The 2 problems publishers have with rhyming picture books

Hello, sunshine! 

Missing Q & Q Friday? Here’s a transcript from a  lovely one we recorded last year.

Thanks to Suzy from Wagga Wagga in NSW for this awesome Q!

You can listen, read or watch. Whatever suits you.

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The Q: As an aspiring illustrator who would love to write picture books, I’ve been researching and reading everything I can.

I keep coming across the same phrase, ‘Do not write a rhyming story, publishers hate them.’

I find this really hard to understand.

If publishers hate rhyme so much, why are there so many books out there that rhyme (great books, too)? Some of my favourite books rhyme, and my kids and I love hearing them more than other books.

I love writing in rhyme but is this really something I should be avoiding?

Ah, rhyming. I’ve heard this one, too.

I’ve heard this rumour, or this rule, many many times and it’s kind of just, you know, flitted through my mind and I’ve wondered about it, and had a couple of opinions about it.

But I couldn’t answer you categorically because I can’t speak on behalf of publishers—although sometimes I try to—ha!

But what I did was, I rang my publisher at HarperCollins and I said, ‘Hey, do you know about this rule that’s going around, you know, that publishers hate rhyming books?’

And she was actually quite surprised. She really hadn’t heard it. She said, ‘Well, I love rhyming books and I still publish them’.

So we had a bit of a discussion and it was as I suspected. The phrase is not quite right. Publishers hate BAD rhyming books.

This is the catch. If you’re going to write rhyming stories, you must make sure that they’re really, really good.

There’s nothing worse than bad rhyming books. I can tell you now, children’s publishers get so many awful rhyming books.

It can be so disheartening. And dispiriting. Urgh, another rhyming picture book that doesn’t work. Groan.

So, if you’re called to write in rhyme, if you’ve got a passion for it, then absolutely keep doing it. Obviously, if you’re called to it, it’s probably something that you’ve got an ear for and you’ve probably got the patience to work with it and fiddle.

Personally, I’m not drawn to rhyme. It’s not something that does it for me. I love rhyming books but I’m not drawn to write them.

But if you are, I would say follow your happy!

Keep developing it. But just be aware that some writers will choose a word simply because it rhymes. They’ll sort of shove it into the story and, we all know, it’s so jarring to read something that’s just rhyming for the sake of rhyming.

The thing is, when you’re writing a picture book, there’s a lot going on. It’s already a fairly tricky art and then if you want it to rhyme, you’re laying another structure, more rules, over something that’s already reasonably complex.

And the other thing of course is that people can knock out a little stanza that rhymes, but to maintain that across 32 pages and to tell a story in that form, that’s a whole other challenge.

It’s not easy.

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I started thinking about the rhyming books we have in our house, and I just quickly looked in the bookcase here, in my studio, to see what was in there.

I found a few that I just have to share with you.

This is where children’s literature makes your heart pitter pat, doesn’t it?

So, the first one is Peepo by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, which is a classic, of course.

I don’t know if you can see, but I’m having trouble holding it up. It’s literally falling apart. It’s been so loved. My son and I used to read this all the time. We have another copy that’s more pristine. This copy is ripped, corners are missing and there’s yellowing sticky tape all over it.

peepo

Here’s a little baby/ One two three/ Stands in his pushchair/ What does he see?

It’s so lovely and it reminds me of when I was a young mother. It’s just gorgeous. They get into your heart, they get into your neural network, don’t they? They’re adorable.

Then I found The Terrible Plop by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Andrew Joyner. A more modern but just as gorgeous rhyming picture book.

terribleplop

Six little rabbits/ Down by the lake/ Munching on carrots/ And chocolate cake.

That one’s inspired by a folktale from Tibet. It’s one of my recent favourites.

And then, when my son was little, I Went Walking by Sue Machin, illustrated and Julie Vivas.

i-went-walking-25th-anniversary-edition

Such a simple story.

I went walking/ What did you see?/  I saw a green duck/ Looking at me.

Ha!

And again, we didn’t even need the book in the end. We would just go on walks, and my son would be in his pram, and we would just recite them as we went along. No book needed.

Another one: Magic Beach written and illustrated by Alison Lester.

magicbeachalisonlester

So many of you would know Alison Lester.

Absolutely gorgeous, and beautiful rhyme.

At our beach/ at our magic beach/ we play in the sand for hours/ digging and building/ with buckets and spades/invincible castles and towers.

It’s so evocative and the rhyme is smooth and beautiful.

Another more modern one, Today We Have No Plans, by Jane Godwin, illustrated by Anna Walker.

todaywehavenoplansannawalkerjanegodwin

So you’re right. Publishers are still publishing rhyming books, why wouldn’t they?

I just wanted to show you this one that I picked up recently. A beautiful hardback. Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau, written by Andrea Beaty.

I love this. David Roberts is one of my favourite illustrators. Beautiful clean lines but really interesting palettes and lots of white space.

