The secret to self-publishing children's books

The secret to self-publishing children’s books

Remember reading Dr. Seuss as a child? The oversized pages, rich with color and stylized text. The sturdy cover bent at the corners from being dragged around and propped open dozens of times. Fingerprints pressed into the glossy paper.

Children’s books contain magic other books cannot replicate. Strong, easy to relate to characters coupled with artwork draws children and parents alike into the story.

How do you capture that magic to write your own children’s book?

I’m glad you asked.

Unlocking the story

Don’t forget that a children’s story is still a story. The basic format you’re operating within isn’t changing. Just some of the rules and expectations.

With that in mind, it is imperative that you hold to storytelling norms. A children’s book still needs a beginning, middle, and end. Showing is still more important than telling. Picking a theme and holding to it is still a necessity.

The basic design of your story won’t be changing. So, start out like any storyteller with some outlining and basic character design. Treat this children’s book just like a novel or screenplay or any other written work.

Ralphy Raccoon: A Business Tale
Ralphy Raccoon: A Business Tale

What is unique when it comes to children’s books?

  • Characters

Weak characters will ruin any story, but for a children’s book in particular, you need characters who elicit a strong and immediate emotional reaction. If your audience doesn’t connect with the character immediately, they won’t stay interested in the story.

While all the elements of your book deserve attention, pay special time considering how you’ll represent your characters. The characters are who your readers (kids) will associate with most. You can use this to consciously make that connection much more clearly than a novelist can.

And because your story won’t have the length or depth of a novel, the connection must be made quickly.

  • Education (Goals)

Again, every book should have a clear goal. For a novel, it’s the culmination of the plot. For a memoir, it’s the revelation of a life.

For a children’s book, that goal is almost always an education in some fashion. Even if your children’s book is focused more on entertaining than educating, layering in education elements will help kids engage with the content. And it adds value, something important when it comes to marketing your children’s book.

  • Design

Most children’s books will lean heavily on illustrations to drive the story, with text accompanying as a supplement. Remember too that there almost always wants to be some elements that educate, and the text is a great way to add this content.

Think about how the book will be read—is your children’s book aimed at kids who will read themselves? Or are you aiming at a younger audience who will be read to by parents or teachers? Either way, you need to make the illustrations informative and clear, coupled with easy to follow text.

Building the Book

This is thankfully a bit easier to tackle. You’ll be looking at a couple of different sizes, all using essentially the same design.

Children’s books normally use the 8.5 x 11 or A4 format for a large portrait book or they use a square format, normally 8.5 x 8.5. You’ll definitely be using full-color interior printing.

The last crucial piece of the actual build is the font. I don’t want to say anything definitive because a children’s book is much more open than a novel or textbook in terms of acceptable fonts. I would lean toward clean, sans-serif fonts that are easy to read and look good at larger point sizes. Helvetica and Gill Sans are two commonly used fonts for the interior type.

Mommy, where do our Pediatricians come from?
Mommy, where do our Pediatricians come from?

Putting it Together

Are you writing and illustrating? Just writing? An illustrator with an idea that needs fleshing out?

From the very start of your children’s book project, you need a solid idea of how the pieces will come together. If you plan to write and illustrate, you’ve got a leg up on controlling the design work, but you’ll still need to carefully plan your book.

More than a typical book, design and planning are crucial to creating a children’s book. In many ways, creating a children’s book is an exercise in effective content marketing. Because content marketers know that effectively getting and keeping someone’s attention involves thorough planning and intentional execution. You won’t have space within the work to elaborate or explore ideas. Concision and clarity is of the utmost importance.

Here’s a quick rundown of some important pieces of the children’s book design:

  1. Written Story – write out the story along the same lines of a short story. Detail the scenes, the surrounding, the characters. Take care to pay special attention to the dialog and plot direction.
  2. Story Board – once you have the basic elements laid out, storyboard to plan the pages. Start sketching page art (even if you won’t be illustrating this is a good idea). You need to get a very clear vision of the way the story will look at this stage.
  3. Illustration – the art in your children’s book is vital. The pictures will catch kid’s attention and move them through the story. As such, you can’t skimp on the illustrations. If you’re doing them yourself get as much education about children’s book illustrations as you can find. If you’re hiring out, vet the artists and be sure to see plenty of samples before making a decision.

