It Takes a Room Full of People to Make a Book - a guest post by Penny Dale - Nosy Crow Skip to content
Posted by Penny, March 14, 2016

It Takes a Room Full of People to Make a Book – a guest post by Penny Dale

A busy day in the Nosy Crow office

Today’s blog post is by Penny Dale, creator of the Dinosaur picture book series, on the collaborative nature of publishing.

For a while I have wanted to write something about the practice of publishing from an author’s point of view and how the process brings so many skills together, skills that in my view are not celebrated enough, but are vitally useful to an author. So when the great news of Nosy Crow’s Children’s Publisher of the Year, and Independent Publisher of the Year, IPA awards came out last week I thought that it would be a good moment to do so.

For the last five years I have been published by Nosy Crow. I have watched them grow from the very beginning, and it’s been lovely to see how they have developed and flourished. They have opened out the process of publishing and shared and explained and demystified from the start, so there’s a feeling of friendliness and accessibility about the company.

I think this counters, in a refreshing way, what I have often suspected is a tendency, on the part of people writing about books, to concentrate almost exclusively on the subject matter of the books and the biographical associations relating to the author, rather than exploring practically how the work is produced, and how an idea turns into a book…and the fact that there are many people involved along the way other than the author and illustrator.

Nosy Crow have made a priority of openness via these blogs, of speaking about the process of publishing, how they work and how writers and illustrators work, as well as at actual events like their masterclasses, conferences and Illustrator Salons.

Just look through the Nosy Crow blog archives to see. I particularly like the ‘Where I work’ series, with pictures of desks and studios, like this by Elys Dolan.

Even more unusual is to hear about how writers work with editors and designers. When I was working on my first picture book at Walker Books, I was amazed – because it was my first experience of it – to have input from a brilliant editor and designer, who helped with shaping text and story pacing… getting words and pictures to work together without over explaining or adding too much complication. I still need reining in on that front, as I tend to see a book like an epic film and have to remember to keep things as simple as possible. It’s an ongoing balancing act between achieving clarity and straightforward storytelling while including the sort of detail children appreciate, detail that I loved as a child. Being able to work alongside editorial and design experience and expertise is one of the great pleasures of being published. This continues to be so today with the series of dinosaur books for Nosy Crow.

When an idea for a book emerges, the first text drafts and thumbnail sketches are the starting point, followed by weeks of sending scans of drawings and text tweaks back and forth to my editor and designer, as the content of the book takes shape. This is often the most interesting and exciting part. Often there’s an element of a story that resists a solution, sometimes the right word for a tricky bit is found just before the book goes off to the repro house or even to the printer. Editor and designer are the key people involved throughout the process. My editor Camilla has an incredibly visual mind as well as being brilliant at zoning in on apposite phrasing. Designers adapt and enhance and contribute all the time during the rough and artwork stages, and often add or see something that I’ve missed. Others contribute too. My agent Caroline is excellent at thinning and selecting from all sorts of early ideas that I run past her. She has known me for ages, and can deftly steer me away from over-elaborate or convoluted waters with just a mild, “Might that be a little complicated?”

Penny Dale | Dinosaur Pirates

Practical help also comes from nearer home. My husband does scanning and photoshop work on the artwork and sketches, as well as making the occasional model for me to draw from, like this for my next book, Dinosaur Pirate!

Penny Dale | Dinosaur Pirates

My grandson, now 7, is an all round vehicle and dinosaur expert and consultant. Here he is adding  suggestions to the early roughs for Dinosaur Pirate! He thought the ‘baddy’ pirate’s captain in the story should be a Spinosaurus, that they should have Pterodactyl air support and a shark escort. All these were excellent ideas and became incorporated into the finished book.

So although our current media and culture seem to favour the romantic idea of the inspired and driven, passionately committed to their muse, individualistic and possibly solitary writer or artist, most I know are far more involved team players than this notion suggests. I have also learned and received great encouragement, and confidence from people involved in sales and marketing, publicity, and production, hearing from people in publishing who really know what they’re talking about. And what I am sure of, is that for established authors and illustrators, and particularly for those starting out, this openness and enthusiasm about the whole business of publishing is an entirely good thing.


Dinosaur Pirates | Penny Dale

Thank you, Penny! You can take a look inside the latest book in Penny’s dinosaur series, Dinosaur Rocket!, below – the fifth fantastic book in the series, Dinosaur Pirates, will be published later this year. 

If you’d like to stay up to date with all of our book news (and want to read more great pieces like this one by Penny), you can sign up to our books newsletter here, or with the form below.


See more: