Thursday, April 9, 2009

Admin Essay: Rob Spangled Banners - Graphic Representation in Fandom

Rob Spangled Banners: Graphic Representation in Fandom

I’m excited to write about this topic, because it’s probably the only skill I have one hundred percent confidence in. Programming, thirty, writing… meh… ten. But graphic design and conceptualization, well… I have eight years professional experience in the field, so I feel completely assured that my insight can be something valuable to someone.

I’m probably going to piss some people off here, I’ll warn you now. Many of the peeves listed herein have been done often, and some by my most favorite authors and friends. I’m not saying it to criticize what’s out there; I’m just offering my professional opinion. I’m not saying people who don’t follow these tips have bad graphics; I’m just advising ways in which to maximize their purpose and potential benefit. Take it or leave it, and we’ll love your stories regardless, because we all know that the quality of artwork is in no way indicative of the quality of the story it's representing.

Let’s begin!

The Significance of Graphic Representation

How can my story benefit from a banner or other type of graphic representation?

Well, the human mind is an amazing organ. In many cases, scrolling across forum posts or the Twilighted directory, people have very few things to judge your story upon. The information available in these locations is scant, and more often than not, the person is scrolling very quickly down the page. We want them to stop on ours, though. We want our fic information to jump out at them and grab their attention. How to accomplish this?

The answer is Visual Stimulation.

Our eyes can absorb things like color, tone, atmosphere, quality, and tenor in the span of a millisecond. When someone is scrolling though a page and a particularly appealing image flashes into their vision, their mind has already filed it as “Superior” before they can even manage to read the title. They will, more likely than not, halt their scroll wheel to absorb the image, even if only for a brief moment, because it is common for our minds to crave appealing visual stimulation.

Since I also have an abundance of advertising and promotional marketing experience, I can tell you with confidence that high-quality, visually pleasing, and strategically-placed graphic representation could easily double an author’s audience potential – easily, if not more.

Unfortunately, this is a two way street, and just like good graphic representation can subconsciously draw a reader in, poor graphic representation can subconsciously repel them.

I realize that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but more often then not, and no matter the content or tone of the image, if a graphic is well-executed and high-quality, it will be stimulating and pleasant to view regardless. In the same concept, if an image is badly executed and poor-quality (no matter how sexy the picture of Rob that’s pasted into it is), our minds will file it as “Inferior.”

And since our minds will systematically associate the quality of the image with the quality of the story it’s representing, the last thing we want anyone to think subconsciously is, “Inferior.” It’s better to have no graphic representation whatsoever than to have inferior graphic representation. Trust me on this.  

I actually did browse through every single category on Twilighted in search of banners to use as good examples. I'd meant to create some on my own, but my limited time made it impossible. Also, I wanted to get credit for all of these images, but most of the authors didn't offer it below the images (for shame...). I will now take the time to tackle some fic-specific image issues that I’ve seen during this experience, and my advice in regards to them.

Actors in Graphics

I’ve seen so many banners depicting the actors as characters. This is fine, but there are common faults that bother me as both a reader and a professional artist. Authors spend so much time on their characterizations, so to see them depicted poorly disappoints me. Here are some good tips for keeping your depiction of characters relevant and accurate while still using the actors we love.

-    Character VS. Actor: Your story isn’t about Kristen Stewart, so be careful with the photos you choose. If your Bella is an innocent and generally shy natured character, then choosing a picture of Kristen in which she’s wearing a mini skirt and sucking her finger suggestively will mislead the reader and give them a false impression of your character. Always choose an image that complements the characters’ personalities.

Choices by LeesaM. Banner Credit: Anne CullenChoices Banner
Victoria is a vamp, Edward is saving Bella, and Bella is all helpless and unconscious. How much more IC can ya' get?

-    The Same Old, Same Old: Most of these actors have tons of available media, yet I commonly see the same three or four used every time. If at all possible, use a lesser-utilized image of the actor you desire. Your audience will view the actor as your character, and if it's been used a million times, they've likely already viewed it as someone else's character. Boooo. Imagine scrolling down the page of fics and seeing, "ZOMG BELLA AND EDWARD ARE KISSING!" Next, "WOW THAT SAME KISS, IT'S HAWT!" Next. "Hmmm..." Next, "Again?" Next, "Grrr." Next, "Exasperated Sigh." *closes window*.

Beauty, Shining in Company with the Celestial Forms by Minisinoo. Banner Credit: Onomatopoetry
"OH GOD! MORE MINISINOO?!?!?!" Yes. I know, here at the Lazy Ficster we dote on her often, but I can't not include this image because it's perfect. This depiction of Edward/Rob isn't seen very often. In fact, this banner is the only one I've ever seen it in. Now I can associate this picture with Minisinoo's character, and no one else's. I also love it because it follows every single one of my suggestions.

-    Writers, Watch Your Canons: If the Edward in your story is a vampire, then using a picture of Rob with a full beard, or even a five-o-clock shadow is simply incorrect imagery since we know that Edward has no such physical capabilities.  Same goes for the other characters and other notable human traits. Tans, haircuts, tears, and even (I know, cringe now) eye color. There can be exceptions made if the story justifies it, but usually, this plants an erroneous image into the readers’ heads. I know, it’s a little anal-retentive of me, but seriously… you’ve put so much time into making your canon physical logistics accurate, so why would you allow that effort to waver on something that is meant to signify your story and characters?

Victoria by octoberiste. Banner Credit: ?
Ehh, hate to use Victoria vamp twice, but here, we can clearly see that not only is she is gettin' her vamp on, but she's a human drinker and inhumanly beautiful.

