Illustrated Speculative Fiction

As a writer of fantasy, whenever I tell someone who is not a speculative fiction enthusiast what type of books I write, they always respond with the same words.

“So you write for children?”

(This is, of course, after they bury the expression that crosses their faces of “Oh, no. What kind of freakish conversation have I fallen into?”)

I then take the time to explain—with no ill will—that no, my books are not YA or middle-grade, but for older teens and adults, primarily because my protagonists don’t belong to the right age group for younger readers. If I could write for young adults or even tweens, I would. That’s where the lion’s share of sales in this genre lie, since these age groups still have a firm hold of their sense of wonder, and that’s what fantasy of the type I write hinges on. But no, my voice doesn’t work for the average younger reader, so instead I count on the young at heart to have the desire to join me on the wonder-journey.

A Scene from Curse Bearer of the elf healer Culduin and the protagonist Danae, which I have worked up as part of the art package I am sending to my Kickstarter backers

A scene from Curse Bearer of the elf healer Culduin and the protagonist Danae, which I have worked up as part of the art package I am sending to my Kickstarter backers

As I’ve been analyzing tactics I can use to rise above the typical obscurity that plagues the majority of authors who publish a book in any given year, my thoughts have lingered on ways I can bring something to the table with my books that other authors can’t. There’s this other side of me that I’ve been told more than once I am not taking full advantage of, however, and that’s my artist side. Many folks have asked me why I don’t do my own covers, and the response is easy: I don’t paint. But I do draw, and my work is well-suited to interior illustrations for books. As of yet, though, my artwork has not made it into my novels, aside from a few maps that have served as section dividers.

Since I already have the problem of people assuming I write for young readers because I write fantasy, I have hesitated to add character artwork to the

Mizzletorp, the oddball forest gnome, also rendered by Rebecca O Minor, while wearing her artist's hat

Mizzletorp, the oddball forest gnome, also rendered by Rebecca P Minor, while wearing her artist’s hat

interior if my books for fear that doing so will push people’s assumptions even further to the side of “this must be for kids” when they page through and see drawings. There are things I am writing now that become more PG-13 with each revision as I work to make my characters’ situations more desperate. I don’t want to confuse or upset any potential readers by developing books with illustrations that draw young readers, and then leave those readers (or their parents) blinking wide-eyed at the remnants of skeletons burning in a lake of magma that they did not expect in an illustrated book.

I continue to mull this concept, but I would love to open a dialog on this. Do you think that illustrations are a potential value addition to a fantasy book for teens and adults? Or would they just create

Praesidio--a work in progress, also for the Kickstarter campaign. But someday, for an illustrated edition of the book?

Praesidio–a work in progress, also for the Kickstarter campaign. But someday, for an illustrated edition of the book?

confusion in terms of target audience? If you knew the author of the book you were reading was an artist, would you want to see that author’s rendering of his characters? Or would that interfere with your immersion into the story? I’d love if you’d comment below and weigh in.

About Rebecca Minor

Rebecca P Minor draws perspective from her pursuit of various art forms, including writing, drawing, and music (singing mostly, though there was a time when a trombone figured in.) A 1997 graduate from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Becky earned a BFA in animation. Since then, she has worked as a character animator, a freelance artist, an art teacher, and most importantly, a wife to her husband Scott and mother of three boys. She is in the process of republishing her current body of work. The first installment of The Windrider Saga, Divine Summons, is available as an ebook novella on Amazon. She also has short stories available under the umbrella of The Windrider Canticles.

22 comments on “Illustrated Speculative Fiction

  1. Yes, yes, yes! I love the inserted illustrations in a novel. If my novel ever gets published I would want to have illustrations. Is Terry Brook’s The Sword of Shannara considered YA? I don’t think so, but it has illustrations, which has only solidified my desire for illustrations in the books I read.

    • I was unaware Terry Brooks’ work came in illustrated editions! But I did read them about 15 years ago, so they’re a little foggy in my mind, admittedly. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm, Jennette…the artwork option is definitely something to ponder.

      • I read them back in middle school, and they were the novels that really hooked me into fantasy. The older editions I read (paperback) had better quality copy of the illustrations. I don’t know which addition I have now, but it doesn’t have the same cover art, rather it looks more like a picture, anyways, the illustrations are almost too dark to see. The Elfstones edition I have has pencil sketches rather than the “painted” art that was in Sword of Shannara. I just remember thinking that is what I would want in my books, but after considering what Aaron said, there might be more people who find it distracting within the text. Great conversation though. I’m curious to see what others say.

  2. But I think illustrations would vary depending on the novel’s audience and the type of book. ex: Serious illustrations vs cartoon sketches.

