By Kelly Santana Banks
Table of Contents
How to Self-Publish Children’s Books Without Crushing Your Spirits?
It is not because you are self-publishing children’s books that you should slack on any detail, right? To make this guide as more writer-friendly as possible, I have divided it into sections. This way, you can choose the way you prefer to go about it: you can dive into it at once, focus on each part independently, or bookmark and revisit when you need it. Here is what we’ll go over in this guide for self-publishing children’s books:
Do you remember the time when publishing a children’s book was a task for big publishing houses?
At that time, if you thought to self-publish, people would not give you any credit or probably think that you were going cuckoo.
Thanks to the pioneers who took the plunge and leveled the playing field for us indies, now we can self-publish children’s books and engage readers with our stories with the confidence we never had before.
I’m not saying that it makes the process easy. The process becomes simple in the sense that you are in charge (as opposed to leaving your publishing destiny to the whims of an editor or publisher).
But at the same token that you are in control, you need to be self-conscious of the entrepreneurial undertaking that goes behind it. In other words, as I explained in my previous article about what not to do when self-publishing children’s books, you will need to have a clear plan of action. Not only that, but you will need to be prepared to go through all the stages of the cycle in order for this process to run as smoothly as possible.
Trust me in that. After going through some bumpy roads when I published my first two books, I got my fair share of lessons. When I released the third, even though I still had issues, things were better handled.
And if you want to have a smooth ride on your journey and don’t want to crush your spirits during the process, follow this step-by-step guide on how to self-publish children’s books without crush your spirits.
Part I – Ideation
Working on your children’s book concept (research)
For some authors, thinking of a concept for a children’s book might be a very fun part. For others, especially the ones who are just starting, finding an idea or concept to work on can give their minds a knot.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are several ways you can come up with ideas for your children’s stories, and this is where research comes into play.
You can start the research on Google, using keywords such as “children’s books” or “children literature”. If you go to Amazon, start exploring the top best-sellers in the children, teen, or youth categories. This type of investigation can give you several cues on what type of children’s books people are reading.
Going to your library and researching children’s literature is another fantastic idea. Head to the kid’s section and peruse the shelves. If you don’t read books for the youth often, then pick children’s books of different reading levels. Examine those samples and ask your librarian questions every time you have a chance. They know better what readers in that age category want to read as well as parents.
Another way to come up with fun and interesting concepts for your children’s story is by taking ideas from your everyday life. A lot of indie authors on the road to self-publish children’s books follow this tactic. For instance, if you are a parent, grandparent, or caregiver of a little one, what stories do they like to read? What type of character engages them the most?
Being a former teacher, I got (and still get) a lot of concepts from my time working with children in the classroom. If you are a teacher or educator, I’m sure you have a lot of ideas up your sleeves.
But this is not all. You can think back on your time as a young child.
What were your favorite books?
What do they look like?
Name a few of your favorite characters and take it from there.
Some examples of popular ideas for children’s stories are the ABCs, farm animals, bedtime stories, fairytale twist, holidays (Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Easter, Valentine’s Day), etc.
How to write a children’s story
Now that you have found your story idea, it is time to get working. Put pen to paper and start writing your children’s story.
And here is the part where you should not be thinking much. Just write. Your first draft is exactly that: a “first draft.” So, don’t get caught up on details or keep torturing yourself if you don’t hit the road running on your story.
The one detail you need to keep in mind, though, is who your target reader is. Are you writing for kids 0-5 years old? For children 7-10? Or for middle-grade students?
The structure of your story will become more complex as the age group you target increases. It is important to keep this aspect in mind as you outline your story since you will not write the same way for young kids and young adults. I’m not saying that you are going to dumb down on your readership. But even though the writing might be simpler when you write for children, you still want to write with respect.
On the other hand, writing for a more mature audience, such as young adults or even young teens (or upper-middle grade) requires a few details, given the complexity of the elements of the plot and story structure.
If you are the type of person that gets stuck and needs a little nudge to start, these examples of writing prompts to get your creative juices flowing will be helpful. Not only that, but they can give you a lot of food for thoughts if you are starting on the road to self-publish children’s books.
