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How to Guide an Author to Read Poetry to Improve their Prose

In the developmental editing process, you might notice an author relying on similar images and words that are repeated every so often throughout the manuscript. As editors, we can facilitate and expand the growth of our authors’ prose through poetry to inspire fresh language and images. By encouraging the author to read poetry for specific craft skills and ideas, they can translate what the poets are doing to their prose writing, and add more diverse elements to their style. Some of the takeaways you can have your authors focus on include:
Rhythm and Sound
Rhythm and the sound of words are key aspects to poetry, but prose writers can utilize similar techniques to enliven their sentences. In her article for NY Book Editors, Tania Strauss says through your control of rhythm and pacing, “you can manipulate the speed at which the reader reads, emphasize certain thoughts and ideas over others, and even affect the reader’s perception of the narrator’s personality.” With new perspectives on syntax and structure, your author can play around with the variability of their sentences. They can choose to lull the readers with their rhythm or to pack a punch into their prose with a staccato sentence, among other techniques. This is a good aspect of poetry to have authors focus on if you feel that their sentences could be more diverse or if you feel the author could lean into their style more.
Compelling Images and Metaphors
Many poets do a great job of creating lines that captivate the reader’s imagination. If you feel like a scene could use another memorable image or two to really solidify it, you can have your authors focus on how poets create interesting images, as well as how they build complex metaphors. Often, the images to look for are those that don’t rely on what we are used to as readers. Exciting and vivid images will build more intrigue into the descriptions a writer employs, and they won’t rely on the same, rote language that’s been used plenty of times before.
Pivot points, turns of phrase, subversions, and strong word choices are all ways a writer can surprise their readers at the sentence level. In poetry, this often comes in the form of line breaks or an interesting word or two, but the prose writer can use these small moments to keep readers interested in what your author will say next because they have already shown they take care in their craft to write thought-provoking sentences.
These can be ways an author builds momentum over the span of the scene, chapter, or manuscript to carry the reader through the story. If you find yourself pulled by the narrative but the sentences could have more moments of subverting the reader’s expectations, this is a fun space to have authors think about.
I’ve only included a few ways poetry can help your author’s prose, but it’s safe to say that there are many more craft elements to glean from poetry. However, you don’t need to prescribe poetry simply because the manuscript could use some sort of a boost. The venture into poetry can help a writer throughout their lifetime, and this is a great time to dive into poetry with all of the excellent contemporary poets publishing incredible work.

Writing Alt Text for Ebooks

Not all EPUBs have images, but when they do, including alternative text for every image is essential to maintaining accessibility for all readers. Alternative text, or alt text, is different from including a caption for an image in your book; it is a clear description of what is taking place in the image so that readers who use voice-to-text software can understand its context. Used commonly on websites, alt text can be easily built into your InDesign document for all of your images before you convert your book into an EPUB—and here is how to write it.

Remember accessibility as you write.

The core purpose of including alt text is to assist readers with visual impairments or disabilities. Think of this reader as you look at the image and write the alt text. How would you describe this image to someone who couldn’t see it? What information is important?

What is your caption missing?

Your EPUB images may or may not include captions, but if they do, voice-to-text software will be able to read it along with the alt text. This means that your alt text should not be a regurgitation of the information held within the caption; instead, think of what is missing.

Is the caption explaining the context of the image so well that alt text isn’t needed? If not, what is the caption not doing that your alt text could?

Use brevity (with exceptions).

Since voice-to-text software will read both the alt text and caption aloud, keep your alt text succinct whenever possible. Make every word in your alt text pull descriptive weight, and try to keep your copy between one and three sentences long.

Of course, there are times when alt text must include transcriptions, like when there is text embedded within an image. In the case of important diagrams or figures that include text within an image—where the information is not explained within the surrounding text and is necessary for the reader’s understanding—then a full transcription should be included in the alt text. This is a case where the caption would act as a visual aide, while the alt text would provide longer, more descriptive information.

Paint a visual story with accuracy.