-    Give Them Purpose: If your banner has the characters and nothing else, it looks like exactly what it is: A cast of characters. Put them in a scene of significance, or add other details specific to your premise to give them purpose. The story is about more than just the characters, right? Illustrate it. A depiction of Edward and Bella in an embrace is great and all, but show us something else relevant to the theme and atmosphere to grab our interest, and set it apart from the other million Bella/Edward embrace banners. Remember, the banner is the entire visual demonstration of your story, not just your characters.

'Till The Seas Run Dry by Slider. Banner Credit: ?Seas
When we see this image, it automatically makes us think of Jacob in New Moon after Bella dives from the cliff... which is EXACTLY the moment the author is conveying in her fic. It starts us out in the scene and gives Jacob a purpose.

-    Quality, Quality, Quality: Simple enough. When choosing a picture, choose something with clear and crisp quality. No blurry and dark screen captures or grainy magazine scans for you. The more advanced artists can fix images like these, but it’s a rare talent to find. I can easily direct this into something technical which I won’t do because I realize some ficsters lack the capability to create their own images. I’ll address this issue soon enough…

Twilight's First Bite by Reiko Katsura. Banner Credit: ?
It's crisp, clear, and is visually appealing because the details aren't grainy and gross. We are drawn to the clarity of the eyes and skin and we will look at this image a beat longer than most because of this.


Originality – The Key To Interest

Well, this goes without saying, but I feel compelled to add this after the “actor” tips because people usually don’t venture too far from simple depictions of their characters. Don’t be afraid to branch out and use unconventional concepts to convey your story. People will remember it later because it stood out. I mean, there are plenty of mediocre concepts floating around fandom, and you probably already know what they are. It’d be great to see more symbolism and abstract imagery among the sea of airbrushed actors posing behind a background.

Down The Rabbit Hole by casket4mytears. Banner Credit: casket4mytearsDown The Rabbit Hole graphic by casket4mytears
Very symbolic with the Alice in Wonderland theme. The artist has taken a concept entirely unrelated to Twilight and has used it to convey the meaning of the fic. It's pretty cool and chances are, there's nothing like it.


Ambiguity vs. Detailed Depiction

By using specific depictions, you are unknowingly forcing an image into reader’s minds and limiting their imaginations. This is why I’ve been commonly known to use non-descript silhouettes or close-up body parts instead of actors. It leaves room for the readers’ imaginations to form their own visualization of the characters – which… usually ends up being the actors anyways, but whatever. It’s honestly all in the author’s preference, and it’s perfectly fine to use actors or specific imagery. But there are also benefits to ambiguity. Once again, allowing readers to exercise their imaginations is a good thing. We can handle it.

An image that utilizes ambiguity successfully will depict feeling rather than specific imagery, but will remain relevant to the story. This type of image will still stimulate us visually, but will evoke more emotional reactions than its antithesis.

A Darker Shade Of Twilight by VampGirl. Banner Credit: AngstGoddess003
We don't get much visual distinction from this image. The person in the reflection is blurred and vague, but the tone tells us that the owner of this eyeball is frightened and hurt.

It’s also okay to use specific imagery as well, however. There are obvious benefits to this. We just have to be very careful with what specifics we choose. We’ve already covered the use of actors, but what about other things? Geography, jewelry, habits, architecture, locations, logos, and vehicles are only a few examples of specific imagery. The important thing to consider when using specific imagery is its significance in your story. It should be mentioned often, and something that is frequently associated with your premise or character(s) in particular.  It’s even good to use a tasteful hodgepodge of many things associated with characters or premises in collages, photographs, or if you’re being really creative, a scene of belongings.

Discovery of Bella Swan by MsKathy. Banner Credit: antiaol
We see little details of Bella's life in this collage. We see that she eats out, likes music, a list is involved, likely dates as well, and her friends are important to her. Hodgepodges can convey so much in such a little space. The artist for this banner has chosen only relevant items.

Colors and Tones VS Genre

I know some people might be screaming right now, “SUBJECTIVE!” And they would be partially correct. Not all minds react alike. But, I think I can manage to simplify this to a “general populous” sort of thing because so many concepts are being recycled.

We’ve already decided that we want our graphics to accurately represent the specifics of our story, but what about atmosphere and tone? Well, different genres will require different tones. You don’t want your fluffy fic to be depicted as dark and angsty, or vice versa. The color and mood of the image will be the first and second elements our minds absorb, so they are pretty vital to how our story is preliminarily interpreted. But, I fear that authors are comfortable with the norm and refuse to think outside the box where genres are concerned.

There are some generalized and fairly obvious tips for mood and color in relation to genres. I'm not covering those because we've already seen them done. Here are some suggestions to remain true to your genre while still using less conventional conepts to convey them.

-    Romance: Pastels and deep reds are our primary expectations for this genre, but that's BORING. Everyone does it, so don’t be afraid to use jewel tones like gold and sapphire to set your image apart. I also greatly adore sepias for this genre because they are soft, dream-like, and evoke a sense of warmth. Since this genre is so heavily trafficked in this fandom, it’s important to really set your fic apart and make it seem original and superior.

Collide by Martinibaby1. Banner Credit: Tvalcoholic
This "Collide" banner elicits emotion, and the sepia tone is perfect for the genre and theme. I also like how the artist has used the classically overdone "Edward and Bella embrace" pose, but has done it differently, as a photo, and given it purpose.


-    Angst: This genre calls for something more blatant and “In yo face, suckah!” I've seen a lot of black and white images, very gritty and emo. Usually, the images of the actors used just don't fit the tone. Why is Bella smiling? Why is Edward all cocky? Where's the angst? I'd expect something darker, with one or two paramount and strikingly evoking colors, but don’t be afraid to veer from this path and do something more surreal and vague. Black and white images are acceptable because it conveys grittiness, but color can evoke more emotion. Angst is meant to be emotional, so it’d make sense that we’d wish to convey emotion through our representation.

