Monday, January 15, 2018

How Many Friends Should Preview My Book of Poetry Before I Publish It?

I have worked hard on putting together a collection of Poems for my book, Beyond These Dark Lands Are Edges Of Joy.  I want my hard work to show and for my readers to be blessed by it without being distracted by errors.

Sometimes a person gets so involved with a project and so close to it that they cannot see everything objectively. I sometimes get so romantic about my work that I do not see any problems and assume everyone understands what I am saying. So I have asked some friends to review the project to catch any issues and advise me.

To have some friends read my poems and give me feedback is not as easy as it sounds.
  • First, my friends are very busy people; they are all professionals in one way or another, so I am a little reluctant to impose on them. 
  • Second, would relationships be strained? What if someone was afraid to make an honest criticism? Would they begin to avoid me, and would I have injured that friendship? 
  • Also, who should I ask? I can't ask everyone, so what if someone I did not ask feels left out and hurt?  
  • I will need to give them copies, but printing costs money and even though I do not expect to make money on the collection of poems I do not want to go broke publishing it either.
  • What if I asked so many people I later couldn't remember who? 
  • What if I gave a copy of my work to some well-meaning friend and they misplaced it? That could cause problems with copyright and ownership later on. 
I settled on five friends who I respect for their deep faith in God. These friends are very educated, sophisticated and intelligent people. I am confident in their opinion. Five seemed to be a good number since I could afford to print five copies. I could easily remember who has copies of my work.

Four have responded. The fifth is overwhelmed with work, so I do not expect a response soon, but I anticipated this would happen to at least one. Those who have responded so far have had words of praise and encouragement. Few have given me a suggestion or two which I accepted and seek to incorporate into the project.

I will be sending this to the printer in a few weeks and feel more confident in the project now because of the help of my friends for which I am very grateful.

I do not know if five is the number of friends I would use in every case and for each book of poems I write. Next year I might feel more comfortable with ten or just two, but I think for me five reviewers is working out very nicely.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

How Hard Is It To Draw 100 Illustrations For A Book?

I have decided to illustrate my collection of Poems, Beyond These Dark Lands Are Edges Of Joy. I thought this would be easy, it is just drawing so how hard can it be to illustrate a book of poems?

I started two months ago and I have been working daily on it, so one would think I would be done by now. The good news is that I have just a few dozen left to draw. Of the hundred page manuscript, about 94 are actual poems that need illustrations.

I could have approached the task a number of ways. Having a goal helps and my goal is to average one a day. Focusing on an average frees me from the stress of feeling like I failed my goal one day. Some days I can do two illustrations, to make up for a missed day.

For me, planning helps. I plan a week ahead and decide seven to draw and do a quick sketch for each. These drawings are very quick and look like a child's scribbles. Having the ideas rough sketched gives me a head start each day.  This brainstorming session means the ideas are already expressed, and that is a big boost to starting each day.

My drawing method uses a light-box. The light shines through enabling me to trace my drawings over and over until they are right. I know that each illustration will need to be redrawn two, three or more times, I accept this process and can't get upset if after I have drawn a picture I see a way to improve on it and need to redraw it again. This means I am doing over three hundred drawings in order to have a finished book that is visually appealing.

I work a full-time regular job so I have limited time. After I get home and have time with the family and dinner I say to myself, "Ok, time to go to work," and I go upstairs to my second job of drawing pictures for the book. I work from 7:00 pm until bedtime.

Once each picture is done I scan it to the computer and look at it again. When I review work in a different medium or format I see problems or find where it can be improved. Usually, by this time it is minor adjustments and I can easily use the computer to fix a little problem.

I put the drawing into a digital mock page in Word to see how it might look when printed, and I hold my breath. Some needed major changes at this point and it on occasion I had to draw a new version, but most have been OK.

You might say, "Oh you are having so much fun! You are doing something you like when you make pictures for the book."  Yes and no, I am having fun and I am not. When a hobby becomes a serious endeavor it is work and work is hard, but when I finish a picture and it is the way I want it to look I feel glad for the accomplishment.

I am excited about the way it is all shaping up and I look forward to this collection of poems to be an encouragement to many. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What Happened When a Psychology Professor Read My Poems

My collection of poems, Through These Dark Lands Are Edges of Joy, is intended to encourage and give hope to people going through dark and difficult times but it can be seen as advice or counsel which I am not qualified to give. I was concerned that my poems may fall short of the goal of encouragement or that what I consider to be good, and hopeful, sentiment may be bad advice and inappropriate.

