How to Self Publish a Children’s Book: Step By Step

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Are you one of the many people who dreams of writing a book? If so, this guide to how to self publish a children’s book could be just what you need to turn that dream into a reality.

Although it includes examples from my own recent experience of publishing a children’s book, much of the advice here is equally relevant to any kind of book – fiction or non-fiction, and for children or adults.

I’ve published two books now, and can attest to the wonderful feeling of holding your creative work in your own hands. I can also reassure you that the process is much easier than you might expect.

Throughout this guide to how to self publish a children’s book, I refer regularly to my recent experience of publishing Valtro the Witch. It was a true family project – based on a character drawn by my six-year-old son, with writing by my wife, editing and publishing by me, and beautiful illustrations by a freelance artist I hired on the freelance job board, Upwork.

To our delight, we’ve already had some great press coverage for the book, and you can read an article about it here.

So without further ado, I shall get into exactly how to self publish a children’s book, all laid out in a step-by-step format.

My key piece of advice: Don’t let your own idea sit and become one of those things you wish you’d done. The time between me getting started with this project and selling copies was less than two months. 

1. Have The Idea

Every book begins with an idea. In our case, Valtro the Witch began with a drawing my son produced at Halloween.

Original Valtro the Witch Picture

There was something about it that we really loved, and my wife began to type out a story. It was at this stage that I had the fleeting idea that we could do something with it.

Writing the original story didn’t take my wife very long. However, a considerable amount of time elapsed between her sending it to me and me making time to take the book idea forward!

For the purposes of this guide, the advice I would give is this: don’t let your idea get stuck at this stage.

2. Look at Other Children’s Books

The order of the steps in this self publishing guide isn’t the exact order we did things in. Instead, you get to learn from some of the mistakes made along the way!

We have two small children and a LOT of children’s books. But I’d never looked at them before from the perspective of creating one myself.

At a point quite far along our own process, I grabbed a big selection of books from the shelf, and looked at them all for inspiration. With hindsight, it’s something I should have done much sooner.

Shelves of childrens books

Now, when I talk about inspiration, I don’t mean in terms of story and illustrations. I mean practicalities like:

  • How long is the average children’s book? How many pages?
  • How do designers deal with text? Does it overlay the pictures, sit on opposite pages, or live in “box out” sections?
  • What kinds of fonts are used?
  • What extra pages do you need beyond the story itself? The inside covers? The author page(s)?

You can probably see why I now advise you to do this sooner rather than later. Looking at other books helps you make some really important decisions about your own.

3. Get the Story Down

As you can probably guess from the above, we already had the full story written out before we thought of the practicalities!

Regardless, getting the draft text written is a crucial step, and one that should happen very early in the process.

The fact we did it a little too early did cause a few complications. For example, we had some passages of the story that were particularly long. Valtro the Witch is a rhyming story, so it made sense to have each rhyming section on one double page. We did end up making some amendments around this.

Writing a children’s book seems easy on the face of it. This guide to how to self publish a children’s book has FAR more words than the book itself. However, it’s not just a case of writing 20 pages-worth of rhyming text.

You need a coherent story, fleshed out characters, and a flow that makes sense. We didn’t end up making many changes to the original text, but there were a couple of sections where we spent a considerable amount of time debating a certain word or a rhyme. That attention to detail is important if you want people to enjoy (and recommend) the book.

It’s also worth thinking about whether you’re trying to deliver a moral or a message. In the case of our book, it’s one of “friendship and self acceptance,” encouraging children to embrace their flaws.

Valtro the Witch book extract

4. Think About the Length

Length is important when you publish a children’s book. It’s why it makes sense to do the research I mentioned in step two.

There are various factors to consider. A child’s attention span is one, but another is the fact that the more pages your books has, the higher the printing costs.

Compared to some of our children’s favourite picture books, Valtro the Witch is perhaps slightly long. Maybe it would have been shorter if we’d tackled the creative process a bit differently.

Ultimately though, it’s your book. The VERY best test audience is your own children, if you have them.

5. Decide what to do About Illustrations

One decision that was really easy for us was the one around illustrations. My wife and I are both “artistically challenged,” and there was no way we’d have been able to persuade a six-year old to create 30+ illustrations with strict dimensions and details. (Maybe when he’s seven?!)

As such, we knew we’d hire an illustrator from the start. But perhaps you’d like to illustrate yours yourself?

If that’s the case, there are various things to think about. Will you be hand-drawing or doing something digital? If it’s hand-drawn, how will you move the illustrations into digital form? Those are questions you’ll have to answer for yourself.

The great thing is that you can still self publish a children’s book even if you can’t illustrate it yourself. I don’t want to turn this guide into a detailed article on how to hire people on Upwork, but I will explain broadly what I did:

  • I placed an advert on Upwork and stated a clear budget.
  • I gave a (paid) trial job to several freelance illustrators.
  • We chose the one we liked best (a big shout-out here to Bogdan Badaluta who was great to work with and did a wonderful job).
  • We agreed terms, and drew up a “work for hire” contract, in order to retain full rights to the characters and illustrations.
  • We worked together to create everything.

