A Step by Step Process to Publishing a Children’s Book
As Beatrix Potter, author of Peter Rabbit, once said: “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”
And yet, the journey from those first words to publishing a children’s book is no simple task. The final product must be relatively short, relatable for the right age group, and visually engaging, all while conveying your core story or ideas. And then there’s the challenge of actually getting it in front of readers.
Concept of Publishing a Children’s Book
As with every great book, start with an original idea and a realistic goal. Figure out what story you’re going to tell. Genres for children’s books include picture books, traditional literature such as folktales and myths, historical fiction, fantasy fiction, realistic fiction, biography, and non-fiction books. Balance the conventions of these time-tested genres with a unique idea that will help your book stand out.
The first dilemma faced by authors is whether to opt for a picture book or a novel. Start by choosing your target age group. For children under 5 to 7 years of age, books will typically focus on illustrations, with only simple text. For these books, concepts and messages must be communicated primarily through rich illustrations and images.
Older readers, generally starting between the ages of 7 and 10, begin to read text-based chapter books with more complex storylines and conflicts. They may still include a few illustrations, but the text will tell most of the story. Even once you settle on a chapter book, you’ll need to carefully consider your specific age group to determine the right language and content. Check out our blog on children’s book age groups to find out more.
Some story ideas will lend themselves to picture books, others are better suited for a chapter book. Just make sure you figure this out before you get started—it will impact nearly every step of publishing a children’s book. In either case, choose settings, characters, and ideas that make your work unique. Create an outline to get a basic sense of your plot. Cover your broad plot points, as well as smaller events or special scenes you want to include. Pay special attention to your main characters and setting.
Art and Illustrations
Consider what kind of art you want for your book. Once again, this will depend in part on the age of your target audience. In picture books, your illustrations will do most of the heavy lifting to tell your story. If the illustrations are not interesting and engaging, you won’t reach your readers and won’t fulfill your publishing objectives.
When self-publishing a children’s book for a younger age group, it is essential to find a qualified illustrator with experience in creating children’s books. Such an illustrator should have the experience to take your ideas and make them a reality. You’ll want a balance between expertise and the ability to consider your goals and feedback.
Work through this process, and don’t get ahead of yourself by choosing the art before you’ve laid out your book’s foundation. Take a look at popular children’s books to get a sense of what kind of art style you want.
Really, writing a successful children’s book is all about finding the right editor. As an author, you may question whether a short, simple children’s book really needs an editing process. But not only will editing make sure your book is the best it can be, an experienced editor will offer the know-how to reach your target age group. Authors have a story to tell, but they might not be sure what audience it’s best suited for, how much complexity that age group can handle in language and content, and even how many words are appropriate.
Books for kids under 4 might have as few as 100 words, while chapter books for ten-year-olds could have 12,000. An editor that’s worked on children’s books for major publishers will know what to aim for, how to simplify language, and how to cut down the word count. For many authors, these steps could be the toughest part.
Your editor can even work with you illustrator, go over images, review the layout, and help develop ideas for your cover.
Early on in the planning stage is a great point in the process to find an established children’s book editor. As with any author looking for an editor, your best bet is to find one with experience editing books for traditional publishers. This will ensure you publish a professional quality book that can compete with the best.
Distribution and Marketing
Managing the distribution process is another big hurdle for authors. This is the phase that brings the book from the printer to the reader. You’ll need to choose whether to focus on reaching the audience through bookstores, word-of-mouth, or an author’s sales page. If you have a platform and an established online presence, you can publish and distribute through your website. For a more relaxed budget, you can distribute your books through established and renowned retailers.
Distribution for children’s books can be a more complex and demanding process, since eBooks won’t typically be a feasible option, and since many young readers find books through schools, bookstores, and libraries. When self-publishing, it’s a good idea to work with a company with connections to these conventional distribution channels.
Children’s books are the only books that you won’t market directly to your readers. The target audience, in reality, are the adults who make choices about what their kids read. This is another challenge that comes with publishing children’s books. You need to write, design, and publish books which children want to read, yet the books should also appeal to their parents and relatives who would want to buy them.
Thus, writers must use a multifaceted approach to attract both audiences. Often, especially for the youngest readers, this will mean balancing entertainment and education. The ideal children’s books is one that parents will want to buy, and that kids will want to read.
Big publishers can miss big opportunities.
Publishing a children’s book through a traditional publisher is surprisingly competitive. Only 3 out of 15,000 books submitted to major publishers are chosen to be published. The statistics are overwhelming.
However, the publishers don’t always get it right. With numbers like that, good ideas get missed. J.K. Rowling’s first book of the Harry Potter series was rejected twelve times before it was picked up. Peter Rabbit was rejected so many times that Beatrix Potter decided to self-publish 250 copies. It has since gone on to sell over 45 million.
Judy Blume, who now boasts about 30 published books to her credit and over 82 million books sold, received rejection after rejection for the first two years of her writing career.
Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, was told to “stick to teaching,” and a Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was rejected 26 times before it was finally published.
What’s the common theme among these authors? They were all rejected, but they all knew they had good ideas that they wanted to share. The major publishing houses don’t always know what’s best or what will sell—they tend to play it safe with their investments. But these authors believed in what they created and never gave up. And it paid off in a big way.
Publishing a children’s book by oneself is a time-consuming process. Steps like finding the right art, editing your manuscript, designing the interior and exterior layout, proofreading and final publishing all take mammoth chunks of time. The traditional publishing route is incredibly competitive, and yet it can be hard to get off the ground self-publishing on your own. The best approach for many authors will be the self-publish with expert help.
But with all these moving parts, children’s books do not come cheap. You’ll have to invest $5,000 to $10,000+ to get engaging art from expert illustrators, have your books printed in color, plus publishing charges (based on number of books you print), and the costs to market your books to the relevant audience.
The good news is that with self-publishing, you’ll have the chance to hold on to much more of the revenue in the long-run, earning back your investment. And by partnering with a publishing vendor that offers deep experience and access to top industry talent, you’ll get the best chance of earning a return on investment.
Children’s books may seem like the simplest books you could write, and in some ways that could be true for the author—but the rest of the publishing process is anything but. It’s up to you to create an original and engaging story, but so much of your success depends on your editor, designer, and illustrator. It’s never a great idea to self-publish any book without help, but this expert support is absolutely crucial for publishing a children’s book.