Control by lovedance. Banner Credit: KayKaycontrol story banner
This "Control" banner uses all of our expectations for angst: the grunge, the striking colors, the vague facial expressions. But the artist doesn't make it gory and all emo-centric. It depicts love, lust, AND Angst... which... really makes me wanna' read.


-    Humor: Humor is like the funny guy in class that gets away with everything. You can’t really put restrictions on humor other than: illustrate the wit and keep it as relevant as possible. I'm a little surprised at the convention of this genre, because I'd expect more experimentation. New and unconventional techniques used on humor representation would be great because of the genre's flexibility. We can pretty much run with any technique so long as the general theme of the graphic makes us stop and look at it. No other genre can really get away with neon green, ya know?

Shotgun Charlie by superstarrh. Banner Credit: ?
This whole "comic-book-ish" look won't work for any other genre, but it looks really good! It lightens up the image and we know that it's meant to be comical the second we see it. It's new and fresh and original. I much adore...


-    Drama/Suspense: So, there isn't a lot of suspense out there, but I've found that drama is always... dramatic. Color flying all over the place, Rob and Kristen all sexy and scantily clad while humping the hood of the Aston Martin. Okay, not exactly, but my point is... there really isn't a common pattern in these genres because the artist usually steers the image to the "/Romance" or "/Angst" portion of the genre--disappointing if the story is mostly suspenseful and dramatic. Alas, the comfort is in the romance and angst, and suspense/drama just gets lost in the sea of lips and arms huggin torsos.This genre needs something clean and extravagant. I like monotone personally, but would also expect to see strong aquas and sharp purples.We want anything from this genre to really depict the mood of suspense and/or mystery. Leave something hidden, perhaps?

Creature of Habit by Angel. Banner Credit: AngstGoddess003
I didn't leave the romance out of this, but could convey it without fluffing or angsting it up. The ambiguous figures in the background are mysterious. I chose these colors because they are foggy and evoke a sense of warmth. Err... also, I had a hard time finding any authors of suspense interested in banners, and suspense is such a sparse genre as it is. I'd usually never promote an admin's fic, but I was limited.


“But, AG! I don’t know HOW to make my own images!”

Not all of us have access to the resources necessary to create our own images. In these cases, we have very few options to obtain graphic representation. We can either take the time to learn and gain the resources necessary to create them ourselves, or find someone to beg shamelessly to.

Begging is fine. There are people around the fandom who are willing to extend their talents elsewhere. You can find them on the forums or around LiveJournal. How do we know who is willing, and who will tell us to frack off? Simple. We just ask very nicely and take our chances. More often than not, if they have the spare time and enjoy what they do, they will have no problem making you a graphic.

So how do we find a good artist that may be willing to give us a hand? Here are some methods.

-    Public Requests: Use the forums or even your own blog or journal to make a request. has a special section on the forums that I, myself have used. There are a select few artists that have their own topics freely offering their assistance. Be kind and courteous, and include in your request that you will credit the artist.

-    Banner Hunting: Look for good, high quality banners and find out who made them. Ideally, the author will give credit to the artist in the location of the image, but in the case that they don’t, just ask. Usually, they will have no problem divulging this information. Once you have the name of the artist, hunt them down and ask them if they might be interested in helping you. Tell them how beautiful you thought their work was. Stroke their egos and make them feel pretty. If they say no, then repeat the process.

-    Tap Your Audience: Another avenue that is perfect, yet rarely used is to tap your audience. They already read the story and know the characters, so this method is the most logical. Just slip a little request in one of your author’s notes. Something like, “Hey guys! I was looking for someone with graphic skills that would be willing to make a banner for the story. If anyone is out there who may have the spare time, it would be greatly appreciated!” You’d be surprised how many readers are willing and talented artists.

-    Branch Out: Go to a forum that caters specifically to graphic artists. Not Twilight, or Harry Potter, or any fandom. Just graphic artists. I know, scary, right? Not fandom related?! Yes. Other types of sites exist. These places are converging points for talented and wonderful people who are not only good at what they do, but LOVE and ENJOY making graphics. They are looking for challenges and interesting subject matter. I know, because I’ve been one. On most of these forums, there’s a specific location in which people can make requests, and they can offer to help.

But... there are caveats with this. Because some of us go by the old adage “beggars can’t be choosers” and we take what we get regardless of the quality of the image or lack thereof. DON’T. Don’t feel obligated to use an image that you aren’t completely satisfied with simply because you have nothing better or are afraid of offending the artist. You put so much work into your story. Would you be okay with posting an inferior chapter? NO. So don’t settle for inferior graphic representation. It’s too important. A good graphic artist will realize and understand this, and a bad graphic artist will learn that they must improve before their work is worthy of representing someone’s hard work. It sounds kind of harsh, but as I said earlier… 'nothing at all' is better than 'inferior'. It is representing something you’ve put countless hours and effort into! If it doesn’t live up to your standards, try another method and ask someone else, but still thank the artist for their time and work.

How to Learn

If you’re anything like me, you want to learn how to possess these abilities on your own. I can’t go too far into the specifics of how to make a banner (Though, I am considering the concept of weekly tutorials on the newly renovated blog site), but I can point you toward some AG-approved tutorials that can assist you in your quests. If you’re someone looking to learn the craft of digital art, please remember that it takes a lot of time and patience to learn the tools and programs. It’s no task for the easily discouraged. 