Going even further, if you need help with coming up with descriptions, these tips on creating amazing scenes descriptions for young readers may come in handy.
Still, you will work on several drafts until you perfect your children’s book manuscript and get it ready to be published. So at this moment, don’t rush, just focus on writing and make it the best it can be.
Finding an editor for your children’s books
So, the ideas have been brewing on your mind for months. You worked hard on writing your story. Now you can’t wait to get your book out. And because you will self-publish children’s books, you think you don’t need an editor, right?
I hope not!
You should always enlist the help of an editor. It doesn’t matter if you are the reincarnation of Shakespeare, Hemingway, or Tolkien, this step shall not be neglected. I’ll go even further and say that you should look for a children’s book editor.
Oftentimes, this is the part where many writers miss the mark thinking that because they write, they are also expert editors. Big mistake. Writing and editing require a completely different set of skills (and I’m sure you already know that).
Also, as the writer of your children’s manuscripts, your mind is already used to your content. And because you are so attached to that, you don’t see the flaws any longer.
Sure, you can use editing tools such as Grammarly and ProWritingAid to catch grammar mistakes, improve your sentences and structure, and with that, make your writing better (I encourage you to do so). But those should never replace an editor.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written drafts for different purposes, let it sit, and when I decided to go back a couple of days or weeks later, they looked awful! The entire piece felt like a transformational experience, as if it was written by another person.
That goes to say that every writer needs an editor. But not any editor. Depending on which stage you are in of your youth manuscript, you may need a different type of editing.
Developmental editing – It pertains to the content. The editor will look for ways you can improve your story and make it strong for young readers.
Line editing – the editor’s job is to polish your sentences, bring clarity, and help them flow easily.
Copyediting – this type of editing relates to grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Proofreading – this type is sometimes confused with copyediting (and a lot of editors who work in this area do both) but is essentially the last proof for minor errors before publication.
You will find editors who offer all types of editing and those whose work specializes in a particular area.
With that clear distinction, now comes the time to be truthful to yourself. As a rule of thumb, find an editor, or children’s book editor, whose work fits your specific needs. For instance, you will not send your middle grade or young adult novel to a copyeditor before you have a developmental editor take care of that. Or even send your manuscript to a developmental editor expecting that she or he will do line editing.
At this point, you must be very clear on the type of service you need and the one the editor offers. Not only that, but another point I often see editors mention is, try to find an editor whose style aligns with yours. When looking for a children’s book editor, do a test drive and see if you are a good match.
Some editors set clear instructions on working with clients, including how they go about revisions. Others prefer to check your material first. Some work with a free, short consultation before establishing any commitment. Still, other editors accept revisions of a few pages of your manuscript for a minimal fee so you can get a taste of the process. Whatever option you choose, make sure to do your due diligence.
You can find children’s book editors ranging in skills and budget from several places.
If you are not part of a large writing group—where you can find writers, editors, and freelancers offering all types of services—these are some of the most popular places: LinkedIn, Upwork, Fiverr, Guru, and editing associations such as ACES: The Society for Editing and the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA).
I have personally curated a list of writing and editing resources where you can also find highly skilled editors. This list is constantly being refreshed, so you should find something that suits your needs. And if you are just starting on the road to self-publish children’s books, they may be invaluable.
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Part II – Creation
Standards for children’s books
Within the children’s book genre, you as an author can work in several subcategories. Among those categories, you will find picture books, easy readers, chapter books, and middle-grade. You might even have a middle grade that overlaps with the young adult category.
As you prepare to self-publish children’s books, better yet, your book baby, you will notice that those subcategories differentiate from each other based on the amount of text (which may determine the level of reading), illustrations (or lack thereof), and type and structure of content.
The starkest difference may come from the picture books. According to industry standards, children’s picture books usually run around 32 pages, including the content (text and illustration) and the matter (title, copyrights, and extras). Picture books are also heavily illustrated and can be a single-page or two-page spread.
Moving on to the next levels: early-readers, although heavy on the illustrations, have more text than picture books. That is because children at this stage should be able to read on their own.
