I love rhyming picture books – they are what got me so fascinated with picture books in the first place. There is something particularly satisfying in the way a good rhyming story flows off the tongue! A good rhythm is soothing and fun to read and a clever rhyming couplet will always bring a cheesy grin to my face. On the other hand, I find a badly-rhymed story that doesn’t scan well to be both frustrating and irritating.
It took a lot of practice to get my rhyming at the level it is today, and I have to confess I’m quite proud of where it’s at. I now find myself in the position where I’m getting positive comments from people within the industry on my rhyming ability, and this makes me very happy. But there is another thing I’ve been hearing a lot lately too…..
This is the suggestion that I should drop the rhyme and focus on prose.
Now part of me wants to resist this idea at all costs – why should I when rhyming stories sell so well? I heard recently according to someone from Waterstones, rhyming stories are still the bestsellers. Most authors and parents I know seem to prefer rhyming stories, and it goes without saying that kids love them. Yes – we all know about the limited potential rhyming stories have for co-editions, but I have also been told by a successful children’s publisher that this necessarily isn’t a problem. If an international buyer likes a book enough, they will happily translate it.
Yet, a rhyming story needs to stand up on its own without the rhyme. Apparently the legend that is Julia Donaldson, submits all her rhyming stories along with a non-rhyming version. I have been told many times by agents and editors that I should try writing some of my rhyming stories in prose, in order to get the structure correct. So far I’ve managed to get these stories working without resorting to putting them into prose, but yesterday something happened that’s thrown me.
I was fortunate enough to attend a picture book meet and critique in London, run by the Children’s Book Circle. There I met with the children’s editor of a very well-known publishing house and had feedback on two of my stories. This lovely editor seemed to like both stories – she said the structure was great, and all the necessary elements were present and correct. However – she felt both stories were strong enough without the rhyme, and although the rhyming was very good, she personally found it distracted from the story!
Now I know in some of my stories, as previously mentioned, the rhyming was preventing the structure of the story from gelling. I’ve also been told several times now to avoid writing in rhyme because of the limited co-edition potential. But I’ve never been told my stories didn’t need the rhyme, or that my rhyming distracted the reader! Yet, I believe I know where this editor is coming from. Recently I’ve found the picture book market to be saturated with rhyming stories. As much as I love rhyme, some of these stories leave me cold because although very well written, it feels like the rhyme doesn’t add anything to the story. I’ve also entered a few recent competitions where the organisers commented on the unusually high amount of rhyming stories submitted. So it seems almost everybody is writing – or trying to write – in rhyme.
I don’t want to write a rhyming picture book that, although well written, is instantly forgettable. I still remember the first time I read, ‘Room on the Broom’ – ideally, I’d like my stories to have that same sort of memorable impact. But do I fall into the category of writing in rhyme for the sake of it? The last few agents who’ve given me personal responses to my submissions both suggested I drop the rhyme and write in prose. But I personally don’t think my prose stories are as strong as my rhyming ones. My story ideas either come as a rhyming story, or a prose – I can’t seem to force them any differently. I also often find a rhyming story writes itself, whereas a prose one is much harder to make work. I recently spoke with a very talented debut author who only writes in rhyme, and has eleven books either already published or in the pipeline, (I repeat – ELEVEN!), and she said exactly the same thing. Or do I think my rhyming stories are stronger simply because I have a personal preference for rhyme?
So what do I do next? My friends and peers all say they really like my rhyming stories. But I’m not sure if I can go by their opinions alone because I know they are all people who – like me – really enjoy rhyming picture books! Perhaps it’s time to take on board the professional advice to focus more on prose. Lately I have actually been writing more in prose. My four most recent stories have all been prose, and I honestly believe that if I want to be truly successful – which I do – then I need to be able to write well in both formats. I’m guessing what I’ll be working on next will likely be prose versions of my rhyming stories. I can’t imagine it’s going to be easy, but perhaps it’s a necessary step forward.