This post was originally published on April 7, 2018, and updated for accuracy.
How did you feel when you first published your children’s book? Having put in the world three writing babies in a relatively short amount of time, I learned a lot with the hurdles and bumps in the road. Afterward, self-publishing children’s picture books, though rewarding, is not an easy task.
As cliché as it sounds, as writers, we are passionate about the craft of writing and the writing process. And that in and of itself is not easy. It requires discipline and practice.
When we add publishing to this mix, we enter a completely different territory. If you don’t know which direction to go, you can feel like an alien.
As an indie author, there are many intertwined activities such as publishing, marketing and promotions, distribution, that you need to immerse yourself in.
Compared to other genres, the logistics of self-publishing children’s picture books are even more complex.
Because you will work concomitantly with another person: the illustrator. And when you include illustrations in books, they require another level of TLC. Not only will you need to be mindful about the specifications for the product itself—such as dpi, bleed, text on illustrations—but you also have to follow the specificities for each distributor.
What would be of Giggly Bear if I hadn’t found the right formatter to take care of my cover and make the epub file according to Ingram’s specification when a kindle formatter couldn’t handle it?
I don’t say this lightly, but those hindrances taught me much. I made several mistakes. But here are the mistakes you should avoid at all costs:
You may also like: What NOT to Do When Self-Publishing Children’s Books
Avoid These Mistakes When Self-Publishing Children’s Picture Books
1. I didn’t plan well.
I’m a planner by nature, but in the beginning, this was a tricky call. Like most people do when starting in the self-publishing world, I tried to move on the fly. I took the abundance of information available and applied it immediately when I finished my books and was “ready” to publish—or when I thought I was.
But what is the problem with that approach?
There is a huge problem with this way of doing business.
Given the complexity of children’s publishing logistics, in order for the process to move smoothly and for you to have a positive outcome (including a decent launch and sales), you will need to have an outline, a plan.
Not only is it important that you have a plan to guide yourself, but also to minimize bumps in the road—which eventually you will have.
With a plan, you are better prepared for the contingencies, and that allows you to move into action.
2. I didn’t communicate with the illustrator often.
As an indie author, for the most part, the illustrators you partner with are freelancers, meaning that they take on multiple clients at the same time.
Though each of them works differently, after they assess the kind of work they are taking on—type of illustration, quantity, a complete package with typesetting or not—most will provide you with a deadline.
Unfortunately, in most of my cases, the deadline was never met. Not only that, but the illustrator would tell me that he or she was working on a certain phase of the project—and would show me what he or she had accomplished—only to vanish for weeks and come up with some type of lame excuse.
Don’t fall into this trap. Keep track of the illustrator’s progress. Ask for weekly updates. Be on top of the activities. Set the tone at the beginning about expectations and open communication.
I promise you, this will save a lot of headache down the road.
3. I didn’t thoroughly research the skill set for the ideal designer.
Unless you are a designer by trade and don’t want to take chances, you will need someone to format your books.
As wild as this may sound, not everyone is qualified to format for different distributors. Some people are knowledgeable about Kindle and CreateSpace formatting, others Smashword, others IngramSpark, and so forth.
But a few will know how to correctly tend to all distributors. Those are the designers you need to seek. They have years of experience formatting, and in some instances, might have even worked for some of the big-name publishers or their subsidiaries.
As I have seen firsthand a little bit of all worlds, my best advice is for you to take your time to learn about the formatter’s skills. Look for the ones who are well versed with InDesign or Adobe Illustrator.
This might seem silly at first, but trust that given the nature of picture books, someone with this type of knowledge will hit the nail on the head with all specifications on the distributor’s end and make this part of the publishing process much smoother for you.
4. I didn’t trust my gut.
Like anything else, we sometimes get that strong voice telling us not to follow a path, not to do this or that, or maybe to go for something but not in the way we are currently seeking. The same happens when working on self-publishing your children’s books.
During the making of Giggly Bear’s Fun Trip in the Yellow Bus, I was faced with quite a few dilemmas when working with the illustrator and trying to put my marketing strategies into practice.
What I learned with that is it’s important to follow your instincts and pay attention when certain aspects don’t seem right. After all, you are your own publisher. And as a writer, you have the vision of your character and story. So deep inside, you know what is better for your situation.
Self-publishing children’s picture books doesn’t have to be rocket science, but like anything else, there is a learning curve.
When you think about the four steps, remember that you as the writer and publisher have to coordinate the entire logistics and synchronize the parts as you go—writing, formatting, promoting, and launching.
Like in a Viennese Waltz, you hold closer to your babies (written pieces and illustrations), and with focus and practice, you pick up the beat and soon will be able to do well.
Until you are comfortable with every step, keep writing, and don’t let the enthusiasm go.