Chapter books have very little illustration; perhaps a few concept arts. The sentences become more complex, with longer paragraphs.
While middle grade, which has the structure of a novel with subplots and detailed descriptions, doesn’t have illustrations. Likewise, young adult novels tackle more complex themes, and in a lot of instances are read by a wider adult audience (Harry Potter, anyone?).
The chart below summarizes the main differences between these categories. Please note that the target number of words in each category is on average based on the publishing standards. Certain categories or subcategories—such as sci-fi or YA fantasy—allow for a bit of leeway with some books reaching a word count of 90,000.
As a self-publishing children’s author, you have a little legroom to play with these numbers as long as you keep the quality of your work (Just don’t go overboard). As far as my observations go, the indie authors who work to self-publish children’s books tend to follow the industry standards.
Finding a children’s book illustrator
During your journey to self-publish children’s books, the work with the illustrator might be one of the most fun parts of the entire process (especially if you are a creator by heart). You are in complete control. However, if you are not prepared, it can also go the other way.
That is because you can find children’s book illustrators anywhere. There are several freelance sites where you can find artists easily.
The issue here is to find the right children’s book illustrator. The one who is skilled, professional, and timely.
Then, we come back to the topic of researching. You will need to do research to find the one who matches your taste, budget, and timeline. Fear not, I got you covered; hold this thought.
Like editors, you will also find several types of children’s book illustrators: the ones who use specific materials or tools, follow a certain style, or accept commissioned work or work-for-hire.
But when you do your due diligence, you are most likely to choose the artist who aligns closely with your vision. This goes to say, your extra work also prevents headaches down the road.
After researching and finding the right illustrator for you, the next very important aspect is communication. Be sure to communicate with the artist to learn about their creative process, timeline, and other important details, such as revisions policy.
Set clear expectations on the scope of work from the start and also have a plan for the contingencies. You don’t want to fall into the trap that happened to me.
During the creation of Giggly Bear Fun Trip in Yellow Bus, the illustrator gave me a one-month timeline. One month passed. Two months went by. Then, it ended up turning into three months, four months, and before I knew it, six months had already passed. So, the delayed illustrations were my first hurdle.
The illustrator had given me an estimated time at the beginning of our working together, but couldn’t fulfill this timeline for various personal reasons.
Now you can see, there is never enough planning when it comes to self-publishing children’s books.
Specifications for the Artwork
When you work with a children’s book illustrator as an indie author, it is important to provide clear specifications for the illustrations. In this area, there are several points to take into consideration.
*What is the layout of your book?
Your book will have a portrait, landscape, or square format.
*What is the print size of your book?
If you plan to produce your children’s books in print, you’ll need to have this clear before you start.
There are different print sizes available. This availability may vary depending on the ink you choose: black ink (most commonly used in genres other than children’s) or color ink (picture books, books with illustrations, arts, or photography).
The print size may also vary depending on the distributor you use. Some distributors have more options than others, depending on the style you choose.
Here are some of the available and popular choices for children’s picture books:
5.5 x 8.5
6″ x 9″ (US trade – available on KDP, IngramSpark, and BookBaby)
6.14″ x 9.21″
7″ x 10″
8″ x 10″ (Portrait – available on KDP, IngramSpark, and BookBaby)
8.5″ x 8.5″ (Square – available on KDP, IngramSpark, and BookBaby)
8.5″ x 11″ (Letter – available on KDP, IngramSpark, and BookBaby)
9″ x 7″ (Landscape – available on BookBaby)
10″ x 10″ (Large square – available on BookBaby)
* Do you want your illustrations to be full-bleed or not?
The books whose illustrations run in full-bleed, have them extend to the edges of the page. On the illustrations that are not full-bleed, there will be margins around each side.
When you self-publish children’s books, it is very important to let the illustrator know about your choice for several reasons. When your hardcover/paperback book goes into production, the edges are usually trimmed off during the print process. For you not to have any of your images cut off, you will need to add a bleed (the area that extends beyond the trim line). For the same reasons, the bleed is also included on the covers during their creation.