Solving the Puzzle

Creating any book is a grueling process. Children’s books are grueling while essentially being a puzzle. You need to craft all the content just like any book, but you have to solve the problem of ‘how do I assemble this for a reader very different than me?’

Researching—so basically, reading—other children’s books, especially popular ones, provide invaluable insight into what works for children’s books. Think about how the book hits those three key elements as you read through it:

  1. Characters
  2. Education
  3. Design

How does the author make the characters emotionally charged and compelling? What message is the book teaching? How is the design working to serve both the character and the message?

Amid those requirements, you have to find a way to make it amusing. That might end up being the trickiest part of all. Ever heard of a somber children’s book? Not likely. You can deal with complex issues, but the tone has to remain light. Otherwise, you risk losing your audience.

Does Broccoli Grow on Trees?
Does Broccoli Grow on Trees?

Self-publishing your Children’s book

All of the above advice is well and good. Lots of work sure. But not impossible.

Now you have to get it published.

Self-publishing is a great option because you can control all aspects of the project and use print-on-demand to keep overhead low. The other side of this is the cost to actually prepare the book. Hiring an Illustrator can be very expensive.

Don’t let that stop you though. There are some great resources out there. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a great place to learn more about creating children’s books and even offers an Illustrator’s Gallery to help find an illustrator for your book.

The Children’s Book Council offers more in the area of promotional assistance, but they also have a great FAQ Section for aspiring children’s book authors.

Like all self-motivated endeavors, there will be a lot of work involved, but if you are willing to put in the work, the reward can be tremendous!

Selling your Children’s book

Much like a self-published novel, selling your children’s book is going to be most successful if you can do it directly through a network of interested readers.

Now that gets challenging since this means you either need to establish connections with schools or kid’s groups, or you need a captive local audience (such as a bookstore connection) you can leverage. Both situations likely mean a lot of leg-work on your end.

Children’s book authors do have an edge over the novelist when selling by hand though. You can schedule a reading (again, you’ll need to establish connections to leverage first) at the local bookstore or library and literally read your book while showing the pictures. If it’s good, you’ve suddenly got a group of children excited about your book, which will translate into a group of parents excited about your book.

Driving traffic to a website to order can be more difficult, but not impossible. The cornerstone of your children’s book marketing efforts will always be your connections—those you have established and those you build through in-person readings.

The happily ever after…

If you’re dedicated to your story and ready to shoulder the work involved in crafting a children’s book, self-publishing is a great way to get the book into print. Get your ideas in motion, start story boarding those pages, and share your story with some eager young minds with a lot to learn and a craving for stories!

21 thoughts on “The secret to self-publishing children's books”

  1. Good article I have just finished two children’s books now it’s onwards to try and get them published ?

  2. Viviane JOHNSTON

    I enjoyed this compilation of good advice. I took notes of them and I am going to read once more my children’s stories with the eyes and mind of a teacher like Paul and see if they conform to all these criteria. I know it is difficult to write for children but I am prepared to work hard for it as I desire to achieve my goal: writing and illustrating books for children.
    Paul, watch this space… and many thanks for your very helpful article.

  3. Patricia Attwood-Smith

    Paul, My main Question is will Lulu let me include Both Illustrations and actual Photos in my children’s book project?

    1. Hi Patricia,
      Absolutely! The best thing to do is layout your book with all the images (illustrations and photographs) as a PDF. We can basically print whatever you can produce as a PDF.

  4. Hi Paul,
    I’ve just completed my first children’s collection – Sally’s Seaside Secrets : a Week at Whitby.
    There are 7 books – an adventure a day for Sally and the new friends she makes over the week. The adventures are all ‘secrets’ she keeps from the adults in her life – The Glamorous Grandma and The Grumpy Grandad, with whom she lives.
    I plan for Sally to have further ‘adventures’ in other locations as she searches for the mysterious thing called ‘a holiday’ that The Glamorous Grandma is excited about them all going on. The biggest secret – which the Glamorous Grandma and The Grumpy Grandad know, but the reader doesn’t – is Sally’s true identity. This won’t be revealed until the last series…or if series 1 and 2 don’t perform well. Once Sally’s secret identity is revealed, she is unlikely to have appeal, so the stories will end.
    My question is…is it better to release one book at a time and ‘kill’ the series on day 7 ( book 7) if the first 6 don’t take off? Or release all 7 and wait until after series 2 (another setting another 7 days/books) then decide whether to continue or kill?
    Hope that makes sense?
    Linda

