While an author hopes that the text of his or her book is all that’s needed to clearly communicate with the reader, in actuality, sometimes ancillary parts of a book can add much to the reader’s engagement with your book. Below are seven ways to make your book more accessible.
Say, for example, you write a book about how famous painters have depicted the Madonna and Child. Including reproductions of those works would be essential. But, say you write a novel about such a painting, but you make up that painting. Perhaps the publisher would like to ask an illustrator to create a rendering of the painting as the frontispiece of the book.
Here’s an example of a frontispiece.
Photos to make your book more accessible
Often biographies will contain a photo insert that enables the reader to see the subject at various times during his life.
But photos also add much to other types of books.
My book club just finished reading The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, an American Legend. The book recounts the distressing relationship between Native Americans and settlers as pioneers moved farther and farther West. The authors did meticulous research into the era, depicting many individuals who played significant roles in that relationship. A photo insert including almost every person written about added much to the book.
Also included in The Heart of Everything That Is were detailed maps of areas fought over during that unsettled time. They provided much needed context to understand where skirmishes took place, why a river was viewed as vital by each side, etc.
Blueprints of some of the forts helped the reader to grasp how small or how complex a particular fort was.
A listing of the order in which events occur often enables the reader to keep track of the progression of an event. The Heart of Everything That Is also included a chronology. Chronologies can be helpful in reading biographies as well.
Character list to make your book more accessible
Who wants to read War and Peace without a character list, including sobriquets and other permutations of various characters’ names?
When my book club read The Overstory, which is a novel about trees and how humans interact with them, one of our members sent the rest of us a character list that included a brief summary about each person. Several commented on how helpful the list was. Others were puzzled at the need for such a list. I found the author had written such clearly differentiated characters that, when one appeared in the book after being absent for a hundred or so pages, I knew immediately who this person was. The publisher apparently agreed with me because he provided no such list. (You can read more about The Overstory here.)
Charts and graphs
Some books would lose much of their meaning it they didn’t include charts and graphs. Take, for example, a book that focuses on complex studies. Graphs made the results so much clearer.
A book that probably uses charts, graphs, and illustrations to the greatest effect I’ve experienced is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
The cover gives a feel for the style of illustrations that are used throughout. They neatly summarize each point the author makes. And then he creates charts to summarize the points, and the charts include the same type of illustrations. Brilliant!
Ephemera forms a favorite ancillary part of a book for me. The word means “lasting only one day, short-lived.” Trading cards, postcards, to-do lists, grocery shopping lists, notes left for family members such as, “I took the dog for a walk and will be home soon” all constitute ephemera.
So what does ephemera look like in a book? And how does it add to the reader’s engagement? JJ Abrams’ Ship of Theseus is jam-packed with artifacts just tucked into it (along with some in envelopes). The ephemera is essential to understanding the story.
Marginalia also is employed in Abrams’ novel. These are “notes” printed in the margins as if someone had handwritten them. For this book, two characters read the story and make margin comments to each other, adding a contemporary element. Without the marginalia, the story is incomplete, leaving the reader confused and unsatisfied.
Here’s a story about archiving Ship of Theseus for a library that includes photos of the interior, which will help you grasp what ephemera looks like.
What does that mean for you?
Ancillary elements to a book feel like bonus material for the reader. And not only enhance the reading experience but also sometimes are essential to it.
Some of these items are expensive to produce. Ephemera needs to be printed separately, in four-color, and inserted into the book. Illustrations can be pricey too, especially if they’re full color.
But, if they add important or enhanced elements to the book, they can make a significant difference to the reader.
As you consider your work-in-progress, what ancillary items could enhance your work?
Creative ideas for making your book more accessible to the reader. Click to tweet.
Would your book offer more to readers by adding ancillary elements? Click to tweet.
Interesting subject for me, because I died on March 14, went to heaven, and came back. It was not a dream, nor a vision, nor an oxygen-deprived hallucination
I wrote a narrative as soon as I could, factual and without either interpretation or embellishment…but how do I make it real for a reader? It’s so important, and has changed me…not so much to long for a return (though there is certainly that!), but in a determination to make every minute of this life count, for the life we have here is vital.
But how to make such a thing accessible?
How do I tell the story
of fading heart and failing breath
that led me to the glory
of vision past the veil of death?
I could bring back no photographs,
nor ephemera of any kind;
just the joyous belly-laughs
at what I had not thought to find.
I can draw for you a picture,
and write a running narrative,
but in this earthly stricture,
there must be more that I can give…
but perhaps the proof of heaven’s ways
is the way I spend remaining days.
It’s perhaps more urgent now, because the same thing happened on May 3…two days ago. There is such beauty to give, such a confirmation that what was hope is now certainty…but HOW?
Some things we’ll just have to experience for ourselves, it seems. What a glorious “trailer” of things to come for you, Andrew.
Janet, it’s just so overwhelmingly wonderful…so far past anything one might have imagined or hoped for…and yet, accessible to the recipient, the mundane of this world perfected and glorified.
One truly is taken up in God, as a wick that is never to be consumed, in a holy candle-flame.
Kristen Joy Wilks
What fun! I love books with extras and my husband doesn’t think a fantasy novel is worth reading if it doesn’t have a map! I’ve written character lists and sections telling what story elements were inspired by a real life event. My very first manuscript was overflowing with footnotes (over 300) about life in ancient Assyrian times. Perhaps it was a bit much as that story has yet to find a home, ha! Most recently, I had a character in a story who made a card game for his brother. I have a friend who has a shop that prints up people’s game ideas for them. Since my husband is always playing and designing his own board games, we brainstormed and I actually got to make Puppy Panic, my own little card game inspired by the one in the story. It was a blast! Yes, the game involves running in circles and barking! I’m thinking about a coloring page for my latest story. Perhaps making it downloadable on my website. We shall see. All of this is so fun. Thank you, Janet!
Kristen, I call this running with an idea. I love the Puppy Panic cards. I can see those as giveaway for some sort of contest.
Janet H McHenry
Janet, in the proposal would we list these ideas under the heading “Distinctives”?
I would list the extra as “Special Features.”
Janet Holm McHenry
Janet, thank you.
I would probably add a map showing the path of my Army signalman as he follows the Third Infantry Division, which travelled more miles than any other division during WW2. They started in North Africa, moved on to Sicily, spent time with the Fifth Army in Italy, invaded Southern France, and ended up in Germany and Austria. Quite the trip!