Technical Spectrum

-    Hosting: Once we have our totally cool and elite graphic, we will need to host it on the internet. Most of you have probably already done this and understand the necessity of having a photobucket account. That’s great! Use it whenever you can, because free bandwidth in my industry is akin to free food in a third-world-country. There are downsides to using free websites like this, though, so be careful. If your image gets too many views, they’ll freeze it and ask you to pay money. Boo, I say! Here are some oft-used free image hosting sites:

-    Showing your shit: It's uploaded and ready to be used, so now what? Well, naturally, you'd begin by attaching it to your forum signature. Forums have their own special codes, and usually this is called BBcode. Here is the BBcode to add your image and make it linked to your fic. Just copy the text below and replace the highlighted portions with the appropriate information:

[center][url=PASTE URL TO FIC HERE][img]PASTE URL TO IMAGE HERE[/img][/url][/center]

     You might also have to show it using HTML, which sounds a lot scarier than it actually is. Here's the code to show your image linked to your story in HTML. Just copy the text below and replace the highlighted portions with the appropriate information:

<a HREF="PASTE URL TO FIC HERE" target="_blank"><img src="PASTE URL TO IMAGE HERE"></a>

Diagrammatic Decorum

There are certain points of reason that should always be considered when creating or requesting a graphic. Always remember that your graphics are going to be viewed by (preferably) a large audience. Here are a few, assumedly obvious, rules of etiquette.

-    Width and Height: Have you ever gone to a forum and had to scroll sideways (<--------->) because of one particularly annoyingly large banner being shown? This is unnecessary and really quite obnoxious. Bigger isn’t better. There’s no need to shove your stuff in people’s faces by going overboard. If your banner looks nice, it will draw attention the proper way.  Here are some standard and acceptable sizes:

Regular Banner: No larger than 500 pixels wide and 200 pixels high.
Small banner: 400 pixels wide, 100 pixels high.
Vertical Banner: No larger than 200 pixels wide and 500 pixels high.
Standard Avatar/Icon: 100 pixels wide, 100 pixels high.
Larger Avatar/Icon: 150 pixels wide, 150 pixels high.
Square Ad (For LJ profiles and other websites.): 500 pixels wide, 400 pixels high

-    Gif Me a Break: It’s always fun to receive an animated graphic. I mean… they fucking move! It’s cool, yes. But, there is a limit to animated gifs. Not everyone has broadband or DSL to surf the web on and are forced to wait minutes for pages bearing your graphic to load. It won’t look pretty when it’s choppy and stutters to a pause with Rob making a funny face. Keep the frames low, and if at all possible, make certain the image is small.

Purest of Pain by stolenxsanity. Banner Credit: stolenxsanity
Low amount of frames, easy to load, yet still animated and eye-catchy. Very nice.

-    Risqué Content : Always keep in mind that anyone can see your graphics, including minors. There is no way for any site or browser to recognize the file as unsuitable for children, so they can’t be filtered. Its one thing to be suggestive, and quite another to be vulgar. Furthermore, always be considerate of the people viewing and ponder the visuals you are forcing upon them. I love severed heads as much as the next person, but I’m told that it’s a turn off? *Shrug*

Testing the Waters by booboo_kitty. Banner Credit: Anne Cullen
Obviously suggestive of sexual content without being vulgar and off-putting.

-    Indecipherable Fonts: Make sure the fonts you use in your graphics are clear and readable. Fancily elegant scripts are great and all, but if I can’t read the title or chosen quote from your story because of it, then it defeats the purpose. Make sure any text stands out noticeably against the background and the viewer doesn’t have to spend five minutes interpreting it. Spend a good amount of time considering what font you’d like to be associated with your titles and keep it consistent. I prefer for all of my fonts.

Campus Liaisons by Isabel0329. Banner Credit: Isabel0329
The artist even made the font of the title relevant to the story because of the cool pencil-shaded style. The title is the main focal point and is clear without being boring.


In Conclusion…

Let’s face it. We want to be a good-lookin’ fandom. We want X-Files, LoTR, and HP to come over to our house and be all insanely jealous of our expertly decorated mansion. We are young right now, and have only just bought our house, but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for bean bag chairs, futons, and milk crates. We want to look superior and stylish, right? We can accomplish this by raising our standards and remaining true to the quality of our fics. In the process, we can also increase our audience potential and promote our prose in elegance. It’s worth the time and effort just as much as any chapter would be.

Big thanks to all the authors who lemme snag their banners (without asking *bashful anxiety*), and the gals over at Twilighted Request Forum. Also, Angel and Vampgirl for letting me use their fics as guinea pigs. I can edit post to fill in the "Credit" ?'s at any time, just leave a comment or something, or... wave a picture of Jackson around to get me out of my hidey hole. <3 to all!


  1. I don't want to sign my name, but sometimes yeah .. beggers can't be choosers. Asking for a banner from a good graphic artist ... if you're not a big name, you don't get the time of day. You get what you get. I got stuck with a banner I really didn't like (which is why I'm not signing my name ... I don't want to humiliate the person). But if I turned it down, I looked like a bitch and beginning writers can't afford THAT either -- so I took it. I finally got a different one I made myself because I stopped trusting anybody else. It's not a great banner -- I have no illusions -- but it's ... workable? Beggers CAN'T be choosers, and the good graphic artists don't necessarily make banners for stories from newcomers. I will say I finally got some nice recs and now have over a 1000 reviews ... but I didn't when I started, so of course nobody was rushing to make me a pretty banner. They still aren't. I've never had an offer from ANYbody, despite the 1000+ reviews.

