Why not to self-publish your children’s book
I admit that the title of this post sounds defeatist. But I believe in being fully informed before embarking on any venture.
If you're worried that this will be a very negative portrayal of your self-publishing prospects, never fear. Next month I will be telling you why to go ahead and do it anyway.
For now, let's consider the barriers to making a success of your self-published children's book.
The self-publishing landscape
Self-publishing has become a viable publishing option for many authors. Romance and crime books can do particularly well through the self-publishing route.
The truth is that many of the ways in which self-publishing works for so many genres are actually barriers for children’s book authors.
The cost of covers and illustrations
One of the benefits for self-publishing authors is the affordable, high-quality cover options available to them. Really good covers can be commissioned for as little as £150 to £250.
However, the type of covers available at that price point almost always make use of stock photos. Take a look at the children’s book covers on the market today and they all feature bespoke illustrations.
Just one illustrated cover for a children’s book can cost more than £1,000. Add to that the expectation that a children’s book will include interior illustrations – illustrated chapter titles, maps for crime stories and even more illustrations for books in young age categories. The costs to enter the market are clearly much higher for children's book authors than authors in some other genres.
Authors looking to cut down on the cost of a cover would be well advised not to. The cover is the single best sales tool for your book. A professional, attractive cover will attract much-needed sales.
Lack of eBook sales
Statistics show that 24% of all books sold in the UK are eBooks. Whereas only 3% of children’s books sold are eBooks; 94% are print copies. This means that though indie authors writing for adults can rely on eBooks as a solid revenue stream, indie children’s authors can’t. You can't afford to publish in eBook only and miss out on 94% of your total market.
For that reason, children's authors must produce print copies, with all the attendant costs that go with that. Print-on-demand has reduced the burden of the upfront cost. However, print costs can be as high as 50% of the cover price.
Distributors can take between 35% and 55% of the cover price as their fee. Evidently, this leaves little to nothing in profit for the author. The only truly profitable method of selling in this scenario is through direct sales, which is extremely challenging in the publishing landscape. (Who buys their books from anywhere but Amazon or high-street retailers?)
The alternative is short run printing, where the overall cost to print is much lower at just over a third of the cover price. But the author has to part with the whole cost upfront.
The printing and design burdens mean self-publishing children’s authors have very high production costs to swallow.
Lack of children’s book reviewers
Presuming you have overcome these obstacles and published your book, now you only need to market and sell it. You need to get the word out about your book so that customers know it exists and want to buy it.
One of the tried and tested ways that this is traditionally done in the book industry is by offering an advanced reader’s copy (arc) to reviewers for free. They read the book and, if they like it, they post a positive review on their blog and/or a retailer’s or reviews site. They might also post about it on social media.
You can also organise a blog tour, in which a group of bloggers post about your book each day for a set number of days – a week or longer. There are blog tour organisers who have thousands of bloggers on their lists and they will put together a group to be part of your blog tour.
The only trouble for children’s book authors is that there are far fewer bloggers interested in this genre than others. Book bloggers don’t get paid. Many people do it as a hobby and as a way to read books for free that they think they might enjoy. With fewer bloggers to engage with, the opportunities to build awareness of your indie book are more limited. The bloggers for this genre do exist, but they are harder to reach than in some other genres.
You may think the solution to this is to market directly to your readers – young people. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There is legislation protecting young people from marketing practices that every children’s book author should make themselves familiar with.
Most indie authors collect interested customers’ email addresses through their website and then add their details to their mailing list. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) allows them to do this because they get the person’s consent to do so. But in the UK, no one under the age of 13 can legally give their consent; in other countries the age limit is higher, sometimes as high as 16.
Indie children’s authors must therefore focus any marketing efforts towards adults. In practice this means parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers. They can't rely on marketing directly to their end customer.
Despite all of this, there is still hope for children’s book authors thinking about self-publishing. Challenges also present opportunities. There are success stories in this area and I believe there are opportunities for children's book authors to take advantage of.
Next month I will be outlining all the reasons why authors considering self-publishing their children’s book should go ahead and do it.