Rhyming Stories: Five Ways To Avoid Rejection

Have you ever been told NEVER to send rhyming picture book manuscripts to agents? 

If so, it's likely because publishers get oodles of badly written ones, and they're tricky to fix. 


However, if there's little editing to do, you're more likely to find success.

Throughout my research, the same five bits of advice came up time and time again.

Determine the meter

Once you're clear on your story, determine a meter that works and Stick. To. It.


The meter is a predictable pattern or rhythm of stressed syllables in a sentence. 


In natural speech, we stress certain syllables in multi-syllable words. For example, in the word com•put•er, we naturally stress the syllable put. 


If, instead, the reader has to say com•put•er to maintain the sentence rhythm, it would sound unnatural and may throw the reader off.


The following poem is an example of sentences with consistent meter:


Go right to bed, says Sleepy-head;

Sit up a while, says Slow;

Put on the pan, says Greedy Nan,

Clean up before we go.


This poem follows a consistent pattern: a two-syllable meter with an unstressed syllable always followed by a stressed one. 


The consistency ensures the reader is less likely to stumble as they read it aloud.


If you're unsure where the stressed syllable falls in a word, you can look it up using www.dictionary.com.


There are tons of meter resources out there, but these are the basics.

Avoid imperfect rhyme

Imperfect rhyme can be referred to as near, slant, or half-rhymes and should be avoided. These are similar-sounding words but are not identical.


Examples are rise and spice or moon and grown.


Regional words can be imperfect when spoken by someone from another region, so you should dodge these too.


Lastly, don't make any rhyming words too obvious or predictable, like sun and fun..blah!

Don't twist the natural order of words to fit the rhyme

Altering the word arrangement in a sentence to fit a rhyme is called an Inversion


In our natural speech, we don't say your best you will try to rhyme with fly.  The same would apply in a story. 


Instead, I'm sure you will try your best to write as you speak.


To fix an inversion, find other rhyming words that may work using www.thesaurus.com and www.rhymezone.com and rewrite the ending or even the verse(s) if you have to ... but stay clear of them!

Start with the arc

As with any book, the story itself is key.  Rhyming storybooks are no different.


Most published stories have a strong story arc that includes:

  1. An introduction that sets the scene

  2. An inciting incident

  3. Rising action and conflict

  4. A crisis point

  5. A satisfying resolution


So, start with your story arc, and then build the rhyme and language around it.

Surprise the reader

Many agents have expressed that manuscripts tend to grab their attention when they have something unexpected.  This includes rhyming stories.


Some recent examples of books I found have the 'surprise factor' include:

  • An innovative concept - The book with no pictures, by B.J Novak

  • Unexpected endings - I want my hat back, by Jon Klassen 

  • A novel way of conveying a message - The cool bean, by Jory John (illustrated by Pete Oswald)

  • Use of language - Frog on a log, by Kes Gray (illustrated by Jim Field)

  • A fresh perspective - Anti-racist baby, by Ibram X. Kendi (illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky) 

In summary, if you start with the story or idea, stick to the meter, avoid imperfect rhyme or inversions, and surprise the reader, you're more likely to find success. 

A great resource for help with rhyming picture books is Lyrical Language Lab on YouTube.