I love interviewing debut authors. It took me so many years to get published, and you do start to think that maybe you are on a journey that will never have an end, so to hear that success really is possible is very motivating. Sally Doran took a slightly different route than most, and her persistence really paid off, with the result that her fab picture book Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue! illustrated by Rachael Saunders is now out with Anderson Press. Read on to find out more about Sally’s journey to publication.
Did you write much as a child? Who encouraged you?
My love of writing actually started a little later, in adult life. I enjoyed English literature at school but it wasn’t until my sister started writing that I considered it something I could do. My family really, really encouraged me in my writing and dedicated hours and hours to reading, critiquing and proofreading my texts. My husband has been brilliant too and is the one that convinced me to go to the London Book Fair when the rejections started stacking up! They have all, along with my amazing friends, had absolute and unwavering faith in my books, which is pretty cool.
Your sister is a writer. What’s it like to have healthy competition so close at hand?
Well, Kate is actually a writer of non-fiction, so we are not in direct competition – although I think that may change at some point. We are also currently working on a collaboration mixing fiction and non-fiction, which we’re discussing on Skype whenever we get the chance. We have very similar ways of working and writing (we are twins after all) which is a massive advantage and we have a ridiculous amount of fun together!
I was interested to see on your twitter feed that it took four years from signing a contract with Anderson Press until publication. Why so long?
Yes, it’s felt like a very long wait – I actually changed jobs and had a baby in the time it took to get it on the shelves! I think the period between signing a contract and the release date is ordinarily 2 years, but because of a couple of false starts with different illustrators, it took us twice as long. It was frustrating as I couldn’t do anything to speed the process along but it was worth it to find the prefect fit.
Tell us more about your writing journey.
Once I’d decided I wanted to write a picture book, the first thing I did was read every picture book I could get my hands on, to see what worked and didn’t work. I went to the children’s section in the library when I wasn’t in work and got 10 books out at a time. I researched as much advice as I could on about writing for children, I looked into what stories and themes were relevant and only then did I start writing a book about a little girl who couldn’t get to sleep. I found I absolutely LOVED the process of writing, especially in rhyme and I couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to discover I enjoyed it!
Once I’d completed it, I got sections of it illustrated by artist Emma Carpendale and then sent it off to every publisher that was taking unsolicited manuscripts at the time (thanks to your brilliant and comprehensive list!). If anyone’s done even the slightest bit of research into submitting a picture book, everything screams “don’t get your text illustrated”, but this is ultimately what led to my work getting noticed in the end. When I received a stack of rejection letters, I went to the London Book Fair, identified all the relevant publishers, got there when the doors opened armed with my iPad and a bag load of illustrated manuscripts and basically tried to convince everyone of them that they needed this book on their list. This is where I met Klaus Flugge and Libby Hamilton (working for different publishers at the time but now both at Andersen) who both, along with a number of other publishers said they were interested.
This was absolutely the best thing I ever did. Although Andersen didn’t take up that first book, they did take up my second and I wouldn’t have got the contacts I did or maintained a correspondence with various editors, without attending it. It unequivocally led to my publishing deal. The person who looks at the manuscript you post is not always the person who attends the fair – and that’s why I would advise everyone to go to it if you’ve had no luck with your postal submissions.
How did it feel to finally hold Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue! in your hand?
It was extraordinary. I’d been sent a proof copy, but I wasn’t prepared for quite how beautiful the hardback version would be. It was absolutely thrilling – especially after such a long wait!
Tell us about the story and what inspired you to write it.
I mainly write in rhyme and I came up with the title first, which had originally been Boom! Bang! Hannah Meringue! about a little girl who loved puddings. The story evolved and after lots (and lots) of versions, became a story about a princess who is given a pudding machine for her birthday as a reward for her impeccable manners. It also features my favourite pudding in the world, which is Eton Mess.
What was it like working with your illustrator, Rachael Saunders?
It was a brilliantly collaborative experience, which I know isn’t always the case. Having friends in the industry I had heard horror stories of the author not being consulted at all and the result being a little disappointing. I had quite the opposite experience. Libby (my editor at Andersen) would regularly ask for my feedback on the spreads that Rachael had completed but also encouraged me to trust the illustrator and her creative process. As an author, you have a very fixed idea (or at least I did) on what I wanted the illustrations to look like, but Rachael’s work was exactly that, but better. She has a very comedic style and included things that I would never have dreamt of.
How does your writing day pan out?
When I wrote Boom! Bang! I was only working part-time which was fantastic and meant that when I wasn’t working, I could write. I wrote in the quiet attic room in the house where we were living at the time and in the local coffee shop. (I would really recommend this by the way – weirdly I found it less distracting than being at home!) Once I started working full-time I had to be a little more disciplined so I would get up early, make a coffee and write until I had to jump in the car and get to work. Whilst I was on maternity leave, I wrote a book in collaboration with Rachael (my illustrator) while my little boy slept. Now I’ve got a baby and work almost full-time I’ve had to get even more creative with my time and work in the evening, which I’m not used to but is the only time I have currently.
What advice would you give to writers seeking publication?
I’m writing some top tips for getting published on my Instagram feed, but if I could give just five I would say the following. 1. Make sure your work is as close to perfect as it can be before you send it off. Ask trusted friends and family to read it, they will spot plot holes and grammatical errors that you definitely won’t even if you’ve read it a million times. 2. Have conviction and confidence in your work, if you don’t, a potential editor certainly won’t. 3. Do your research and find the publishers that take unsolicited manuscripts. Don’t waste your time with the rest, your beautiful book will either be sent back or chucked in the bin. Use Lou’s list – it’s comprehensive and regularly updated. 4. If you’re getting a stack of rejections, go to the London Book Fair and book in meetings with the publishers you have identified as a good fit for your book. If they don’t take appointments, just rock up at their stall – that’s what I did with some of them. 5. Don’t give up! When I went to London Book Fair, I approached all the children’s publishers that produced picture books, despite having already been rejected by most of them (my publisher included!). I would also say – just keep writing, you’ll find you develop your writing and ultimately improve it. You’ll also then have a stack of books in your portfolio for your next visit to LBF.
What can we expect next from Sally Doran?
I’ve written the second in the series of Boom! Bang! Royal Meringue!, I’m working on the first three chapters of an MG fiction book and I’ll hopefully be working this summer with my sister on our own project, so I’m very excited about the future. I know though that whether I continue to get published or not, I’ll keep writing regardless.
Thanks Sally, that was fascinating! You can find Sally at
and you can buy Boom Bang Royal Meringue here.