Rhyme or reason – what makes a good poem?
By J. Paul Dyson
If you ask people who write poetry what makes a good poem itís amazing how few can actually
think of an answer.
For a lot of people, however, a lot of importance is placed on a poem rhyming. In this article Iíll be looking at
why this can be a misleading and even dangerous focus of attention.
Letís start by dispelling the common myth that ďproper poetryĒ has to rhyme. There seems to be an
many that, traditionally, poetry rhymed, and that unrhymed poetry is the result of crazy post-1960 liberalism, and comparable
with modern art. This isnít true. The history of poetry stretches back over thousands and thousands of years, and –
traditionally – it hasnít rhymed. Ancient Greek poetry – going back to Homerís Iliad and the like –
used strict metrical rhythm – but it didnít rhyme. Nor did the Latin poetry that would come after it; and Old English
poetry like Beowulf was based on alliteration, not rhyme. The fashion for rhyme in English poetry only cropped up
relatively recently in the Middle Ages, and had no real precedent in English or Classical poetry.
Even for the few hundred years that rhyming poetry did become popular, its coverage was hardly
blanket. Milton shunned
rhyme, and it was also in this period that a certain William Shakespeare, generally regarded as the greatest poet in history,
began to write – but of course the majority of his poetry did not rhyme. Though he did write many rhyming sonnets,
the bulk of his work – the plays, for which he is best known – were written in unrhymed blank verse: they were
still poetry – they still had metre, rhythm, and structure – but they didnít rhyme. Later, it would become
the convention for plays to rhyme, and dozens of inferior rhyming plays that no-one would ever really remember were written,
but this is one area where the fad for rhyme has already passed away.
Rhyme is in fact irrelevant when it comes to poetry. It is one feature you may choose to use,
like alliteration, but it
doesnít make ďJack and JillĒ high literature any more than the lack of it makes Hamlet an artistic failure (though the later
playwrights writing rhyming plays probably did consider Shakespearean plays inferior because they didnít rhyme). The real work
of making a good poem is done elsewhere – the danger is that by concentrating on rhyme you may well be taking your eye off
the ball. A successful rhyme can lull you into the false impression that youíve written some poetry, when in fact you may have
simply made some prose rhyme.
Thatís why Iíd encourage anyone writing rhymed poetry to drop the rhymes for at least a while,
so you can make sure that
youíre writing poems that rhyme, rather than just rhymes you call poems. If you find that when you write unrhymed poems youíre
still every bit as pleased with them, then youíre doing well and you can use rhyme freely as an extra ornament for your poetry.
If, however, you feel like your unrhymed poems arenít as good as your rhymed ones, it means that
you need to start thinking
less about the rhyme and more about the reason: why break that line at that particular point, if not because youíve reached
a rhyme? Why choose that particular word, other than because it rhymes with the word at the end of the last line? All too often
people allow the needs of the rhyme to dictate decisions like these, but in fact the content, the subject matter, and the form
and flow of the poem need to dictate these considerations if the poem is to be successful. The rhyme should be a vehicle for the
content, rather than the content being a vehicle for the rhyme.
If, after honing your unrhymed skills, you decide to start using rhyme again, you need to think
carefully about how you
do it. Remember to ask why the rhyme is suitable to the poem and to the content, and what sort of rhyme scheme would
be appropriate. Make sure you know the difference between feminine and masculine rhymes, and be aware of the various rhyming systems
there are, and the various connotations these will bring to your work. If you choose to use a sonnet structure you are automatically
connecting your work to a whole history of romantic sonnets – why? How does that affect your poem, and, perhaps more importantly,
what does your poem say about the history you are linking it to?
Above all, donít allow yourself to be fixated by rhyme. Rhyme is the most gaudy, most superficial,
and most obvious of all
the properties of poetry. It is the easiest to see and easiest to understand, and though this isnít a bad thing and wonít detract
from your poetry, poetry which manages to do nothing other than rhyme – which ignores the properties of structure, metre, rhythm,
form, language, content, etc. – will be very superficial. In fact, it wonít really be poetry at all.
