Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Poetry? There's an Ointment for That.

I've been wondering: I've written a picture book text in unrhymed verse, although the format is in verse, due to the rhythm. How to I query on this? And what would be the format of the text? In regular paragraph form? Or in verse form? Can you advise me on that?
I love poetry.  I browse the children's poetry section at bookstores, and I read poetry in my spare time.

I'm not the only one, either.  Plenty of editors enjoy good poetry.  And it is for this very reason that most editors HATE poetry in query letters.

I'm not implying that your poetry isn't good.  I just want to bring across what you're up against.

The mild bludgeoning the English language gets in prose when in the hands of some writers becomes a cheerful disemboweling when the same people attempt poetry.  Every editor has seen a great quantity of this sort of thing.  It's terrible to watch the language we love be dressed up in quaint and merry bells and then flayed alive.

So seeing 'poetry' or 'verse' in a query letter, especially when what's being pitched to me is a picture book, not a poetry book (and thus not something that absolutely must be poetry), has, after much experience, come to give me the feeling of incipient hives. It is often the precursor of a manuscript that cares more about being poetry than about having a sales hook or any compelling content, and indeed often fails at all three.

In consideration of this justifiable prejudice among editors, and because your verse is not rhyming, I would strongly suggest that you not mention that your book is in verse when you query it.  If it works to format it in paragraph form, go ahead and do that, too.  And once you've taken the lyricism of your writing out of the query letter's equation, if you can't think what makes your book good competition for the many other picture books out there, then that's when you know you've got a problem.

Good luck!

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