    Some of us really can't make banners, and we can't find people who can. So it's very annoying when the quality of our writing is judged by the quality of the banner. But if we DON'T have a banner, readers ignore us. I found that out REAL fast, which is why I went hunting in the first place.

    I really, really hate that and wish readers would QUIT judging story quality on art quality. I've seen some GREAT banners on stories full of typos, bad writing, OOC characters and general CRAP. And good stories with bad -- or no -- graphics.

    I don't know that there's a real way to solve this ... to get good artwork on good writing. But I think READERS need to beware. Just because the cover is good? Doesn't mean the story will be. And the reverse is true, too.

  2. To Anon: I'd have to respectfully disagree about beggers not being choosers. I realize it's likely difficult for the newcomers of fandom to find anything worthy of representing their hard work, but it's not impossible, and like I say time and time again, nothing is better than inferior. It just makes no sense to me how someone could put so much time and effort into their stories just to end up settling for the first banner they get--even when it's not up to their standards. Maybe I'm being a little premature to assume that every author puts their work on a high emotional pedestal, but I'd think that it'd be very important to us, so why would we knowingly represent it poorly?

    As for readers judging fics by the banners, well... this is just how the human mind works. The quality of banners is in no way indicative of the quality of the story they represent. As free-thinking individuals, we realize this, and we agree with the logic. BUT, we also connect that the author has obviously gone to great lengths to present their story in an appealing fashion. Therefore, we are far more likely to jump into a new fic with a visually appealing banner as opposed to one with an ugly banner. Anyone who says differently is lying. It's just our nature to connect the two preliminarily. Of course, we may read and realize this isn't true, but the instinct still exists. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, I'm just saying... this is how it always has been, how it is, and how it always will be.

    I'm not saying these things to criticize what's out there, because art is art and I'm in no position to tell an author what best represents their work and effort. I just want authors to see how to best maximize the benefits of their representation--use them to their full potential. I hope perhaps some of my suggestions on how to obtain graphics can help you in your quest for superior representation. Have you ever tried going to a proprietary graphics forum to make requests? There are LJ communities as well.

    Authors should never expect anyone to just come out and offer to make them a banner or graphic. It's our job as authors to go searching, hunting, learning, and inquiring. If the task proves to be fruitless or too demanding, then it's perfectly acceptable to have no banner at all.

    I agree, as many people would, that a story shouldn't be judged by its cover. As for the solution of getting good artwork on good writing...

    I think if EVERY author raised their standards for graphics and put as much effort and investment into their banners as they do their stories, we would see something more balanced in regards to writing versus artwork. Hence... the purpose of this article.

  3. AG the article waz loverly.

    And Anon. I get what you're saying - like you don't wanna be a bitch, but I do believe... um story first... like sometimes it's okay to be a bitch. You just have to be honest from the beginning, but it is tough.

    I made my own banners, too, so I get that, but I do think what AG said was true: no banner is better than bad banner; in fact, a really, really simply graphic with just nice text might be better... IMO.

  4. I have to disagree on the point that anon made that if you don't have a banner people will ignore you. I've checked out tons of stories and only a small handful of them did I find from clicking on a banner in Twilighted that looked interesting. There are many other ways to find good fics.

    I don't think our fandom is so shallow they rely only on banners. In fact I'm sure a good percentage of readers don't frequent Twilighted, I know I didn't until the FF fail where I needed to find new fics with direct links.

    The banners I did click on? They were exactly as AG described in her article, visually interesting, eye catching, and made me want to find out what the story was about.

    Of course a good banner doesn't mean a good story, but that isn't the point of a banner. I don't associate the two. A banner that interests me, I will check out the story. The story has to deliver, if it doesn't, I close the window and move on.

    So say I'm looking for a new story and I've gotten two recs. One has no banner, the other has a banner that is sort of thrown together and not visually appealing. I'd read the story that had no banner personally, because the poor quality banner sullies my opinion slightly. So I do say it is better to have nothing than something just thrown up there just to have something.

    Your banner is the first impression you give someone if you have one. So I think what AG is saying is make sure that your banner gives off the impression you want and not just is thrown up simply to have something there. It is better to have no impression than a poor one.

  5. Those are some beautiful banners you've highlighted, Sam.

    Although, it is hard to get a good banner made for you if you’re not fortunate enough to know how to do it yourself. So, I do understand where Anon is coming from.

    I am by no means a "well known" author, I have one fic and I have a small little banner that was done for me. In all my reviews (trust me, not all that many!) or PM's I've had one person ask me about my banner, as a fan fic writer I just have to hope that people are going to read based on the summary or the story.

    Would it be nice to have an astonishing banner? Absolutely. Are there people lining up to make them for authors who are new to the fandom. Nope, not really.

    So we have to look for people to help us. Just like we'd have to look for a good beta to help us with our writing. If you want it, you have to seek it out, nothing comes to you. So I get what Sam is saying. Ask, inquire, try to do it yourself.

    Unfortunately I do think it's kinda important to have one over on twilighted...but I'd also like to say I think it's kinda ridiculous. Some people’s siggy lines are so obnoxious now it's insane.

    A good banner is like a good showcase it. You don't take it and surround it with tons of gets lost.

    Just one, with meaning and well done will capture more attention than 10 blaring moving, shining, sparkling, multi colored, multi font’d banners, flash, buttons whatever you want to call them.

    All things in moderation!

    Sorry, jumping off my soap box now.... is the graphic's queen...can I offer up a child or something to pimp your services?? I send pies...ask Kristen...

  6. I love a clean, simple banner and I agree with the above comment, your story summary is STILL what is most important. You can't judge a book by it's cover but you can judge if you'll get into it by it's BACK cover.