    1. Hi Linda,
      That is a really a tough question. Part of me wants to say follow it through no matter what because I feel like your story should be completed, even if only for a handful of readers. On the other hand, the time, money, and energy that goes into promoting a book can be tremendous, and to continue putting all of that into a project that isn’t showing a return may not be a great idea.
      I think it comes down to your fan base. Start drumming up interest on social media, blog about the upcoming releases, etc.. Because your story has a unique form of serialization, I think you’re going to need to really push that angle.
      If it were me, I would go one day at a time for a week with the first run of 7 stories and see how they perform.

    2. Thanks for that, Paul.
      Your suggestion makes sense. I’ll have to get my act in order and get on with it.
      Kind regards,
      Linda

  5. I have finished a nice children’s book.also I plan to publish my book with lulu.bu I wonder how much will it cost me per book for a 38 page full color 8.5×11 book. I need to know this so that I can get books for my book signings.

    1. Hi James,
      The best way to get a price for your format is to plug in the specs on this page – http://www.lulu.com/create/books
      We also have Lulu xPress – a printing option that doesn’t include retail options, but might have better pricing for your full color book if you’re looking to order and ship the books to yourself for a signing.

    2. Hi Paul. I wrote a children’s books And wanted to get a little more information on book publishing with this company! Can you send some info to my email please?
      Carmen D

  6. I have finished a children’s book.also I do plan to publish with lulu.but I would like to know how much would it cost me for a 38 page full color book size 8.6×11. I need to know this so I can get books for my book signings.

  7. Thank you for this very informative post. I am a few buttons away from publishing on lulu. I just want to make sure everything is ready. I am not sure lulu has an option for hard cover? I was hoping to also publish in hard cover, someday, is that possible? Can I use my isbn from lulu to other publishing sites that have hard cover in any way?
    I’m trying out the content creation wizard now on lulu, and requested a print ready pdf file. The print ready file has white lines on all edges, is that like the cutting area? It will be gone when the book is actually printed, correct? I just want to make sure I’m doing this right. 🙂
    Thank God for online self publishing options like Lulu!

  8. Hi Paul would like to know ho can I go to the next steps for my children book.i have the stories written at this post by that’s all

    1. Hi Shayah,
      If you’re planning to use an illustrator, I would say that is your next step. Once you have a complete interior, it’s time for an edit or two (or three) to really clean up the content and truly finalize it.
      With all of that done, I recommend having a look at http://www.lulu.com/create/books to get some product ideas. The actual publishing process is substantially easier than the design and editing process, so once you’re ready to publish, you’re pretty close to the finish line!
      Best of luck with your self-publishing!

  9. Pearlie M. Banks

    I would information on how to get started writing a adult and children’s book and cost. Thanks.

  10. Hi Paul I would some advise please, I have finished my first children’s book including illustrations. I would like to publish it as ebook and hardcopy.

    1. Hi Mbonabi,
      That’s awesome, congratulations!
      I suggest starting on our Create Page (http://www.lulu.com/create/books) to find the dimensions you want to use and a template for the interior and cover. Then comes the process of laying out your book to match printer specifications. We have instructions for on our Knowledge Base (http://connect.lulu.com/en/categories/publish).
      Finally, for the ebook you’ll want to create a unique file and reformat the content to convert to an EPUB correctly. Our Knowledge Base has a lot of information on that as well. You can also check out our Toolkit page (https://toolkit.lulu.com/) for some downloadable guides to making an EPUB and to quickly convert from print files to ebook files.
      Best of luck with your publishing!

  11. Angela E. Harris

    Hi my name is Angela, I wrote my children’s book six years ago and got stuck trying to find the right fit for an illustrator. I want to make sure I own all the rights to my characters, I have the exact description for all of my character’s, however I am a writer not an artists. I don’t have a lot of money to invest, and plan to self publish. What is your advice to find an illustrator?

    1. Hi Angela,
      I think you’ve got a couple of options. One would be to hire a freelance artists and get the work done on commission. Reedsy or Fiverr are both good sites to look for freelance creators. The other option would be to find an artist through a local or online community and share the work. That would likely mean sharing the credit and revenue.

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