When an agent or editor says: "Does this really need to rhyme?" it doesn't mean "I hate rhyme and will never represent it or buy anything that rhymes." In most cases, what they're really saying is: "Your rhyming skills still need some work."
By Rebecca Gardyn Levington
There's a misconception out in the world of picture book writers that agents and editors "don't like rhyme." Well, I'm here to tell you, that it is absolute mishegoss!
In the last three years, I have sold nine rhyming picture books to seven different editors at seven different publishers -- including my 2024 releases, AFIKOMAN, WHERE'D YOU GO? A Passover-Hide-And-Seek Adventure (Penguin Random House/Rocky Pond) and LITTLE DREIDEL LEARNS TO SPIN (Scholastic). At this point, 100% of my manuscripts are in rhyme, and I can tell you that when I send out submissions, very, very rarely does any editor come back saying that they are passing because it rhymes. More often, the pass has something to do with the story itself – perhaps they have a similar-themed book on their list, or they feel the story is "too quiet," or they don't think there's enough of a marketing hook.
So why does this erroneous rumor continue to persist?
My personal hypothesis? I think editors and agents purposefully perpetuate this rumor. As an attendee at conferences and webinars, I've heard editors and agents say things like: "rhyming picture books don't sell well" or "rhyming picture books don't translate into other languages." Or when giving a critique or passing on a submission, I've heard they often say: "perhaps try taking this out of rhyme" or "does this story really need to rhyme?" Some do even go so far as to put on their Manuscript Wish Lists that they "aren't a good fit for rhyming manuscripts."
I'm sure you're probably thinking: Um, Rebecca, so isn't all of that PROOF that agents and editors don't like rhyme?!
To which I respond: Not at all!
It's not that agents and editors "don't like rhyme," but rather, they don't like TERRIBLE rhyme. And because they see a LOT of the terrible kind in their in-boxes from inexperienced writers, I believe they pre-emptively do what they can to avoid having to read more of it.
For some reason, many writers who are just beginning to write for children assume that writing in rhyme is easy to do -- "Hat" rhymes with "Cat" – how hard is THAT, right?! But the truth is that understanding meter and writing in rhyme WELL is a skill that takes a lot of practice and time to master. So, when an agent or editor says: "Does this really need to rhyme?" it doesn't mean "I hate rhyme and will never represent it or buy anything that rhymes." In most cases, what they're really saying is: "Your rhyming skills still need some work."
So, if you are hearing this kind of feedback fairly often, my first piece of advice is to be honest with yourself. Do you really know what you are doing when it comes to rhyme and meter? Do you know what it means to scan your meter for consistency? Do you understand that it is incorrect to count syllables (and WHY it's incorrect?) Do you know how to assure the number of feet in each line is right for the meter and rhyme scheme you've chosen? (Do you understand what "feet" and "rhyme scheme" are?) Have you used lots of multisyllable words help train your reader to read the text with your intended meter? Have you incorporated lots of lyrical language -- assonance, consonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc. – to make your story more interesting to read aloud?
If you haven't answered "Yes!" to all of the above questions, it probably means that you haven't yet put enough time into studying the craft. It really is a science and, much like brain surgery, you probably shouldn't be doing it until you understand what you are doing.
The good news is you can learn! And while it's true that learning the ins and outs of rhyme and meter can be challenging and will require lots and lots of practice to master, I'm guessing it will take you less time than learning how to perform brain surgery (And if not, you are in the wrong line of work).
So, where to start? There are many resources I could give you, but the absolute BEST thing I ever did for my career was to take Renee LaTulippe's Lyrical Language Lab class. Renee offers an "Interactive Course" in which she offers feedback, as well as a "Self-Study" option. I highly recommend the former if you can afford it and the scheduling works, but either will give you everything you need to know. Renee also has a fabulous FREE YouTube channel. (And no, I don't get any kickbacks from Renee. I'm happy to spread the word because I absolutely believe her class helped me take my writing to an entirely different level).
O.k., but what if you are already a Rhyme Master who said "yes" to all the questions above and you really do know all the scientific-y rhyme things, and yet you still have agents and editors asking if your story "needs to rhyme?"
Well, here's the thing. There are some people who do believe that only certain types of books – toddler board books or inspirational picture books, for instance - "need" to rhyme. Personally, I disagree. There are many amazing rhyming books in many categories and on many topics on bookshelves today: Just off the top of my head: character-driven narratives (Grimelda, The Very Messy Witch), hilarious/silly (Danny McGee Drinks The Sea), scientific/nature nonfiction (Patterns Everywhere), informational fiction (Poo Dunit? A Forest Floor Mystery), fairy tale retellings (Federico and the Wolf), choose your own adventure (Endlessly Ever After), inspirational/informational (my own Whatever Comes Tomorrow and Brainstorm!), environmental activism (The Mess That We Made), bedtime books (I'll Love You Till The Cows Come Home), books that explain a culture/tradition (Ohana Means Family) etc. I seriously could go on and on (don't dare me!)
In my opinion, if YOU believe that your story needs to rhyme, then it needs to rhyme.
I recently had a situation where several critique partners asked me whether a certain story "needed to rhyme," so I knew something wasn't working. It took me a minute (o.k., a several months, many rewrites, and lots of hair-pulling!), but eventually I figured out that it wasn't the rhyme that was the problem, it was that the meter I'd chosen wasn't meshing with the tone of the story. Once I ironed that out, the story sold, IN RHYME, to Macmillan/FSG in a pre-empt, two-book deal (The first book is called FINDING FORGIVENESS: A Rosh Hashanah Story, publishing in fall 2025, and the second has not yet been announced but is also a rhyming Jewish-themed picture book, out in fall 2026).
Could I have rewritten that story in prose? Sure, I suppose, but IMO this story needed to be in rhyme because, well, that's what I do! And so, I figured out what the issues were, worked out the kinks, and revised until I was able to make the rhyme work for the story I was trying to tell.
So, if you also love writing in rhyme, I say: GO FOR IT! There are many agents and editors out there who love rhyming stories and absolutely acquire them. Just be sure you put in the work – take classes, swap with other rhyming critique partners, invest in a professional critique, etc. – before submitting in order to make sure your rhyme stands out, in all the right ways.
Rebecca Gardyn Levington is a children's book author, poet, and journalist with a particular penchant for penning both playful and poignant picture books and poems – primarily in rhyme. She is the author of BRAINSTORM!and WHATEVER COMES TOMORROW and has seven additional rhyming picture books forthcoming, including AFIKOMAN, WHERE'D YOU GO? A Passover Hide-and-Seek Adventure (Penguin Random House/Rocky Pond Books, 2/20/24), LITTLE DREIDEL LEARNS TO SPIN (Scholastic, 9/4/24), I WILL ALWAYS BE… (HarperCollins, 2025), and FINDING FORGIVENESS: A Rosh Hashanah Story (Macmillan/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2025). Rebecca's award-winning poems and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies, newspapers, and magazines. She lives in New Jersey with her family. Find out more about Rebecca and sign up for her monthly newsletter.
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