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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

 

 

I hosted a Q&A: “Ask an Illustrator” forum today

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Today on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Dayne.Sislen.Illustrator/ I hosted a 4-hour Q&A period “Ask A Children’s Book Illustrator.” I answered questions about illustrating children’s books; how to self-publish; advantages of each POD company; how to find an illustrator; when you don’t need an illustrator and more. I enjoy talking to children’s book authors. Below is a transcript of some of the questions and answers. If you don’t see an answer to your question, I am always happy to answer questions using the form below on this page.

#self-publishing, #picturebooks, #kidlit, #kidlitart, #illustration, #POD.

Kathy Marie Hi Dayne! I have been contemplating my book and whether to try again. I think my biggest question would be which format to pursue. We had talked about print versus digital. At this point, I would probably need the simplest jumping off point. What is your suggestion for me to get started again? Thanks!

Dayne Sislen Illustrator The easiest way would be to forget about personalizing each book (Kathy and I talked about this earlier). Personalization is very expensive and difficult to do. You can self-publish for almost no cost up-front (because you already have your illustrations) or submit your book to traditional publishers and if they chose to publish your book, they pay you.

Kathy Marie Yes, I’ve given up the idea about doing the personalization. But I was exploring the idea of making the book an app. So just self-publish printed would be the best route?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator If you decide to self-publish, I would suggest Print-on-demand. The books are printed as they are ordered you get the profit. Very little upfront costs for you.

Kathy Marie Okay, thanks! And is there a print-on-demand option that you feel is the best?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator An app or e-book would certainly be cool to do. With Amazon CreateSpace and KDP you can do both an e-book and soft cover. Apps are a different matter and designed completely differently. Usually, they are best if there is a lot of interaction.

Kathy Marie I will start doing my homework and research again…and you know I’ll be back with more questions later. Thanks for the help! If I actually get this off the ground, will I break the record for the longest wait you have had to see your work published? 😀

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I like to use IngramSpark for hardcover books. You can use all three, CreateSpace, IngramSpark and KDP if you like.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Yes, You will break the record for the length of time taken for a book to be completed. (The illustrations for Kathy’s book were finished many years ago) I would love to see your book published. It’s such a great idea and it has such a wonderful built-in market.

Kathy Marie Alrighty…another goal then. I like breaking records! 😀

Kathy Marie Thought of another question…will I need to work through my LLC to self-publish?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I would suggest you do this. It’s not hard to do online on your state’s website. Don’t pay a lawyer to do it. I took a course with the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in my city. They walked us through the process, it’s very easy and very cheap. It’s fun to think up your own publishing house name.

Kathy Marie Okay, thanks. I would look to resurrect my old LLC, which I assume is still technically mine. I closed the business bank account on it years ago, but I don’t really know how the rest of it works or if I still even really have the LLC. Another piece of homework I guess. Thanks again for your time and this was a fun and helpful idea!

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Barbara Schuermann Stock Stuckey Hi Dayne, first of all, thank you for your kindness, in giving your time, to share your knowledge with us. My question would be – who would you recommend to publish my book? I have been looking at Ingram Spark and Create Space. The book was designed on Shutterfly and I would like to use that exact format. Can that exact book be converted to IngramSpark? Also, where should I purchase my ISBN number? My preference for Ingram Spark has to do with their return policy and also the 55% discount. I am so confused, thank you!

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Thanks for asking this question. I have used both CreateSpace and IngramSpark. Each has their strong points.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator CreateSpace is easier to use and slightly cheaper. They do not have hardcover books. When you publish with CS your book will never be listed as out of print by Amazon. You also make a little bit more on each on each book sold on Amazon, but much less on books sold on B&N and independent bookstores.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I like the hardcover books at IngramSparks. It only cost a small bit more to publish your book with IngramSpark and you can set your price and percent of discount. Independent books stores will be able to order your book and you will make more per book. You will make a tiny bit less on Amazon and your book may be listed as out of stock occasionally.

Barbara Schuermann Stock Stuckey This is my first book. I am leading toward Ingram Spark then also I have heard about Lightning Source, do you know anything about them? As a first time writer who would like to write sequels to my book, what would you suggest?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator IngramSpark and Lightning Source are the same company. Lightning Source prints for IngramSpark, as a small self-publisher you should use IngramSpark. Their website is very user-friendly, you can figure out how much your books will cost and how much you will make on each using their charts.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I also suggest you publish your soft cover books with CreateSpace and your hardcover books with IngramSpark. That way you have the best of both. You will always be listed as in stock on Amazon with CreateSpace and if you want to sell through B&N or an independent bookstore, you will do better with IngramSpark.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator CreateSpace is very easy for a non-professional to set up using MS Word. IngramSpark works best if you use professional software like Adobe InDesign. If you hire a professional children’s book illustrator and designer they can set everything up for you. If you want to also have an e-book CreateSpace and IngramSpark can convert your files. I have no idea what the quality is like.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Be sure to buy your own ISBN number. Get them directly from the source Bowkers, http://.myidentifiers.com. Do not buy them from CreateSpace, Amazon will be your publisher of record. You really don’t want that.

