Jun 15

I've Had Enough of "You" (second person singular) in Poetry

The second-person "You", usually conjoined with present tense, as in (example)

"You take your mother's wedding dress from your closet,"

appears way too often in poetry drafts, including my own. Contemporary poets seem worried that using "I" is too "confessional" or too assertive. Some years ago poets wanted to be assertive, but currently it's important to seem humble and modest while practicing this most egoistic and self-indulgent of professions.

A "you" implies that there is an "I" but doesn't say so. I say, if it's an "I" poem, please come out of the closet and use "I."

The second-person "you" is technically an address either to the readers or to a specific person the poet knows. The "you" poem very often addresses an impaired, unlovable, absent or somehow guilty person. Therefrom comes the pleasure of using the "you," because you can expose him without naming names. "You" could also be the poet addressing himself or herself, especially regarding a past self such as the one who made a bad marriage. ("You put on the dress and veil/dreading your walk down the aisle to your father" usw.) Why should the rest of us read a poem addressed to your ex or your former self? Please be conscious of addressing poems to "You." It is bad if it is a habit. I catch and correct myself in later drafts.

The other alternative to "you" is the third-person pronoun "he" or "she." Here is where it's clear why the "you" is such an attractive option. Both "I" and the "he/she" demand greater nerve and attention to detail. The "I" should bare it all and articulate the unpleasant truth such as "I didn't want to marry him, but I was pregnant and married him for the sake of the child having a father and so my parents wouldn't harass me." The third-person "She" and "He" indicate people -- characters that must be detailed so as to resemble real people with mixed thoughts, feelings, and experiences. "You" is an outline, a faceless shadow figure -- to the audience. The poet uses "you" to hint at an entity rather than taking the trouble to describe it. It's just easier! The reader must figure out from the poet's dropped hints whom "you" might be -- an ex, a dying grandmother, a former self. I wonder what cultural rule poets are upholding when we could be direct and forthright but choose not to.

May 08

Choosing a Book Cover: A Matter of Self-Respect

Choosing a book cover is like getting married. It'll be with you a long time, so choose carefully; and there are penalties for changing it. Authors often are dead set on the covers they want, so they won't listen to reason, and commit to less than they should have; or they just "want it all over with, get the darned book out," and they settle. I wish more of them would take their time to make a really good choice. The right title and book cover is 70 percent of your book's success. NOBODY wants to buy a book that LOOKS self-published. Please RESPECT YOUR OWN WORK (I feel strongly about that) and  consider (and none of this costs you any money):

1. Research book covers you like and determine why you like them: Color? Typeface? Images? The way the title or image is placed?
2. While looking for covers you like, look for unappealing ones, and determine what makes them unattractive.
2. Although the book may well be for or about you, the cover is for your readership.
3. A good book cover contributes greatly to the book's success; a bad one repels buyers and readers.
4. #1 source of cover disasters: drawings, paintings, or photo images by, or of, the author's friends and relatives. Even your friend who is a professional artist will draw you a disaster when you dictate to him exactly what you want, such as a watercolor of the old home place, or a symbolic image.
5. No one will understand the symbolism of your symbolic image.
6. Script or fancy type fonts render titles unreadable. People who can't read the title can't want the book.
7. A book's title should be readable from 12 feet away.
8. If a book cover is solely words (title, and name of author) it had better be professionally designed, or it positively SCREAMS "self-published!"
9. A truism from the printing industry (where I began my career): Readers shun books with purple covers; no one knows why. Go into a bookstore and I will give you a dime for every purple cover you find.
10. Book covers are NOT the place for old family photos, a watercolor of the old home place, or a photo or image of you (costumed, or being yourself). These may mean a lot to you; they mean nothing to readers. A cover is not about you; it is a responsibility you have to your readership.  If you must have those pictures, put them INSIDE the book.
11. Images from the Internet may not be used without express written permission from the creators or you can be sued and have to change your cover.
12. Self-publishing companies offer generic covers. Everyone will recognize that they're generic and no one will respect your book.
13. If you plan to list on Amazon.com and other sites, remember that online, your book cover image will be one inch high. Can readers still see your title when your book cover is shrunk for online selling?

What costs money: Professional advice. Professional graphic artists familiar with book-cover standards. This is money you WON'T regret spending.

I'll soon post some disastrous covers so you can see what I mean.

Jul 21

Sinister Software

There's a bit of software, in your head and mine, that boots itself up
JUST AS YOU ARE ABOUT TO FINISH.

I am finishing two book manuscripts and the software is working right now. I sure don't want to arrange the book (chronological order? thematic? other?) or write up that table of contents and acknowledgements page. I think it'll take up too much paper to print out the manuscript for proofreading. I'm not thinking, "How great it is I've finished a book, or nearly." I'm thinking, "What awful things will people say about me when I publish this book?"

The software kicks in just as you are about to succeed. In fact it signals that success is near. But suddenly you're exhausted or depressed. The world doesn't need another writer. In fact, you need to train for a triathlon. (Note: The world doesn't need another triathlete, either.) You quit your writing group, thinking they don't respect you, they never did. . . It's not writer's block. You can write just fine; you just can't finish.

Don't try to pep-talk or bribe yourself. It won't work. Get help. Ask a friend to help you scout a bookstore for names of likely publishers. Ask a fellow writer for encouragement or to set a deadline. Pay someone to write three query letters for you. Talk to a businessperson about business; this can help you lose your fear of it. Tell a therapist, if you can afford one, that you have written a book you just can't bring yourself to finish.