  3. I don’t really like illustrations in books. An analogy of how this works for me is one of the old 80’s sci-fi movies. They have live actors, some great traditional special effects, then some really crappy CGI. (No, I’m not saying the artist who did the illustration is bad. This is an analogy… hang with me.)
    To me, illustrations in books are the same way, in that I’m imagining things one way, then a picture comes along that, although nice, just doesn’t mesh with my mental imagery. Also, this could have something with making my brain switch modes to process the image, I’m not sure.
    Where I do like to see illustrations, is at the back of the book in an illustrated glossary (or ominpedioum, codex, are whatever you want to call it), on the book’s companion website, or in a “{Blank}-lover’s guide to {book name}” type companion book (Which I will happily buy if I loved the book).
    Kinda like I love chocolate pudding, but don’t want it stirred in with my stew. 😉

    All that said, I don’t think including illustrations makes a book less “adult”. It’s just my preference.

  4. No, just because it’s illustrated doesn’t mean it’s for kids. Adults read comic books, for example. James A. Owen’s “The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica” are illustrated and written by James. Henry H. Neff’s “The Tapestry” series is also written and illustrated by Henry. The second I probably would not hesitate to give to younger teens, but the tapestry series is very definitely a PG-13 novel, and the illustrations really add character to the books in both series.

  5. This topic always brings to mind two writing buddies who shared a writers group, who wondered about how well genre fiction could be done. They split up the task, one would do children’s books and science fiction, and the other would do fantasy fairy tales. And thus we have the Chronicles of Narnia and the Parelandra Trilogy from the one; and The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit from the other.

  6. One of my favorite books on my shelf is the painted illustration story book, Superman: Peace on Earth, also a fine Christmas tale.

  7. I love illustrations in stories! When I was 18, my parents gave me an illustrated copy of JRR Tolkien’s book The Children of Hurin. It’s an extremely dark story, definitely not suitable for kids. The illustrations are either simple paintings or beautiful pencil sketches, and I felt like they added so much to the story. I’ve been wanting to do that with my books for a very long time (though I’d have to hire someone), and I’ve also wished more fantasy books had illustrations.

    • It’s in the hiring an illustrator where things become hard for us newcomers to the literary world. That “return for investment” factor is always a looming part of the equation–but it is easy to get wooed by the cool factor, right? 🙂

      • Oh, so easy! I’m sure I could easily spend a million bucks making my books “cool”–it’s probably a good thing that I’ll never have that million. 😉

  8. Hi Becky, I think your concern that illustrations may make the book look like YA is valid. Although this is not the rule, people are prone to making assumptions and may easily infer that “illustrations” = “YA”. An exception to this line of reasoning would be illustrations that were dark or graphic enough that there could be no mistaking that the book was rated R or PG13 (this might also be accomplished by the cover illustration). I personally love illustrations (and maps, schematics, etc.), and I was excited to see drawings of Praesidio, Mizzletorp, and Culduin! No, they did not look like I imagined them in my head while reading CB, but that did not detract from the enjoyment of seeing your renderings – just as the Rankin Bass Hobbit did not prevent me from enjoying a Brothers Hildebrandt Hobbit or a Peter Jackson Hobbit. I’d definitely recommend you make your illustrations available, and as suggested above, the appendices may be a good way to go. You could also post them on a web site or via social media as incentive for readers to stay connected. Illustrations certainly add value… I’ll take a John Carter with Frazetta illustrations any day over one without!

  9. I tend to find illustrations distracting. Most of the time. If they are done right, then they can really add to a story. The Spiderwick Chronicles and the Fablehaven series come to mind as ones done right.

    Granted, both of those are MG/YA books, which is probably not helping your case for illustrating books for adults. But, your writing is appealing to teens even if they’re not technically YA. And “remnants of skeletons burning in a lake of magma”…In the fantasy genre, most teens would be upset to *not* have scenes like that :).

    Anyway, if anyone can do the illustrated book thing right, it’s you.

  10. I’ve seen artwork in Mercedes Lackey’s work – beautiful black and white drawings at chapter starts, yes, showing characters. No child’s story and the drawings are not cartoonish.

    I too draw and have character portraits. I’ve had people push me to leverage it more. One even seemed to think that I should push samples of my art in submissions to publishers. It sounded like she thought my art would win them over. I rebelled at that thought. I like my art and glad when it is enjoyed, but I want to know for sure that my writing can carry it’s own weight and is good in it’s own right.

    I empathize with your debate here. I have to decide what I’m going to do with my own works. An appendix sounds tempting.

    In terms of covers, I get that too. I guess to be honest, though I do draw and have some skill at it, like you I don’t paint and can’t even claim to dabble in digital. Just because I can sketch doesn’t mean I can whip up a professional looking composite or design to compare with what I would like to see on my cover.

    In some ways I fear being an artist only makes me more picky and harder to please – especially by myself.

    Thanks for this discussion, Becky

  11. I feel illustration add to fiction rather than distracting from it. I love illustrated books. But as I look through my own library, I see that most of the illustrated grown-up books are from ages past: Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Cervantes. How much that has to do with illustrations coming to be seen as “childish” and how much has to do with publishers just not wanting to pay for illustration, I don’t know. I do know that when art books related to Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series came out, I bought them immediately. (The graphic novels were a bit disappointing, but I bought them, too.)

    Which suggests another option for those who can produce their own illustrations: auxiliary publications, either books or prints or even just a character sketch section of your website.

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