From Draft to Bedside Story – PublishDrive’s Guide to Self-Publishing a Children’s Book

Writing for children is rewarding, heartwarming and something to be proud of. No wonder many people aspire to write and publish a children’s book. If you think that writing and publishing for kids is child’s play, you are very wrong. 🙂

Partly because of the increased costs, partly because of the difficulties of marketing, publishing or self-publishing for children is harder than for adults. And don’t forget, that the readers (and citizens) of the future deserve well written and carefully crafted books, and responsible adults to create and select what gets into their hands. Would you like to write and publish your own book for kids? Just follow the tips below.

Self-publishing vs. traditional publishing

While finding a publisher could save you most of the work that has to be done until your book is out on the shelves and selling well (editing, finding an illustrator, type setting, printing, distributing, marketing, etc.), it is tough to break into the traditional market.

Many of the publishing houses don’t accept new submissions at all, and even if they do, they have guidelines when selecting manuscripts you not even know about. Be assertive and proactive when looking for a publisher: while smaller publishers only publish 1-2 new titles a year, big publishers have the means to take the occasional risk. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has a very thorough guide to help you get started to publish your own children’s book if you decide to look for a traditional publisher.

If knocking on the doors for years makes your stomach churn, you are probably better off going indie. You have to work hard to succeed, but you can make your own decisions and will not be subject to anyone else’s will. It is not impossible to self-publish a children’s book and still being sold in high street bookshops: even the Waterstone’s has somebody to look after indies.

Be aware of the sharks though: there are many companies targeting people who would like to self-publish, offering packages for printing, marketing, and distribution, but actually just taking your life’s savings away. Be suspicious of anyone promising you easy success: there is no such thing. If somebody wants you to pay them upfront to publish your book, leave.

If you still consider choosing a vanity publishing service, by all means, launch a crowdfunding campaign. You will not only collect the money you need (which is a lot of money as printing in color is expensive) but also see if there is any interest towards your book and whether it worth investing in it. You can use the audience you made this way later in the marketing process.

How do I start?

Forgive me for saying the obvious: research the market. Discover the trends in children’s publishing, check out your favorite publishers and see what they are doing. What are the popular topics? And what are the topics nobody is talking about?

Then decide on your age group: children’s books include books made for 0-14 years olds, but the categories are diverse. Books made for toddlers (picture books) are usually very colorful with little or no text (and made of chewable material). Books for young readers (reading books) have some combination of text and pictures to help guiding the future bookworms and books from up to 10 years old (young adult fiction) can be black and white with fewer or no pictures at all (and look more like a “book”).

You can read more about the categories and requirements at the Bookcareers website.

This will also help you to decide which way to go: with books made for younger audience you could consider an interactive ebook or a print-on-demand service, but for books made for “older” children, an epub will do (with the possibility of POD). See our selection of apps and devices later in this article.

Once you have your age group, it will automatically decide the length of your book. Children have longer attention span as they grow: picture books tend to be shorter and ‘readable’ in a few minutes while books for primary school kids can be ‘book sized’. If you imagine your book to be read as a bedside story, test it: are the tales or chapters readable in 20-25 minutes? Are there any cliffhangers preventing the kids from going to sleep?

You also have to find your niche: the special sub-market you are trying to reach. Is it dinosaur-lovers? Are you writing to empower little princesses? Try to find a gap in the market to reduce competition, while keeping up with what is trending. Finding a niche can put you in a category, but this is rather a good thing. Read more about the importance of a niche here. When deciding on what to write about, consider that while you are targeting children, the decision of what to read is going to be made by their parents, so make sure to write “adult-friendly” books.

Finding an illustrator

Whether you are planning a picture book or a crime series for pre-teens, there is no children’s book without illustrations. However, you only need to worry about illustrations if you self-publish: if you have found a publisher, they will do this for you.

First, you have to consider what you are looking for: do you need pictures covering each double page, or just black and white drawings at the beginning or end of each chapter? There are several places at the internet where you can find a freelance illustrator. Make sure you research their work and get to know their style: in a children’s book, illustration and story have to work together, creating an organic piece of art.

While working with a professional illustrator won’t be cheap (apart from paying for the artist’s time, you are paying for their craft, creativity and also the tools they have to use), this is a step you definitely shouldn’t skip and shouldn’t save money on. Since hiring an illustrator could cost several thousands of pounds, you have to be very sure that your book is worth to be published and that it will sell well to get your money back.

Once you found the perfect illustrator, let them work. They know their profession (just as you know yours): while they will ask you about your ideas before starting the work, give them the creative freedom they need. You can find more tips on choosing the perfect illustrator at The Creative Penn.

Print or ebook?

How is this still a question? Both. While traditional books don’t need defending, many people still can’t imagine handing over the tablet to their toddlers or school aged children when it comes to storytime. If you are considering print, be aware that printing a children’s book is very expensive. While services like Blurb offer easy to use layouts and quality printing, it will cost around 20-25 GBP per book in case of printing 10-50 books. To avoid upfront printing costs, and the difficulties of distribution, you are probably better off looking for a POD service.

On the other hand, the market is full of devices and apps to reach children from very young age to the pre-teen years and to make reading cool again. Apart from tablets and e-readers coming with spill and drop proof covers, Amazon has worked hard to introduce a Kindle for kids with built-in Vocabulary Builder, Word Wise (help with words that usually cause difficulty for young readers or second language learners), and badges and challenges to encourage young readers.

There are also several apps to keep parents (and kids) happy. Apart from countless interactive picture books for the youngsters, Apple iBooks’ Storytime app will read to the children and runs on a smart TV. There are also apps that let you switch between listening to the story and reading it.

To cut a long story short: there is nothing to stop you from e-publishing a children’s book, use your creativity and get the most out of whatever the technology can offer.

Marketing and distribution when self-Publishing a children’s book

As we mentioned before: while your audience is children, the ones buying your books will be the parents. Therefore you have to build out two separate lines of marketing: you have to market directly to the child, who will be the one taking your book off the selves, and to the librarian, teacher, parent, and grandparent, who will make the decision of buying it.

In case of children’s books, while the general online presence is very important (see our article about social media marketing), you also need to join conversations about issues concerning the children you are writing to. If a forum is about dealing with the loss of a loved one, and you have a book about it, go and mention it. Don’t be pushy: just be friendly and open, offer your help if you can.

You also need to work on your offline marketing: reach out to schools, libraries, and bookstores. It might sound commonplace, but: start local. Go to your local bookseller, to the nearby schools. Do you have any children in school? Do you know anyone? Never underestimate the power of personal connections.

Winning a prize can open several doors that were closed before, and luckily enough, many of the children’s book competitions are open to self-publishers. You can also send your book to literary magazines for reviews: if your book gets features in one of them, that will make your job much easier.

Hold exciting and engaging live events: a simple reading probably won’t be sufficient, especially with a young audience. Do you have something interesting to talk about? Can you fold balloon animals? Be creative. If the event seems to be fun and educational, the parents are more likely to bring their children, and you are more likely to gain more publicity.

The Publisher’s Weekly points out that good  marketing is always specific: if you are writing about boys playing football, look for your audience in sports clubs. Appearing in children’s book fairs could also be a great way to meet possible audience.

All in all, writing a children’s book is extremely rewarding emotionally and could also bring financial success. But even if your book is only read by your own children, grandchildren and nephews, it was already worth it: you helped setting off a new generation of readers.

Have you self-published a children’s book? We would love to hear your story!

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