In practical terms, if you add 0.125″ (3.2 mm) of bleed on each side of your illustrations for an 8.5″ x 8.5″ picture book (the size I use on my picture books) or to your covers (the standard on places such as KDP), then the final illustrations will need to be 8.75″ x 8.75″ in order for you to have all your images according to plan.
*Do you want your text to be on the images or the page?
This is another important aspect to let the illustrator know. If the artist will be the one who will put the text on the image—like in my Giggly Bear’s book—she or he will need to have a visual on where to position the text without compromising the images.
Ditto if you want the text directly on the page, the formatter/designer will take care of this process, but the illustrator still needs to have this information.
Work with a designer (formatter)
Formatting your books is another area that works differently when you self-publish children’s books.
The designer (or formatter) is the person who will format your book properly, according to the specifications of the distributors (KDP, IngramSpark, Draft2Digital, Smashwords, and so forth).
Their role is not to be confused with the illustrator. I was guilty of this when I first started. Though many illustrators also work as formatters (especially freelance artists) or know how to do it, they are not the ones in charge of the formatting process.
And for this process, you should be very meticulous in vetting the designer who will work with you. Make sure they have experience formatting to the platform you want to publish.
Once I worked with someone who was highly skilled in formatting books for Kindle and what used to be called CreateSpace. As expected, she did an excellent job with my book on those platforms. But when I uploaded the files on IngramSpark, I had problems. There was an error with the EPUB and the cover was not up to specifications.
After getting in touch with an IngramSparks’ representative, I found out that the EPUB file was too small and there was an issue with the cover size. That is when the person I spoke to recommended using their cover template for uploading.
So, there I went again, rushing to find a skilled person to fix those issues so I could upload my file on time. In other words, within the time that aligned with my scheduled release.
Now, as a final note on formatting, if you are one of those indie authors who format your books yourself, be extremely thorough with the specifications for each distributor. This will save you a lot of time and keep your stress level at a minimum.
Keep in mind that there are a lot of intricacies when formatting children’s books, especially picture books. I’m talking about the type of details that people who are used to formatting for non-children genres or who use simple programs such as Word, will not pick up.
A lot of publishing houses and experienced children’s book designers/formatters use advanced programs such as Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, or Photoshop. So keep this in mind if you decide to dive into this undertaking.
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Part III – Distribution
Distributing your children’s books
Once you receive your files from the designer (or if you prepared it yourself) and they are ready for uploading, you will work on distribution.
Here is the part where you have to be very clear about your goals and strategies.
A lot of children’s authors see great success with their ebooks. Others, with the print version of their manuscripts (ones who write picture books). Therefore, they have their preferences in terms of where and how to distribute their children’s books.
For example, some indies go exclusive on Amazon and default to “expanded distribution.” Other youth authors see the bigger picture and don’t want to limit themselves when they have a wider market that they can explore in other places.
I’m the latter. First, I don’t like to put my eggs in one basket. Second, the children’s book market is vast, so why limit myself to one place? When I think about distributing my manuscripts wide, I think about getting them in several PODs (print-on-demand).
The POD model for children’s publishing
Nowadays, with the explosion of the indie publishing industry, the ease with which you can self-publish children’s books reflects in the variety of PODs you find. Now you have Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), IngramSpark, Draft2Digital (offering ebook distribution and print, in beta), BookBaby, Lulu, and others.
As a publisher yourself, once you decide the one or ones you will work with, you will follow the guidelines laid out on their website. The entire process in itself is pretty straightforward. Once you follow the prompts, usually the PODs’ dashboards guide you through the entire process.
If you have problems with your files, as I had with mine, their system will let you know. In most cases, you will get a note specifying the issue and how you should fix it. In case you can’t identify the problem, you can always contact their support.
Please note: if you are a beginning author, or just starting to self-publish children’s books, print-on-demand (POD) companies are not publishers. They are the point of distribution of your product (in this case, kid’s books) to the market (consumer, bookstores, libraries, etc).
