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Rhyme is not a four-letter word

September 7, 2011

No rhyme.      Not interested in rhyming text.      NO RHYME please.

Have you run across this in submission guidelines? Why do so many agents and editors hate rhyme?

I don’t think they hate rhyme.

But…then…why are so many doors closed to rhyming text?

 Because a lot of people think writing in rhyme is easy.

Because a lot of people think they do it well.

Because a lot of people are wrong.

Rhyming picture books, done well, are fun to listen to and fun to read. They help young kids develop crucial language/auditory-processing skills (one of many great articles on this here: Pre-K Smarties ). And because they’re so much fun to read, rhyming picture books are often favorites, plucked from the shelf over and over again. If you love to write in rhyme, and want your manuscripts to have a chance (there are still many publishers and agents open to rhyming stories), make sure you’re not committing any of the following insta-reject mistakes (and yes, you will find some of these mistakes in published material…but that doesn’t mean you could– or should try to– get away with it):

Have you used any forced rhyme? (placing a word out of its natural context/using a word you wouldn’t normally use, just to make the rhyme work)

Have you used any near rhyme? (hopes/boats….hat/cats….either/fever…)

Have you used the same rhyming words multiple times?

Does each line/stanza move the story forward?

Is your rhyming story really a story? Is there a story arc/series of events/enough illustration possibilities for 32 pages? If not, maybe it’s a poem, and better suited for the magazine market.

Is your rhythm natural? And is the pattern consistent? Your stresses should fall on the same syllables (as per your rhyming pattern) throughout…and they shouldn’t fall on a syllable that wouldn’t normally be stressed. This one is really tricky, trust me. I’ve had to throw out or rewrite so many fun lines of text that just didn’t work because a stress fell in the wrong place, and caused a word to be pronounced unnaturally.

If you’re great at reading rhyme, if some of your stories beg to be told in rhyme, if rhyme is as comfortable as flannel pajamas in the winter to you…don’t give up on it. Just know that your first (or 50th) attempt might not be perfect. Keep working at it, don’t sacrifice the story for the sake of the rhyme, and find a critique group with some seasoned rhymers who will give you honest feedback (or try an online course from a pro like Anastasia Suen: Picture Book Poetry Workshop). Then, when you have a fun-to-read, fantastic, polished, critiqued, revised story that just happens to have perfect rhythm and rhyme, submit that baby! There will always be room on the bookshelves for another great rhyming picture book!

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3 Comments
  1. I was really interested to read this, Jess. You’ve explained the importance of rhyme and the pitfalls as well. Also, what you say about rhythm and ensuring stresses fall in the right place, that’s very true. Thanks for this post.

  2. Would love to know how to identify the handful of editors/agents who are not saying NO to rhyme!! Any hints?? I swear my work has been critiqued, vetted, and commits none of the insta-reject mistakes!

    Great authors to google for info on rhyming PBs are Dori Chaconas and Mem Fox, BTW.

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