“How much does it cost to self publish a children’s book” is a question I tackle in more detail below. The short answer is that it costs next to nothing beyond your time and effort. But if you do outsource the illustrations (or the editing, or any other part of the process), the figure goes up considerably, requiring you to sell more books before you break even.

I should also emphasise that just because you hire an illustrator, it doesn’t mean you eliminate all of the related work. You still need to manage the process, request amendments, storyboard everything so you know how the pages lay out etc. etc. 

Publishing a childrens book - design work in progress

A quick anecdote: One really joyful moment in this process was showing our son the illustrator’s trial illustration. My wife said nothing about what she was showing him at breakfast that morning, but he immediately said “that’s Valtro!”

Obviously that showed us that we’d found the right freelancer. He managed to capture the essence of our son’s character, and it shines throughout the book.

6. Work Out What YOU Need to Learn

Self publishing a children’s book really isn’t that difficult, but there are things it’s useful to learn. Furthermore, the more you can do yourself, the less you will have to pay to outsource.

A crucial thing here is editing. You really should have somebody check every part of the text for spelling and grammar issues. When you read reviews of self-published books, you quickly learn that these errors guarantee that people criticise. Reviews mentioning mistakes are certain to reduce your sales.

In our case, both my wife and I write and edit for a living, so that wasn’t an issue. But I would urge you to ensure a professional gives your book the once over before you unleash it on the public.

Something I did choose to teach myself for this project were the fundamentals of Adobe InDesign. This was by no means essential, but it made for much easier workflow. It meant that I could tweak and edit text, both on the story and the supplemental pages, without having to ping endless messages back and forth with the illustrator.

Similarly, I handled uploading the book and doing all the setup in Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Again, you don’t have to be so self-sufficient. There are plenty of people who will happily do it for you if you pay, some offering a complete service where you send them the manuscript and leave them to it.

The key thing is to understand what you will do yourself, and what you will need help with.

7. Buy in The Help you Need

Following on from the point above, the next thing to do is work out WHO is going to do the bits you can’t or won’t do yourself.

As I’ve already explained, it’s easy to find people on freelance job boards, and you won’t have to pay them a fortune. However, it makes sense to decide who you need and what you will be paying them.

8. Sign up for Amazon KDP

Assuming you’re self publishing using Amazon’s platform (and this is what this guide focusses on), you’ll need to set up an account with Kindle Direct Publishing.

It only takes a minute and you can use your existing Amazon account details. KDP is where you will set up the book and upload the files once you’re done. Signing up at this point gives you access to Amazon’s tools so that you can start to look at book sizes and price structures.

9. Work Out The Practicalities

This is probably the most dull and stressful part of how to self publish a children’s book. But it’s also one of the most important.

Before you can start to “build” the book, you need to know some REALLY important things:

  • What will the physical size of the book be?
  • What kind of paper will you use?
  • How many pages will there be?
  • What is your planned price?
  • Do you plan to produce a printed book, a Kindle eBook, or both?

Thankfully, Amazon KDP makes most of this stuff very easy. When it came to dimensions, we used other books as inspiration. Working out the number of pages just involved a pen and lots of sheets of paper.

Amazon KDP book sizing

The pricing part is also really important at this stage – more so with a children’s book than with an adult book or, indeed, any book with just text.

The reason for this? Colour printing isn’t cheap! The profit margin on a self-published children’s book is small, so it’s worth playing around with sizes and prices to squeeze as much royalty as you can. I discuss pricing in a little more detail below.

The other reason these steps are so important is that all of your illustrations and page layouts will be designed specifically for the size of book you choose. Valtro the Witch has large illustrations spanning two pages, so one thing we had to do was ensure that key detail wasn’t lost in the inner spine of the book.

Whatever you do, make sure these details are crystal clear before design work happens – especially if you’re paying for it!

10. Put it All Together

This is the fun part.

Ultimately you need to pull everything together until you have two complete PDF files: the “manuscript” part, which is the inner pages of your book, and the cover. You can get a template for the latter from Amazon in your chosen size.

Once you upload these, they go through various automated checks, and the system alerts you if anything is the wrong dimensions. You can browse your completed book on screen.

It’s not that lengthy a process but it’s not something that takes just five minutes either. Expect to upload several versions while you iron out issues and get the margins right.

10. Order Proofs

Once your new children’s book has been processed by the KDP system, it’s quickly made available via Amazon, across different international sites. It’s pretty awe inspiring to think you can place a book on sale across the world from the comfort of your home.

However, before you tell anybody about the book’s availability, it’s wise to order some “proof” copies of the so that you can see it in printed form.

With Valtro the Witch, we were delighted with the quality of the book. It looks no different to something you’d buy in a bookshop. However, because I’d been staring at it for several weeks and become over-familiar with it, I skipped a really important step…

11. Check, Check and Check Again

Confession time: I’m going to tell you the biggest mistake I made when self publishing Valtro the Witch.

During the submission process, just before the book went live for sale, I received a message saying that I needed to increase the file dimensions by a few millimetres.

Being an InDesign novice, I was quite proud that I quickly worked out how to do this. But while I was busy feeling pleased with myself, I neglected to check the proof a final time after uploading the new version.