Fortunately, I have a professional friend who teaches psychology at a Seminary. I asked him if he would be willing to read them over and alert me if in his professional opinion anything I wrote was some kind of bad advice.

He said he would be glad to look them over but he was very busy with his practice and teaching three classes at the seminary so it would be a while before he could get to it.

I was afraid that this might be one of those things that comes between friends and makes things awkward. I was anxious to get his thoughts but I was afraid to ask him every time I saw him. Occasionally he would say that he had not forgotten but that that the pressures on his time were great and I would reassure him that I was not in a hurry for his observations.

I was surprised on Friday when he gave back the manuscript. At first, I thought that he was unable to review the work, but instead, he said that he made time in his busy schedule to look them over and had no concerns about the content of the writing. I do not want to put words in his mouth but he was generally positive and encouraging.  He said he found it to be very hopeful and he was looking forward to seeing it published.

He had only a few observations about the structure of the manuscript and made some minor suggestions about style, like a word in a title and that I should include a table of contents.

I was very reassured by his encouragement and extremely grateful for it. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Should I Illustrate My Book Of Poems?

I like to draw and paint so friends know me as an artist and I wonder if I should illustrate my book of poems. Will it enhance my book or subtract from it?

My first thought is that poets who illustrate their own work are seen as amateur and juvenile. It is the kind of thing that a kid in middle school does.

When someone opens a book of poetry and it is only words then they must focus on the words; illustrations can be a distraction and alter the reader's interpretation of the poem unless the statement of the poem is so clear that it begs its own point.

If the illustrations are poor quality or badly done then the effect will prevent the reader from appreciating the writing.

In the world of self-publishing poetry, there are mountains of books published every year so the challenge is to stand out from the crowd. Perhaps tasteful and quality artwork can give the book a broader appeal.

When you see a book of illustrated poetry you think it is a gift volume, the kind that is in the gift card aisle of the grocery store or sold at craft shows and indi-book-conventions.

In this modern world niche is everything. It is how you market and where you find your identity, so maybe illustrating the collection might give me a place in a nitch.

I have about 85 poems in the collection. To create passable illustrations would take about ten hours each, which would mean working full time for two months.  Instead, I could design a few and cycle them over and over throughout the book, or do something generic and put the same one on each page and then only need to create a few.

If I do illustrate it, even in part, then I am afraid that it will push back the release and publication even more.

Since I envision my book as something that people would give to friends who are feeling down I think it would be best to enhance the gift book nature of it. That means I will probably draw some illustrations.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

How Many Poems Is The Right Number For This Book?

I feel that long books of poetry and such writings are lost on the modern reader who typically is impatient and has a short attention span. So I do not think that I want to put out a large collection of poems, but how many is the right number for this collection?

I first set the number of poems for my collection, Through These Dark Lands Are Edges Of Joyat forty or so pieces. I like the number forty, it is all over the Bible. Forty poems give about twenty to thirty minutes of reading and I thought the message of encouragement could be easily conveyed within that scope.
My format was to be a chapbook, which is by definition a small collection of poetry, twenty-five to thirty-five poems (about forty pages) so forty short poems would push the upper range but I could still call it a chapbook.

I went through my collection of unpublished works and found a little more than forty so I figured fifty wasn't much more and could still work; it would be too big to call a chapbook but could work as a small collection.

As I was polishing the fifty or so I felt inspirations to add in a couple more. Additionally, in my daily Bible reading I got some ideas for a few more that I thought would easily fit in the collection.

Well, sometimes one thing spins off into another because a sentence or phrase is not right for that piece but it is too good to throw away, so a few more came into being.

Then I had about sixty-five poems.

I am not an expert on the subject, so I looked around for books about going through hard experiences since I did not want to make someone feel worse than they already did, which sometimes happens.  Some of the books said some really powerful things that I did not consider- which means I added a few more poems.

A few weeks ago I called it done. I had worked on the collection for about nine months and I had about 92 poems and thought it was getting way too big. I was eager to finish it up, so I got some help with editing and started to make the final adjustments to the manuscript. Someone suggested the collection was too dark for my purpose of being an encouragement, so I did some "tweaking" and had a couple of ideas for a few more poems to finish the collection with an upbeat feel.

It was now at about 99 pages including the usual stuff at the beginning. I felt the collection was at the absolute maximum length it can go.