    By biggest bitch is twilighted's insane amount of flashy square icons on the board. It's louder than the vegas strip in there and annoying as hell. I find myself knowing what stories I know to avoid by looking at flashing images of who-knows-what and soft-core porn. I like an NC-17 story as much as the next girl but please, why the hell does the next girl have to flash 117 images of what she is reading.

    So, yes, a nice banner is great. AngstGoddess, that one you made with the eye is unbelievable. Much like this website, it is gloriously understated and visually appealing. I guess it's a matter of style.

    Also, I totally understand using actors since they are who we most envision. But what is the deal with using OTHER well known actresses as Bella? I feel like it should be unknown or KS, because it's distracting seeing soap opera stars and movie actresses you know for other roles. Stick with the known ones or unknown people. all of the banners used in this article were good but please AG003, don't teach how to make flashing squares.

  7. He he he...I'm not a flashing square fan either... and twenty flashing square things is just…overkill? I’m trying to be nice and not offend the flashy square people here…


    A bat twirling Jasper fan I the day I die, I could watch Jackson spin that bat....over and over and over and over.....

    Hence my undying love for Kristen...redemption...

  8. "Some people’s siggy lines are so obnoxious now it's insane."

    "By biggest bitch is twilighted's insane amount of flashy square icons on the board. It's louder than the vegas strip in there and annoying as hell."

    Errr. YES! Motherfucking fuck, YES. It is... just... *exhales loudly* too much sometimes. And, speaking as an author whose story has been made into several of those icons, I can say that the loyalty and promotion is flattering beyond all reason, but... it can be kind of... tacky? Especially with the gifs and everything, I mean... like I say in "Gif me a Break", not everyone has the luxury of broadband and DSL. Twilighted takes forever to lead as it is. Add in a million frame and killobytes and I'm likely to keel over before my little loading bar finally decides to disappear.

    UGH. Don't EVEN get me started...

    "Just one, with meaning and well done will capture more attention than 10 blaring moving, shining, sparkling, multi colored, multi font’d banners, flash, buttons whatever you want to call them."

    Amen. It's like middle-aged men buying those shiny convertibles that they'll never be able to pay for. Over-compensation.

    "But what is the deal with using OTHER well known actresses as Bella? I feel like it should be unknown or KS, because it's distracting seeing soap opera stars and movie actresses you know for other roles."

    Yes, I saw this a couple times, most notably, Eliza Dushku as Bella, which... just does not work AT ALL. I much prefer not using actors at all, but... in this rob-centric fandom, it's often desired and frequently done. I mean... he aint exactly hard on the eyes or anything, if ya' know what I'm sayin'!

    "but please AG003, don't teach how to make flashing squares."

    Oh, that tutorial's next week. BAHAHAH. Just kidding.


    "A bat twirling Jasper fan I the day I die, I could watch Jackson spin that bat....over and over and over and over....."

    I'll give him something he can spin over and over and over and over...

    "What's that?" asks non-descript manifestation of random audience-goer.

    Err.. idk. SHUT UP! Stop questioning my nonsensical innuendo.

    " is the graphic's queen...can I offer up a child or something to pimp your services?"

    Dude... offering a child is the exact opposite way of buttering someone up. They scream and shit and cost shit heaps of money. And... sticky hands, ALL THE TIME. Like... not matter what, they ALWAYS have sticky hands. It's some sick talent or something. For reals. Lock one away in a clean-room for a few hours, go back in... sticky hands. No one knows how it happens, but sticky hands are the ultimate fail.

    What you want it for? Person of Worth? I'm on it bb!

  9. Can I also recommend Vesperarium?

    They are a Twilight graphics forum. You can sign up to learn (awesome tutorials) or just request a graphic from someone on the site. Fabulous work all around.

    Thanks for the article, AG. Good stuff.


  10. Sam...water is a spewing all over the desk right not a good thing for the laptop!

    Sticky hands...well there are explanations but we are so not going to go into them. We'll chat bb, you and me, we'll chat.

    And yes hanging with me and my girls is nothing short of birth control and hell, my girls are all well passed the sticky hand it's scary boys talk and weird things that come out of their mouths unexpectedly which make you wonder how much they listen when they're not supposed to, cuz for real, they ignore when they're supposed to listen and listen when they should ignore...

    Love them all, but child labor is not out of the question...14, 12 and 10 we cover the spectrum...

    We won't even go into the cost of the critters...let me just say, college is 3 years away for Ally and I'm already thinking I need to become a prostitute or stripper cuz real work just aint gonna cut it...

  11. Thanks so much for this article. I'm a photographer and use CS2 a lot, but have no idea really how to do graphics. Now, give me something that needs some photo related work, yeah, but creating something from scratch - I tremble in a corner. Thank you for posting some useful links. I'll be checking them out.

  12. I once read someone refer to those flashing signatures as a U2 concert. Bhaha. I loved it, and it's so true.

    I have a little flash in mine, but that's because I have to. I have to represent the SPB and Arrested Development. Yeah, *have to*.

    I really enjoyed this entire article. Speaking on just my behalf, I'm a very visual person. (Guess that art history degree isn't for nothing) So, I do take into consideration what the banner is when I'm fic searching.

    And it's true, I *literally* judge a book by its cover. Same for ff. But, likewise, just because the banner is good doesn't mean the story is good. Still, it's a great way to get more people to read your fic.

    Let's be honest here. We all judge. We judge your story by your banner. *Sigh* Is that just me? Okay. *I* judge your story by your banner or lack of banner. But, sometimes I'm wrong. A lot of the time I'm wrong. My point, great banner means me checking your story out. Although that doesn't mean it's my only criteria.

