There is a common misconception that children’s picture books are the low-hanging fruit of the publishing world. Perhaps because they’re short and simple, folks think: I could write a great picture book! And yet, a very small percentage of children’s book ideas land a deal with a traditional publisher. Self-publishing has disrupted the notoriously difficult children’s book publishing landscape just as it has the adult market, and writers are jazzed. However, too many aspiring children’s book self-publishers don’t look before they leap. They dive right in to a lovely working relationship with their favorite artist and produce a finished file, only to then come to Girl Friday (or someone similar) for publishing assistance and find they’re already too far down the wrong path. Think through the considerations below at the very beginning of your children’s book publishing journey to ensure that you’ll be putting your best foot forward.
1. Does your book have a specific audience, and do you know how to reach it?
We think it’s thrilling that self-publishing platforms are making room for new books to exist for very specific market niches. A publisher may not buy a book if the market for it is too small, but that doesn’t mean there’s no market at all—it simply means that the publishers aren’t able to effectively reach that specific set of readers. The most successful—perhaps the only successful—children’s book authors who self-publish have a clear understanding of who will buy their book and a clear plan to reach them. That could be selling copies directly through their website (providing there is existing traffic), or through an established relationship with schools or libraries, for example.
2. Is the format you envision for your book possible, and if so, is it financially viable?
A classic vision for a picture book is a jacketed hardcover set in a landscape orientation. The problem is that most print-on-demand printers are not set up to print and bind books in landscape layouts—and the ones that are can be prohibitively expensive (often around twenty dollars per book in print costs!). Before you engage any freelancers (artists, editors, or designers), you need to first confirm the cost to print the book in the format you envision. To determine that your format will work, find a self-publishing platform that supports landscape printing (Bookbaby is worth looking into), and plug in numbers to see how much it will cost to print. That information will tell you if you can sell the book at a reasonable retail price and not have to raise the retail to thirty dollars just to break even on the printing (not advisable!). If you can’t make the costs work, don’t despair! If you can be flexible about the format, going for a portrait trim size (IngramSpark even offers an eight-by-eight -inch square hardcover option), you’ll be able to make the numbers work out.
3. Have you jumped the gun with the artwork?
Many self-published authors come to us for editorial and design services with artwork fully completed. This is problematic because it hamstrings the developmental editor’s work on your story. The developmental editor will work with your story’s pacing to tighten and drive the plot forward. If art is created in conjunction with your drafted plot, then the developmental editor has to leave the pacing intact, and you’ve missed a great opportunity to strengthen your book. It’s best to hold off on having anything other than sample artwork created until the developmental-editing phase is complete.