Little did I know that my tiny adjustment was enough to knock out the text formatting, resulting in several pages having words split across two lines. This would have been just about acceptable for an adult book but was really bad for a children’s book.

Adobe InDesign Settings

Worse still, we’d got excited about promoting the book. So we didn’t become alerted to the issue until we’d sold our first 20 or 30 copies. Thankfully these were mostly to family and friends.

This is amusing with hindsight. We now refer to this version of the book as the “rare first edition” that could become worth a fortune if Valtro the Witch is one day picked up by a “real” publisher.

But it illustrates a really important point: Don’t promote your book until you’re holding a proof copy that you are completely happy with. Not only can a mistake make you look foolish, it can compromise the crucial first few reviews your book gets online.

12. Start Marketing and Selling

Self publishing a children’s book is – arguably – the easiest part. Selling it is harder, and it’s something you’ll need to do unless you’re happy just to treat it all as a fun project. I do think it’s a little harsh and cynical to call that “vanity publishing” when it’s no different to any other creative endeavour.

The first port of call is almost always family and friends, but it’s good to have a plan for where to go for the next sales after that.

The plan will differ for every book. The first book I published, Moving to Portugal, was completely different to Valtro. I already had an established, related blog, and an audience interested in buying it.  With Valtro, our plans involve local book and craft fairs, and hopefully doing some promotion with my son’s school and the wider local community.

This raises an important point that’s specific to physical children’s books (or indeed anything with colour photos or illustrations):

You have two ways to sell the book – online, via Amazon, or with “in person” sales.

Since colour printing is expensive, you don’t make that much money selling books like this on Amazon. We clear just over $3 on each copy for Amazon sales. BUT, if we order reduced-price author copies and sell them locally, the profit is more like $6 per copy.

With books that are black and white text, the difference isn’t as stark, but it still exists. As such, it makes sense to work out how and where you’re going to market your book. More detail on that will have to wait for a future article. If it’s something you’d like me to write about in more detail, let me know in the comments.

What to Do Once Your Book is Published

Once your book is out there and you’ve (hopefully) sold your first copies, it can all feel like a bit of an anticlimax.

The reality is that it’s not really a case of “build it and they will come.” Most self-published books sell less than 250 copies and it’s quite possible nobody will randomly find it on Amazon.

But don’t worry, there’s plenty you can do:

1. Rinse and Repeat

The great thing about self publishing books is that once they’re out there, the vast majority of the work is done. Even a small trickle of sales can mean residual PASSIVE income for years to come. 

I’ve mentioned the first book I published, Moving to Portugal. Since publishing that back in 2012 it’s sold around 4000 copies. And it’s a book on, let’s face it, a pretty niche subject. The monthly royalty payments are always nice to receive, and they add up to a significant sum – probably more than a publisher would have paid me for a book on that subject.

You can also repeat the process. You’ll almost find it quicker and easier the second time, and several books each bringing in royalties can turn that trickle into a flood.

2. Get Some Press

A great way to give your book some traction is to get some press coverage. Consider reaching out to local papers, blogs and websites, or perhaps specific niche publications if your book is about a certain topic.

If you already have some kind of online following, you also have an option for your own self-promotion. If you have a blog, a YouTube or Twitch channel, or even just a decent social media following, you have somewhere to draw people to your book.

Press coverage from a guide to how to self publish a childrens book

We were fortunate to get some great, early coverage for Valtro the Witch. We’re far from done with that kind of promotion. Given the subject matter, we will definitely be trying to drum up some interest in the run up to Halloween – for years to come, all being well!

3. Consider Approaching Traditional Publishers

Just because you’ve self-published, it doesn’t mean you can’t try to pitch your book to publishers.

At the time of writing, we’ve not done this yet, but it’s certainly on my to-do list. I already have a pile of author copies that I will send out to children’s book publishers, alongside some printouts of our press coverage and positive reviews. Who knows where it could lead to?

I’d love to see my son’s Valtro the Witch creation as a Halloween TV special one day. A little ambitious, perhaps but – hey – a dad can dream!

Conclusion

Hopefully this guide has given you a good grounding on how to self publish a children’s book.

Yes, there’s quite a lot involved, but none of the steps are difficult and you only need to tackle one at a time.

If you’d like to see the finished Valtro the Witch, you can purchase it here on Amazon. You’ll make a six-year-old very happy!

Find Valtro the Witch Here.

Key Questions

How Much does it Cost to Self Publish a Children’s Book?

Beyond your own time and effort, there are no real costs involved in self publishing a children’s book. However, you should budget $20 or so to order proof copies if you intend to publish a physical book. If you need to outsource tasks like illustration and editing, you should assume you will spend at least $200-400 on related costs.

How Much Can You Make from Selling a Self Published Children’s Book?

There’s not a huge amount of profit in selling self-published books, and obviously how much you make will depend on how many you sell. If you’re selling printed copies on Amazon via Amazon KDP, you can assume you will make roughly $2-4 per copy sold, depending on the cover price.

If you order author copies and sell them yourself, you can expect to clear more profit on each sale – perhaps somewhere in the region of $5-6 per copy.

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