Some of them offer self-publishing services such as design, formatting, marketing, consultation, and more. They are called print-on-demand because they provide print services for (paperback/hardcover) according to one’s needs. For instance, if you want to print a couple or a dozen copies of your children’s book to have with you, you can do that. Likewise, a retail customer can have the choice to print hundreds to thousands of copies as well.
My point is, the POD model should not be confused with vanity presses (companies that charge you money to “self-publish” your books and call themselves publishers) either. When you self-publish children’s books, besides being the author, you are the publisher.
Traditional publishers don’t charge you for anything. They pay you an advance or royalties, based on the contract you signed with them.
Print-on-demand (POD) distributes your books and may charge for other services involved in the publishing process.
Part IV – Marketing & Promotion
How to market your children’s books
What would our books be without marketing and promotions, right?
Well, this might be a gray area for some children’s authors, especially for the ones who cringe when they hear the word “marketing.”
But having a marketing strategy is not only a necessity, it is a big factor that determines your success as an indie author.
Let’s face it, unless you are a big name celebrity, brand, author, or have an established platform and readership, your books will not sell by themselves. You need to put an effort into promoting them. Even big-name celebrities do their due diligence and promote their books everywhere when they have to. So, it will be no different when it comes to you.
The ideas and strategies I’m discussing ahead have been widely used by children indie authors. You can work on several strategies. You can focus on one or maybe a couple. You can test around and see what works for you. You will be the one responsible for finding your sweet spot.
Some of these have worked for me better than others. Regardless, all of them can be effective if executed properly; you must put in the effort and have the right plan. Here are invaluable ways to market your children’s books, in no particular order:
To say that reviews are important, at this point, would be an understatement. Reviews are vital for readers to decide about reading (and hopefully buying) your book or not. So, the more of them you have, the better.
The challenge for many children’s authors or authors of the youth is in how to get book reviews or finding reviewers. But there are several options to choose from.
If you are looking for an editorial review, the ideal situation—and this is why I stress the importance of having a plan—is to contact review places well before your book launch.
Places such as Kirkus Review, Booklife by Publisher’s Weekly, Readers’ Favorite, The New York Review of Books, and other well-respected ones receive a lot of submissions. Some are very particular in how they accept the ARC for reviews. So for those places, plan at least six-month in advance.
Overall, the goal when looking for reviewers is to reach as many as you can so you can increase your chances of having more reviews. This will also work in your favor if you start to do this early. A minimum of three months before the book release is a safe timeline. That is because, like anybody else, reviewers are busy. So if you contact them well in advance, allowing plenty of time for their review, that increases your chances of getting a reply.
Now, a word of caution when reaching out to book reviewers. Make sure to read their guidelines and follow their specifications to a tee. Several reviewers accept a broad range of genres. Others only read a few, including, children, teens, and young adult genres. So, it is crucial to understand the do’s and don’ts of requesting book reviews from these reviewers.
Book Blog Tours
If you are looking for an inexpensive and fun way to get publicity for your book, then book blog tours are an option.
Working with book bloggers who have a big and loyal readership helps maximize this strategy. That is because in blog tours your content is shared with targeted readers in high traffic blogs, for a good duration of time.
This strategy is one that you can even align with book reviews since many bloggers provide both services. This way, you kill two birds with one stone.
Book tours may come in the form of packages or a standalone service. But whatever format you choose, the key here, again, is planning.
Best of all is that a lot of book bloggers are willing to help you.
Street teams are another valuable strategy used by many authors on their journey to self-publish children’s books. This is especially true if you have an author platform and engage with readers regularly.
Because your readers and fans, who love your work and can’t wait for the next installment of your middle-grade novel, are excited to spread the word about your next release.
This is a win-win for both readers and writers. You, as a children’s author, will have your fans promote your new book, possibly even buying (a big boost right there). Readers take advantage of the perks involved in the Street Team activities such as free ARC, ebooks, excerpts from your materials, shout-outs, and many other creative things that you can include to engage and reward them for their support.
Social Media platforms
In this new digital era, where everything is online, I’m a big proponent (and user) of social media and social media marketing strategies. And I’ll tell you more. If you don’t have a presence on any social media or don’t care to engage in any platform, you are missing out on a chunk of opportunities BIG time.
