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Join a Book Dash day

Book Dash days are twelve-hour book-making marathons for creative professionals. Everyone is a volunteer, joining in to make beautiful children’s books that anyone can freely download, print and distribute. To hear about new Book Dash days, join our mailing list.

How can I participate?

You can enter in a team of three, or you can volunteer to help on the day. You’ll get to work with some of your city’s leading writers, editors, illustrators, designers and translators.

Anyone can enter or offer to help, but we can’t accommodate everyone. Some teams and roles are filled by invitation only. If you are included, it’s very important that you attend the full day, because we need every team there and every role filled.

Book Dash at the Cape Town Central Library, 28 June 2014
Book Dash at the Cape Town Central Library, 28 June 2014

How are teams organised?

A team consists of a writer, illustrator and designer. On the day, each team will create one print-ready children’s story book. On the team:

  • the writer is responsible for story and words
  • the illustrator is responsible for pictures (they must bring their illustrating equipment)
  • the designer is responsible for layout and typography (they must bring a laptop with Adobe CS5 or later)

All teams will work with a few experts on the day. These experts are volunteers who don’t belong to any team:

  • a facilitator, who briefs the participants and keeps time
  • a host, who makes sure everyone has a place to sit, food to eat and fuel to drink
  • an editor, responsible for helping writers refine text, answering editorial questions and proofreading
  • an archivist–storyteller, who takes photos and tweets, and collects, catalogues and stores everyone’s contributions (including contributor agreements)
  • roving specialists for bouncing ideas off. Specialists may include children.

If possible, each event should have a videographer filming the process and interviewing participants. We want to share the fun with the world afterwards.

How do I make a good book in a day?

We’re going to find out together. We believe the keys are talent with experience, constraints, and preparation.

  • Talent with experience: from those that apply, we only accept teams we believe have the talent and experience to pull this off. Not necessarily children’s book experience, but real work that shows you have what it takes to work fast and beautifully.
  • Constraints: teams must work within guidelines we provide. By limiting our options, constraints help us avoid distractions.
  • Preparation: before the event, each team’s writer must send us a rough story outline, and each illustrator must send us rough character sketches. You won’t have time on the day to work from scratch. Invention must happen over time, in the bath, on a long walk, in quiet meditation. Book Dash day is about making real, assembling and polishing. We recommend that writers retell old folk stories, and illustrators use or tweak characters they’ve drawn before (licence terms allowing).

What kinds of books?

We’ll be making story-picture books for ages 1 to 5. Many aspects of the books are determined in advance, including the flatplan (PDF flatplan here), layout template and page extent. These constraints help us move quickly, and ensure that the books can be flexibly translated and printed afterwards. A book is 200mm square in size, and contains 32 pages:

  • 4 cover pages (front, inside-front, inside-back, back)
  • book-plate page
  • 2 pages of decorative endpapers
  • imprint page
  • title page
  • 12 double-page spreads
  • 2 more pages of decorative endpapers
  • one blank or decorated page.

(The 200mm size allows us to illustrate, scan and print digitally on A4. By leaving out the endpapers, our books can be printed as 16-leaf self-covering editions at lower cost.)

Book-making rules

It’s important that each team follow our guidelines. These are meant to make the books easy to translate and print cheaply, so that they get into more children’s hands faster. If you don’t know why we have a particular guideline, just ask.

  • Stories should be fun and don’t have to be worthy or educational.
  • Write stories that a grown-up can read aloud to a child.
  • Avoid ‘numbers’ or ‘colours’ books. We want stories.
  • Avoid idioms that won’t translate into other languages. Rhyme and metre are okay, but might not translate.
  • Don’t break the flatplan templates. They have been carefully created for good reasons. If you want to make changes, speak to the facilitator on the day.
  • Pictures and designs must be clear and readable if printed in black-and-white (e.g. printed on a school photocopier). So avoid storylines that rely on colour.
  • All text must be pure black and must have space around it for translations into languages that need more space. (This way, several translations can be printed in one print run by switching only the black-ink plate. Designers must be careful to use pure black for text, not black as a combination of CMYK.)
  • Only use elements that are created on the day or are otherwise open-licensed in ways that allow derivatives and commercial use. (E.g. use fonts from google.com/fonts.) Attribute all sources on the imprint page.
  • Give the organisers lots of feedback on what could be better next time.

What must I bring?

We’ll provide places to sit (tables and chairs depending on the venue), rough paper and pens for drafts, sketches and team brainstorms, and a scanner for scanning in illustrations.

Participants whose roles require computers must bring their own laptops or tablets. Bring a flash drive, too, for moving files around. Unless we’re meeting at a library or bookstore, you can bring your favourite children’s books, too, for inspiration and discussion.

If possible, writers should come with story ideas, and illustrators with existing character concepts and sketches. This saves time on the day.

How will the books be distributed?

Once the books have been made into print-ready PDFs on the day, volunteers can arrange print runs and distribution drives. Event organisers should try to arrange small digital print runs (for participants, donations and PR) in the days after the event.

Remember that real distribution means putting books into the hands of children who will own their own copies. Ownership should be sealed by writing the child’s name on the book-plate page. We believe that children must own their own books, and they must be able to collect many of their own books throughout their childhood.

So when volunteers arrange printing and distribution, books should be given to children in this simple but very specific way:

  • Every copy must be given into the hands of the child who owns it.
  • The child’s name must be written on the book-plate page by the giver.
  • The giver must try to take a photograph of the book-plate page showing the name and the child holding the book, but not including the child’s face for ethical reasons (e.g. using a phone’s camera, take the photo over the child’s shoulder while they hold open the book-plate page).
  • The photograph should be shared with us (e.g. on email, Facebook or Twitter) so that we can keep a record of books distributed.

The book-plate page includes the title of the book. Most phone cameras record, in the photo’s data, where and when the photo was taken. So with just that simple photo, we can record where and when the books we created actually ended up. That’s hugely important for showing the impact we’re having.

Legally, each participant will own the copyright in their own contribution – even though it would be almost impossible to say where one person’s contribution ends and another’s begins. That doesn’t matter much, though, since all participants sign a simple agreement to open-license everything produced on the day (the books and all their component parts) with a Creative Commons Attribution licence. (Get the PDF agreement here.) This way, others can use what we make, too, as long as they credit the creators properly. The organisers must then make the files available online for other projects to share, adapt and reproduce. For instance, projects like Pratham Books and the African Storybook Project can amplify what we make and get more children reading.