Maybe you have Checked out all the newly published picture books in the bookstore and library and know you can do a better job. Maybe you have already written a book you think might appeal to children. Maybe you have children the right age and know exactly what they want. You want to write your own picture book and have it published.
What’s your next step? Should you try traditional publishing with one of the big 5 publishing houses? A smaller publishing house? A vanity press? Or should you consider Print on Demand (POD) and sell through Amazon and/or Barnes and Nobel online and independent bookstores? That’s a lot of decisions before you even get started.
The Big Five
Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster are the publishers with the big names and big marketing budgets. You might think you want to start with them. Why not start at the top? Most of them require you have a literary agent representing you. Finding a literary agent may be harder than finding a publisher. Many agents don’t want to sign up a children’s book author unless they have published one or two books or have a deal in the works.
Traditional Smaller Publishers
I’m not going to list all the smaller publishers because there are so many of them. Many of them accept unsolicited manuscripts without agents. But, be warned, they get a LOT of submissions. They have “slush” piles of unread manuscripts and get around to reading them when they have time. There are many legitimate smaller publishing houses that publish wonderful children’s books. The best way to get a pre-screened list of these publishers is to join SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). The SCBWI provides an online sourcebook of valuable hints and a verified list of publishers and agents to their members called “THE BOOK”.
There are also many “vanity” publishing houses that prey on unsuspecting authors. They claim to be traditional publishers, they may have editors on staff to “help” get your book in shape. They will have marketing services and staff illustrators available for you to use. The difference is “vanity” publishers want you, the author to pay for all their services. That’s a red flag, traditional publishers pay you, not the other way around. “Vanity” publishers never call themselves “vanity” presses. They mascarade as traditional publishers and may change their names frequently when word gets around about how they are ripping off authors. Visit Writer Beware to find out about the bad players. Most of these are overpriced and the “packages may include services you don’t need or want. As long as you know exactly what you are getting into and what you are paying for they may be fine for you. Most of the services they offer can be found better and for less money elsewhere.
You can self-publish your book by forming your own publishing company (easy to do) hiring your own editor, illustrator and book designer to prepare your book, then use a printer who you pay to print your books. You will then take delivery of 1000 or so books and sell them yourself online or by visiting bookstores to see if they will carry your book.
POD (Print On Demand)
You can also self-publish your book by using an online publisher who doesn’t print 1000 or more books upfront. POD publishers only print books when they are ordered. So you don’t have to warehouse a stack of books in your garage or basement. CreateSpace owned by Amazon and IngramSpark owned by Ingram book distributors are the big players. There are other POD publishers such as Blurb, Diggypod, Lulu, and more.
CreateSpace is the biggest player. Since it is owned by Amazon, listing on Amazon is automatic. There is no fee upfront. You can check to see how much you will make per book on their site. You will make less per book than having 1000 books printed ahead with a regular printer, but you don’t have to store, pack, ship or take care of fulfillment. Amazon takes care of everything and you get paid per book. CreateSpace only prints soft cover books. It will be hard to find independent bookstores who are willing to stock your books because they HATE Amazon and don’t want to have anything to do with them. You will make slightly more selling on Amazon and less selling anywhere else.
IngramSpark Another big player in POD. Ingram is part of the extensive Ingram Group Book Distributors. When you print with them you can take advantage of their network that supplies books to independent books stores, Barnes & Nobel, and libraries. You can also automatically sell your books on Amazon because IngramSpark has an agreement with Amazon. Ingram’s quality is a bit better and a lot more consistent than CreateSpace and they print very nice full-color hardcover books in addition to soft cover. Ingram may charge a small set-up fee for each title. They sometimes run specials where you get this small fee credited when you buy a certain amount of books. You will make more selling to bookstores and libraries with IngramSpark, but a little less selling on Amazon. I have used both CreateSpace and IngramSpark, there are pluses and minuses for both.
Blurb, Lulu, “Diggypod, and more
You will need to visit each of these websites to learn all the details. They tend to cost a little more than CreateSpace and IngramSpark.
Other things to consider
I’ve given you a lot of options for printing/publishing. You will also need to have your manuscript edited by an experienced person familiar with children’s books. I’m not talking about proofreading, but an editor familiar with children’s books to help with development, flow, consistency and story arc as well as basic grammar. You should let people who you respect who are not relatives or friends read your manuscript. If this is a children’s book, you should read this book to children of the appropriate age out loud to see how they respond (not your own children).
You will also need an illustrator.
I can’t stress this enough, the cover of your book will make or break its success. It’s the only thing customers will have to judge the book. Online, it’s just the cover image with a little bit of sell copy. In bookstores, you must have a great cover to compete with all the traditionally published books. Your writing will be pre-judged by the cover you choose. Here is a link to an article about the importance of great book covers.
Of course, if you are publishing a children’s book you will also need interior illustrations. It pays to hire an experienced children’s book illustrator to give your book what it needs to fascinate children and encourage their parents to buy. A professional illustrator knows how to create unique characters and backgrounds that take your story to another level. They will not just illustrate your words but create appropriate page breaks and exciting perspectives. Finding an illustrator who also designs books and prepares the digital files for your printer of choice is a big plus. It will save you an extra step. Having the same experienced person doing the illustrations and incorporating the text creates the most creative books. You can go to the SCBWI website to view the portfolios of professional children’s book illustrators. You can search by region, name, style or media.
Below is a screen capture of my page on the SCBWI website:
I am a professional illustrator and book designer. I would love to talk to you about your plans for self-publishing.
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