The basics of author branding
By Theresa Meyers
President, Blue Moon Communications
I know you've heard PR people mention the word "brand" and thought, "what is she talking about?" Well,
here's a quick and easy
discussion of what an author brand is, how it works, why you need it and what to do with it.
What is a brand?
First off, let me give you a concept to wrap your brain around. The word "brand" is used to refer to a product or company name
or anything unique that identifies something using a logo or trademark. Many people think the marketing term brand was actually borrowed
from the cattlemen in the 1800s when there were no fences and cattle were marked as belonging to a person via the brand on their hides.
The marketing term or concept grew out of a need to identify products and developed into a serious
to why consumers were
attracted to a specific product and how they made their purchasing choices. Author branding is an extension of that effort.
What is an author brand?
Today when we talk about an author brand we are first talking about building an image, perception or identity that is used to
create "emotional Velcro". Secondly we are talking about a perception of higher quality; and thirdly that little "something special"
that no-one else can offer. Here's an example: When someone walks into a bookstore to purchase a novel by Nora Roberts, they don't say
"can you tell me where I can find The Three Fates?" – they say "do you have the latest Nora book?"
How it works
Let's take the concept one step further for you. If you were to look on the back of the mass market edition of The Three Fates
you would find there is no cover blurb, there is no letter from the author. In fact, there is no wording at all. All there is, in
glory, is a picture of author Nora Roberts. Her name, her face is a brand in and of itself.
Step one (emotional Velcro) is achieved because her readers love her stories and are moved
This in turn leads readers to
believe that they have formed a relationship of some type with that author and understand him or her. Because of this emotional attachment,
they are willing to purchase a book written by this author simply because her name is on it.
Step two (perception of higher quality) is achieved because
author brand has received accolades from every sector of the
industry in the form of awards and top placement on the New York Times list. The author has garnered numerous RITA awards and
is usually considered synonymous with romance, in fact being dubbed by media "the queen of romance". All of this contributes to the
consumer's perception of higher quality of this material. If the writer wasn't good, she wouldn't be getting all this attention, right?
(Not necessarily, folks... but we'll talk about that a bit later.)
Step three (a little something special or distinction) is achieved via the author's voice.
Now this is
unique to fiction as a
product because in other product fields certain attributes of your product can be ripped off or copied by rivals. In fiction it's a
totally different ball game. No one is going to write exactly the way you do. It's what's called your author's voice. It's the thing
that will make a reader read to the end of your book in the middle of the night even though they know they have to get up early the next
morning for an important meeting.
Wrapped altogether, a brand is an implied promise to the consumer that they'll be receiving a particular
an author. That's part of the reason that publisher's don't like authors to change their writing style too much or hop from one sub-genre
to the next because it might upset the consumer who feels that the brand hasn't delivered.
Brand building first; brand awareness
Here's the problem. Even if you run out there a create a great buzz and get all kinds of brand awareness, unless you can define
what makes your brand unique and different from others in the same product field (books, here), you're doomed to failure. That's part of
the reason that advertising isn't enough to build a strong brand. Branding is more than a logo, colour scheme, tagline or message points.
These are just tools to help you in creating a solid brand that you can then build and make people aware of.
Because branding at its roots is based first on establishing an emotional connection, publicity often
better than advertising
to get your foot in the door. It is used to help you make a connection with people, create word-of-mouth through reviews, interviews, chats
and workshops at conferences. If you can communicate clearly and consistently your brand, you will go a long way towards
developing that emotional Velcro with your consumer. It's about creating distinction in the marketplace.
This is why I encourage beginning authors to get out there and get involved. By having your brand pop
over the place online,
at conferences, etc., you are getting people talking. This is also where media interviews come into play and using your message points.
For your message points you need to focus in on what makes you different. This is why. It comes down to building your unique brand.
