For years, the idea of publishing books for children was brewing in my head. The passion for the creative process and the act of writing for children was so inebriating that it overtook any remote idea that didn’t suggest entertaining children and stimulating their minds—costs included. Did you ever ask yourself how much does it cost to self-publish a children’s book? The real cost.
If you write for the love of words and to share your stories with the youth as I do, you most likely haven’t asked that question. That is because my gut feeling tells me that you fall into one of two categories. And I don’t mean this in a simplistic “traditionally published” or “self-published” way, but rather in a more nuanced discussion of two distinct crowds.
In the first category, you are certain that you want to work with a traditional publisher and will dive head-on into the search.
In the second one, you are adamant that you want to self-publish. But you are not self-publishing your children’s books with an idea to become the next blockbuster. Besides your passion for writing for children, you want to have full control over the self-publishing process, and that is enough to motivate you.
Being real, what is the average cost to self-publish a children’s book? Is it better to self-publish a children’s book or go through the traditional route?
Those are all questions you should be asking if you are seriously considering going on this journey. As you will see, the cost of self-publishing illustrated children’s books goes well beyond the images.
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How Much Does It Cost to Self-Publish a Children’s Book?
A lot goes into self-publishing for children, and I have covered that extensively in our comprehensive guide. But overall, you should expect to spend around $1,500-$6,000. (Yep, that’s right! It took me a while to wrap my mind around it.)
Keep in mind that when I talk about costs, especially the cost to self-publish a children’s picture book, you need to consider the specificities of the genre. For that reason, I will explore each aspect separately.
The overall cost to self-publish a children’s book will vary vastly depending on:
* Where you find your illustrator
* Whether or not you work with a formatter or layout designer
* How seriously you take the editing process
* Where you’re going to print and distribute your children’s books
* How you go about marketing your children’s books
Having learned from several mistakes during my publishing journey, I have a lot to say about that. If you are ready, here is the real cost to self-publish a children’s picture book (let’s dig in!):
How Much Does It Cost To Hire an Illustrator for a Children’s Book?
The cost to hire an illustrator will vary greatly, depending on how seasoned the artist is—that includes their credentials, skill set, years of experience, location, and the medium they use—and where you find the right illustrator for your needs.
Even so, you will still encounter a wide range of prices based on the sites you research. For instance, freelance marketplaces such as Fiverr, Upwork, and Guru offer more economical options.
To give you an idea, on Fiverr, you can find packages ranging from $5-$20 for a “Level 1” illustrator, $20-$50 for a “Level 2,” and $20-$300 for a “Top Rated” illustrator. Conversely, you can also find a “Top Rated Seller” starting at $100.
On Upwork, you can find freelancers and agencies starting at around $20-$25 per hour, or you can pay for the project—in what Upwork calls “Project Catalog”—and find “Top Rated” illustrators with packages ranging from $30-$350.
On Guru you can find projects starting at $25, but overall, ranging from $200-$500.
Or you can find illustrators on several other websites, including the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Picture Book Artists Association, DeviantArt, or their own websites, offering packages that vary from $850-$3200.
The silver lining about working on books for children is that the cost of the cover is already embedded in the package. In other words, generally speaking, the artist who creates the illustration for your picture books will take care of the cover as well, making that less of a burden to worry about.
For each of my children’s picture books, I worked with diverse artists from different platforms, following distinct approaches. By that I mean, although I spent an average of $360 in illustrations for two of my picture books (including the cover), an artist approached me for a collaboration on the third book, and I didn’t have to spend a penny.
I also paid $150 for a new cover to the second edition of Dinosaur Adventure, which I relaunched during the last quarter of 2020.
So, if you keep your mind open, finding good illustrators who welcome partnerships or are willing to barter services may be a good option to keep your costs low.
Taking into consideration how much time you devote to researching illustrators, where you find them, and how you go about your process, you can find an array of options.
The Cost to Format Books for Children
The process of laying out a children’s book, especially picture books, is more specific than formatting for another genre. And the cost to format children’s picture books will vary—although not as much as the cost to hire an illustrator—unless you have issues with any of the formatters, as I did.
