Updated: Aug 8
WHERE TO BEGIN
You’ve decided to write a children’s picture book. You can visualize it, and you’ve written down a few ideas. What do you do next? How do you turn your idea into a physical book that you’re ready to release to the world? In this blog post, I will share with you some general information about my experiences with self-publishing from concept to reality using a Print on Demand (POD) service. It may seem like an overwhelming venture to take on, but if you tackle it in steps, it will result in the finished product that you want.
When writing fiction, your personal experience, and the experiences of people around you are great places from which to draw inspiration. I wrote my first book based on the beautiful relationship between my mother and my niece. I authored a poem that was based on their interaction which resulted in the book, Grandma Had a Grandma Too. Universal themes and classic experiences, and current topics concerning children make for great content and will be relevant for generations to come. Talking to children is a key step because they are your audience, and have no problem sharing what they like.
Writing the book is fun, and the process of publishing can be fun as well if you approach it with a plan in place. I did a lot of research and I learned by trial and error through the process of publishing my first book. I want to share with you some of my experiences with writing children’s picture books for the 3–8-year-old age group to help your journey be a little easier.
DOING YOUR RESEARCH
If you are self-publishing, you control practically everything concerning creating your book from start to finish. Most authors will write their own text unless they hire a ghostwriter. If you are blessed enough to be a writer and illustrator, that is even better. But chances are you will more than likely hire an artist to create your illustrations.
Decide what you want to write about. Make sure that you are writing to your audience’s reading level.
Pick a catchy title. You might have one in mind before you start writing your book, or it can come to mind later in the writing process. The order doesn’t matter, but you must eventually settle on one.
Set a realistic timeline. Deciding to publish a children’s picture book in 30 days is a bit aggressive. Six months to a year is more doable, but that will depend on you and your graphic artist’s schedule. Once you hire your graphic artist, you can set a realistic timeline from creation to launch.
Educate yourself about self-publishing. You must understand the process. You do not have to be an expert, but you should learn enough to understand what needs to be done.
Choose a publication date. You should have a schedule to ensure that you stay on task and that your book launches on your desired date.
Set a budget. How much do you want to spend on your graphic artist, editor, website, and social media presence?
Marketing. Start thinking about how you will market the book before it is complete. Who are you marketing to outside of e-commerce? Family members will probably be the first to purchase your book. Are you a member of a writing or author group, a sorority, a church choir, a school district, or a local library? All of these groups can be a crucial part of your audience.
WRITING YOUR CONTENT
Writing your book is fun but it must be organized. When writing a children’s book using age-appropriate words for the children’s reading level is a must.
Editing and proofreading are important. Using grammar and spell check to proof and edit your book is fine, but you should also invest in editing software like Grammarly.
Hire a professional editor to proofread and edit your book. Even the most seasoned and successful writers have an editor. You can read your book repeatedly and still make spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Sometimes we cannot see clearly the things that are closest to us. An editor will catch these mistakes.
Choosing the number of pages. Thirty-two (32) pages are the industry standard with children’s picture books, but you can have less or more. POD services have a minimum number of pages that they will accept. Knowing the number of pages will help you stay on task with writing the proper amount of content.
HIRING A GRAPHIC ARTIST AND EDITOR
Work for hire. When hiring an editor and graphic artist, you should know how much it will cost before you begin. Ask for a proposal that covers the scope of the work, including revisions. An executed contract with clear deliverables and a timeline is imperative.
Choosing a graphic artist or an illustrator. Choosing your illustrator is extremely important because this is the person who will visually convey your words. The design will have an impact on your audience and those visuals should catch the reader’s attention and keep them engaged. You want the wow factor.
I hired a graphic artist because she understands illustration as well as formatting and layout. An illustrator might not have that skill set and you may find yourself hiring a graphic artist later to layout your book, which will cost more money. The person you hire should have POD experience or understand how to navigate the process. Treat hiring a graphic artist as if you were searching for the right employee. Reach out to artists whose style you like. Most will have a website that includes a portfolio of their work. You can also ask for a sample illustration of one of your book pages.
