Tips for Writing Picture Books: Don’t Write in Rhyme

Today I share the reasons I’ve been told:

Don’t Write in Rhyme

“Why not?” you ask.

“But publishers are constantly printing new rhyming picture books.”

“I’ve heard librarians like reading rhyming books at story time.”

“Children love rhyme, don’t they?”

“But Dr. Seuss was amazing and he only wrote in rhyme.”

and so on …

Here are the two simple reasons you should not write rhyming picture books:

  1. The Business Reason: Rhyming picture books cannot be easily translated into other languages. Therefore, rhyming picture books are immediately less valuable to agents and publishers.
  2. The Artistic Reason: It’s very easy to write bad rhymes. Lots of people do it. Therefore, there is a stigma associated with rhyming picture books – a cringe-worthy stain on the entire genre (I’m not kidding – I got a very painful looking cringe from a highly respected and successful agent when I told her I wrote picture books in rhyme – a look you might give someone when they tell you their dog died … a horrific death).

The Business Reason is pretty obvious. Yes, it’s possible a loose translation might work in some languages. And maybe (hopefully) your story and characters are good enough to be satisfyingly told without rhyme. But … maybe not.

The Artistic Reason is more layered. Even if your rhyming picture book is flawlessly superb both in content and execution, there is an excellent chance that agents will choose not to read it because, in fairness, most of the rhyme they receive is bad rhyme. If they have to read 99 bad rhyming manuscripts to get to your good one, was it really worth their time?

(hint: the answer is no)

What is bad rhyme, anyway? Well, there a lots of types of rhyme crime:

  • Simple, everyday, cliche rhyme: “My cat ate my hat, well look at that.”
  • Near rhyme: “I see a staple, it’s right on the table.”
  • Forced rhyme: “I opened my giant umbrella. It’s raining, I said to that fella.”
  • Regional rhyme: “In England, you see lots of rain. But I’m in the U.S. again.”
  • Seussian rhyme: “Dr. Seuss was Dr. Seuss, and nobody else can do that shlamboose.”
  • Yoda rhyme: “It’s raining and wet. In the car, I must get.”

But the worst bad rhyme has nothing to do with rhyme. Rhyme is the 3rd most important aspect of a rhyming picture book.

The #1 most important aspect of a rhyming picture book is that it has to be a good story. It must have characters, emotion, plot, arc, and all the other aspects that make up picture books (see parts 1-6 of this series).

The 2nd most important aspect of a rhyming picture book is the rhythm. Rhythm is way more important than rhyme.  Any preschooler can rhyme. Rhyming is easy. That’s why I say writing a rhyming picture isn’t about rhyming …

Rhyming Picture Books Are All About Rhythm

More on that later, I’ve got to shlamboose!

 

See all of Josh Funk’s 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books

Lesson #1: So, You Wrote a Book. Now What?
Lesson #2: Picture Books Are Short
Lesson #3: Every Word Counts
Lesson #4: The Illustrator Is Your Partner
Lesson #5: Show Don’t Tell
Lesson #6: Write with Active Emotion
Lesson #7: Story Arc Components
Lesson #8: Don’t Write In Rhyme
Lesson #9: Rhyming Is All About Rhythm
Lesson #10: Some Ideas Don’t Work
Lesson #11: Keep Learning
Lesson #12: Now You’re Ready! Dive In!

Some Things I’ve Learned

So, I decided I would share some of things I’ve learned over the last few years since admitting myself to the asylum for people who want to write books for children.

Why listen to anything I have to say, you ask? Unfortunately, that is a question for which I have no good answer. So I’ll simply ignore it.

There are blogs up the wazoo containing tips on writing for children. How to come up with ideas, how to format manuscripts, how to submit to agents and editors, and on and on. It’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed in all that advice. And I’m here to tell you … that there’s no easy way around it.

I’m not going to list every piece of advice out there. That’s for you to research. There are some great starting places like Harold Underdown’s Site and SCBWI. Unfortunately, there’s no one-stop-shop for all the do’s and don’t’s of getting published.

You probably will notice, however, that there are some tidbits that continue to pop up  everywhere – and you can take some of these as universal truths. A few I’ve come across include:

Keep Writing

rejected

You’re never going to get published don’t write. That statement may seem obvious, but you have to remember this every time you get a rejection letter (or don’t get rejection letters).

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “and after ten years of writing, my first book was finally published.” And when they say ‘first’ book, it’s usually not the first book the author wrote. It’s usually the 6th or 7th. It’s very rare to hit it big (or even publish) the first you write.

The first book I wrote is in a state of disrepair, and I expect it will stay that way. Frankly, I’ve learned so much since writing that first book, that I’m not sure going back to it would do much good.

That leads me to my second point, which is …

Learn

Take classes. Go to conferences. Do research. Read books about how to write for children. Read blogs (especially my blog). Read interviews of authors you really like. Read books in the genre which you’re writing. Read books in other genres. See authors speak. Absorb as much as possible.

Calvin in Class

You don’t have to do all of those things. Personally, I don’t like reading (just kidding. Or am I?). But all the other stuff has been invaluable. Writing books for children is both an art and a business – two things for which I have no professional qualifications whatsoever. Everything I know about the writing world was learned in the last two and a half years.

That’s why, I also recommend that if you want to get published, you have to …

Dive in

Dive InHead first. Give it your all. If you’re gonna write, then write your heart out. Get your manuscript(s) critiqued by other writers. Do the learning necessary. And submit! Submit to agents. Submit to editors (that accept unsolicited submissions, of course).