Social media is a powerful way to engage with readers, listen and participate in conversations, build a community of readers and followers, boost your author platform, and more. I could continue with an extensive list of reasons, but at this point, you get the idea. And the best part: It’s free!
There is no right or wrong in terms of social media, so long as you follow the platform rules and guidelines. Some writers prefer one channel more than others. You should pick the one(s) where you feel most comfortable with and start experimenting.
I do have my favorites and after a lot of testing, trials and errors, I started to see some patterns that may help you, depending on your goals.
Facebook and Twitter are the social media of choice for a lot of writers, including children’s authors. And we can see why. Despite being the old kid on the block, those platforms are very easy to use from your desktop (unlike Instagram whose majority of its functionality happens from the app on your smartphone).
Not only that, but talking specifics, on Facebook you can easily join a plethora of writing, promotions, and publishing groups targeting children’s authors or authors of the youth, which is my favorite part. That allows you to connect with fellow writers, commiserate with them, create potential partnerships, or even build friendships.
Facebook is a great place to participate in groups made for readers, take part in conversations, and see what they are craving in terms of reading.
You can even create your own Facebook group if you want.
The downside to Facebook is that, for a few years now, the platform stopped giving organic traffic on pages. In other words, if you want to promote your author platform or the page for your picture book characters or middle-grade novel (like many authors of the youth do), you will have to pay for Ads (more about this later).
Twitter is a place where writers tend to engage in a lot of conversations using hashtags. There, you’ll find a place where editors and literary agents also congregate. Book reviewers and bloggers can be found here, as well.
Because of the nature of Twitter (a conversation using few characters), I believe it is a great channel for promotions. I tend to tweet and retweet a lot of children-related material while there.
However, I believe Instagram tops Twitter in terms of the presence of book bloggers and reviewers. Instagram is all about creativity and inspiration. So, a lot of “bookinstagrammers” love to share their passion for books on this channel. Instagram gives you a big chance to extend your reach and engagement through the use of hashtags (up to 30, to be precise) as well.
Also, Instagram is a platform that a lot of moms, teens, and young adults tend to engage with. That said, if you are a children’s author or writer of young adult material you should definitely be there.
Another platform that offers endless possibilities, but that I believe is neglected by children’s authors and authors in general, is Pinterest (my favorite of all). Perhaps it is because people don’t understand how this platform works and how Pinterest can help with your children’s book marketing strategies.
Pinterest is not just about the boards and pretty pins, but about collaboration and connection. And this can take you a long way in your book marketing and children’s self-publishing journey.
This is another one of my favorites. Guest posting is an invaluable way to boost your children’s author platform.
When you guest post on someone’s website, not only are you sharing your knowledge but you are also establishing yourself as an authority on the subject you are discussing.
It gives you the ability to put your information (including your books) in the bio, which is another way for people to learn about you.
And you usually get a link back to your website, which helps your SEO—higher SEO leads to better rankings. A better position in a search engine makes it easier to find your books.
Facebook & Amazon Ads
You can also use Ads on Facebook and Amazon. Another powerful option that many authors swear by.
I have experimented with Facebook Ads on several occasions and I can say that they work. Though they are invaluable, this is more of an advanced strategy. So I will not go over it here. There are plenty of resources out there for Facebook and Amazon Ads, including the course by Mark Dawson from Self Publishing Formula.
For now, if you are just starting, stick with the simple tools until you get the hang of things. You don’t want to stretch yourself thin. So focus is key.
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Self-Publish Children’s Books Final Considerations
I hope this comprehensive guide on how to self-publish children’s books comes in handy and gives you a solid framework on the entire process.
I’ve been there, and I know what it feels like when you don’t know how and where to start.
Though the topics in this material are not completely exhausted, at least they can answer some of your burning questions on “how can I do this…?” when self-publishing your kid’s manuscripts.
If you have questions and comments, don’t hesitate to give me a buzz. Leave me a comment below. I would love to know how your journey to self-publish children’s books is going.
Now go get publishing!
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