Choosing an editor. Experience is important when deciding on the right editor. Ask for a resume or references from previous clients. What is the cost of their services? What is the turnaround time? Do they charge per word or per page? How many revisions are included in the contract?
Choosing the POD service. I’ve used both Ingram Spark and Amazon/KDP to publish my books. Each POD service has different publishing specifications and they each have pros and cons. Do you want to publish a print version only, or do you want to publish an e-book as well? Familiarize yourself with their formatting instructions. Do your research so that you have a general understanding of certain common terms like Dots per inch (dpi), fonts, trim size, bleed, and more.
Shop around for someone that is a good fit for you. Be sure that you pick a graphic artist and editor who is a good communicator, and open to suggestions and revisions. This person will become a part of your world and you want your working relationship to be pleasant. Remember, this book is your baby.
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
There are some items that are required when publishing a book.
ISBN – The International Standard Book Number is a numeric commercial book identifier assigned to each separate edition of your book. You will need a different ISBN for all versions of your book. (Paperback, hardcover, e-book, etc.)
Barcode – a barcode for your book is the graphical representation of a book’s ISBN and price. It is scanned when your book is purchased at retailers and tracks inventory.
LCCN – The Library of Congress Control Number is a unique identification number that the library of congress assigns to the catalog record created for each book in its cataloged collections. Librarians use it to locate a specific LOC catalog record in the national databases. -www.loc.gov.
Copyright – Copyright is a type of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship as soon as an author fixes the work in a tangible form of expression. In copyright law, there are a lot of different types of works, including paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, sound recordings, computer programs, books, poems, blog posts, movies, architectural works, plays, and so much more! - copyright.gov.
Setting your book price is important. You want it to be competitive with other books in the industry, and you don’t want to over or under-price it.
BOOK COVER AND LAYOUT
What is your book size and layout? Your POD service will have a list of their accepted book sizes. I chose 8.5 x 8.5 for my books.
A good way to make decisions about the look of your book is to check out bestselling books that are similar to yours. You can search e-commerce websites like Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Visit your local bookstores and libraries to see what is on their shelves. What is currently on the New York Times Bestsellers list? What is in your child’s or grandchild’s home library? What are the classic books that are still popular today? Think Shel Silverstein and the Giving Tree, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, anything by Dr. Seuss, or the books on my website, wink wink.
What should you look for when reviewing these books? What fonts and colors were used? Look at the design of the book cover, front and back. What size and style are the text? How many words are in the book? What is the flow of the prose, or is it written in rhyme? How many words are on each page?
When do you want to release your book? Close to the Christmas holiday is a perfect time because books make a great gift. A late spring release date is great in preparation for summer reading programs to help kids keep up with their reading skills during the break. Your release date is totally up to you.
Touch and feel the books on the shelves. What size is the book? What colors were used? What do the illustrations look like?
Look at the author bios. What information did they include?
You have creative freedom when writing your own book, but you should be mindful of industry standards. You don’t want to get deep into designing your book and have to make corrections later. It will cost you time and money. Starting off right will help you in the end.
A FEW FINAL SUGGESTIONS AND THOUGHTS
Choose people from your network and some children to read your book and provide feedback before you start the illustration process. Getting feedback from a writing group is ideal because they will most likely be unbiased and not worried about hurting your feelings. Sometimes family and friends feel uncomfortable about critiquing your work. You want people who will be brutally honest, but not too brutal.
A website and social media presence is important. It would be great if your graphic artists could also design your website and create your marketing materials not only for consistency but because you have already established a relationship.
Make sure that you back up your work. Save it in several places and keep a hard copy. Anything can happen and you don’t want to lose what you’ve worked so hard to create.
Write your bio and a short and long description of your book. You can do it yourself or hire someone to do so.
Order a proof of your book before you go live. Reviewing a physical copy of your book is a must. Errors can occur during the printing process that do not show up in a digital proof. Also, if you have chosen to release an e-book as well, make sure that it downloads correctly to reading devices.
Research social media and the use of keywords, hashtags, and SEO. Social media is important for the life of your book. Choosing the right keywords and hashtags is important for the life of your book. You want people inside and outside of your network to find your book.
I hope that these tips will help you to start your writing and publishing journey.