How to Self-publish a Children’s Book: 9 Steps to a Be a Bestseller
There is an idea in your head that’s bursting to come out as a children’s book. Maybe you have observed something in life. Or you told a story to your child, niece, or nephew, and that turned out to be quite a hit. Or you have always wanted to write children’s stories. Whatever your starting point, you have worked on the book and now have a manuscript in your hands. At this point, you have two choices:
- Stash it away in the drawer and forget about it till the end of your life. (You will surely regret that.)
- Publish it and maybe become a best-selling children’s author. (You won’t regret this.)
Once you decide to publish it, you have to choose between:
- Traditional publishing
Now, if you choose A, you can stop reading. This article is not for you. But if you choose B now, stay and continue. This article will tell you how to go about self-publishing your children’s book exactly.
Reasons for the Rise in Children’s Books’ Sales
Children’s books have always been stable because of many reasons. Everyone wants a light read for one, and everyone wants a fun read for their children. Children’s books also have the support of media like illustration, music, and the film industry. So many children’s books have been made into musicals and films. In addition to this, there are movie tie-ins of books such as the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games, Chronicles of Narnia, the Jungle Book, and the Disney classics. The movie franchise affects the sale of books as well.
The rise of the sales of children’s books is not complete without discussing the phenomenon of Harry Potter. Everyone agrees that ever since Harry Potter, the landscape of children’s books has changed. The bespectacled boy wizard whose stories exploded in the late 90s and early 2000s hit the children’s book industry like a storm. In a 2005 survey, Waterstones, the British book retailer, found that sales of children’s books released every month increased ten times since 2000.
Earlier, most children’s books authors did not become rich, but after Harry Potter, quite a few did. Rowling’s books did something else too. It managed to increase the number of pages of children’s books. Let’s look at this table:
What happened in the middle of these two years? Well, Harry Potter arrived. In 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published followed by the rest of the eight-book series. A similar increase in page numbers happened for adult books taking the norm of 320 pages in 1999 to 400 in 2014. Remember, the readers that liked Harry Potter books as a child are comfortable reading fat books. They grew up and continued reading fatter books as adults.
Rowling was not the only author who helped increase the sales of children’s books. There are other authors like David Walliams, who have also contributed. Formerly a comedian, Walliams published his first book for children way back in 2008. By 2017, he was a best-selling children’s author overtaking Rowling herself. He has been called the successor to Roald Dahl, the most famous children’s author of all time.
Industry experts say that one reason for the increase in children’s book sales is the fear among parents that their children are consuming too much social media. Besides, publishing houses are giving a lot of importance to children’s books. They are willing to look for celebrity authors and find new authors who could be the next J. K Rowling, David Walliams, or Julia Donaldson.
Understanding the Market
Now you know a bit about the reasons for the enduring appeal of children’s books, you will need to understand the market. Writing is a creative task, but your book is a product that will have to fare in the market.
The best format for children’s books is in print. Children love holding books, whether that is a 3-year-old with the board book that she can bite or a young adult who wants to curl up in the corner. Some young adults might be comfortable with e-readers. However, it is best to remember that children read physical books more. eBooks have not penetrated the children’s book market significantly yet. That could be something to do with the fact that e-readers are yet to be as colorful and therefore as impactful as a book in hand.
You will also need to understand your audience no matter the age group you choose. As you are probably aware, children’s books are targeted at various ages.
|Age in years||Genre||Number of Words|
|Under 5||Picture books||Under 1000|
|5+||Early readers||2000 to 5000|
|6 to 9||Chapter books||5000 to 10,000|
|8 to 12||Middle grade||30,000 to 50,000|
|12 to 18||Young Adult||50,000 to 100,000|
Researching the Market
Once you decide on your audience and target a certain number of words, you should find out about the market. Checking online stores like Amazon and Flipkart will give you some idea but not a complete one. So, you will need to visit brick and mortar bookstores. Even though parents prefer to buy eBooks, they prefer to go to a physical store to pick up books for their children.
You will understand the trends in children’s publishing from how the books are prominently displayed or not. Head straight to the section where you think your book will fit in. For example, the Young Adult section and make a list of:
- Famous authors who dominate this category
- The topics and themes that are trending at the moment
It does not mean you blindly copy the popular books. It is only a way of understanding the market you are writing for. You can even reach out to your own children or children of friends and relatives to understand what kids their age like reading.
Another point to keep in mind is the dual nature of the audience for children’s books. You are writing for children, that is true. But you must also appeal to the adult because they are paying for it.
As part of your research, you could also read the other children’s books in the market. That would be genuinely first-hand research.
Listing Children’s Books Categories
In your research, you will come across the various categories of children’s books. If you look at Amazon’s top 20 best-selling children’s books, you will see the following. Your book will fit into one or many of these categories.
- Children’s poetry
- Children’s stories
- Fairy tales
- Fantasy fiction
- Historical fiction
- Science fiction
- Young adult fiction
Also, be aware of the sub-genres and how they fare too. For example, under children’s stories, you have bedtime stories. It is a really competitive sub-category. If your book falls into this sub-category, it needs to stand out to make a mark.
It also helps to keep an eye out for trends in children’s book publishing. If your book falls into one of these ‘trends’, it will have a greater chance of becoming a best seller. Of course, this does not mean you force-fit your book into a trend or category. That will not work.
One of the leading publishers of children’s books, Scholastic, had listed a few trends for 2019 and 2020.