    Gah. I feel like I"m confessing here. Okay, I'll stop.

  13. Hello. I would just like to tell you, AG003, that I am absolutely thrilled that you wrote this. I do feel that it is something that needs to be addressed, and I think that you did it in a clear, informative way, whilst describing the best methods for good advertising. Graphic design is something that I am highly interested in, even though I've never really found the confidence to branch out and try making something, nor do I have the 200 dollars to pay for Photoshop, which is apparently the best program. But now, it doesn't matter! Because you've taught me all I need to know! I do think that doing a tutorial on banner-making would be highly helpful - I, for one, would hang onto your every word.

    Thank you for writing this essay - I really enjoyed reading it, and agreed wholeheartedly with your comments!

    (aka LionsLamb)

    PS - I'm heading over to the forums to clear up my signature - they are annoying, and the stories I'm reading don't even really need the advertisement! Thank you, once again!

  14. Hello. I would just like to tell you, AG003, that I am absolutely thrilled that you wrote this. I do feel that it is something that needs to be addressed, and I think that you did it in a clear, informative way, whilst describing the best methods for good advertising. Graphic design is something that I am highly interested in, even though I've never really found the confidence to branch out and try making something, nor do I have the 200 dollars to pay for Photoshop, which is apparently the best program. But now, it doesn't matter! Because you've taught me all I need to know! I do think that doing a tutorial on banner-making would be highly helpful - I, for one, would hang onto your every word.

    Thank you for writing this essay - I really enjoyed reading it, and agreed wholeheartedly with your comments!

    (aka LionsLamb)

    PS - I'm heading over to the forums to clear up my signature - they are annoying, and the stories I'm reading don't even really need the advertisement! Thank you, once again!

  15. AG, I wish you had included the banner you made for Luniere. I absolutely love looking at it - that was definitely a case where I think a banner perfectly suited the story.

    Anyway... Wow...who knew fanfiction story banners were such a controversial topic? I had NO idea. It used to be that almost nobody had a banner over at Twilighted and now it's become such a huge deal. Banners are fun and pretty and all and I love looking at them but Anon is right - they can't determine whether a story is good or not. Unfortunately though, we are visual folk, and the tide has definitely turned Pro-Banner in the fandom.

    In the writing community I used to be a part of, talented types loved making banners for other people, whether they were known or not. I never had a problem getting one or having a story cover made and I was far from the most well-known author out there. I have faith in our fandom, and I'm sure those folks will step forward more and more to offer their skills to authors who need it. If there's not some kind of resource for that now, perhaps we can come up with something?

    Teehee; I also had no clue that animated banners were considered so irritating. *clutches flashing, annoying Evening Falls banner protectively* My own banner was a gift from a very good friend who surprised me with the animation. Every time I look at it I think of her and I can't imagine changing it, so it will be around to flashy-thing the boards for a long time to come.

  16. Oh, almost forgot...if these haven't been posted already, here are some very decent free graphics programs for the poor, yet talented. (Sadly, I am only one of those.)



  17. Oh Ava, flashy button thingy isn't bad...but when you have 5 inches of flashy button thingys all flashing different crazy flashy pictures words etc...we've exceeded okay and entered the realm of "scary"...

  18. I have been extremely fortunate in getting people who a good eye to make me novel (and other story) covers -- and even to do my whole website! The Medicine Wheel was designed by Puguita, lo, these many years ago, who wanted to be a web-designer. I'd seen some of her work on a different site she'd made, thought it lovely, and emailed her to ask if she'd be willing to make me a couple of headers. She did the whole SITE. TWICE. (The one now is the second version.)

    It's about time to do it again, as I seriously need to reorganize it. (At the time Pugui did it, it was just X-Men.) Now I have three fandoms there, but I also know it's hella work. The woman who made that banner you featured, AG (Onomatopoetry), offered to redo it with some sort of archiving program (I'm programming dumb, so I can't explain, but it's essentially a modified version of the program a lot of archives use).

    OTOH, I know that's what a lot of people are going to as it allows reviews and all sorts of things, but OTOH, I'm not sure if I want that as it would involve converting and reuploading ALL those stories on all three sides of the site including about 9 novels (think probably over a million words worth of fiction here!), so I've just been sticking with what I have. Ha. Partly, it's time, partly, it's just me being like a cat -- I don't like my routine disturbed with a new routine I have to learn. *grin*

    All of which is neither here nor there ... sorry for the ramble. But what I wanted to say is that I DO understand Anon's desire not to look bitchy. Lord knows, I've been sent manipped images by readers, wanting me to use them, that were just ... bad. I really hate hurting the feelings of readers who spend all this TIME on an image out of love for the story ... but the image looks like crap. It's funny how picky I am, for somebody with little manipping skillz -- but I am. And if you go TO someone and ask him/her to do an image FOR you, then turn it down because you don't like it? That's double-bitch. LOL! At least when somebody sends me something unsolicited, I can say I didn't ask for it. :-)

    But one way around that might be to find someone who's work you DO like and email that person ... as I did years ago with Pugui. As AG said, I put a LOT of time and effort into producing a good, clean, edited story. I want equally professional graphics. I don't always get them, but at least on the MAIN pages, I really try.

    So it's a delicate balancing act, between being gracious to fans and not using something you don't like. Sometimes you can do an end-run around the problem by approaching the artist you like FIRST. :-)

    On the issue of too many complicated/large images on BBs ... I am a net DINOSAUR! I remember the days of turning OFF the image loader on Mosaic so pages would load faster when surfing! And my father is *still* on dial-up. When I go home to visit him, if I have to use his dialup and can't piggy back on a neighbor's wireless? I just don't read a lot of things that are image heavy -- much less watch videos, etc. And I really, really, REALLY frickin' HATE BB sig file craziness. Twilighted isn't the first board I've seen it on, but yeah. Drives me INSANE. Notice that (when I do post at Twilighted), all I have is my name and a link to my site in my sig file. No image at all.