You can’t just dip your feet in the water. If you never finish your story, it will surely not get published. If you don’t get it critiqued and revise, odds are likely that it’s not quite ready for prime time. And it never gets sent to agents and editors, it’s not gonna magically publish itself (although that would be pretty cool).

Don’t overdo it, though. Always …

Leave Your Readers Wanting More

For that reason, I’m going to end this post by telling you to check back later on in the week when I post ‘Some Other Things I’ve Learned.’

Happy Old Year, 2013!

Before celebrating another year since the birth of the Earth (hey, that rhymes!), I’d like to congratulate 2013 for being pretty awesome to me. Here are some highlights:

I began 2013 with a little over a year’s experience, a single handful of decent manuscripts, very few contacts, and no online presence.

I adopted a pseudonym.

I wrote. I revised. I joined a new critique group and critiqued.

I dipped my toes into the pool of social networking.

Facebook LogoInstagram LogoTwitter LogoPinterest LogoWordpress Logo Google Plus LogoGoodreads LogoMammoth Logo  Tumblr Logo
(did I forget any? Probably…)

I ate lunch with at the same table as a Newbery Honor winner.

I made real and virtual friends with skillful sarcasm.

I attended 4 book launches and purchased more signed books than I can count.

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I started another critique group and became a board member.

I queried and submitted with a success rate higher than 0.0%.

Marsal Lyon Literary Agency Logo

I abandoned the pseudonym.

I end the year in the process of waiting.

Waiting for the phone to ring

The lessons of 2013? Don’t use a pseudonym. And get out there. And my wife is always right. Even if I crossed off the last five things from my list, it would still have been a pretty awesome year.

I wish all (both) of you a 2014 as ‘happy’ as my 2013.

Happy Birthday to You

As it is the holiday and gift giving season, I’d like to step back for a second and do something different. I’d like to wish you a happy birthday. That’s right, happy birthday to the nearly 10% of this planet’s population born between Black Friday and Christmas. Whether you celebrate Kwanzaa, Festivus, Hanukkah, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Christmas, or something else, you undoubtedly get the short end of the stick when it comes to birthday presents.

My present to you is this post.


Maybe next year I’ll get you a puppy (but probably not).

Big Reveal: Papa J Funk Is …

… really named Josh Funk. It’s true. I, Josh Funk, have been lying about both my name and identity since I began this blog. You’re shocked, I know. I, the writer formerly known as Papa J Funk, apologize for my deception. I never intended to hurt anyone. I hope that both of you reading this blog can find it in your livers to forgive me.

No Lies

You might be wondering why I, Josh, have decided to reveal the truth at this particular instance. If that’s the case, there really are more important things to ponder. Like why hasn’t Marcy Playground released an album lately? Or why isn’t Bowser the villain in Super Mario Bros. 2?

Wart

Over the course of the next several days and weeks, I will be converting my myriad of accounts from Papa J to Josh. You might notice a disruption in Funk during this period, but I assure you that I will fully return. And this time, I’ll be honest with you. Trust me.

Can you trust that this is really a picture of Josh Funk?
Can you trust that this is really a picture of Josh Funk?

World Series Champs of Children’s Books

In honor of the Boston Red Sox winning the 2013 World Series, I’m putting together a lineup of children’s books.

1 (Center Field): Leading off, Jacoby Ellsbury is faster than a speeding pony when stealing bases.

2 (2nd Base): Here comes the big mean Dustin Pedroia bunny

3 (Designated Hitter): Big Papi’s Gift is a World Series Championship!!!

4 (1st Base): The Big (Mike) Nap(oli) is batting cleanup.

5 (Left Field): Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava split time, so we’ll honor the bearded and beardless.

6 (Right Field): Everyone will be riding high in Hawaii with Shane Victorino!

7 (3rd Base): Xander’s gonna party all offseason, with and without pandas!

8 (Shortstop): Nancy may hit better than Stephen, but she’s never won a World Series!

9 (Catcher): Although Jarrod Saltalamacchia lost some playing time at the end, let’s appreciate the salty dog.

Starting Pitcher: Jon Lester may have awful sweaters, but he definitely has awesome heaters.

Closer: Koji Uehara saved games with magic pitches and saved the Red Sox world.

Manager: You can’t manage without apostrophes and John Farrell can’t manage without great players.

Can you think of any other ways to honor the Red Sox with KidLit?

Interview with Papa J Funk

For this post, I decided to interview myself.

Is your real name Papa J Funk? Yes and no.

Really, is that your actual name? No. And yes.

Do you really style your hair like your avatar? I do not style my hair at all.

Do you have any books published? Not yet.

Why not? I wish I knew.

Where do you live? Earth.

Will you come to the prom with me? No. I’m busy that day.

If you could spend the day with one person, living or dead, real or fictional, who would that be? Papa J Funk

Umm, besides yourself? A clone of Papa J Funk.

Besides someone with the name Papa J Funk in their name? Mama Funk.

Why? You know, your questions are really starting to get annoying.

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? Three.

What was your favorite cereal as a child? Fruit Loops. And I am still a child.

If a giant meteor was headed straight for Earth, who would you take with you on a shuttle to drill down to the center of it with your oil rig team? What kind of a question is that? Do you know something the rest of the world should be aware of? Why is it my job to save the Earth? I write children’s books. If meteor’s were destroyed by clever rhymes and funny illustratable texts, then come to me. Otherwise, there are probably people better equipped to handle meteors than me.

Calm yourself, there’s no need to get snippy. Remember, you’re asking yourself these questions. Oh, so now you think you know me? If I had an agent, I’d fire her or him for setting up this interview. That’s it. I’m out of here!