Self-publishing a children’s book is easy peasy, lemon squeezy! Almost anyone with a computer and some free time can do it. What is not easy, however, is self-publishing a children’s book that is actually good, and that sells well.
I’ve been illustrating children’s books professionally for almost nine years, and along the way I’ve dealt with my fair share of first time self publishers. I’ve enjoyed every single one of them, but I have also realised that while most self published newbie authors never make their dream of being the next Roald Dahl, there are some essential tips that increase their chances of being read, reviewed and possibly even picked up by a big name publishing house. So before you reach for the pen or your laptop, here are my top ten tips to bear in mind when self publishing your first children’s book.
1. Read, Read and Read Some More
Chances are, if you’re passionate about writing, you’re passionate about reading. So you’ve probably already got this one covered. Just in case, read some more anyway! Reading any genre for any audience will help your writing skills regardless, but focusing on books that are written for your intended target audience is a must. Don’t just read them though, analyse them too. How many words are on each page? How many words in total? Are they complicated words? Do they have illustrations?
2. The PPP system, or POINT PER PAGE
I invented the PPP system to help authors focus on quality, not quantity. Each page of your book should have one major point that is essential to your story. It could be introducing a major character, an action that moves the story forward, or another event that is an important part of your story. If you have a page which you could take out without affecting the storyline, then leave it out. Tackle each page individually and ask; What is the point to this page? A 14 page book should have 14 points to the story. If one page has two points, consider separating it into two pages. (Without going into too much detail in this blog post, you can have secondry points that accompany your main point on each page, but more about that another day…)
3. Don’t Quit While You’re Ahead
You’ve spent countless hours writing your first story and you’ve finally finished! Right? Wrong! This is only the beginning, what you have just finished, is the first of many drafts. It may seem daunting, but you’re going to be re-writing this draft over and over, and only after you’ve re-written it enough to know it off by heart, and are possible even sick of the sight of it, then you’ll finally be ready to let people see it. Which leads us nicely onto the next tip…
4. Rely on Feedback from more than your friends and family
Your nearest and dearest love you to bits and everything you do in their eyes will always be great! While having them read your story and give you their opinion is not a bad thing, don’t rely on their feedback alone. Reach out to people who may be a little more honest and critical, maybe even find someone who you know will pick faults with your work. Why? Because you will get readers who will do just that, and you’re looking for honest feedback so you can test your story on a real person and use their feedback to improve your writing. As an additional tip, it’s worth noting that not all critiques could actually lead you to improve your story. There will always be someone who will find errors or have something negative to say about your work, even Harry Potter was turned down for being ’too complicated for children to follow’ by many publishers before being picked up by Bloomsbury. Your job is to listen to that feedback without feeling too offended, and also be the judge of whether it is useful or not.
5. Think Ahead / Do your Research
At least half of the first time authors I work for don’t think about who they are going to publish their book with until after it’s finished. There are many benefits to planning ahead, such as being able to save enough money, setting your launch around popular holidays or spreading some of the work to make it less stressful, but sometimes it will also cost you more money and effort if you don’t plan ahead. There are publishers who will only accept certain book sizes, and page numbers, which would mean a lot of wasted time if you create a beautiful book only to find you have to re-draw all the illustrations to fit a different ratio or cut out some of your pages.
Things to consider;
Hardback, paperback or Ebook?
Hardback, paperback or Ebook?
Is the company charging you per book, or taking a percentage of sales?
Will the company let you distribute with other companies or are you limited to their customers only?
Do you need an ISBN number?
If you’re unsure who to self publish with, you can read my previous blog about Self Publishing here.
6. Make your characters relatable
Children come in all shapes and sizes, and no two children are the same. As an illustrator I’m very aware of making the characters appealing to real children.
Children have a strange sense of fashion – think trainers with fairy dresses, bright stripy socks with polka dot jumpers. Children wear glasses, have plasters on their knees, their noses are always running, they have paint on their hands. Some children have afros, some children have an abundance of bright red hair, others have ponytails. All of these details make your characters not only more believable, but a child will subconsciously be hunting for someone in the book who looks like them, and if they can’t find anyone to relate to, they might not be interested. So don’t limit yourself – let your imagination run wild!
It’s worth noting that in order to be realistic and relatable, you shouldn’t focus too much on gender specifics. While a lot of little girls love pink, there are plenty who are also obsessed with dinosaurs and play football. Children are more complex then gender stereotypes.
7. Make your title stand out
Aside from your cover, it’s the one thing that people will judge your book on. It’s the first thing they read, and your first chance to grab their attention among all the other titles. Make it fresh, catchy and different! There are a lot of books along the lines of ‘Simon Goes to the Park,’ but not so many named ‘Kit Kitten and the Topsy, Turvy feelings.’ If your title has three words, one of those should be your main theme, and one of them should be your character’s name. Ideally, we should get the general idea of what your story is about, just by your title alone. Here are three titles I recently illustrated, can you guess what the stories might be about?
1. I Have Asthma, What Does That mean?
2. Little Meerkat’s Big Panic
8. Promote Your book… without paying a penny
You may dislike Facebook and all it stands for, but if you’re not utilizing it to promote your book, you’re missing out on one of the biggest advertising outlets available to you, which also just happens to be completely free. Sign up, create a pgae for your book, and start sharing! The same goes for Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, Google Pages and more. While it may seem pointless at first, the trick is to interact with other authors and those who share similar interests, and post regularly. Try not to make everything you share about your book, alternate it with relevant articles and share other author’s books to gain interest within the community.
Aside from social media, there are plenty of other ways to promote your book on a budget, a lot of them far more effective than paid advertising. Such as arranging book signings or visiting local children. Teachers and Carers are always looking for guests to read to children in a safe environment. Get your illustrator to create some colouring and activity sheets and visit a local school, nursery, club or church to spread the word about your book whilst also helping your local community.
9. Join the Club
There are some great societies, clubs and groups for authors that are both free and paid for. The benefits of joining these groups is that you can learn a lot of tips and tricks direct from those who have been there and done that, and share your own experiences too. Make friends, chat and listen to others without trying to sell your book to learn invaluable advice and have real-life support. Check out the links below to find what groups I, and some of my clients regularly contribute to.
10. Get a great illustrator
If you’ve written a brilliant story, you need brilliant illustrations to go with it. Don’t undo all your hard work by settling for less than average illustrations because you know someone who will do it for free. It’s a common phrase, but you really do get what you pay for. Luckily, if you’re on a budget, there are ways to cut costs and still end up with a great illustrator!
Negotiate on price – an illustrator who really likes your script may be willing to drop their price to suit your budget.
Use one of your internal illustrations as the front cover
Use ‘spot’ illustrations instead of full page illustrations
Have less illustrations in your book and use illustrated borders around the text only pages
Find an illustrator that will allow you to pay in installments rather than all up front
Most importantly, your cover should really, really stand out. It is the first thing your customers will see, and yes, they will be judging your book by it! Take a look at some of these covers I illustrated, and if you like, you can contact me for a quote by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or see more of my work on my website at www.izzybean.co.uk