The progression is a familiar one–as you move up in years, you move down in the number of pictures your books have.
This is the way it is, but it isn’t the way it should be.
Reading as a multi-sensory experience
Part of the fun of reading is that your brain can take whatever is on the page and make its own movie for it. You can picture the characters and events as you go along in your own personalized way.
But as any marketer will tell you, experiences are not based on just one sense. We see, taste, smell, touch and taste in incredibly integrated ways, all of which influence our perception and memory. And there is a strong bi-directional connection between linguistics and visual perception–that is, what we see influences our language, and language influences how we view the world.
What’s more, we process visual images incredibly fast–up to 60,000 times faster than text! And 90 percent of all information that comes into the brain is images. So we’re visual by nature and are primed to work with images more than anything else.
By giving at least a small number of images to your reader, you can provide a more complete experience. You can confirm and clarify what you had intended in a way that might make what you write easier to remember and enjoy.
Think about book covers. We all know we’re not supposed to judge a story by those things, but let’s face it. We do. The image conveys something. It often summarizes the entire mood or plot of the story. It can allow us to see at a glance who the main characters are, where they are set and how they interact. In the ever-increasing sea of books on physical and digital shelves, it’s an image that initially catches our eye and prompts us to read back-cover summaries and reviews.
Another great example is movie novelizations. These often do include images from the film. When we see those images, we end up replaying the scene we’ve seen. We hear the music and dialogue again and remember the taste of the popcorn we ate.
Now, I’m not suggesting that every book become a like a preschooler’s picture book. You want to leave room for the reader to still imagine. And graphic novels are a category all their own. There’s also the practical fact that images take up more digital space and are more expensive to print. I’m simply saying that images can enhance what you write and give you another, incredibly efficient way to create a more memorable, connected experience for your reader. That generally will appeal to most people, but it might be especially important for certain groups, such as those with different types of processing disorders.
Real life examples of putting in the pictures
So how might you actually use this in your work?
One option might be to use an image as a header for each section or chapter. Like the book cover, this approach could summarize what the reader is about to encounter.
You also could sprinkle images throughout the book based on key plot points you want to stress. These plot points should be easy to identify within your outline (if you use one) or summary pitch.
But…but…no one is doing this, you say.
Oh, ho, ho, yes they are.
For starters, consider the scrapbook. These aren’t necessarily published, but they’re collections intended to integrate text, photos and even 3D mementos (e.g., the feather found on a hike) to help people remember what they loved or went through.
Cookbooks also have leaned on visual representations for decades. And there are a growing number of books in this category that aren’t simply recipes. Labeled as “story cookbooks“, they have personal or cultural accounts, and the recipes are simply highlights.
Another great example of how images can enhance a book is the Bible. An edition from Alabaster takes each book of scripture (e.g., Psalms) and presents them as an individual volume. The volumes feature beautiful, full-page images that are intended to complement the text. This is different than editions of the Bible told in graphic novel form. It’s notable because people consistently identify this mammoth text as hard to stomach. The images are an intentional way to make the text more accessible and break it up so that people are more willing to engage with the scriptures.
Your story, your unique image approach
So books for adults that have pictures absolutely have a market and can do exceptionally well. But there’s no “formula”. Depending on your format or intent, you might have a very different style or number of pictures compared to someone else.
So just think about what you’re trying to get across. If an image is going to enhance that, pop one in. If it’s not, skip it. But at least consider that the modern book can be a multi-sensory experience where images serve multiple functions, and that letters don’t have to be the only way you communicate.