    I'm a big fan of limiting sig files to either 4 lines or a 150 x 300 banner. It stops the craziness.

  19. Sob...Samalama. My banner isn't here!

    It is the most gorgeous. (Although the one you did for vampgirl is hot.) It doesn't compare to the one you did for me.

    I know I've told you before, but you wouldn't believe the number of people who compliment me on it. Thanks again for making it for me!

    Anywho...i had to dredge up IE to post this comment since my Firefox hates Blogspot. This was a great article and I loved seeing all the different art.

  20. I swear, someone over here at TLYDF is channeling Alice! It never fails, everytime I visit, the articles address EXACTLY what I need, or am thinking about.

    I am getting ready to begin posting a new fic that I have been slaving over, and have been considering banner before I do. I think Pastiche advised that having a banner would help increase readership of a fic. But I never realized how important it was to get just the right banner.

    I'm a relatively new graphics maker. When I started my foray into icons, I downloaded irfan for free. But I found it a little confusing. I discovered my computer has Picture it! Which is easy to navigate, and works really well for what I am able to do. After I posted a bunch of varied effect icons, an author messaged me and asked me to make a banner for her story. I was flattered!

    So basically, if you're looking for someone to make you a banner, and you are on Live Journal, troll the graphics communities, or check out the profiles of the people who made your fav icons. And just ask them! Most people would be flattered that you asked them, and willing.

    It was really helpful for me that she told me exactly what she wanted. She even had the images picked out. So what I did was made her some choices to choose from. So, if someone asks you to make her one, ask her to be specific with what she wants. Then try to make a few options for her to choose from.

    I have to say, AG, this article is timely and super informative. Great tips on chosing material for fic banners. Thanks a bunch!

    Two things I definatly will do as a result; make a banner for my new fic, and clean up my siggy on Twilighted!

  21. I agree with Minisinoo says... because after I made my post earlier, I went and thought about it a lot more. Because for my various jobs I have worked with graphic designers, and it is a balancing act.

    Like, you can describe what you want, but sometimes that is worse than just allowing the artist free reign to create what they're best at. ("Collective agreement" on art often ends up creating "collective crap" IMO.) When dealing with a commercial artist, typically you brainstorm together, come up with some guidelines, and then the artist shoots you three sketches or basic outlines of how it will look. You then opt for one, and the designer goes whole hog with getting it together.

    That being said, sometime you may ask for something from a completely awesome artist and for whatever reason "they are on a mosaic kick" and what you get back is just BAD. I still think you do need to be honest, but I also think this is best handled by being open with your feelings up front. Tell the artist that this is your first time dealing with stuff, and that you're worried about being too picky or whatever. (Side note: don't be ridiculously picky - "collective crap" remember?)

    But be reasonable, like don't get help from someone whose stuff you don't like or haven't researched, (like AG said) and finally, most graphic design is fixable (it's all saved in Photoshop layers) and they can adjust it, if you're specific. BE SPECIFIC. Get others to help with this. Sometimes graphic designers get so involved in the details, they lose sight of the big picture, but if you tell them, they'll be like "oh, i can fix that." Two seconds later you have a splenderific JPEG.

    Those are my add-ins...

  22. I want to thank you so much for posting this. You offered tons of great suggestions and I'm definitely going to utilize the tips you offered to really raise the quality of my banners.

    You used one of my banners as an example (I won't mention which one) and pretty much squealed like the mental, fan-girl I am. I also did my celebratory, happy-dance in my chair. I wouldn't worry too much about asking permission- I'm feeling really quite flattered right now.

    Also to the authors: the way I decide who I make banners for is quite simple. I go through my list of favorite stories, pick out the ones without banners, make them one, and send it in a PM. Sometimes the author decides to use it and other times they don't. Either way I'm completely fine because I make the banners for my own amusement, not theirs. As long as you aren't being intentionally malicious to "inferior" banner makers, I wouldn't worry too much. If they can't accept criticism, then they really have no business making banners in the first place.

    I also really like it when they make suggestions. I can always go through and fix something they don't like and it doesn't hurt my feelings when they tell me. Do you like it when people offer constructive criticism to improve your stories? Maybe not, but my point is BE HONEST.

    Again thanks for all the tips!

  23. I found many of your points enlightening, but, in all honesty, several banners weren't exactly matching. Or maybe, type and composition were not exactly forefront, but rather the image was. You make some very good points here and I admit to being guilty to two or more accounts of this. But, with recognizing it, I want to change that and make better, quality graphics. Authors, writers, (and hell, the general public at large) don't usually understand creatives. We know what we see and what we intend to do, but we have to reassure our customers/clients/whatever that it will, indeed, include one or more of the following: that cool font you saw on; the new photoshoot image of Rob/Kristen/Jackson and company, lots of black or gradients of some sort.

    I tend to get tired of these, so, as a graphic maker, I try to subtly drop hints that "This font doesn't really portray what you are going for. Might I suggest an Egyptian slab-serif font?" or "Rob looks too unkempt for your squeaky-clean Edward. We might try this one picture I found instead."

    Of course, this doesn't always work, but speaking for the other side, they might listen. When I get a request for a banner, I want to make this as relatable to the fic as possible, without using every cliche known to mankind. It's work, and a challenge, but... isn't that what we were looking for in the first place?

    Thanks for posting this and I shall return for more helpful hints. :)


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