For the most part, the formatter, also known as a layout designer, uses advanced software such Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop to properly format the books. This allows them to design a book interior that follows various distributors’ specifications.
Unfortunately, one of the designers I found used Word to format books. At that point, at the beginning of my journey, I knew very little about these types of details. Then, you can imagine what came next. The formatting was not up to par with distributors such as IngramSpark–and this was only one of several issues I had (including the cover), which I discuss with details in my article about what not to do when publishing for children. In the end, the cost to format my picture books came to around $400 total (yikes!).
But this doesn’t have to happen to you. Overall, by going to freelancer’s marketplaces, you can find high-quality designers who will format your picture books with services ranging from $20-$100, though you can also find services starting at $5 on Fiverr.
Also, if you think about social networking, another place to find qualified formatting professionals is LinkedIn. There you can find a pool of qualified designers, willing to negotiate a decent price with you. With so many options, you’re sure to find a cost to format a book that’s right for you.
How Much Does It Cost To Edit a Children’s Book?
Editing costs is another important aspect of children’s book publishing that is not much talked about.
Like the cost for editing in other genres, the cost to edit your children’s books will depend on the type of editing you are looking for (copyediting, line editing, developmental editing, or proofreading).
The Editorial Freelancers Association sets an average rate of $.02–$.029 per word for fiction copyediting, $.03–$.039 per word for developmental editing, and $.02–$.029 per word for proofreading. These costs are just an average and vary depending on the editor’s level of experience. Not to mention, the cost will look slightly different for editors who charge by the hour ($31-$50/h).
Though some professionals only do specific types of editing, a lot of times, a children’s book editor offers different types of editing in one service or package. Let’s say developmental editing and copyediting, or copyediting and proofreading … you get the idea.
Also, the benefit of working with a specialist in children’s manuscripts is that the professional can give valuable insights on other aspects of the book development as well. That makes it easy on the pocket.
Talking about overall editing costs, a survey by Written Word Media shows that the median editing cost for writers in different genres is $250-$499 (my books fell under this category), but with a large chunk of writers spending $100-$999 and only 23% of writers spending less than $50.
When I think of editing, I see it as one of those areas that you should not take lightly. And if you are looking for qualified editors for your children’s books, a few good places to find them are LinkedIn, ACES: The Society for Editing, and Reedsy.
How Much Does It Cost To Print a Children’s Book: Picture Books Distribution Costs
Once you’ve had your book edited, the next consideration is the cost to print a children’s book and distribute it. This will again vary depending on the distributor. The most popular services that children’s authors use are Amazon, IngramSpark, BookBaby, and Lulu.
Cost to Self-Publish a Children’s Book on Amazon KDP
One of the biggest distributors and the first choice for most self-published authors is Amazon. There is no cost to upload your titles on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP); however, you will incur some other expenses such as printing costs for paperbacks. In this case, Amazon offers 60% royalty for standard distribution and 40% royalty for expanded distribution, which is calculated based on your list price minus printing costs.
Though children’s book authors and publishers gain several advantages from publishing through Amazon KDP—such as the free uploads and accessibility to various promotional options (KDP Select, Kindle Countdown, etc.)—there is a caveat when it comes to ebook costs.
When calculating the costs for children’s ebooks, there are different results depending on if you choose a 70% royalty or a 35% royalty. If you choose to receive a royalty of 70%, Amazon KDP charges a “delivery” fee, which takes into consideration the file size. In other words, given the size of the illustrations, which need to be a minimum of 2500 pixels per side, you usually end up with a large file.
Although there is no delivery fee for a 35% royalty, this will decrease the minimum price you are allowed to set your ebooks at.
Why does it matter?
Because this may impact how you strategize your promotions. Depending on the size of your picture book file, you might not be able to set your title as low as $0.99 unless you are enrolled in a KDP promotion such as Kindle Countdown. Something for you to keep in mind.