Ask yourself this. What good is it going to do if I see a commercial about a brand new soap that I've
heard of? There's very
little chance I'm going to go race out and buy it especially if I like my old soap just fine, thank you very much.
Now rewind yourself to before sitting down and seeing that commercial. What if I've heard about it from
of my friends? What if
I'd just seen the name of the soap in an article in a women's magazine about great new products? What if I got a sample and liked the smell?
Now imagine that I see that commercial again for the first time with all of this experience behind me. I am far more motivated to find out
what all the fuss is about and possibly take a chance on the new soap even if I'm still attached to my old soap. Does this make more sense?
Now you understand why advertising is one of the main tools you will use to help you create brand
but isn't the foundation
piece for building a brand. You need to create the emotional drive and connection first, then the perception of higher quality and finally
make your point for why you are unique.
At this point I have to stick in a word about author quotes. Author quotes in this industry are what
Brand Equity. This means
that whoever you are quoting has a certain worth in your consumer's mind. By having this author vouch for your work, you are in essence
the consumer that this new product has the same or better worth than the product they are used to. This is why your publisher and consumer
will get more excited by a cover quote from Nora Roberts than Samantha Smith. They know Nora, they love Nora, and they will for an instant
transfer a teensy bit of that love to you, long enough to buy your book, with a cover quote from her.
Since most of us aren't going to get that, a cover quote from a well-respected person who writes
you will do. Don't be
afraid about asking for one, but do it professionally in writing and always let them know that you would like them to consider your book for
It takes between seven and ten impressions for people to recall your brand. This is the process of
getting your name out there in reviews, interviews, ads, conference speaking opportunities, book signings and the like, you are going to
be contributing to the development of your brand's awareness.
In publicity, perception is everything. It's the same with your brand. Even if you develop a strong
build a great awareness
for it, if you don't manage it correctly, it can flop. To manage your brand you have to decide how you want people to perceive you. You can
use publicity and your message points to continue to shape and manage how your multiple publics perceive your brand to keep it healthy.
At this point you might be scratching your head and asking "why do I need an author brand anyway?
I'm small right now".
The point is you want to grow big, right?
You can take a long, painful, expensive trip to get from point A to point B without a road map –
it there for far less
expense, time and effort with a map. All I am trying to get you to do in creating your brand is build your map first.
Why does the brand matter?
What are some of the benefits of a strong author brand? Strong brands bring in dollars. A strong brand will influence buyers to
consider purchasing you first when they have only limited money to buy their books. It will create a loyal readership that will bring you
bigger contracts from publishers. It will help you win awards because you stand out clearly against other brands in the same market space.
It will make what your story is about nearly meaningless. Whoa. Did I just say that? Yep. I did.
Think back to the Nora book. The publisher believes so strongly in the Nora brand that they didn't
even put a
cover blurb about the
book on the back. It didn't matter what the book was about. It was Nora. That was enough. That is where you want to focus to getting
to. When your brand is that strong, you too will have a high rate of success. That is where we'd all like to be.
Building a strong author brand
So how do you go about building a strong brand?
Step one: Have a great product.
Step two: Figure out what your message points are and what makes your brand unique and stick to
it. If you
aren't the first in your
market category, then create a new market category for yourself. For example. My client Janelle Denison had been writing very successfully
as an author of hot sexy books for Harlequin's Blaze line. But when she broke out into single title with Wilde Thing (due out in
hot and sexy weren't enough. There are a lot of erotic writers out there who write hot. So what we did was coin a new phrase for her. She is
an author of wild loves stories. Not wild as in Cheeta and Tarzan, but wild as in romances based on emotions and drives that are so close
to the surface that they tap into a person's animal or gut instincts to just go for it. Find a word or phrase you can to define what you do
or your unique aspect and own it.
Step three: Grab their emotions. Your message points are at the heart of your branding because
reach in and squeeze an
emotional reaction out of your consumers.