But  here’s what I really wanted to read from this one was ( I feel like I’m on Playschool):

madamechapeau

Then, climbing the stairs with her dog and her cat/ the lonely, shy hatmaker took off her hat/ A sliver of gouda, a plumb, and a scone/ the lady chapeau ate her dinner alone.

What’s interesting about that, is the scone. Because here in Australia we would call a scone, a ‘scon’.

So, the lady sat alone and ate her ‘scon’? The rhyme’s gone out the window.

Of course, when I first read this I tripped on that line, and I’m sure lots of Australians would.

And that brings me, in a longwinded way, to the second reason why publishers are a little bit wary of rhyming books.

When you write a rhyming book in English, you are then restricted in terms of translation rights/ world rights. You’re book is probably only going to sell into English speaking countries. The rhyme is going to fall apart if they try to translate it into French or Greek or something like that.

One of the things that I’m always going on about here, is that publishers are businesses. They always have to keep their eye on what they can sell, and they don’t want to limit their market.

So, again, one of the reasons why publishers might be a bit cautious about rhyming books is the rights, the world rights. Okay? Restricted rights.

So there we have it. Publishers don’t hate rhyming books. They hate BAD rhyming books.

And they’re a little bit wary when it comes to rights. That’s the only restriction that a rhyming book presents to a publisher.

So keep at it. If you’ve got an ear for rhyme and you enjoy it, then follow that and keep going.

Like the lady herself all her hats were refined/ brilliantly singular, one of a kind!/ Each feather, each bauble, each bead and each bow—/ Painstakingly chosen by Madame Chapeau.

Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau (with rural Australian accent. Ahem).

And goodbye from girl and duck.

PS. See you next week, Feb 3 2017, for our first Q and Q Friday for this year! I’m soooo looking forward to it!

Bye!

Jen xo


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7 Replies to “The 2 problems publishers have with rhyming picture books”

  1. Scone is a very divisive word in the UK! It is, of course a ‘scon’ to all sensible people, mostly Scots and northerners. ‘Scoan’ is just a silly posh word that cannot be taken seriously 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing this – I’ve heard quite a few times that publishers hate rhyming books, don’t do rhyme unless you’re brilliant at it, etc. I LOVE to write in rhyme and most of my favourite picture books are rhyming books. I have two boys and we are always reading books Dr. Seuss, Julia Donaldson, Nick Bland, Pamela Allen. They especially love the rhyming books with a twist or a surprise or ones that can get a little silly. But yes, I also agree you have to be careful, I’ve been tripped up with American vs. British vs. Australian pronunciations before. PS: I was born in England and have always said “scon” 😀

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  3. This is super useful. Thanks. I’ve just started writing my first picture book and thought I’d look up some tips and kept finding the no rhyme rule and was shocked. I’m a professional poet and playwright and love rhyme and the books that have inspired me to want to write a picture book are full of rhymes and juicy wordplay so I felt more than a little dejected. But now I see it’s only bad rhyme it makes a lot of sense. And i can totally imagine the kind of thing that publishers repeatedly receive and it makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. It must be soul destroying to trawl through.

    The international thing makes sense though and I think i am going to use rhyme more sparingly than i’d originally planned and maybe focus more on rhythm than rhyme. I’ll see. I’ve not even started writing it yet, though I will as soon as I finish writing this comment 🙂 🙂 🙂

    I’m also from England and agree about scon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this wonderful comment! Yes, I sometime despair at the way opinions become rules in this industry! I sets people spinning! All the very best with your beautiful book, whichever way you decide to go!

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  4. Thanks for this! I’d heard the same thing from some.

    I recently participated in an association fundraiser. We were given an opportunity to submit a thousand words of various children’s genres.

    One suggestion given in my own rhyming story was to be sure to stick with the flow of the storyline within the rhyme.

    I also had the opportunity to hear an accomplished Children’s Writer say to read your picture book a million times out loud to see if you would want to read it a million more. If you rush over a spot or stumble you might have some tweaking to do.

    I’m singing my rhyming picture books these days as well ( not proven method) to see if the rhythm and rhyme remain lyrical without being forced.

    A young teenager with Grade 10 piano and a creative Parent listened to one story recently- her training in music was helpful. In fact she suggested I break some of the rhyming stanzas. In this case I think she was right.

    Vivid imagery …you get it. lol

    Truthfully, I don’t think I’ll ever give up rhyming in picture books.

    Rhyming has the ability to make the heart sing!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great thoughts, thank you. I taught Kindergarten for 30 years and my classroom was always full of rhyme.
    The games, songs, listening and reading activities provided something for all, and a rhyme could often fill a difficult moment with giggles and smiles.

    It was back in grad school when I wrote a story in rhyme. It’s about a mouse being teased for not looking like other mice. I would read this story the first day of kindergarten every year . . . and many times after.

    After reading so many negatives about stories in rhyme, I now feel inspired to follow my dream and attempt to publish. I AM EXCITED! Thank you!

    ** Does anyone know what kind of format publishers look for – – with a book written in short stanzas?

    Liked by 1 person

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