If you’re thinking about using your storytelling or illustrative skills to create a children’s book, you’re in the right place! Today, I’m covering everything you need to know to create, publish, and sell your children’s book.
Here are the basic steps to create a children’s book for publishing:
- Write and storyboard your children’s book
- Revise the text and illustrate the story
- Pick a self-publishing platform and get any templates/design specifications
- Design your children’s book interior and cover
- Publish your book!
The cost to publish a children’s book varies heavily based on your skills (will you illustrate or do you need to hire an artist?) and the publishing path you take. If you elect to self-publish, you will pay for editing, design, and printing. If you are lucky enough to land a contract with a traditional publisher, they typically pay for all the costs. But remember, you’ll be sharing a significant amount of your revenue with your publisher.
Before we dig into the technical aspects of how to make a book for kids, let’s first clarify what makes children’s books unique.
What Is A Children’s Book?
Generally, anything intended to entertain or educate kids using illustrations and text fits the definition of a children’s book. That can include children’s picture books for toddlers and goes right up to middle-grade books for young children. Young adult novels (otherwise known as YA novels) don’t fit as children’s books—these are closer to an adult novel.
To help make writing and publishing your picture book easier, here are three story elements to pay extra attention to when writing a children’s story:
The characters you design are the most crucial part of your children’s story. The kids who read (or have the book read to them) need to identify with the main character. That’s why most children’s books feature a child protagonist.
Your strong, well-developed character will need to learn something (or potentially teach something) during your book. You might create a short story that simplifies mathematics, explains how planes fly, or teach kids empathy. The goal of your story extends to help define your audience: if you’re writing a math book, your audience is children who are struggling with math.
Finally, there is the design. Keep it simple! Books for kids should be easy to understand and follow, with clear language and a compelling story. Avoid using complicated words or sentences. Your goal is to convey the story as simply as possible, with an emphasis on the illustrations.
Weak characters will ruin any story, but for early readers, you need characters who elicit a strong and immediate emotional reaction. If your target audience (the kids reading or being read your book) doesn’t connect with the character immediately, they won’t stay interested in the story.
As you create your story, be conscious of how you handle your characters. If you don’t spark your readers’ interest and build a connection between your readers and your characters, your story will fall flat.
And because your story won’t have the length or depth of a novel, the connection must be made quickly. I recommend studying the most popular children’s books with an eye for the author’s character development.
For a children’s book, the goal is almost always education. That could be school lessons like math or grammar, or you might teach moral or ethical lessons like acceptance and tolerance. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a children’s book anywhere that doesn’t teach a lesson, whether moral or academic.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be entertaining too. The best children’s books do both! Make your story so much fun that they won’t even realize they’re learning while reading it.
Don’t let that distract you from the lesson behind your book. Offering a lesson is the most important part of your children’s book and should be the first thing you plan when outlining the story.
Children’s books put the illustrations first. To make the story compelling, the text and the artwork must work together.
Think about how the book will be read—is your children’s book aimed at kids who will read themselves? The text will need to be slightly larger and you’ll need to pay attention to the complexity of your words and sentences.
Or are you aiming at a younger audience who will be read to by parents or teachers? Now you should make the text comfortable for an adult to read and place it so it’s not obstructing the image at all—parents need to be able to easily show their kids your illustrations!
You need to make the illustrations informative and clear, coupled with easy-to-follow text. If you’re an artist, you may be able to create your illustrations. If not, you may want to consider hiring an illustrator to help bring your vision to life.
Defining Your Reader And Buyer Audiences
As with any creative endeavor, children’s publishing is only going to be successful if you find the right audience. This is further complicated by the fact that you’ll be targeting two distinct audiences:
- The kids who read your story
- The parents/teachers who buy your story
The children your books are for are usually easier to sort out.
Children’s books can be targeted to specific age groups, like ‘toddlers’ and young readers. Generally, children’s books are for younger children. As kids get older and better at reading, middle-grade books feature more text, and storytelling elements are more appropriate. A middle-grade book will focus on helping older children hone their reading skills and build reading habits. Beyond middle grade, young adult stories are chapter books or novels targeted at teens.
The parents, teachers, and other adults who will buy the books are a bit harder to target. You need to be sure that your book cover artist has a clear sense of who will be buying the books so they can make it very clear what the book includes.
That means a cover that conveys the lessons your book includes while making it clear what age group will enjoy your book.
Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book
Self-publishing is a great option for authors because it allows them to have complete control over their work and keep costs low by using print-on-demand. Unlike many other self-publishing platforms, Lulu allows authors to self-publish their children’s books for free and retain all royalties from sales.
The other side of this is the associated costs of preparing your children’s book. Hiring an Illustrator can be very expensive. Page layout and editing add more costs.
Don’t let that stop you though. There are some great resources. 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.
Print-On-Demand For Your Children’s Book
Using a print-on-demand model means that you only pay for the copies of your book that you sell, rather than having to order and pay for a large print run up front.
Modern self-publishing platforms make it easier to publish a children’s book yourself. Once you’ve written the book, created the illustrations, and organized your pages you only need to upload your book’s files and start selling!
As you’re preparing your children’s book for publishing, be sure to use any available templates or sizing guides. Sites like Lulu make it free to upload and self-publish your book to sell, but it will still be on you to design and prepare your children’s book for printing!
Selling Your Children’s Book
Like any self-published book, selling your children’s book will be most successful if you have an established audience. That can be challenging; you need established connections with schools or kids groups or a captive audience (such as a social or email following).
More than any other kind of author, children’s book creators rely on in-person events. Finding a local bookstore that will host you allows you to read your entire book. If the kids in the crowd love it, there’s a very good chance they’ll be going home with a copy.
You can foster online relationships too. Look for communities of parents or teachers and look to build an audience there. Offering free extras on your website (maybe with a URL or QR code in the printed book) will help your customers find your site and potentially join your mailing list.
Using Lulu to self-publish your books also gives you the advantage of selling your children’s books directly on your website with Lulu Direct.
Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book
Is it difficult to self-publish a children’s book? Yes, it’s going to take some work. But it’s also a rewarding experience that allows you to help teach kids valuable lessons.
Remember to keep your audience in mind, focus on simplicity and clarity in your writing, and invest in high-quality illustrations and design. Pair those with a high-quality printer that ships internationally like Lulu, and you’ll be a published author in no time!
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.