The Market for Rhyming Picture Books
If you’ve attended a writing conference, you’ve probably heard the mantra of many children’s book editors: “No submissions in rhyme!” Yet if you visit the book table, you might be surprised to find their newest release—a rhyming picture book. What’s going on?
Editors say, “Never submit rhyming text” because they receive so many manuscripts filled with poorly written verse. Critique groups abound with wannabe writers who pour out stories in rhyme, yet are offended and confused when the member who teaches English points out their poem lacks rhythm, contains forced rhyme, and isn’t properly formatted. If you don’t know the rules for writing in verse, resist the temptation to write a manuscript in rhyme.
The three R’s of successful children’s books, however, are rhyme, rhythm, and repetition. If you’re still smitten by the “rhyming bug,” take the time to learn how to write in rhyme—and how to write well. Editors welcome submissions of well-written rhyming picture books if it fits into their specific product line—but your manuscript must feature poetry that sings.
Sign up for a class in writing poetry. Read books to learn the rules. Dissect current successful children’s books written in verse until you know which rules the authors followed and which ones they broke—and understand why. Don’t just read about writing rhyming picture book text. Write a children’s book in rhyme. Then another. And another. Examine your manuscripts with a fine-toothed comb. Don’t take your manuscript to your local critique group, however, if none of the members have had success publishing in rhyme, especially if they mostly write for older audiences. They’ll only succeed in butchering your manuscript if they don’t know the rules themselves. Try to find another author who has published at least one children’s manuscript in rhyme. Offer to trade manuscripts.
There is something truly magical about a children’s book that is written in rhyme. Yet how do you know if your story would do better written in non-rhyming text or in verse? Here are several key points to consider.
Will your book be part of a series? If so, you should follow the format already established. When I wrote one of my newest picture books, D is for Drinking Gourd: An African American Alphabet, the publisher already produced a series of books with rhyming verse in large type at the center of the page and nonfiction expository text along the sides. I wrote my sample text to follow their format, submitted it as a proposal, and got a contract—even though that publisher’s website said it was not taking any submissions at that time.
If your manuscript will be a stand-alone project, try writing a section of your story in plain text. Now try writing the same section in rhyming verse. Which vehicle transports your message to your target audience the best?
Study the product line of the publisher you plan to target. Are they currently publishing rhyming text? If so, determine in which genre or format—beginning reader? Board book? Alphabet or counting book? Write your manuscript—whether in rhyme or non-rhyming text—so it fits in with the publisher’s unique style and product line.
Bio: Nancy I. Sanders is an instructor for the Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club and the author of over 75 books and has been published by such houses as Scholastic, Reader’s Digest, Tyndale, and Sleeping Bear Press. Visit her website at www.nancyisanders.com to find out more.