Barbara Schuermann Stock Stuckey My book is all photographs, would that be something you would work with?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Printing your books is really the easy part. The hard part is marketing them. Be prepared for almost a full-time job. Amazon makes the books available, but you have to get customers to Amazon. If you become a top seller in your category, Amazon will give your book a boost by suggesting it to customers.

Barbara Schuermann Stock Stuckey Wow, glad to hear you say that! It seems to be the hardest part for me. I have been marketing my book for years. I have read for schools, daycare centers, Barnes and Noble in Wisconsin and Barnes and Noble in St. Louis, all with very favorable reviews. I just can’t seem to get it printed. 🙂

Dayne Sislen Illustrator You also asked about taking you book as is from Shutterfly and using the files on another service. I am not familiar with Shutterfly, but I think you put it together online using their online tools. If that is correct, you will not be able to switch it over directly. But, you now have a very good idea of exactly what you want. Each POD service has their own method to prepare files.

Bowker | Identifier Services

My Identifiers is the only official website of the U.S. ISBN Agency. We provide you with the products and services to make your books more discoverable. Get your ISBNs today!

MYIDENTIFIERS.COM

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Abby Lamb Mathews Hi, Dayne! I have a few questions. 1. I want to self-publish the middle grades book I’m working on. I would like to put up a landing page announcing my book, and I would like a simple illustration with three of the characters. Where is the best place to start looking for an illustrator? I’ve found a few on Etsy and Instagram that I like and would love to work with. Is there a protocol for approaching an illustrator? And 2. (And I probably know the answer to this one, but may be surprised…) Would you recommend looking elsewhere (besides Etsy, Instagram, etc…) for someone who has specific experience illustrating children’s books and can guide me, rather than just hiring an illustrator whose work I like? I’m actually looking more for an illustration or two for my web page and then eventually the cover art. So since I’m not concerned with needing as much illustration as a picture book, is it ok to shop by “style” rather than by book experience.
Dayne Sislen Illustrator Another great question. Since you do not need the complete package as you would with a picture book. You won’t need as much technical publishing direction. It is important to find an illustrator who understands the middle-grade genre to design the cover. It’s not just the cover illustration, it’s the complete design. The font and how it’s customized and how the cover competes with other middle-grade covers.
Abby Lamb Mathews Is there a place where middle grades illustrators gather? Or how do you go about finding someone who is middle grades specific??

Dayne Sislen Illustrator I would look on the SCBWI.org website. There is a listing of illustrators who are members. Find one who’s work you like or find one close to where you live.

Abby Lamb Mathews I saw that on your website just now! That would be an awesome group to join, period! Thank you for your guidance! Glad I found you on Twitter!!
Dayne Sislen Illustrator I don’t know of any middle-grade specific illustrators. Go to your bookstore, find out who illustrates the covers you admire. I think a picture book Illustrator can do a good job on a middle-grade book if they study the competition and keep the ages of the characters shown age appropriate.
Dayne Sislen Illustrator Yes, SCBWI is a fantastic organization. It’s world-wide in scope, but there are many local chapters in each state. You should attend a workshop or conference. There you might just meet and make friends with the perfect illustrator for your cover and website illustrations. Good Luck.
Abby Lamb Mathews I am officially a member! 😉
Dayne Sislen Illustrator Good for you. You won’t regret it. I hope you make as many supportive good friends as I have.

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Angela Coulson
Hi Dayne, thanks for chatting. If I am shopping my book to traditional publishers, should I already have illustrations completed?

Dayne Sislen Illustrator Good question. If you are submitting your manuscript to traditional publishers or agents DO NOT pay an illustrator to illustrate your books before submission. If your book is selected for publication, the publisher will choose the illustrator and pay for the illustrations. You only need to get your own illustrations if you are self-publishing.

Angela Coulson Thanks for clarifying. Good information to know.

Dayne Sislen Illustrator You are welcome.

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Dayne Sislen Illustrator If you have more questions and I didn’t get to answer them today, visit my blog: https://daynesislendesign.wordpress.com/ and my website: http://DayneSislenDesign.com. On the blog search for past posting in the archives. On my website look under “Questions.” I like to talk to authors about their stories and how to get them published.

Proofs today for “There’s a Mouse on My Head”

Theres a Mouse on My Head!_proofIt’s so exciting to finally see this long-awaited project coming together. I have been working on the illustrations for 5 months. Today we saw the proofs for the first time from IngramSpark our printer. Donna Warwick, the author of the book “There’s a Mouse on My Head!” and I, as the illustrator, have formed a Publishing Company called Glass Pen Press. I am still working on the logo for Glass Pen Press so I can’t let you see it yet.

Starting a business is a lot of work, but it is so exciting. This is the fun part, the setting up and the creation. The real work will come later when we must do the marketing and promote the book. We are planning a presentation for a luncheon sponsored by the Book Club for the Jewish Book Festival in St. Louis. This will be in October. Before that we are working on a video presentation for the luncheon, a trailer for YouTube and a song. We will be selling the book at the bookstore at the Jewish Book Festival in November in the Missouri’s Own section.

We also plan to do School and library visits this Fall. I am working on a website for the author, where you can buy the book and find games and study guides for classrooms. I will be posting my progress on all these projects.

Are we having FUN yet? YES!!!