Step four: Build all aspects of your
brand equally. Your brand has visual elements (what your website and letterhead
looks like, what your professional photos look like), verbal elements (your
message points that you should use in all your written and spoken communication
and interviews) and kinetic or action oriented elements (how you physically act
around your consumers at a book signing, being approachable after a workshop,
and acting like a professional at conferences).
Step five: Be consistent in marketing your brand. All aspects
brand need to communicate with one solid core of messages. Your
image and how you act needs to back those messages up. In public you are your brand. When you are interviewed you are not you, the author,
you are the brand. It has to be in everything you do. That's why it's so important that it comes from who you are and what you want people
Step six: Deliver on the brand. Consumers are fickle. You disappoint them, you'll loose them.
brand image, make sure
that you stick to it. This is the reason that many publishers will require you to take on a new pseudonym if you are doing something
(i.e. Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb). The brands are different.
Step seven: Always continue to evaluate, build and refine your brand. The only way you'll know
it right is by the success
you achieve. Look at other author brands. Analyse them and see what makes them tick. Your brand's value will constantly change as society
your consumers change. Make it your business to keep your brand evolving to keep up with your changing career. When the image you have in
marketplace is not consistent with your brand, you need to refine the brand and adjust it to make it fit. This is a continuous process.
When your brand really begins to take off, it will be the brand, not your book that the publisher is
That is why New York
Times Bestsellers make so much more than other writers. Their brand as a bestseller is worth bucks to a publisher.
I'm not saying your brand will achieve success overnight. But if you have the map, you will get there.
writers at firstwriter.com
for the following invaluable resources for writers:
on this newsletter for as little as $30 / £20 click
uses English spelling conventions.
Spellings such as "realise"
differ from other spelling conventions
but are nonetheless correct.
on words seeks submissions
Visual Thesaurus has launched an online magazine
for its 500,000 licensed users. The magazine is dedicated to books, words, and
writers, including author interviews, book reviews, and sections where authors
explain their inspirations.
The magazine is seeking submissions. For more information, visit
For the details of over 600 other magazines,
Legend Writing Award short story competition
The Legend Writing Award short story
competition offers cash prizes of £500,
£250, £100, plus 3 at £50. Stories
may be any genre / kind (except
children's) with a 2,000 word limit.
Closing date is August 31 and entry fee
Rules and entry form are available from legendwritingaward.com
or send SAE to LWA, 39 Emmanuel Road, Hastings, TN34 3LB.
For details of more than 150 other writing
competitions, click here
Ledbury Festival celebrates 10 years
The Ledbury Poetry Festival celebrates its 10th
year with events including football poetry, poetry and wine, erotic poetry,
cabaret, "bed of roses love cafe", Scottish poetry, and "poetry slam".
Don Paterson will be headlining, with appearances
from C.K. Williams, Jamaican poet Mervyn Morris, Dunya Mikhail (originally from
Iraq and now for the first time writing in English), and Syrian poet Maram Al
For more information visit poetry-festival.com,
or to book call the box office on +44 (0) 845 458 1743.
marketing and promotion
Screenplay treatment competition
Little Lip Productions is now accepting entries
for The Royal Treatment Competition. If you have a treatment for one of your
screenplays, you can submit it for a chance to win cash, prizes and industry
access. Entries will be accepted until June 5, 2006. A winner will be announced
by July 5, 2006.
For more than 150 other competitions,
Essay Contest Winners
Lantern Books have announced the winners of their
2005 Essay Contest. The winner, Kao Kalia Yang of Minnesota, receives $1,000.
Elena Conte receives $250 for second place, while Lisa Kemmerer and Philip
Armstrong receive $125 each in joint third place.
Essays and details of the winners can be found at
lanternbooks.com/blog, while details concerning the contest itself are
Lantern aims to announce criteria for the 2006
Essay Contest in September 2006.
WriterOnLine is an e-publication dedicated to
writers and lovers of writing.
Fiction, poetry, business and technical writing, how-tos, articles, reviews,
freelance markets, jobs for writers and much more, published bi-weekly.
renewed! Visit us at