- Children’s fiction
- Diversity and inclusivity
- Books with humor
- Stories that light the imagination
- Human interest stories
- Imaginary worlds
- Strong female characters
Though these trends change year by year, there is such a wide variety of children’s books that they allow you many opportunities to become a best-selling author.
Rereading and Editing the Manuscript
So now you have an idea about the market for children’s books. So it is logical that you go back to your manuscript and read it again and make changes accordingly.
Many people consider the art of writing is in rewriting. American poet Dorothy Parker said in The Art of Fiction, “I would write a book or a short story, at least three times–once to understand it, the second time to improve the prose, and a third to compel it to say what it still must say.” The first draft is usually only a blueprint. But working on it, again and again, brings out its true brilliance.
The process of rewriting differs depending on your own likes and dislikes. Some writers like to finish a whole draft and then go back and rework from scratch. Others do outlines, plot structures, character sketches, diagrams, mind maps before they start. Some others fall in the middle, going back and forth, crafting the story as they go. Keep on rewriting till you know you are done.
After your rewriting, you will need to hire an editor who will be working on your book to make it error-free and market-ready.
Choosing a Book Size and Format
When the editing for your book is done, you will need to make some decisions about the size of the book, and that depends on the format (print or eBook) you have chosen.
You would have noticed that children’s books are of a certain size. The picture books might have different size than other children’s books. The standard children’s book sizes for print are:
- 7.5” X 7.5”
- 7” X 8”
- 8” X 8”
- 10” X 8”
For eBooks, the standard is 6” X 9”. Your printers can offer unusual sizes for a different printing rate. Ask them for a quotation before you decide.
Finding an Illustrator
Now that you are done with the text part of your book, you will need to work on the illustrations. Depending on how you envision your book to be and its genre, you will need the help of an illustrator.
If you have written a picture book, you will need amazing art on 32 or more pages of the book. You need a good eye for art. But if you don’t, you will need to find an artist who not only draws incredibly but also can do the typesetting or typography of the book. This is because you need to arrange the text and images on the page in a way that the book looks good, makes a deep impact on the reader, and tells the story like the way you want it to.
Not all art for children has to be cartoonish. This is a popular misconception. Some of the most powerful children’s books have art that is not cartoonish and yet appealed to children. Children respond to good art, so you have to up your game on this one.
During your market research phase, you would have come across artwork that was popular. That would have given you a good idea about what you want for your book. Armed with this knowledge, you can find illustrators on the following online websites.
You can also approach artists through their social media pages or personal websites. Remember that the more famous the artist is, the more in demand they will be. You can look out for local artists with whom you can collaborate and who would be easily available to work on your book.
The artwork for children’s books depends a lot on the age group it caters to. For a picture book, you need a full-page artwork. For Young Adult fiction, you will need page elements designed in a way that enhances the experience of the story. For all books regardless of genre, you will need a book cover, back cover, and (maybe) a spine. Discuss the graphic elements with your artist as soon as you have them on board.
Before your illustrator starts work on the project, tell them about the size and format of the book you have in mind so that they can adjust their work to the real estate available. They will also need to factor in the space for text. This is very important when it comes to picture books. It is true that pictures can be resized later, but it might lead to important elements of the story being cut off. That would be counterproductive.
After rewriting your manuscript, you will need to know if you are on the right track. That’s where getting feedback comes into the picture.
Your feedback could come from readers such as the ones around you, your own children or nephews and nieces or friends’ children. Children are extremely honest, so you will get accurate feedback for your story. Another source of feedback could be the parents of these kids. From their reactions, you will know if your story works for parents as well. Do not forget: it’s the parents who are the decision-makers when it comes to purchases of children’s books’.
The third source of feedback is the community of children’s book writers and illustrators. You will find them online on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media. Apart from them, there is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators colloquially called SCBWI. Once you get a membership (first year $95; renewal $80), you have access to their resources, including directories of publishers, agents, and reviewers focused only on children’s book publishing. Since this is a worldwide organization, you will have the chance to network with authors and illustrators across the world. You can also turn to another group, Children’s Literature Association, who can tell you what works and what doesn’t in your book. However, they do have an academic approach to children’s books.
Once you become an established member of a writing community, it will be easy to find beta readers or a referral for an illustrator.
Bringing It Together
You have got your text and graphics ready and have asked for feedback. Based on it, you have even made some changes. Next, you will need someone to stitch it all together on a desktop publishing software. Here is when you might consider hiring a book designer who will do this job for you. If you want to do this, either you should have experience or learn it yourself. It’s always better to go-to experts, especially if it is your first children’s book.
Most publishing companies use InDesign as desktop publishing software. Some older publishing companies have stuck to PageMaker. So, either you should know or learn how to use it to create the pages with the text and images. Or you can hire a book designer or typesetter to work on your book. Another alternative to this is to hire a self-publishing firm to take over this part of the publishing process. And if you are confident of your own skills, then directly approach self-publishing printers.
To sum up, there are many steps to take your story for children that germinated in your head to a finished product. That includes understanding the rise in sales of children’s books, understanding and researching the market, being aware of the children’s book categories, spotting trends, rereading and editing the manuscript, choosing a book size and format, finding an illustrator, getting feedback and bringing it all together. After this, you will be ready to release your book into a competitive market. Now you can potentially be on your way to becoming the next J. K. Rowling, David Walliams, or Maurice Sendak.