Monday 1 March 2021


The first of March today, but in February an interesting email arrived which set me searching for an old contract. 

As a constant hoarder , I knew the thing must be somewhere, and eventually found it, deep in a file filled with all sorts of papers related to the title in question. 

It was a moment of relief, but also of great pleasure. There were cards and letters, printed-out reviews, emails about a small publicity tour and so on.

A Boy Called M.O.U.S.E. | Bookwitch

Particularly enjoyable were the various "roughs" in the file. Although there are more specific terms, "roughs" is a general term used for the early stages of the making of the book itself. The writer has completed most of their work and the book-to-be moves into the care of all the others in the publishing process.

In the real world file, along with the necessary contract, I found early examples of Peter Bailey's b&w illustrations, a couple of first designs of the hardback cover, the marked-up proofs themselves (sent to me for checking) and memories of other nice and hopeful moments that happened along the journey.

Peter Bailey Illustrations: August 2010

Because that is, usually, what the "roughs" are: hopeful moments. Roughs say that your struggled-over words are now on their way to Being A Book.

 Hopscotch, Flora Mcquack (Penny Dolan - 2002) (ID:00088 ...

Most of my "rough" experience has come through writing several early readers. These "roughs" are even more fascinating. For a start, the writing task beforehand has not been so intensive for so long. With my little books I watch adn admire the pages taking shape.


Lola Fanola | Penny Dolan | 9780750255400

In my manuscript, I might have made light suggestions about how I imagined the art-work, especially if there was something that needed to be shown, and I have studied art. 

This is when I say, seriously, that if you have written a picture book story, send it in as it is, text only. Do not suggest the editor uses your friend's/mum's/child's etc work or send in fully worked samples. 

Penny Dolan-Reading Champion: Vixen (UK IMPORT) BOOKH NEW ...

There may be occasional exceptions, but it is the editor (or editorial team) who choose your illustrator. This is their creative moment: this is when they select the exact illustrator whose style they feel will be the best interpreter of your story as they see it, and for the book's market.  

Reading Champion: Fly Home, Blue! - Penny Dolan - Libris

They need to be able to imagine the book into life, too. Do they see the story as having a certain colour palette, a particular character style, a specific mood? Are they thinking urban, edgy and slightly cartoony, or gently bucolic and classic? What level of "funny" or worrisome do they want the images to suggest? What is the cultural world they are representing for this exact tale? What sensitivities and sensibilities do they know they need to be aware of?

I do know some artists, but they are only a "puddle" compared to the international oceans these editors can search through, no doubt aware of their current publishing budget.


Penny Dolan-Reading Champion: Boots In The Mud (UK IMPORT ...

Once the illustrator is selected - and has time to do the work -  I will be sent an email  including a link to an agency page, and lines something like "What do you think of X's work? We think they would be wonderful for your story." Can you guess what my response should be? In fact, all "my" illustrators have been well chosen.

At this stage, if all goes to plan, I will be sent pencil roughs, a document showing the layout of the words on the page and a light or more detailed sketch of how the images will be set across the page spreads. 

The word layout in the roughs is not likely to be a surprise, as my text was written to match the rhythm of page "turns" and make use of both single and double spreads. But this is the moment to avoid any other nasty "surprises", such as small errors that have slipped in during layout, eg repeated or omitted words such as "the" or "was" and so on. An easy slip to make: our eyes read the words we think are there!

Reading Champion: Little Spook by Penny Dolan | Hachette ...

Around this stage, too, the cover will be created. The cover is an important selling point: and needs to be ready to go into all the advance sales catalogues (once) and/or publisher's websites (now) by a set date. I'll see a late version of the cover, in case i have any comment ot make, but it will already have been designed according to the series format.

Next comes the day when I see the colour proofs. A colour proof day was a delightful one, when a recognisable, stiffened envelope dropped through the letter box, on to the doormat, and there, in real paper form, was almost the book!

True, it wasn't a bound book, but it existed, the sum of all the work that had gone into it. After that, eventually, came the set of copies of the published books - diminished now to a small half-dozen - and later, the date now known as the "Book Birthday".

Reading Champion: Froggo: Independent Reading Turquoise 7 ...

Over the years, this whole creative process has moved online, and though I store the attachments I'm sent and do love to see them, there is still something magical about those real "rough times." This must be why I have, so far, retained the pencil roughs and colour proofs of all my early reader texts.

Today, staring at my crammed filing cabinets, I know the time is coming for a big clear out, for many reasons. 

 Big Bad Blob (Leapfrog): Dolan, Penny, O'kif ...

Of course, I have the books themselves, but what do I keep to remind me of the joy of that part of the progress, the active period when the book, the object is actually being created?

If you've solved this paper problem, do let me know. 


An Awfully Big Blog Adventure: Blurbling On: Penny Dolan.

Penny Dolan



Susan Price said...

An impressive catalogue of books! And you have an impressive range too.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Sue.

Reading through my blog today (rather than during yesterday's how-can-February-end-so-fast panic) I am horrified to see I described all the fine illustrators that I know, or have worked with, by the word "puddle."

Apologies all round. I did not mean to be dismissive.

I was trying - poorly - to express the wealth of talent and publisher choices available to editors and designers, a range far richer and wider than most writers would know, as well as strongly suggesting reasons that a new writer's eager approach may be gently rebuffed.

Would "glistening collection of sparkling talents" do instead of that unfortunate puddle?

"Small but perfectly formed palette of artists" ?

Precious pool of talents?

Or. . or. . . Oh dear! Sorry!

Joan Lennon said...

Future archivists would love you to keep it all! Excellent and useful post!

Mary Hoffman said...

You don't have a box file or a folder labelled "Contracts"? I am shocked.

Penny Dolan said...

Mary, I did and do have a bright yellow file, but somehow, with all my excitement over the Mouse title, the paperwork slipped into a different space.

Lynne Benton said...

Lovely post, Penny - and congratulations on finding that contract!

Sue Purkiss said...


Paul May said...

They are lovely things. Penny, and probably interesting to all sorts of people in the future. I guess it all depends on whether you have room to keep them, but you could always scan/photograph most of them and keep the ones you really want.