So You Want to Publish a Children’s Book? Here’s How!
Inside: You can publish a children’s book. You can do it this year! Let’s get started with three different paths forward.
Shortly after publishing Belinda Baloney Changes Her Mind I started getting messages that were worded much more eloquently but essentially boiled down to this:
But, like, how?
It’s a great question! And a question I definitely had before writing and publishing a children’s book and a nonfiction self-help book. The good news is, I have answers.
So do you want to publish a children’s book? You can. You absolutely 100% can. Here’s how.
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Write Your Children’s Book
Before you get to publishing your book, you’re going to need to write it and illustrate it.
When “writing” Belinda Baloney Changes Her Mind I had an idea pop into my head while I was driving and then spoke the entire book out into my voice memo app on my phone.
That’s probably not the ideal way to write a book, but it works. So that’s my first tip actually, when inspiration strikes, jot down your notes. And if inspiration strikes while you are driving, voice memo works very well too.
Then when you pull all those notes together, keep some industry standards in mind:
Reading Level: Who is your target audience for the book? That is going to determine your content, reading level, and marketing later on. Figure out who you are speaking to so that you pick the right words to tell your story.
Length: Most children’s picture books are 32 pages. That doesn’t mean you need words on all 32 too, but use that as a good guide for how much content/how you are going to split out your content.
Story: Give your book a beginning, a middle, and an end. Revolutionary right!? But there certainly are children’s books I pick up that leave me VERY confused about plot holes. Even little kids need to know what’s going on, and their parents who buy the book do too.
Illustrate Your Children’s Book
My next stop after writing Belinda Baloney down in a word document was to find an illustrator. I had NO idea where to start with this and didn’t go too far down the road searching because we kept it all in the family.
While visiting my brother and sister-in-law for Thanksgiving, I mentioned Belinda Baloney and asked Sarah if she drew, in addition to the great paintings I’d seen her do. She sure did draw, and she had always wanted to illustrate a children’s book. Amazing! Done and done.
Sarah then took the words of Belinda and crafted beautiful drawings that we then arranged and rearranged into a 32 page layout using VERY advanced technology. (Pencil, paper, and scissors)
Since Sarah is a pen and paper artist, we had to get color added to the images and put them into an uploadable format. The images were then scanned, the pages were noted with our preferred color schemes, and then everything was sent over to our graphic designer, Katelyn Lizardi, who added in all the color you see on Belinda Baloney.
If you aren’t related to Sarah or Katelyn, I recommend checking out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to browse portfolios, heading over to Fivver, or requesting an illustrator through your publisher if you are going through Gatekeeper Press (more on that in a minute).
Publish Your Children’s Book
Now we get to the publishing part – the part that takes your book from documents on your computer onto the bookshelf. Ideally onto lots of bookshelves!
There are three different ways you can go with publishing your children’s book (or any book for that matter – more on that to come.)
1. Traditional Publishing
2. Self-Publishing with Amazon
3. Self-Publishing (with Professional Help!)
Let’s talk through all three.
When writing When Mommy Grows Up, my goal was to have it traditionally published, meaning that I would get my book picked up my a publisher who could help me to refine, print, and market the book.
If you want to get your children’s book into the hands of a big publishing house, you’ll be looking for a literary agent. If you’re open to indi publishers, you can pitch directly to the publisher. In either case, you’re first stop is going to be identifying who you want to pitch to based on your book.
You don’t want to be pitching your board book to a literary agent who exclusively represents romance novels or a publisher that sticks with textbooks. There is more nuance to this too, but keep in mind that you need to do your research and figure out who the players are, if they are open to submissions, and what materials you will need to submit including a query letter, author bio, marketing plan, etc.
Nonfiction proposals and children’s book proposals are going to be different so I suggest heading over to the Dummies site for a nice breakdown on the children’s book submission process. I’ll have another post here soon for nonfiction book proposals, stay tuned!
One more thing to keep in mind here – if you are picked up by an agent and publisher, they get paid through the royalties of your book. You’ll earn royalties too, and you won’t pay them a fee to publish, but your cut of the royalties will be smaller.
Self-Publishing with Amazon
The next children’s book publishing option is to go straight to Amazon. Through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) you can self-publish your book and sell through Amazon and make your book available through Expanded Distribution (to other stores).
Don’t let the Kindle word throw you – you can publish e-books AND paperbacks for free through KDP which is a great plus for children’s book. E-children’s books a great way to save paper, but physical copies are still a very popular option.
The kicker with KDP is that this is very DIY. You’ll be formatting on your own and there isn’t a copyediting involved. The materials you upload into KDP are your book. With that in mind, if you’re tech-savvy and/or can find some help in this area (hiring freelancers or paying your graphic designer friend in blueberry pie) this can work well.
From a money perspective, KDP is free to use and you can earn up to 70% of book royalties which is great. You also retain the full rights to your book and can then publish elsewhere if you want. This was the path I took for the Belinda Baloney Coloring Book.
Self-Publishing with Professional Help
Behind door number three is the route I went with Belinda Baloney Changes Her Mind and I could not have been happier with the experience.
When you choose to self-publish with a publisher who specializes in self-publishing like Gatekeeper Press, there are a lot of benefits.
You have full creative control
When you go through a traditional publisher, ultimately they get to make the call about what is published. Sarah and I had very set ideas on what we wanted Belinda to be about so creative control was a biggie. Plus, we didn’t need to wait to get picked by a publisher, we could just go publish and that is awesome.
You have professionals on your side
Not knowing the first thing about publishing a children’s book, I knew we needed some help. The folks at Gatekeeper helped us with cover design, selecting the right fonts, getting the ISBN and copyright, formatting all the images, copyediting, etc.
You can also hire an illustrator through Gatekeeper if you’re having trouble finding one on your own.
Super smooth process
Because Gatekeeper Press was all over the logistics, I didn’t have to worry about anything. I set the publication date and the price based on their guidance, but then they took care of the rest. Formatting e-copies and hardcover copies, preorders, pushing out to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, etc., that was all them.
With Gatekeeper Press, you pay an upfront fee for the service. But then you retain 100% of royalties minus printing costs and retailer discounts, which is great! Keep in mind that printing costs do add up if you are doing a hardcover, and retailer discounts are usually around 60% so if your book is sold for $18.99 you are not bringing back in $18.99, it’s more like $4 for a hardcover but that can add up.
Also, you have the option to sell your book directly from your website. Buy a bulk order of author copies and then you can skip the retailer discount and earn more per book. Plus you can sign those copies which is really fun for your readers!
Ready to Publish Your Children’s Book?
I just threw A LOT of information out there but this is exactly how I learned how to publish books. Googling, reading articles, and more googling!
Plus talking with other folks that had been there. Networking, I tell you, it’s not just for a job search. Networking is for EVERYTHING!
Do you want to learn more about publishing a book or making book-writing part of your career plan? Grab a time on my calendar and let’s chat. Or sign up for my newsletter so you can remind yourself to shoot me a note later!
Read More About Children’s Book Publishing:
Belinda Baloney Changes Her Mind – Read Aloud with the Author
Hold My Hand Mama: Q&A With Author Gabe Martin
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge! This is super helpful!
Thanks for sharing your journey this information has motivated me to put the key in the ignition and get moving.
Love to hear it, Audria!