Thursday, June 3, 2010

How to Know What You're Doing

Brenda Bowen (www.bowenpress.blogspot.com) visited us at Dreamworks studios today. She shared her brilliant insight on how to get children’s books published. One of the things she said was that most agents right now don’t want to see rhyming stories. But she also elaborated by saying that there is a difference between real poetry and simply rhyming, and the former has a better chance if you really know what you’re doing. Do you concur with her advice, or do you have any additional thoughts on the topic? Thanks dude.
I absolutely agree.

There are a lot of people who know very little about children's books and about writing poetry and who nevertheless don't see any problem with that and send us AWFUL manuscripts.

They can't remember many children's books outside of Goodnight Moon and Dr. Seuss, and so they figure most children's books are poems. But they aren't.

They don't read much poetry themselves, and so they figure the only thing that makes a poem poetry is that the last words in each line rhyme. But it isn't.

Brenda's advice can also be summarized in broader terms:

If you've done your own taxes, don't assume you're ready to work for the IRS.
If you've carved a turkey, you still really shouldn't try to perform brain surgery.
And if you don't know a damn thing about children's books, go ahead and assume that includes not knowing how to write them.

16 comments:

Adventures in Children's Publishing said...

Great post. We've heard this advice time and time again. I don't understasnd how anyone could submit a rhyming ms, unless they really haven't done any homework whatsoever. I'm not remotely poetic so I avoid rhyme in all of my PB stories.

Marissa

Torgo said...

I was moved to respond to a question about rhyming texts on Absolute Write (http://tinyurl.com/2vyv6sl) in verse - it's not exactly on point, but I thought it might be of interest (or at least amusing):

I don't know how you publish rhymes
In these benighted modern times;
They rarely scan, they don't translate,
And unless you're a heavyweight -
Like Belloc, Seuss or Ogden Nash -
You won't be raking in the cash
For rhymes in children's magazines
With tiny circs. and parlous means.
If you're a better man than me -
Less worldly than the bourgeoisie,
Disdainful of the mercantile -
You may decide it's worth your while
To persevere with children's verse,
Although it may not fill your purse;
But my advice, if you persist:
Do stop yourself from writing lists.
In picture books it is the norm
When unfamiliar with the form
To pick a subject and reel off
A bunch of instances thereof;
Things that make you happy, say,
Or simply what you did today.
An idea, of whatever strength,
Stretched out to arbitrary length
Will lose its flavour soon enough;
It never is inspiring stuff.
And often one suspects a line
Was not a part of your design
Until you had a rhyme to find.
(I like my new venetian blind.)
It is this freedom of the list
That makes one lazy. Thus, resist!

Stephanie, PQW said...

The thing about children's literature that most non-writers don't realize is that it's not only picture books. Don't get me started on poetry. It amazes me what people believe about that.

Anonymous said...

I sent in a poem to Highlights and they liked it. They also decided to call it an 'easy reader' story. You can see it on page 22-23 in the June edition!

So, the decision to have a rhyming story was their call. I wonder if publishing houses could be the same?

WandaV

p.s. word verification: dunce
EA are you trying to tell me something?

Merrilee said...

Bah. That annoys the hell out of me. The best books I have found to read to my son are rhyming books - Class Two at the Zoo, Frog on a Log, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Bear and Box, I could go on. Publish some more of those lovely, funny, bright rhymes that we love. (WE. I haz the money, mate!)

Editorial Anonymous said...

Oh, I agree that rhyming books can be wonderful-- I Ain't Gonna Paint No More? Bubble Trouble? Take Me Out of the Bathtub?
FABULOUS!

A Pen In Neverland: Angela Peña Dahle said...

I LOVE, Ain't Gonna Paint No More! Splendid! I hope I can reach the point wheremy rhyme is just as good or better. To hope and hard work!

www.a-pen-in-neverland.blogspot.com

Melinda Szymanik said...

Writing rhyme is a gift and should be left to those who possess that gift, but many great picture books that do not rhyme are still full of rhythm, and poetic and delicious words and thats what I aim for when I write.

Merrilee said...

Do you know, I've been reading this blog for over a year now, and it's never occurred to me to ask if you have any recommendations for great picture books? Or maybe you can't? Or maybe you have already and I missed it?

Lucy said...

Isn't everyone forgetting about the Gruffalo? One of the most successful children's books of modern times, just had its 10 year anniversary and been adapted into a short animated feature. It rhymes.

Editorial Anonymous said...

No, we're not forgetting about the picture books that are in rhyme and are terrific.

And that's what Brenda was saying-- if you can do this really well, then yes, you can totally get it published. But if you don't know what you're doing, there's absolutely no chance.

Deirdre Mundy said...

There once was a picture book Author
Who thought writing prose was a bother
"If I write in poor rhyme
it will take half the time
And my book will appeal to grandmothers!"

She sat down with her puppy and kitten
and stared at the pair, somewhat smitten

" A Sweet cuddly cat
And her puppy friend 'Matt'
Are the best characters ever written'

And editor, tied to her desk,
read the 'book' at her florists behest
She gulped three more beers
as her eyes filled with tears
saying "Surely, this sub is in jest!"

She send the writer a brief note
Bespattered with apple compote
"Not right for our list
please cease and desist
It's the worst verse that e'er was wrote!"

Umm... yeah.... once again, I need more coffee. Just remember, folks-- painfully off rhyme is WORSE than no rhyme at all!

Anonymous said...

Poetry has (or should) have something to say. It is often themed. It usually appeals to the emotions.

Often in rhyme it is neither a thought nor hardly a requirement.

Rhyme is a simply a device to appeal to very young children for the enjoyment of sound and silliness. Which done well is the best.

Sometimes the twain meet. If the two meet and appeal to both adult and child then great. Then you have met two needs.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought to add to this very creative and interesting post:

Rhyming text is usually included in young childrens' Language Arts content standards and benchmarks in the schools. There is a school library market for these books HOWEVER, they DO need to read and rhyme well, have solid content and storyline, and have accurate rhythm. Like all childrens' books, every part of the text must move the story forward, employ engaging language, capture the reader's interest, and build toward a satisfying conclusion to the story. We need more rhyming books to support our curriculum for young children, however they need to be of excellent quality.

julietruekingsley said...

The summary killed me! Would you mind if I reposted it on my blog? I love talking about other people's quotes, and that one is a gem.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Feel free. :)