Picture book writers: you know you’ve done it, started penning your next amazing story and, kablammo! suddenly you’re trying to find a rhyme for Pop Tart (Stop art? Top fart?).
But if you have even the tip of your pinky finger on the publishing industry’s rapidly beating pulse, you’ll have heard that rhyme is out. Done. Finished. Nobody—no agent, shmagent, editor, or predator—wants a picture book in rhyme.
Is this really true, though? After all, rhyme has been a staple picture book format for generations. Most of us can recite at least a portion of Green Eggs and Ham, we know Where the Sidewalk Ends, and where the dogs Go, Dog, Go!
So let’s break down where this depressing statement stems from:
1) Rhyme is harder to translate into other languages (and therefore sell foreign rights). The picture book market is already highly competitive, and eliminating potentially valuable foreign markets from the equation makes chances of financial success that much lower.
2) Story is often sacrificed for rhyme. Some writers get so hooked on making certain rhymes work, they’ve forgotten that writing a good story should always come first. If you’re determined to write in rhyme, first outline your story as prose to ensure the structure, arc, and characterization are down pat before tackling the rhyming elements.
3) Editors and agents can spot overused rhyme tropes and clichés forty miles away, so avoid trying to write your own version of Hop on Pop or Mrs. McTwitter the Babysitter.
4) Rhyme is tough—but good rhyme is tougher. Near rhyme and clunky meter will slaughter your story faster than Freddy and Jason’s bastard lovechild. Read your story over and over again not just in your head, but out loud. Then have others read it out loud, as well, to ensure they read it the same way. Beware that some words are just plain funky; one person might pronounce them as one syllable while others pronounce it as two (such as toward), and some words can have different emphases (such as hello). Having multiple people read your work out loud will help weed these out.
All this said, delightful rhyming picture books are published all the time. And not just published, but selling… a lot! Josh Funk’s Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, Matt Forrest Esenwine’s Don’t Ask a Dinosaur, Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama books, Sherri Duskey Rinker’s Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, the list goes on.
So in conclusion:
Rhyming is sticky and tricky, it’s true,
And bad rhymes make agents and editors blue.
But don’t let rhyme nay-sayers give you a frown.
‘Cuz fun, badass rhymes will turn frowns upside down!