82. That is a pretty decent chunk and it is a bit of a financial disadvantage for me, as I can't price my book too low without being forced to switch to the alternate 35% royalty.

It should be noted, Vellum's site will tell you that Kindle compresses the files themselves so you can leave them large. However, we brought down the delivery cost SUBSTANTIALLY by shrinking the files ourselves, to below Vellum's recommended minimum. This didn't seem to harm the viewing quality at all.

None of the other major e-book retailers charge a delivery fee or have strict minimum file sizes so you can expect the full royalty at Nook, Kobo, etc.

Q: What kind of pictures did you use?

Mine are all black and white line art scanned as grayscale. I don't have experience with color. I wanted the pictures to be easily visible on B&W e-readers.

Q: How is the picture quality on your basic e-reader?

A: The pictures, admittedly, don't look *AS* good on my 1st gen. Nook as they do on paper or read on, say, an iPad screen, but they'll do. There are probably techniques for creating art to look its best on e-readers but it's probably not realistic to adapt your entire art style for e-readers! And then you'd still have tablet, phone, and print copy readers to consider. One important thing I discovered is that I could not hand-letter the comics I did. I had to replace all the wording with computer fonts.

Q: Is there anything to bear in mind while creating the pictures?

E-readers don't have superb picture quality and they are tall, not long. So don't create big, detailed, wide pictures unless you want readers to have to turn their e-readers around.

Q: Is there a market for teen/young adult or even general fantasy novels with added comics and/or pictures?

I guess I'll find out! But I know what I like and I wanted to create the book I'd love to read, a novel with the feel of a manga thanks to added extras. Comics and visual storytelling is a very different medium from prose. For me, it's possible to express my sense of humor in a very different way by adding comic strips to the text. Whenever I show my sketchbooks to fans of my novels, they love the comics, so I thought...why not just put them in the book??

Q: To my readers: Do you know of any novels for adults or teens that incorporate art? Especially in ways that go beyond simple illustrations, such as comics?

So far I know of:
I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Thieves and Kings by Mark Oakley (a series of graphic novels with prose sections)

I would love to know of more! Surely there are more!?

And if you came to this post looking for information on illustrated novels, I hope you'll consider checking out my series, beginning with The Vengeful Half!


  1. It's fascinating to hear all these details! I can't wait to see the finished result! Another YA book I read last year that had several sections of significant illustrations (comic style) was Swati Avathi's excellent CHASING SHADOWS.

    1. Oh, awesome! I'll have to look for that for sure...

  2. Not a novel, but definitely YA--Laini Taylor's LIPS TOUCH: THREE TIMES has gorgeous illustrations. :)

    1. Yes! Good suggestion! I read that a long time ago and I loved the illustrated component but I had since forgotten...