5 People You Need on Your Team When You Self-publish a Kids’ Book

by | Jul 7, 2014


By Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

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.

  1. Illustrator
    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:

  2.  

  3. 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.

     

  4. 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:

  5.  

  6. Editor / proofreader

    Yes, really.

    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:

  7.  

  8. 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:

 
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 MacleodJennifer 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.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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13 Comments

  1. Vincent Noot

    Thank you. Glad you love it. It’s a great quality product. Now we just need to start selling some more. We sold about 25 in the first week. We have a sales plan and hope to make it a good business.

    The reason we didn’t try to get through a traditional publisher is that they take 97% of your profit. Not of you revenue, but your profit. So that doesn’t leave the authors with much. Also, they don’t market your book, but just distribute it. And the last reason is that even if your book is great, it is really hard to get them to notice it and accept it.

    The reason why we didn’t go with print on demand, is 1) it is all online. We are going to approach people in person and go to book and state events to sell them, and 2) because the printing costs are always higher. We looked up how much it would cost per book to print 100, 200, or 500 and noticed that the more stock you buy, the cheaper it is. Just means we had to invest some of our savings and are left with some stock… but we are confident that we will sell them all in time.

    If you have any more tips or connections, I would appreciate them.

    Vincent

    Reply
  2. Vincent Noot

    Thank you for the advice! My wife and I have published a book called “Find the Cutes” this year. It looks amazing and is a look and find book we put hundreds of hours into. If anyone feels interested in my illustration services, please contact us, or take a look at the book on http://www.findthecutes.com. An ordering system will soon be attached to the website.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

      The art looks wonderful – I love the “Where’s Waldo” playground scene. Good luck with your book! Curious as to why you’re printing and distributing yourself rather than Print on Demand… I’d love to hear more about your experience.

      Reply
  3. Ryan McDonough

    Awesome advice for new authors like myself. Thanks for the links and reference points.

    Reply
  4. Ashley

    I found this helpful even as a non-fiction/memoir writer! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

      Thanks, Ashley! I’m sneaky that way. You think it’s all kid stuff, and then… bam. Great writing advice. :-)

      Reply
  5. Tracy Atkins

    The editors are such an important, and often overlooked, part of the publication process. Even if you are a wordsmith, having a second set of eyes is great idea.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

      @Tracy, I totally agree – and not just because I work as an editor. :-) Thanks for reading!

      Reply
  6. Michael N. Marcus

    In addition to the five types of important professionals that Jennifer mentioned, amateurs can make important contributions that pros (who may be too closely involved in the project) will miss.

    I twice learned the importance of having “ordinary” people (the kind of people who might become readers) hold a physical book before publication in order to judge their reactions. You need these “beta holders” in addition to beta readers.

    My first self-pubbed book (2008) was titled with a quote from a wacky teacher I had in high school (“I only flunk my brightest students”). I took a proof copy to a party at a neighbor’s house and passed it around to a few strangers who were sitting with me at a table. The title made sense to kids I went to school with, but not to these strangers. They all assumed that the title was my quote and that I had been a teacher. I retitled the book and it went on to become a bestseller.

    The second situation happened just yesterday. I showed a proof to a few relatives. As I hoped, they laughed at the title, but they skipped over the subtitle to flip through the book. I am going to modify the cover later today to put the subtitle right below the title and shift my name to a lower position. I am not yet as famous as Hillary Clinton so my subtitle will probably help sales more than my name will.

    I would not have caught either of these problems if I did not let amateurs hold my books.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

      Michael:
      I love your examples. Joel and others have blogged here a lot about the significance about what you put on the cover, but I don’t recall seeing a specific post about subheads. I’m sure there is one.
      As for getting people to hold the thing in their hands, that goes doubly, maybe quadruply for kids’ books. No matter how many grown-ups understand it… do children?
      Also crucial for children’s picture books – read them out loud before approving your draft.

      Reply
    • Z R Southcombe

      I completely agree with you, Marcus. The ‘amateurs’ will be our readers, and while the professionals have the objectivity to help us polish our writing, they don’t have the subjectivity of a reader.

      My beta readers are a mix of writers, voracious readers, and children :-)

      Not sure if you’d want a professional, or just someone with relevant experience, but I’d add someone who knows the legal stuff, to make sure you’re doing everything correctly with tax, ISBNs etc.

      Reply
      • Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

        Maybe… although to start out, things are pretty simple (for most writers, there’s no reason not to accept createspace’s ISBNs, for example).
        In the back of my head, finding a financial / legal person is on the list of things to do when Serious Money starts rolling in. :-)
        But you’re right – there are always back-end tasks; I was focused more on getting the book out into the light of day.

        Nevertheless, I agree strongly about one thing: check any potential copyright issues carefully before publishing, especially if you’re used photos or other art, or quotations, in your book.

        Reply

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