First of all, sit back and enjoy the feeling of having completed a project you worked hard on! A children’s book is a wonderful pursuit and documenting, writing and sharing it with the favorite little humans in your life can be such a fun and rewarding experience. Congratulations!
After you’re 100% happy with the text, it’s obviously the moment to think of how it can reach as many small readers as possible. Here are your options:
- Work with a publisher;
- Print locally a small batch for you and your family;
I will explain how each of these options works so you can choose the best scenario for your own kids’ story.
1. Work with a children’s book publisher
Working with a publisher means you don’t have to worry about any of the practical aspects of publishing a book. From choosing an illustrator, to designing the book, promoting it and distributing it to bookshops, all these are the publisher’s job! You’d also get royalties directly to your bank account, for each sold copy of the book. Sounds great, right?
However, there are a few downsides when working with a publisher. First, the competition. Just as you, there are tons of children’s books authors out there who want to be published. Many of the publishing houses don’t even have the submissions open, and if they do, there is such a long waiting list that it might take months until someone actually gets to read your book.
Another downside is that if they decide to take you on board, it might be necessary to edit your story, depending on the editor’s feedback. This could turn it into something different than what you initially intended.
Nonetheless, if you believe your story is very special and can get itself noticed in a big pile of manuscripts, by all means, submit it to a publisher! Working with professionals from the start can make your writing career much easier and your book can be read by many more people!
Please be mindful, though. There are lots of children’s books publishers out there, and even if you really need their services in the beginning, if your text is good enough, they will make a lot of money off you. That is, this is a symbiotic relationship. Don’t go for publishing houses that charge money upfront for reading your work. Do your research, look for other books published by that particular publisher (and their success) and make sure you build a solid work relation with a trust-worthy company, not with someone who takes advantage of you.
Tips when looking for a publisher:
- Look them up online. You can start with this Wikipedia list, this directory (for UK publishers), or simply google “Children’s books publisher + your country/state/city” if you prefer someone local;
- Check out their website and examples of previously published books. Do they have a similar style or audience as your story? If so, they might be a fit. If not, keep looking.
- Get in touch or directly submit your manuscript. Some publishers share the status of the submissions on the website. If they are open, go ahead and submit your story. If the status is not made public, you can just shoot an e-mail to the address under the contact information.
- Don’t copy-paste e-mails. Just as when you apply for a regular job, it’s important to address directly the person you’re writing to (if this information is available on the website), tell them why you think they’d be a good fit for publishing your book, and introduce in a few words your story.
- Don’t give up. Receiving many negative answers or not getting any replies to your e-mails can feel frustrating and can definitely make you think the story is just not-good-enough. This is not always the case! As I was saying above, publishers can be very busy, or your story came in a moment when they are not looking for new talent. Keep on trying, check in after a couple of months and most importantly, never stop believing in you and your story.
To sum up, working with a publisher is the best option for you if:
- You have a lot of time to do research on publishing houses;
- You don’t mind sending lots of e-mails and submissions until you hit the jackpot;
- You know your story is amazing and it will be a hit, it’s just a matter of time until it gets discovered;
- You have little to no budget and zero knowledge on any practical aspect of publishing a book;
- You don’t get discouraged easily;
- You’re not in a rush with this project;
If spending hours on doing online research on children’s book publishers and writing submissions is not for you, or you simply don’t have the time, energy and patience to go through a long process with far-fetched results, maybe the best option would be to self-publish.
Self-publishing usually means being in charge of everything: yes, you need to find an illustrator, a designer to do your book layout, you need to be tech-savvy and use efficiently the publishing platform and yes, you also have to promote, market and distribute your book.
If you can’t do everything (and hey, that’s pretty understandable!) hiring people to help you on the way also means you’d have to prepare a budget and be ready to invest in your book without having any certainty that “it will make it”.
There are many self-publishing platforms out there, such as Create Space (by Amazon) or Blurb. All these also offer a print-on-demand option. That means you don’t need to spend a fortune on ordering 1000 copies of the book. Instead, when one copy is sold, they print it and ship it directly to the buyer, and you’d get the royalties in your account.
Tips when self-publishing:
- Don’t cut corners. A poorly designed book cover, for example, can make potential buyers walk away without even reading a word of your wonderful text. This doesn’t mean breaking the bank, but choosing an artist who is upfront about the costs, whose services fit your budget and who knows his/her job well.
- After your book is designed and uploaded, order the sample copy! The feeling of seeing your “baby” on paper is amazing and you can also notice small issues here and there (if any!) that could still be fixed before going live.
- Promote, promote, promote! If you have an online following, go out there and tell them about your project! Share your backstory, how and why you wrote the book, ask them to support you, and don’t feel bad about it. Shameless self-promotion can feel very weird, but if people don’t know about the existence of your book, they won’t buy it.
- It’s not everything about social media. Share the news of your freshly-published book with your real-life friends, family, and workmates and ask them for support and feedback.
To sum up, self-publishing is the best option for you if:
- You want 100% control over how your children’s book turns out;
- You see the potential of your story and you have a budget to invest upfront, without any guarantee of its success;
- You have an online and/or offline audience who would be interested in your book;
- You really want to see your book on paper, professionally printed, with gorgeous illustrations;
- You want the book in your hands sooner than in a few year’s time;
- You are tech savvy and you can handle the dashboard of a self-publishing website;
- You are comfortable with self-promotion or ready to try it out!
3. Print locally a small batch for you and your family
You wrote a short story inspired by something smart your niece said or by a good-night story you used to tell your own kids when they were younger. You think it could be fun to have an actual book written by you and illustrated with cute characters resembling your grandchildren. You’re planning to prepare an extra special Christmas gift for a little human in your life. You wrote the book you wish it existed, explaining a certain issue your young students are dealing with.
There are many reasons why you’d like to print a small batch of soft-cover books, without going through the whole self-publishing process, and while keeping everything pretty easy and low cost.
If this is the case, here are some tips for you:
- Look for a good illustrator and graphic designer. If you find a person who can illustrate your book and also do the text layout and prepare the print-ready files, the whole process would be much easier and cheaper.
- Look for a good local print shop. Ask for offers at your local print shop, based on the specifications the designer recommends (the book size, the paper’s weight). They might not be able to do a hardcover book if you order only a few copies, but be open to what they can offer. A nice shiny booklet-type book can just do the trick and costs a tenth of what you’d pay on a similar product on a print-on-demand website.
To sum up, printing locally a batch of books is for you if:
- You’re not planning to make (too much) money out of your book;
- You have a limited budget, but still want to be able to see your story on paper;
- You want to share your story with a small audience, mostly friends and family;
- You don’t have too much knowledge of self-publishing, you don’t want to spend too much time on this or being an official “published author” is simply not a priority for you;
- You want the book fast and with a specific goal in mind (for example, make it in time for Santa’s visit);
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading! All these tips came from my experience as a children’s book illustrator and designer. I’ve worked with lots of new authors with high hopes of being published, with veterans of self-publishing and with grandparents who wanted to create a unique book for their grandkids.
Each project is different and each author comes with his/her own expectations on this exciting journey, so I really hope this information helped you decide how you’d like to proceed with your children’s book.