Cost to Self-Publish a Children’s Book on IngramSpark
Another popular option among indie authors is IngramSpark. IngramSpark charges a set-up fee of $25 for ebooks, $49 for print books, and $49 for a “value deal” that includes both ebook and print. There is a revision fee of $25 for print books as well.
Overall, the costs of printing and distribution are higher on IngramSpark than on Amazon. However, IngramSpark offers more options for interior print paper (black and white, standard color 50 or 70, and premium color), and takes into consideration other factors such as binding type (paperback or hardcover) and laminate cover type (gloss and matte).
Also, IngramSpark’s system allows you, the publisher, to adjust your print titles’ compensation based on the wholesale discount, which can be set for the preferred retailer discount of 55%, or under that, but no lower than 30%. Otherwise, that would create a negative publisher compensation.
For example, let’s say you set the price for your paperback title, for which you used a standard color 70 interior, at $11.99 with a wholesale discount of 50%. After printing costs, you’re expecting your compensation to be around $2.00 per book. For the same title in hardcover with the same interior color, if you sell your book for $16.99 with a wholesale discount of 45% (which is less than ideal for retailers), your publisher compensation will be around $0.50 per title. As you can see, a very small margin.
Publishing Children’s Books Through BookBaby
Whether you want to follow the print-on-demand (POD) model, get help with one specific aspect of the publishing process, or get the full package, you will find an option on BookBaby.
BookBaby offers the above self-publishing packages for $1,090, $2,190, and $2,890, respectively. On the most economical package ($1,090), you can have a digital and print copy of your children’s book created and distributed through their global channels of distribution. The package also comes with 25 paperback copies of the book.
Moving to the “middle-of-the-road tier” ($2,190), you get everything in the first package plus help with the design. The pricier package ($2,890) gives you everything in the second tier with the addition of marketing services.
If you want to go for the print-on-demand service only, produce a single copy of your ebook, and print through BookBaby, you will be looking at costs of around $400 or more.
For example, I was experimenting with a landscape 9″ x 7″ picture book of 24 pages and came up with an estimated $476 for a single copy and $774.50 for 25 copies. For orders of 25-2000 copies, you can get discounts, but nothing outrageous.
If you want to use BookBaby for distribution only, you are expected to pay $399 (with orders of 25 books) for global POD distribution or $99 for distribution only in their bookshop. But when you do the math, the difference from the company’s most economical package is $85.50. So at this point, you are better off choosing the package.
Finally, as a children’s book author using BookBaby, depending on how much you price your book ($7.99-$15.99), you will be looking at royalties of 12%-26% or $1.02-$4.25 for a square 8.5″ x 8.5″ paperback of 28 pages.
The royalties look slightly higher than IngramSpark, but they come at a much higher up-front cost.
Publishing Children’s Books Through Lulu
Another distributor and POD provider of children’s books is Lulu, though it is not as popular as the others. Compared to the previous sought-after companies, Lulu doesn’t offer a wide selection of book sizes and binding options for children’s picture books.
In addition, Lulu’s POD model puts more emphasis on discounts for bulk orders rather than small orders— resembling BookBaby—which makes it slightly more expensive than the others. Perhaps, that is the reason it’s less popular.
For example, if you want to print your square 8.5″ x 8.5″ hardcover (no option for softcover) of 28 pages, you will be looking at a cost of around $10.47 per book. By using their global distribution channel, you would need to set your retail price at a minimum of $20.94, according to their recommendations, to get any compensation after printing and distribution costs.
Also, Lulu charges a 50% distribution fee from the author’s gross revenue and pays 80% of gross profit. In other words, they pay 80% after the costs from printing and distributing are taken. If you do the math, in the end, there will not be much left, unless you set the price of your book pretty high.
The Cost to Market Your Children’s Books
As an indie author, marketing your book is a necessity. And the cost of marketing your children’s books will depend on which type of promotional strategy you choose to pursue.
Like any other genre of book, children’s book promotions demand a very targeted strategy. The reason I’m saying this is because even though you are writing for children, the person who is buying your book is not the child, but rather the adult. In other words, your real audience, and therefore the people you should be targeting, is made of parents, teachers, and caregivers.
