It doesn’t quite take a village but you might be surprised at how many people you should have on your team to self-publish a children’s book. Today I’d like to welcome children’s author Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod to The Book Designer.
Are you an island?
According to poet John Donne, the answer is no. As he wrote way back in the 1600s, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
He must have been thinking of self-publishing children’s authors when he wrote that.
You know self-publishing children’s books has joined the mainstream when even Publishers Weekly offers a feature on writers who are doing it.
But what does it really mean to self-publish?
A lonely, overwhelmed island
That word “self” is a lie, to begin with. The idea of taking on this entire task alone could overwhelm anyone. Are you really going to do it all alone?
This is especially true since children’s books rely so heavily on graphics and imagery. Word people – us writers – are sometimes blessed with the ability to create pictures… but usually, we’re not. My personal best illustrations are more on the level of stick figures, and even my own kids can’t figure out what I’m trying to draw most of the time.
Another feature of kids’ books that makes them tricky to do all by yourself is verse. A children’s book doesn’t have to be in verse (indeed, some editors would prefer that you not even try), but if it is, you’re in especially dangerous territory trying to go it alone.
It’s true – you’ll have to spend more money than if you were doing the whole thing yourself.
Then again, if you were trying to do this ten or fifteen or twenty years ago, you’d be paying thousands in setup and publishing costs. These days, with Kindle and print-on-demand publishing, the cost of getting your book into readers’ hands has plummeted to zero, which lets you splurge a little on a few other essential tasks.
But don’t think of it as a splurge. Think of these five team members as essential ingredients in your book’s success.
If you thought this was obvious, you’d be surprised. I’ve seen self-published children’s books crudely illustrated with photographs of toys or pictures drawn by the writer’s own children or kindergarten class.
If you’re putting together a book for a small audience, that’s fine, but if you hope to reach people you don’t know and convince them to buy your book, be prepared to spend a little for professional pictures that look great.
Tips for finding a terrific illustrator:
- Cover designer
Your cover is the “movie poster” for your book – your primary sales vehicle. Your illustrator may or may not be the right person to create the cover.
Creating a compelling cover involves more than just drawing a picture and slapping the title and your name over it (hint: no Comic Sans, please). A talented cover designer may be a better match in terms of choosing fonts and text that will leap off the shelf and sell the book for you.
- Twenty children’s book covers gone wrong – from Heavy.com (just for fun)
- Ten tips for effective book covers – from Writers Digest
- Beta reader
Often, beta readers are people who have worked in publishing – ideally, in children’s publishing – who are willing to read your book and comment, but don’t want to do the nitty-gritty work of editing it for you (those are two very different tasks).
This might even be someone with kids of the right age to read your book with, or who can give it to older kids to read on their own and get their honest feedback. If that’s the case, you may be able to find somebody who will do it for free. Again, it seems obvious, but apparently isn’t: children’s books should be tested on kids.
The most important quality in a beta reader is honesty. Good, honest feedback – not just of the “we love everything you write!” variety – can mean the difference between success and failure.
More on finding Beta Readers:
- Editor / proofreader
Even if you taught English for 20 years. Even if you ran it through spell-check. Even if your brother’s nephew’s sister-in-law worked for a financial newspaper and read it through and told you there were no mistakes. There are errors in your book, and a good editor will find them for you.
What’s the difference? A proofreader will fix errors in spelling and punctuation, but generally won’t make major changes to the text itself. An editor may move around paragraphs or streamline your text (or at least suggest these changes) to make it read and scan better.
Checking the rhyme is also important; if there are any sections of verse in your book, make sure you choose an editor who’s worked with this form before and is comfortable making word changes to help it all scan perfectly. Here’s a quick mnemonic to help you remember: “Especially if it’s written in verse / to edit or proofread is better, not worse.”
If you’re thinking of writing in rhyme, follow these 3 tips to write kids’ rhymes that don’t suck.
More on making sure your rhyme is great:
- How not to write a rhyming picture book – from Picture Book Den
- Writing in Rhyme – from Children’s Book Insider
- Reviewer(s – as many as possible)
Books don’t sell themselves.
(I wish they would!)
The closest you can get, online at least, to having your books sell themselves is to have lots of reviews lined up as soon as possible after the book’s release. This gives buyers confidence that they’re getting a great book.
You wouldn’t ask family, friends, and professional connections to carry copies of your book around and hawk it for you wherever they go (though my mother does), but a short review is a quick, easy “ask.” The more, the better.
Sources on the importance (and difficulty) of getting those reviews:
- Why we reviewers won’t read your self-published book – from GavReads
- Four simple tricks for getting reviews fast – from Lets Make Kids’ Books
Investing in your finished product
Think of these five professionals (illustrator, cover designer, beta reader, editor and reviewers) as a minimum. You don’t have to stop at five.
There are others you can hire to beef up your team well beyond your publication date – especially when you start thinking about how you’re going to promote your book.
What about money?
Yes, it will probably all cost more than you had in mind. But, like self-publishing itself, it has never been easier, or cheaper, with services like odesk, elance and fiverr among many that are making it simple to connect with experienced professionals around the world in a variety of price ranges.
Once you hit the “Publish” button, you’ll be asking readers to invest in your book. Whether it’s 99 cents or $7.99 or more, you’re telling them, “this is a great book; it’s worth it.” And that’s what you need to tell yourself, too. Why should readers put money into something you’re not willing to sink your own money into?
Put in the work (and cash) it takes to build a great team. As Donne said, you’re better off thinking of yourself as “part of the main”… and pull together a winning team to help you create the kids’ books you love.
Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod is a proud self-published children’s book writer and mom to four kids (2 big, 2 little), who recently moved to northern Israel. She blogs at Write Kids’ Books.