Providing an accurate, objective description of your images using alt text is important for establishing context for your reader. Determine what is taking place in the image and its context within the EPUB; or to put it simply: who, what, where, when, and why?

Concrete details and specificity are key, especially for nonfiction titles. However, that doesn’t mean imagery should be left completely behind within your alt text. Consider how you can work in descriptive language that paints a clear visual for your reader.

When proofing your alt text copy, ask a friend or colleague to close their eyes while you read the text aloud. Then ask these questions: Does it add context for the reader and provide essential information? Does your alt text take too long to read, or is it a proper length? Lastly, does it paint an accurate picture in the mind of your reader?

Further Resources

To practice creating and writing alt text for future titles, take advantage of online resources such as the Poet Training Tool. An initiative provided by the U.S. Department of Education, this interactive website has modules that help you understand when and how to describe images, as well as exercises for you to practice describing images provided to you.

Alt text is one way to keep your ebooks and EPUBs accessible, but knowing how to write alt text is only a small part of accessibility. Stay up to date with accessibility standards from the IDPF and take advantage of these user-friendly guides and resources provided by Inclusive Publishing.

Book Cover Design Tools for the Self-Published Author

Finally! After years hunched over your laptop tussling over which adjective perfectly captures your main character’s eyes and searching desperately for that perfect ending, your book is done and ready to be launched into the world. You already have the perfect title, but wait! You still need a cover. As a self-published author, it may be intimidating to start with all of the online outlets claiming they can make your book the next bestseller. After all, you’re a writer, not a designer. To help make the process a little less intimidating, here is a brief list of options that can give your book the beautiful face it deserves.
Hire A Professional Designer
As a self-published author, it may be beneficial to set aside some funds to hire a professional designer. The cover can be an excellent marketing tool and help communicate the subject, genre, and mood of the book in a single moment to the potential reader and having someone with experience in this realm may help increase sales. If funds allow, here are some options to explore:

  • Bookfly Design: For a fully personalized cover design experience, Bookfly Design will work with self-published authors one-on-one to create the design of their dreams. The small studio on the Oregon coast offers editing services as well. The intimate experience stands as the most expensive of these options with ebook design starting at $549.
  • BEAUTeBOOK: From cover to interior to website design, they will take care of all your design needs. Bestselling author Gregg Olsen took advantage of their services when designing Bitter Almonds, but the “bestseller look” may cost a pretty penny. Ebook cover design starts at $275.
  • Covertopia: If you are short on time, premade covers from Covertopia may be your best option. Choose from hundreds of genre-specific covers, and Covertopia will customize it with your title and author name. Premade covers start at $119.

Do It Yourself (for little or no cost)
Here in Portland, Oregon, we take pride in getting things done ourselves, and there are numerous online outlets that help guide you through the book design process with relative ease. For many self-published authors, making the cover is not the issue. Instead, the difficulty lies in making a cover that simultaneously captures the feel of the book and stands out among the sea of professionally and self-published books alike. If DIY is more your style, check out some of these online guides:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud: Want a professional looking cover? Invest in the applications used by professionals. InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator are excellent tools for creating both cover and interior book designs. Your subscription also includes video tutorials to help you navigate the tools and techniques available on the different applications. A single app subscription starts at $20 a month.
  • Cover Design Studio: This online resource claims anyone can make a cover on their site in under an hour. While the overall process is sure to take longer than that, this is a quick and easy option for authors short on time. Simply download a template and start customizing. Cover Design Studio offers a hundred DIY templates to choose from, starting at $19.
  • Amazon: Kindle Direct Publishing has their own cover creator, complete with a video tutorial. Simply add a personal image, choose from ten design templates, customize your font and color scheme, and submit. This tool is free when publishing through Kindle Direct.
  • CreateSpace: The entirely free cover creator from this self-publishing outlet allows you to create semi-custom designs with relative speed and ease. You can begin with a premade cover, which you can customize from color to font, and incorporate images from their free gallery.