A Picture’s Worth… #WritingTips

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“A picture’s worth a thousand words.”

“Seeing is believing.”

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

As these adages and countless others go to show, people are very visual beings. Our language, culture, and knowledge of the world around us are shaped by the information we gather with our eyes more than any other sense.  The visual cortex in the brain is one of the most active areas and it is constantly processing and analyzing incoming information, applying the signals received from our eyes, and informing the rest of the brain how to respond based on that incoming information.  The power of sight is so overwhelming that we call our personal philosophy and understanding of ourselves and our place in humanity and the universe our “world view,” tying even our basic interpretation of life itself to the power and language of sight.

As an author, my world is made up of words, not pictures. I see a sunset and immediately try to decide if the colors I’m witnessing are better described as orange and red or burnished gold and crimson.  I’ll look at a stranger’s face and imagine how I would describe them in a single sentence, trying to pick out the details that would carry the most impact and paint the portrait I have in my mind.  It’s like that moment in The Matrix (pt. 1) where Keanu Reeves’ character Neo sees the code underlying the world around him for the first time.  This is how authors experience the world every day, our brains constantly searching for the verbal code to describe the world our eyes are delivering to our brains.

But it’s important to realize that not everyone in the world sees things the way an author does, and therefore images and graphics are an integral part of advertising and capturing a potential reader’s attention. A well chosen and well placed graphic in an advertisement or a social media post can mean all the difference in the world between closing a potential sale or not.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit up front that I’m not an artist, a photographer, or a graphics designer.  I can take decent pictures, but that is usually more the result of accidental timing and serendipitous proximity to something worth photographing.  Thankfully, however, the internet is absolutely full of good, quality, FREE image and graphics hosting sites that authors can take full advantage of to make their ads and social media posts more eye catching.  For this post, though, I’m going to focus on one site that I have used far more than any other; a site called Pixabay.

Pixabay is a free image and graphics hosting site that offers all of its content for free download (did I mention it was free?). Their database of images is searchable, which is an awesome benefit and makes it very easy to find specific types of pictures and images among their tens of thousands of files.  All of the images and graphics offered through this site are available for download for free and are also open for use in commercial applications with no need for attribution, another perk over some other hosting sites.

If you browse through my blog posts, Twitter feed, and Facebook timelineBookBox most of the images that are not photos that I have taken come directly from this site. Even the cover of my first book (and likely my second) used graphics from this site.  The images are high quality and they are usually available in multiple sizes making them useful for multiple applications.  You can use a smaller sized image for a Twitter post, a medium image for a Facebook message, and a larger version of the same image for your cover art and it’s all found in one convenient place.

Now that you’ve got a source for your images, the really difficult part begins—choosing which graphic or image to use for your post. As I said before, I am by no means a graphic designer, artist, or photographer so choosing graphics to accompany my posts and ads on social media is not always an easy task.  I’ve found that it often helps to do a bit of visual and graphic brainstorming before picking an image to accompany a blog post or a social media ad/blurb.

I’ll write out the post or ad and edit it to my satisfaction first, that way the tone and character of the writing is clear and established. Then, I’ll go to Pixabay and do a few keyword searches of their database to find relevant images and graphics.  I’ll typically download several potential images for each post so I have a good variety to pull from.  Once I have a good collection of possible images, I’ll start going through them one by one.  As I look at each image, I’ll jot down in a notebook a few emotions or impressions that the graphic conveys.  These notes are important because after I’ve gone through the pictures that first time, I’ll look through the notes and pick out the ones with the emotions and impressions that most closely fit the post or ad that I’ve written.

From the now narrowed selection, I’ll go through the pictures a second time. This second time, though, I will actually paste the graphics in one by one and read the post or ad with the graphic in place to see how the two work together or don’t.  This is usually where I’ll narrow the selection down to one or two candidates.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing to keep two graphics for one post also, especially if we’re talking a Twitter or Facebook post.  Using two different graphics is one way to avoid the impression of spamming or filters in both programs, and it also adds variety and unpredictability to your content.  I’ll also sometimes run a single ad on Twitter or Facebook for a week or two with one graphic, and then change to the backup so I can see which gets more engagement and activity out of the audience.

Getting comfortable working with and manipulating graphics is often intimidating to people who are more acclimated to working with words. But, as an indie/self-published author it’s part of the business that can’t be ignored.  A good use of graphics and imagery can also really help boost the response to ads on social media as well as attract readers to your work that might otherwise pass it by.

And as we all know, a picture’s worth a thousand words….

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