Updated: Aug 4
When we first decided to started working on Willow the Wonderer, it felt utterly natural to us to write it in verse. In fact the premise of the whole story had come into Darren's mind decades ago in the form of a rhyme:
Willow the wonderer
Woke up one day
Wondering about happiness
And where it lay.
But to bring this to the world, we soon realised we'd need to start our own publishing company. Here's the backstory.
When we first began to write Willow the Wonderer we had no aspiration to start our own 'publishing' company. But the seeds of Wise As Stories were sown the moment we realised how limited our options in the world of children's book publishing were.
The first bitter truth of publishing that we learnt is that most publishers don't take on 'unsolicited' manuscripts. Most don't even work with first-time writers (unless you are a celebrity but more on that later...).
COVID was also at its height so most Publishers had closed the door on new manuscripts, and those that did not has wait-times that ranged between 12-18 months - during which time you could not submit your manuscript to another publisher.
But the clincher was that no one was accepting books written in rhyme.
It was stated on website in no uncertain terms that rhymes were not welcome.
I could not understand it, 'Have they not heard of Dr. Suess. Don't they know of Green Eggs and Ham?! Sam I am ... Don't they know their market? '
Kids love rhyme!
Written to a meter, rhymes creates a lovely melody when read out aloud. This is a great way to engage kids in reading and also acts as a great memory aid, making it easier for kids to learn new words.
Parents love rhyme!
Puts the little ones off to sleep in no time which makes it perfect as bedtime stories.
Besides, I love rhyme!
There was a week when in the thick of writing the book, I would speak to Darren only in rhyme ...
As I looked into it, I realised that publishers not only have a great grasp of their market - they also understand the economics of a book.
Book publishing is a tough slog - you no longer get into it for the money.
Over the last decade or two, 'you-know-who' has greedily captured most of the value for themselves, leaving publishers and authors grasping at the last 10-20% of the value of the product they create (and that's after you-know-who's evil algorithms have discounted the hell out of it). There is not much job in self-publishing on their platform either.
It's open knowledge most writers don't earn a living from their writing - they too do it for love.
But unlike writing, publishing is still a business and all for-profit businesses are trapped in the same vicious cycle of having to deliver a growing bottom-line, year-after-year, forever after ... #fairytale
So what do you do when your profit margins are squeezed?
You focus on increasing your sales volume by expanding your 'addressable market' to as many countries and people as possible. And for a publisher to do that, their book needs to be translatable into many languages.
With prose, it's fairly straightforward. With rhyme, not so much.
Foreign rights agents have a different perspective.
Everything can be translated they'll tell you - and will point to a huge catalogue of classical literature in every shape and form that has been.
Well, when you are in the rights business (which include selling translation rights) it is absolutely the right attitude to adopt. Given the vast catalogue of translated works they point too, I also believe it to be true.
But most publishers remain hesitant. It seems the fear not only has to do with the translatability but also having to deal with bad writing.
As one stated on their website, "we've seen far too many bad rhymes."
Publishing is infamous for holding writers to high standards, which is a good thing.
However, the whole thing does reeks of hypocrisy when you see how quickly these standards are put aside for a certain class of writers - celebrities.
Regardless of how tortured their rhyme or reason may be, celebrities don't seem to have any problems getting their children's books not only published, but also prominently marketed, distributed and displayed.
To me at least, it seems bizarre to let the fear of a bad rhyme or the challenge in translation to hold back the development of a much loved category in Children's Literature.
For our part, we continue to write and publish in rhyme and seeing the reviews and rating we are receiving, know that we are absolutely on the right track.
What about you? Do you like rhymes? What was your favourite rhyming book growing up? And your kids?