Self-publishing a children’s book?

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.

Traditional Publishing

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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 3.15.12 PMScreen Shot 2018-05-14 at 3.14.32 PM

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 3.16.14 PM

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 3.23.31 PM

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 3.25.19 PM

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”.

Vanity Publishers

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.

Self-Publishing

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.

MY_BookCovers

A few of the covers I have illustrated and designed.

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:

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 3.31.30 PM

I am a professional illustrator and book designer. I would love to talk to you about your plans for self-publishing.

Please fill in the form below and I will contact you ASAP.

 

 

How important is a book cover?

Your picture book cover will either make or break your book sales.

You’ve spent many months if not years working on your book. Rewriting it over and over until every word is perfect. But customers will not buy your perfect book if they do not find the cover appealing. I can’t stress how important a book cover is to sales and promotion of a book.

Most books are purchased in bookstores and online. The only way a customer can choose a book is by looking at the cover and reading the limited text on the back cover. When you promote your book, what will customers see first? That’s right, it’s the cover. A book cover is not the place to save money. Using an unskilled illustrator or designer on the cover will doom your book no matter how skillfully it is written.

 

  1. Customers will not purchase a book online with a bad or unreadable book cover.
  2.  Reviewers will not consent to review a book with a bad book cover.
  3.  Bookstores will not take you seriously. Forget about being asked to do a book signing.
  4.  Libraries will not want your book on their shelves.
  5.  You will be at a disadvantage when attending author events.
  6.  Magazine editors will say no to featuring your book on their pages.
  7.  You will not even have success by hiring a publicist. Even they can’t overcome the problem of a bad book cover.

What is the difference?

  1. Professional book covers are easier to read at a reduced size because the title is designed by a graphic designer.
  2. They look professional because they are designed by someone who is trained to work with illustration and text.
  3. Magazines and newspapers love to review them and show them on their pages.
  4.  Customers in bookstores snatch them up.
  5.  Reviewers are can’t wait to review them.
  6.  Amazon shoppers are attracted to them and pop them into their shopping cart.
  7.  Marketing these professionally designed and illustrated books is easier because the cover sells the book.

Which type of cover do you want for your book?

When I illustrate a picture book, I usually illustrate and design the complete book. Below are a few of the picture book covers I have designed for self-publishing authors.

 

If you want to talk about your picture book contact me below:

 

 

 

Children’s Book Week is Coming!

Children’s Book Week celebration is ready to kick off. From April 30 to May 6, bookstores, libraries, and schools across the country will take part in a busy week-long event, as they commemorate children’s books and the joy of reading.

What can you do? Read to your children and take them to local
Children’s Book Week Events. Check what is available in your area.

Mark your calendar! The St. Louis County Public library will be celebrating Children’s Book Week during April 30-May 6. Activities include a visit from Curious George, book-inspired crafts & more! Get the full schedule of events here:http://ow.ly/V3P330j6zC1

Reading aloud is the best advertisement because it works. It allows a child to sample the delights of reading and conditions him to believe that reading is a pleasureful experience, not a painful or boring one.”—Jim Trelease

Don’t forget to read the picture books in all the character voices. When I was a kid, that’s what I liked the best. Make every book special for your children.


If you are thinking about writing your own picture book for children and will be needing illustrations, contact me. I love to talk pictures books with self-publishing authors.

Message to self-publishing picture book authors

Are you having a hard time finding a good professional children’s book illustrator who’s willing to work with you on your book?

Why would illustrators turn you down, when you’re giving them an opportunity to illustrate your fantastic book, that’s probably going to be a best seller? Why are they not clamoring to work for you? Why are they not returning your emails?

I am afraid, some illustrators have very good reasons to turn down self-publishing authors as opposed to a publishing house. As a professional illustrator, I get emails from self-publishing authors all the time. They love my illustrations and want me to illustrate their book. They want me to quote a price by return email. But they don’t tell me if it’s a picture book, chapter book or middle grade or how many illustrated pages they need. Occasionally an author will say I don’t need a big fancy book, I only want a small book. How much will that be? These questions put me in an awkward position. I don’t have enough information to give them a price.

