How to successfully self-publish your children’s book
Updated: Nov 21, 2022
In May this year, I took the plunge and self-published my children’s book, Mystery in the Palace of Westminster. It hasn’t been an easy journey and I’ve learnt a lot.
Children’s books are one of the hardest genres to self-publish and I didn’t find much advice about it before I began. So over the coming months I’m going to be sharing advice for authors thinking about self-publishing their children’s book.
This month I’m starting with an overview of the four cornerstones of successfully self-publishing your children’s book.
Stay to the end for a big announcement about the future of my service offering.
The cover of your book is its most valuable sales tool. It should give the reader an indication of your book’s genre: science fiction, mystery, fantasy. It needs to stand out from the crowd. It needs to be eye catching.
Check out the covers of other children’s books in your genre. You’ll see that they are all of a very high quality.
They will also all have one other thing in common: they’re fully illustrated. This means in order to fit in the market, you need a professional fully illustrated cover too.
There is a big cost associated with this – one of your highest single costs for the whole book. But as I said above, this is your most valuable sales tool. The stakes are high to get this right. After all, you can probably only afford to do this once.
Depending on the age range of your text, you might also want an illustrator to do some illustrations for the interior of the book.
If a book has been edited well, the reader won’t be aware of it. It’s the least flashy element of book publishing. Good editing doesn’t immediately equal good sales.
But bad editing (or, worse, no editing) is obvious. It will put off readers who flick through your book and it will negatively impact sales.
For this reason the content editing phase is vital for any book. Arguably even more so when you’re writing for children, who will struggle to decode mistakes and understand the intended meaning.
It’s tempting to think that you don’t need to pay a professional to edit your work for you. You might be good at picking up mistakes in other people’s work, so you think you can do it yourself. Or you might have a friend who is a grammar stickler and is willing to do your editing.
Although both of these are good ideas, it’s still advisable to also pay a professional to check your work for you. Professional editors have been trained to check for problems that even the most pedantic reader could miss. They also know what not to change, to preserve your author voice.
Once you have all your content ready, it’s time to sort out the book production. This includes:
ISBNs can easily be purchased (in the UK from Nielsen). Make sure you also upload your title data to their site so that retailers that automatically pull information from there (such as Waterstones) will have the correct information for your book.
The typesetting of your book refers to its layout on the page – either printed or digital. Several print-on-demand printers (more on this below) now provide templates for laying out your book in Word. If you choose this route, you should be able to do the layout for your own book at no cost.
However, you might decide to do a short print run, rather than print-on-demand. If you do, you may need to typeset your book in InDesign. If you have no experience in this area and you don’t feel confident to learn, you can pay a typesetter to do this stage for you.
Print-on-demand means your book will be printed when a customer orders a copy; there will be no stock held waiting for orders. Whereas a short print run means you have a relatively small quantity printed, usually a minimum of 100 copies, to be held in stock and sent out to customers.
There is no right or wrong answer to paying for typesetting vs doing it yourself, or print-on-demand vs short print runs. It’s just a matter of what works best for your circumstances and your book.
One of the hardest parts of self-publishing your children’s book (it certainly is for me) is marketing it. This is another crucial step to get right. You can write the best children’s book on the market, but if no one knows it exists, they can’t buy it.
The most important first step in marketing any book is gathering reviews. Sites like NetGalley and BookSirens can help you reach readers who are interested in reviewing your book. You could also arrange a blog tour and specifically request that bloggers provide reviews.
You should create an author website to showcase your work. If you feel confident to, you can do this yourself very cheaply. (Check out mine.) You usually have to pay for your own domain name and a level of service that will allow you to connect it to your website. This small cost is well worth it, to make sure you have a sensible website address that you can easily share.
It also helps to have a presence on social media. My recommendation is to pick one form of social media that you feel most comfortable with, where you think your customers might be active, and work hard at your presence there before trying any others.
Remember that children are not supposed to be on social media (although in practice they may be), so your posts should be aimed at the gatekeepers – parents, teachers, booksellers and librarians.
My biggest tip for your marketing efforts is to start early; before your book is out. It may feel silly to have a website before you have a book. It isn’t. Build interest in your book in the months leading up to publication. This will give your book the best chance of receiving a little fanfare on publication, rather than the dreaded sound of passing tumbleweed.
I want to share what I have learned with other writers and I’m now extending my service offering to editing for un-agented children’s book authors.
This means that if you want to have your manuscript checked before you self-publish, get an agent or seek a publishing contract, I can help you with that. If you haven’t decided whether to go the traditional route or the self-publishing route, I can help with that too.
With that in mind, I've signed up to the CIEP's Introduction to Fiction Editing course to brush up on my slightly rusty fiction skills.
If you would like to discuss your children's book project, get in touch.