I'm planning a "behind the publishing curtain" series of blog posts (likely slated for next year) that will break down the publishing process. The goal is to help writers better understand what happens from manuscript to book!
I'll be interviewing industry professionals in the following areas:
Subsidiary rights (film, translation, audio)
What I would love to hear from YOU is: what do you want to know?!
Please post any questions you have about the positions/steps above in the comments!
If you are an industry professional in one of the areas above and are interested in being interviewed, please pop me an email to connect!
If you write picture books, you've probably already noticed that rhyming picture books...are tough to sell. Many agents and editors state outright that they simply won't even consider a rhyming text!
The reason isn't because rhyme doesn't work in picture books; it's that it's very difficult to do well.
If you want to write a rhyming text, here's what you need to know:
There needs to be a consistent pattern of meter (stressed and unstressed word pattern), syllable count, rhyme and stanza length for the read-aloud to feel flawless (not "forced").
I call this building a house!
(I need to do what now?!)
No really! The four walls of meter, syllable, rhyme and stanza work together to support the narrative.
Wall 1: Meter
The stressed and unstressed pattern to your words. Examples (bold is stressed):
IAMBIC (x /) : That time of year thou mayst in me behold
every other word is stressed, starting with second
TROCHAIC (/ x): Tell me not in mournful numbers
every other word stressed, starting with first word
ANAPESTIC (x x /): And the sound of a voice that is still
every third word is stressed
There should be a consistent meter pattern with each line
Wall 2: Syllable
Working together with a consistent syllable count in each line. Examples (number is syllable, line denotes meter pattern):
IAMBIC PENTAMETER (5 iambs, 10 syllables)
That time | of year | thou mayst | in me | behold
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
TROCHAIC TETRAMETER (4 trochees, 8 syllables)
Tell me | not in | mournful | numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
ANAPESTIC TRIMETER (3 anapests, 9 syllables)
And the sound | of a voice | that is still 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Tip: syllable count is the first place I turn to look when a rhyming text feels "off"
Wall 3: Rhyme
The above two pieces create the rhythm of your text. You don't have to add rhyme but, if you do, each stanza should have paired words that sound alike. Examples:
Trains are humming, coming near (A)Coupled cars from front to rear. (A)Rumbling, grumbling, screech and squeal (B)Rolling, trolling wheels on steel (B)Trains Don't Sleep by Andria Warmflash Rosenbaum
Full fathom five thy father lies; (A)Of his bones are coral made; (B)
Those are pearls that were his eyes; (A)
Nothing of him that does fade,(B)
But doth suffer a sea-change (C)
Into something rich and strange. (C) The Tempest, Shakespeare 1.2.456
The trick here is to pick a word that feels natural and organic to the unfolding narrative, rather than forced in just to rhyme. This often will require changing up your entire sentence rather than just picking a word that rhymes! Don't just try and make a word fit your existing sentence. This is often what results in a "forced" rhyme.
Tip: work backwards. If you know what word/words might fit your rhyme, start writing different sentences that also fit within your syllable count. Meter will often fall into place with syllable count.
Wall 4: Stanza
Finally, keep the number of lines per stanza consistent. The examples in #3 above are stanzas. Trains is a stanza made up of four lines. Tempest would be a stanza made up of six lines (it's not actually written in stanzas, just, you know, for the stake of example). You may have a text with stanzas of four lines each. You may have a text of stanzas of 3 lines, 2 lines, 3 lines, 2 lines.
Note: final text placement may break your stanzas up for page-turn & visuals, but it should be presented consistently!
Roof: the idea and narrative connecting it all together
You don't need to use one of the established patterns given as examples above; your text simply needs to be consistent in whatever pattern you do use.
Exercise for you
Can you pick out the elements of the house in the examples for #3 above?
Take a few of your favorite rhyming picture book texts. Can you pick out the elements?
Here are some online resources to help:
RhymeZone: find words that rhyme listed out by syllable count
For those of you in the process of sending your baby manuscript off and into the world, I wanted to expand on a previous post regarding conflicting advice.
When reading for critique, the instinct is to try and be helpful. Often, I think the result of that is a critique that offers advice rather than a breakdown of the issues at heart.
This is one of my favorite clips. I really hope no one has received or left a critique session with me feeling like this...
But it transitions us nicely (after a few calming laughs) into the reason you should always focus on the WHY instead of the WHAT: the critique you got very likely could be the reader trying their best to help you with a solution, rather than pointing out something that is actually wrong.
Your job when revising is to figure out if that solution is the right one for your work, or if there is something else causing your reader to make the comment that they did that helps to point to what you really need to revise. How? Ask why.
Let's start with the video. WHY did this gatekeeper start spitballing outrageous ideas instead of directly critiquing the work? Well, honestly: from an outside perspective, and someone who has thrown some pretty outrageous ideas out there, I think probably the gatekeeper just wasn't intrigued by the story.
Well, there could be two reasons: first, the story itself IS boring and/or non-fresh enough to really spark interest and stand out, OR this gatekeeper wasn't the right fit.
There's nothing you can do about an agent not being the right fit. But you should explore whether or not your story stands out in the market AND, if it does, if you've started in the right place - if your characters and voice are engaging enough right from the start to capture interest. And there's where you begin. Research - does your book stand out? And evaluate - are your characters and voice engaging?
Much better than trying to re-work it to be JAWS, right?
Here are a few things you can consider if you're getting responses all over the board, lots of "just not for me"'s, or just want to think about other solutions:
What's at stake in your novel? For your characters? Is it strong enough?
Does the reader feel like everything will be ok, even if they don't finish the book? (stakes)
What's the conflict in your novel? Is it easily solved? (a perceived lose-lose situation is ideal)
Does your character have autonomy in the conflict and stakes?
When do you introduce the conflict and stakes? Too soon? Too late?
Could your readers run into your character on the street and know how he/she would react to a variety of bizarre situations? (voice)
Does your character's voice resonate in your readers' heads even after the pages stop?
What's your ratio of dialog-to-narrative?
Do your chapters end with conflict, or resolution?
Is your idea unique? Can you condense it into a one-line hook that doesn't sound like ANY other book? (PW has weekly deal reports you can browse for free FYI)
Does your book contain elements not found or not often seen in your genre? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
What kinds of books does your reader/critique-r generally gravitate to? How would that influence what they would say? (don't focus on what you *think* an agent wants; what have they sold? Who do they represent? What have they read recently?)
Finally: what did YOU intend?
Find your book's focus. What are your comps? (in THAT genre, published in the last THREE to FIVE years). What do those books do well? What do you want YOUR readers to take away? What impression do YOU want to make?
Have you asked your critiquers if you've hit those marks?
If you need help figuring out the WHY: ask a friend! I'm sure the poor guy in the video above left scratching his head and maybe just thinking, WHAT?! And not sure where to even begin with the advice he was given.
Stepping back can be difficult; so try collecting the feedback you've been getting, and asking for some fresh eyes to help brainstorm: what should I read between these lines?
Keep an open mind...and don't be afraid to step back from a project, either, and write something new. You might not have found your perfect execution yet. You may need time, and more experience as a writer, to grow into it.