Mouse artists working together

They want me to just “sketch-up” something fast. They say, “Don’t spend any time.” But they want the main character to look like their niece at four years old wearing the dress they gave her for her birthday. The little boy character to look like the boy on that program on TV (they can’t remember the name of) only change his hair to blond. The house in the background should look just like their Aunt Ethel’s house, they don’t have a picture, but it has shutters. AND of course, the dog should look like their deceased dog Blackie (they do have pictures).  –Yes, people have asked me to do all of these things. None of this is fast or easy for me at all.

I can pretty quickly tell when an author will take up a lot of my time and will not value my experience or expertise. Do I give them a ballpark figure that covers all kinds of books and situations, or do I probe for more details? Probing takes my time away from other jobs.

Here are some hints about how to find and work with an illustrator:

• Do your research, search Google, Yahoo or Bing for  “children’s book illustrators.” Read their websites and blogs. Go to organization websites for illustrators such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators SCBWI.org or ChildrensIllustrators.com

• When you find an illustrator you want to work with be nice when you contact them. Nice goes a long way.

• When contacting the illustrator to get pricing, give all the details they will need to decide how long your book will take to illustrate. What kind of book for children is it? What age child is the book for. Give them an idea of the length of the book (word count),  how many characters, how detailed do you want the backgrounds, do you want spreads or single pages, cover and back cover. Will the illustrator also be designing and digitally assembling the book for printing or is someone else doing that job?

I usually respond by telling them:

Most picture books are 32-pages with approx 12-14 spreads and one or two single pages illustrated. They also will need a cover, back cover and a title page. If the author also needs the cover and interior pages designed with the text in place that requires more time and costs more. I highly suggest using a designer or an illustrator who specializes in design.  Even if your book is well illustrated and well-written, poor design can undermine the entire look and quality of the book.

If it’s a chapter book you will need a color cover, back cover and at least one illustration (color or black and white) per chapter.

Middle-grade books have a color cover and several or no black and white inside illustrations.

I also absolutely positively need to read your manuscript before I decide to illustrate your book and give you a firm price.  I want to know if my style fits the story? Is there enough action in the book to illustrate? Has the author done their homework in preparing the manuscript? Are the illustrator notes too confining?

I fully immerse myself in the current book I am illustrating. The illustrations will make up one-half of the content of the book and I take this responsibility very seriously. A picture book takes me 4 to 8 months to illustrate depending on how complicated the book is and how organized the author is. This is a business for me, it is a full-time job.  Be sure to set aside enough in your budget to do your book justice. Don’t ask a professional illustrator to spend 4 to 8 months illustrating your book for fun or exposure. This is why most illustrators will not work with self-publishing authors. Professional illustrators do not illustrate self-published books for royalties, they have no way of knowing how many books are selling or even if you will try to sell the books. Illustrators are paid, usually in one-third increments. One third to start, the second third when roughs are approved and the balance right before the approved files are turned over to the printer or publisher.

Remember, in the marketplace (bookstore or Amazon), your book will first be judged by its cover.  Do you want your book judged solely by amateurish illustrations and an awkward cover design?

Why am I willing to work with self-publishing authors when other illustrators aren’t?

Occasionally I find an author who values my time, talent and expertise. When I read their manuscript I can tell it has been carefully edited for content and as well as grammar. They belong to an experienced SCBWI critique group or they have used a professional children’s book editor. They have taken the time to learn about writing for children and their manuscript clearly shows it. The language and word count are perfect for the age group for which they are writing.

I think children’s book authors are some of the most talented and clever people on earth. I enjoy getting to know them during the months we work together on their book. Contact me below if you want to talk to me about your children’s book.

Visit my website to see if I’m the perfect illustrator to bring your picture book or chapter book to life.