Tuesday, January 25, 2011

But Where Are the Pictures?

On days I'm hustling on a novel, my husband will ask, "You got a chapter you need to read to me?" I love those moments. He grabs a bourbon and a cigar, sometimes I grab the same (bourbon, not cigar), and we sit on the back porch. Whether covered with a blanket from the chill in the air, or barefooted and braless under a t-shirt, I read to him. I make notes I find - that he finds - and between pages we enjoy scanning the backyard for birds and fish breaking in the lake.

It's a joke in my house that my husband doesn't read. Oh, he can. He just doesn't like to. He can quote you movie lines from a zillion flicks, to include ninety percent of the True Grit dialogue, but he doesn't read books. He'll listen to me read for a hour or more. When he's asked why he doesn't read a book, he usually says, "It doesn't have any pictures." He's a very visual guy.

Believe it or not, so are many readers. They seek good words, but it's often photography or graphics that reel them in from the cold to pick up yours.

I'm not talking just books, although nobody will argue with the fact that a strikingly designed book cover is worth its weight in gold in a bookstore filled with five hundred thousand different books. I'm talking blogs, websites, even newsletters. You may be known for your writing, but that one, well-designed, carefully placed pic might keep someone from skimming the headline and moving on.

For years, few people had websites. Then everybody did. Then they became masterpieces of art and graphics in addition to stories. No more clip art or twirling icons. Then people began to blog. No pictures. Then more people blogged, and blogging wasn't so inventive. Again, graphics and photography crept in . . . no, splashed in, spreading visual magnetism in hopes of stealing someone else's readers.

Avatars and photos appeared on Twitter, forums, and even blog comments. YouTube, visual podcasts, book trailers. Sometimes you feel the visuals are stealing the show. You're a writer, darn it. Not a graphic designer, movie producer or photographer.

It's called media. And it's here to stay.

So no matter what type of footprint you make online or on paper, make sure that something visual comes along for the ride. Christina Katz, author of Get Known Before the Book Deal and Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids, once asked me why I distributed a newsletter without my picture in it. Heck, I hadn't thought about it. Who would care what I looked like? So I threw a picture in the next newsletter.

Dang, people commented about liking my smile, said they related to who wrote the editorials, commented on the hair. But after a month, I tired of the same picture. It became almost as stale as none at all. I grew into having a new picture each week. Now I received numerable remarks about the latest picture. I've picked plums with my grandson, posed hugging my granddaughter, made raspberry cupcakes, fed chickens, picked tomatoes, even posed with Hooters waitresses, another time showed me in my toolbelt building a chicken coop. Don't know whether it was my writing or my pictures, but the membership jumped. Each week I enjoy pondering a new angle for the photo (and how to hide my hips and wrinkles).

My blog posts now have a representative picture, symbolic of the message. It's downright pleasant to see a blog post with pictures. No one likes big blocks of copy on a computer screen. Bullets and sub-headers have their purpose similar to visuals, but photos and graphics hit the target. They lock readers much more strongly than a simple headline.

So next time you write, wonder what type of visual would make it pop more. Magazine features, blogs, newsletters, it doesn't matter. They love your writing. Give them a greater experience with visuals, too. I promise, you'll snare a few more readers.

NOTE: The above pic is my son's new 16-week-old baby, Harper, just after she slapped one of her famous kisses across my face.


Sioux Roslawski said...

I had not thought of it before reading this post of yours, but I am sure a photo DOES help readers connect. Also, as notoriously unphotogenic as I am, putting a picture of me on my blog will either shock them into alertness, or bring a chuckle. Either way, I've moved them, right?

Linda O'Connell said...

It is nice to be able to put a face with an author. It makes the reader feel connected. I change my blog photo seasonally and receive comments too. Your blog is the first one I read each morning.
See you in April in St. Louis.

Linda O'Connell said...

I agree, being able to put the authors face with his or her words makes the reader feel somehow connected. Harper looks like an active pup. Anxiously awaiting the MWG conference.

Lory said...

I actually always wondered about the pictures! Glad you shared. I think they're a great addition, and the way you use them, what you include, makes you distinctive. Also - thanks for links to useful books.

Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Hope,
As always, great advice.
Love the photo of Harper (awesome name for a dog). We have a black lab named Harley, who likes to give slobbery kisses, too.
Donna V.

BECKY said...

Hi Hope! Love the photo of you and your son's beautiful puppy!! You look so happy..and why not? You just got great, slobbery kisses! I agree about photos, too!!