In the UK, about 10,000 new children’s books are published every year. In fact, the market is booming, with sales growing for four years in a row between 2014 and 2018.
Today, children’s titles account for one in three books sold (source: UCL Consultants 2020).
In a crowded market, illustrated books are somewhat unique in that they are also catching on in adult publishing, perhaps because today’s grown-up readers were raised on a diet of high-quality picture books as kids.
Major publishers aside, the market for children’s books is very different from the adult one: sales are dominated by titles from established series or about well-known characters with whom kids form an emotional bond. Alternative or niche offerings rarely sell many copies, so smaller publishers have to be very picky about what they release, carefully choosing from the countless manuscripts and illustrations they receive every day.
The self-publishing route
There are many authors out there who won’t be considered by publishers, their books rejected because they’re judged to be too big a gamble.
Which means that their only alternative is to self-publish.
It’s an increasingly popular route that has brought some authors great success. In fact, self-publishing has boomed over the past decade, with advances in digital printing technology helping to drive this trend.
One of the earliest best-selling self-published children’s books was Dallas Clayton’s “An Awesome World!”, released in 2009. After receiving rejection after rejection from American publishers put off by the simple words and bizarre illustrations, Dallas decided to do publish it himself. Thanks to the internet, a bit of DIY marketing and word-of-mouth enthusiasm, the book sold tens of thousands of copies in the US, before publishing giant Harper Collins snapped up the rights and Clayton signed on for three more titles.
The US market offers many more examples of self-published titles that have gone on to be bestsellers. But, according to a survey of self-published children’s authors conducted by the writer Hanna Holt for her blog**, although 62% of respondents said they made money from self-publishing, the mean amount earned was just $2,900.
Where to start
If you have a book you want to self-publish, this article will give you some key pointers for creating a quality product (because this remains fundamentalfor any publication, despite what some might have you think…).
Whether you’re an author, illustrator or both, you should know that in this day and age, with a bit of planning and entrepreneurial spirit, you too could self-publish your work. Let’s take a closer look at what you need to produce a good book.
1.A good story
The essential ingredient for any book is a good story. So it’s important to have as many people as possible read your manuscript: nit-picking critics and potential buyers, not just friends and family. Get their feedback and tweak the text until you get positive reviews from all your test readers.
Children’s books are full of images: so if yours is a novel, it needs an eye-catching cover and engaging pictures inside (even if only in black and white); and if it’s an illustrated book, the pictures must be top-notch.
If your book is aimed at younger kids, images will predominate over text, or it may even be a silent book (one without narrative text).
Editing is a crucial stage that should not be overlooked. It’s not just a case of running a spell checker, but rather analysing the text and seeing how it “works”: checking that sentences are grammatically correct and coherent with the narrative; ensuring the text has the right pace; making sure that there’s continuity across pages, and so on.
Ideally, a professional should edit the text; and at the very least, the editor should be someone other than the author.
Graphic design can make or break a self-published title: something as seemingly trivial as using the wrong font for the cover can leave your book looking amateurish.
As is often the case, one of the best pieces of advice is less is more. Keep things simple and use no more than two fonts so that the content stands out without visual distractions.
For desktop publishing, there are lots of tools out there, including some free and open-source options. The undisputed king is Adobe InDesign, but it’s worth considering free software like Scribus too.
(Check out our deep dive on desktop publishing programs)
All this is good advice, but there are two more things that anyone about to publish an illustrated book needs to consider.
The first is to decide on the length of the book, in other words, the number of pages: a quick browse of your local bookshop or library will give you a good idea of average length for this type of book. There’s no point in giving a toddler 500-page tome, and illustrated books with lots of pages are expensive to produce. Equally, too few pages (just 24, for example) may make a book unattractive. Every age range, every book type, every story genre, has an optimum length: finding this can make all the difference.
The second thing to consider is the illustrations: not only must they be well drawn, they have to be used properly, in other words, laid out right. There are rules on rhythm and composition that should be followed to ensure that the story works, as well as equally important rules on the consistent use of style and colour between pages. Careful study of the best illustrated books out there will give you an idea of how these rules work in practice.
Printing and distribution
Once your book has been laid out, it’s time to go to press.
You will have already decided on the format and number of pages. Now it’s time to choose either a soft cover (great for fiction) or a hard cover (ideal for illustrated books and for adding heft to titles with few pages); hard covers are the most expensive of the two.
Next, you need to choose the paper: for fiction, uncoated paper is a safe bet, while for an illustrated book, it’s better to choose papers that are coated or have qualities designed to bring out illustrations. Bear in mind that some papers absorb more colour than others, which means that images will be rendered differently depending on the paper chosen.
The last big decision to take is how many copies to print. This will come down to budget and storage space available: don’t forget that a box of 50 books can be heavy and bulky, so storing 500 books needs a fair amount of space. A traditional publisher might print 2000 copies initially for a book they expect to be successful, but a self-publisher can get away with a much smaller initial print run and save on storage space.
Once your books arrive, it’s time to sell them!
If you already have a community of followers, you can offer your book to them in the hope that word-of-mouth and chatter on social media will widen your readership. Also try getting your book stocked by bookshops, especially independents and sellers specialising in self-published titles.
It can be worth creating a dedicated website to promote your book, as well as spreading the word in among online book clubs – you’ll find all sorts of these on Facebook.
Lastly, consider listing your book on digital marketplaces: this could bring your book global reach!
Self-publishing a book is a brave move, and not without risk, but can it can be rewarding, and not just emotionally. Financially speaking, there’s a decent chance of breaking even (depending on how many copies you print). But most importantly, if your book sells well, earnings per copy sold can be much greater for self-published works than for those released by a publishing house (royalties are typically 7-10% of the cover price).
The self-publishing market continues to grow and is a great option for experimental, unusual and niche titles that traditional publishers tend to reject.
- Source: UCL Consultants https://www.ucl.ac.uk/consultants/case-studies/2020/apr/childrens-books-are-best-seller