And then while reading my Bible this morning I got an "impression," or an idea about another poem that would be so perfect at the end of the collection, so here it goes again. I worked most of the day on two more to finish the collection and stuck them in.

Ok, I really think it can't be any longer than a hundred and one pages, and that includes all the legal stuff at the front and the appendix at the back. 

I could have just said forty and stopped there, or fifty or sixty-five, but in this case, I am trying to fulfill what I believe is a mandate from the Lord to do this thing as an offering to Him, so I prayerfully let Him dictate the length and content. If my vision was for a particular product of a certain size then I could be arbitrary, but since I want to be in obedience to the Lord's guidance I must let him dictate.

I want to get it done and give it to people in time for Christmas and will need to move ahead with the printer soon.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Should I Edit My Manuscript Electronically Or On Paper?

I have been trying to make some revisions and tidy up my collection of poems, Beyond These Dark Lands are Edges of Joy, so they would be ready for publication. I have been going back and forth between the computer and paper versions of my manuscript trying to determine the better method of editing my poems.

I am kind of a visual person so the way things look affects my approach to it. When I see the pages laid out it gives me a feel for the overall presentation and spirit of the book.  On the other hand, I want to create a serious and professional piece of literature, so I must use the computer.

I have found that looking at the paper version gives me a sense of spirit or soul of the poems and not just grammar or sentence structure.

Printed pages make it easy to lay the poems out on the table and see them as a collection rather than as single pieces on the monitor screen.  I can use different strategies like spreading them across the table or putting them into stacks. I can see groupings and progression through the collection.

I can write out comments and experiment with things on paper in a way I can't with the computer. I can write out a new line and look at it in comparison to other lines in the poem. I can draw arrows to move things up or down or switch words around. I can draw a line through a word and consider removing it without removing it on the computer which means a hassle of back-clicks if I want to restore it.

Then after I have marked up the pages I can return to the computer and change file, then print it out and set the old and new side by side to compare the changes.

I know I can do all these things on the computer but when I relax in my favorite chair and hold a few pages I have a different mood as I read the poems. I can look at them with a new freshness. I can read them to enjoy and not as a project. For a moment I am not being a worker in words but an audience, and I am able to see the poems the way my future readers will.

Maybe I'm old fashioned but seeing the pages and touching the paper gives me a sense of interaction that I lack using the computer.  Somehow I feel better connected to the printed page than I do on with a digital image on a screen, but the functionality of the computer gets the work done. I guess I will have to struggle to find balance in my efforts between paper and electronic.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Should I Organize My Book Of Poems Into Chapters?

Someone suggested that I organize the poems for my book, Beyond These Dark Lands are Edges Of Joy, into chapters, and I wonder if I should.

There are some advantages to using chapters.

  • Chapters can break up the collection into manageable sections for the reader.
  • Chapters can each present a theme.
  • Chapters can offer the reader choices in how they consume the collection.
  • Chapters can give a preview and prepare the reader for the pages that follow. 
  • Chapters give the reader a quick overview of the entire work.

Chapters can create problems for a book of poems. They can limit the reader's interpretation of a poem because the reader views the poem through the context of the chapter title and not experience the poem in its own unique way.

If I start to organize the poems into chapters then new questions arise...

  • How many chapters? 
  • How many poems should be in each one?
  • Should all the chapters be the same length?
  • Should the chapter titles support the name of the book or cast ahead to the poems that follow?
  • If some poems do not fit the theme of any of the chapters, do I edit them out or write a few more poems to make a new chapter or rewrite the poems so they fit one of the chapters, and risk a weaker poem or a weaker chapter?
Without the chapter divisions, the reader can progress through the collection and come to a conclusion one poem at a time. 

Without chapter divisions, the reader may get tired and since they do not see a dividing point put it down and not return to it.  

My choices must be measured against my original vision for the project, or else I will end up with something that will lack unity, be confusing and without a clear message. I feel that God gave me the idea to write this book of poems to encourage people who are going through difficult times with a reminder of His sacrificial love and wise purpose for them. Which brings me to the biggest question of all; will a chapter based format enhance my original vision for the work or take away from it?

I can just say yes or no and get on with it, but what if I am wrong and miss an opportunity to make the collection better than it would have been otherwise?

I will test the collection both ways for a while. I'll organize them one way (in chapter form) and see if it works and then I'll arrange them the other way (without chapter breaks) and see if it is better. After I look at them both ways for a while I will decide.