This is particularly true (and important) if you create picture books. Thus, reaching those people effectively requires a bit of creativity.
Whether you choose promo sites, BookBub, Amazon or Facebook ads, book blog tours, social media promotions, or a newsletter swap, you will need to up your game. You can choose to pursue the free route or spend a bit of money to yield a better result.
Starting with the most obvious choice, you can use Bookbub to start promoting.
Although you don’t have to pay for a BookBub account, you will need to pay a figure for its most popular and prized feature: BookBub Featured Deal.
Several authors (not necessarily authors of children’s material) swear by “Featured Deals,” as this option has proven highly effective for many. The downside is that BookBub stipulates several requirements that you must meet to be granted a Deal. But if you are lucky enough to get a Bookbub Featured Deal, as an author of books for children, middle grade, or teen & YA, you should expect to spend around $122-$898. Keep in mind that this value varies depending on your book category and the price of your discounted book.
In my children’s book promotion plans, I have tried almost everything under the sun, paid and free. But being honest, I always achieved better results with paid initiatives. Running campaigns on book promotion sites, such as Freebooksy ($45) or Bargain Booksy ($20), where I could reach a more targeted audience that is interested in children’s books was one of the most effective tactics. Considering the price of the package, I felt it was money well spent.
I also got some traction with Amazon ads, though it took me a while to figure out how to do them right. The issue with Amazon ads is that they can become expensive, as you will need to keep them running for a long period of time to start seeing decent results. I have spent around $120 on different campaigns and barely got my feet wet.
Another option that needs to be well-thought-out and planned is to work with book marketing experts, publicists, and book bloggers. Packages from book marketing experts and publicists can easily run from $1,400-$6,000+. Yes, you get a lot of expertise, but you’ll have to spend a pretty penny.
If you think of the specificities of the picture books genre, where your costs as a publisher (printing, distribution, etc.) are high, this process can become costly in a heartbeat.
You can find reasonable packages working with book bloggers. Those services range from $40-$345, and usually include a mix of book blog tours, reviews, interviews, cover reveals, and other promotional perks.
As an author for the youth, there is a big value in collaborating with book bloggers if you are an author of certain genres such as YA paranormal, romance, and cozy mysteries. The reason being is that many of these book bloggers have highly targeted audiences ready to indulge in those genres or subgenres. The word of caution is to look for the book blogger’s track record of campaign results and success so you can get the best bang for your buck.
Finally, submitting your book to a professional review website can be another great option to market your children’s book. Who doesn’t want to receive the stamp of approval from highly regarded institutions such as Kirkus Reviews or BookLife by Publishers Weekly? However, you may be caught between a rock and hard place.
The cost of a standard review for picture books at Kirkus starts at $350. At BookLife, on the other hand, while you don’t need to pay for reviews, there is no guarantee that your book will be reviewed (or when, if it does get reviewed). So at this point, you may have to rely on the guaranteed professional review for a $399 service fee.
Do you see where I’m going?
The median cost of submitting your kid’s books to professional review websites ranges between $200-$300, depending where you look. If you have the money to invest in professional reviews, it can be worth it. But I can’t stress enough that you’ll need to have a strong marketing plan in place that will allow you to work on different strategies, and therefore, earn some type of ROI with the sales of your kid’s books.
Is It Better to Self-publish a Children’s Book?
Whether you want to self-publish a children’s book or follow the traditional route, this will be a personal choice. Either path has pros and cons, so you need to ponder what works best for your situation and goals.
My aim with this article was to demystify the real cost of self-publishing a children’s book, especially when what you find online doesn’t always, or for the most part, reflect reality (at least in what concerns making money with picture books).
About one thing, I’m certain: indie children’s book authors are special kinds of beings. And this goes back to my opening points. These authors write and create for the love of their stories and to delight young readers, not with an expectation of getting rich.
That said, plan ahead, keep creating, and have fun!
If you are a self-published children’s book author, let me know about your journey.