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Josh Funk's Guide to Writing Picture Books

If you’re going to write a picture book, one piece of advice you'll hear a lot is:


Don’t Write in Rhyme


“Why not?” you ask.

“Publishers are constantly printing new rhyming picture books.” True.

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

“Children love rhyme, don’t they?” Probably true.

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

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 and 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, is it really worth their time to read any?

(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 have a good story. It must have characters, emotion, plot, arc, and all the other aspects that make up picture books (see all the other lessons).

The 2nd most important aspect of a rhyming picture book is the rhythm. Rhythm is waaaaay more important than rhyme. Any preschooler can rhyme. Rhyming is easy. That’s why I say writing a rhyming picture book manuscript isn’t about rhyming at all: rhyming picture books are all about the rhythm.

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