The question I get asked most is this: “How do I publish my children's book?” There are more options than ever depending on the book and your goals. Today's article will help you decide how to publish your book.
In this series How to Write a Children's Book, we've covered everything from developing ideas to finding illustrators. You have your idea. You may even have your manuscript written. You've considered your target reader.
Now what? How you do get your idea into a published format? What book publishers should you be considering?
Today, let's go over all the ways to get your book into the hands of your readers.
Consider Your Book and Author Goals
Before we look at the how of publishing, let's consider the why. What are your goals for yourself as an author and for your book? I've talked to many aspiring authors over the years and this question always gives them pause.
Often they haven't stepped back long enough to consider exactly what is motivating their endeavor and what success would look like.
One woman, Navi, told me she is writing her book to honor and inspire her family and Indian roots. Traditional publishing is her dream.
Another woman, Jamie, moved ahead with hybrid publishing as it was most important to her to find a quicker path to publishing that offered her design and manufacturing support, even if it required a higher monetary investment.
This deeper look into your hopes for your work can often illuminate your best publishing path. Your answers may include:
- I want to write this for my own kids and family. It's more a legacy gift.
- I want to sell as many books as possible and am willing to put forth the marketing effort to do so.
- I've always had a dream of publishing a book with a traditional publisher.
- I want to be able to say, “I'm a published author,” and I'm open to multiple paths.
- I want to inspire people with my words. Five people or five thousand, I'd be happy either way.
- I have such a strong vision for my book that I want to maintain full creative control.
Two Primary Publishing Paths
While each publishing path has its own nuances, challenges, and benefits, I'd say there are two main avenues with multiple ways to execute within each.
This is exactly what it sounds like. You take on the work and cost of shepherding your book into the world including cover and interior design, editing, printing and marketing.
You will want to research which companies print which types of books, such as soft cover, hard cover, or board books. The two most-often used platforms for self-publishing are Ingram Spark and Amazon KDP Publishing or Kindle Direct Publishing.
An optional path under the self-publishing umbrella is Hybrid Publishing where an author pays a company to create a book (versus the author taking this on or outsourcing the tasks). Examples of hybrid publishers include Book Baby, Wise Ink, and Silver Street Media. More on the hybrid option below.
This is what you may think of when you think of book publishing. Your book is published by an established publishing house with a team who handles the entire process including distribution. This option does not require money up front (just a lot of patience!).
According to Publisher's Weekly, a popular industry magazine, “As 2022 began, the U.S. trade publishing business was dominated by what has been called the Big Five—Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan.”
There are, however, many smaller traditional publishers worth checking out including university presses. Your best strategy for finding these publishers is to do your own research—there are so many articles and lists online—and to talk to other authors in the industry, either through a group like SCBWI, or through an in-person online writer's group. I find my way by asking a lot of questions!
Pros and Cons of Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
I can't emphasize enough the myriad ways you can get your book into the world, and there are numerous articles delving into the intricacies of each. For simplicity's sake and to help illustrate the ups and downs of each path, I'm going to list some of the most often talked about realities of both.
By considering these against the backdrop of your goals and available resources, you can make a better-informed decision about which to explore.
- You have an experienced team of people working on your behalf, including cover designers, editors, data analysts, and sales/marketing people.
- There is no upfront investment on your part. Conversely, you will receive an advance and ongoing royalties. It's worth noting here that according to industry statistics, only about 25% of books earn out their advance, meaning you sell enough books to make additional revenue beyond what you were initially paid.
- There is a robust distribution network in place. Many traditional publishers have in-house sales teams calling on retailer customers. Smaller traditional publishers rely on outside sales teams such Independent Publisher's Group. In this case, IPG is representing books from several publishers whose lines they offer. It's important to ask a publisher about this—do they have their own in-house sales team or do they work with an outside group?
- A traditionally published book may help bolster your writing career (some view this as a more “real” path to publishing). Sometimes a bookstore or retailer will not carry self-published books as the process to buy and return isn't as seamless as with their current traditional publishers. There are, however, many success stories of those who have done very well through self-publishing!
- Traditional publishers often only take agented submissions, meaning they are not open to an unsolicited manuscript, and you need a literary agent to submit your work. Check out a publisher's submission guidelines on their website to clarify before submitting.
- The publishing industry moves slowly, with a long timeline from idea to publication. Often publishers will be working on titles that will hit the shelves two or more years from now.
- You'll likely earn less money per book. First-time traditionally published authors usually make 10% per book sold until they recoup their advance. After this, their earnings can go up to 12.5%. Be sure to know if your publisher is paying royalties on retail or net (wholesale) price!
- You'll have less creative control. As traditional publishers bring their inner expertise to their books, they may not solicit your input or feedback during the process. For an author who wants to be intricately involved, this may be a drawback.
- You're the boss of the process. You'll be overseeing everything from editing, illustration and cover design to uploading your finished book and writing jacket copy. For someone who loves the idea of maintaining creative control, this might be perfect. Keep in mind, however, these tasks, if not in your own wheelhouse, will require you to outsource and pay for them!
- You don't have to invest in inventory. Many of the self-published platforms are print-on-demand, meaning a book is printed when a customer orders it. This helps keep upfront costs down while still allowing you to order books in bulk to take to local events.
- You keep more of your profit. Amazon’s royalty rate is 60% of your book’s retail price minus the book’s print cost, much higher than the rate for traditional publishing. So, for example, if your book retailed at $17.99, a self-published author would receive $7.54 per book sold.
- There's a shorter timeline. Once you decide you're ready to go, you can initiate the publishing process, which is key for people who aren't interested in the longer timeline of traditional publishers.
- You're the boss of the process. I'm putting this as a pro and con! If you have knowledge about design and layout, great. But if this is not your strong suit, you may find this part of the process frustrating and laborious—and expensive if you need to hire out a lot of the expertise, for example, a professional editor, proofreading, book cover design, illustrations, and internal layout.
- The price per book for an illustrated picture book can be high. Given that children's books have illustrated pages, you will find it is more expensive to print one book. There is a limit to what consumers are willing to pay for a kids book, so you'll want to make sure there's a profit for you in there.
- Marketing is all on you. The reality is, you need to sell your books. The self-publishing platforms will mention your distribution services, but experience has shown me this means making your book available on Amazon, Target.com, or BN.com. What they are not doing is getting the customer to show up there. That's on you.
To get the real-life scoop on the self-publishing process, I reached out to an author friend, Kate Fischer. She self-published her first book, “Your Angel Army,” through Ingram Spark first, then decided to print her own books at a local offset printer to better manage her cost per book.
“I was paying $11.00 for every book I printed through Ingram Spark because every page is full color,” said Kate. “I was originally selling my books for $24.00 each but realize there's a limit to what a customer is willing to pay for a book.”
Because of this reality, Kate switched gears and decided to partner with a local Minnesota printer who helped her bring her cost way down. Kate was willing to invest in inventory, knowing she'd be making a way bigger profit per book. When I asked her about marketing, she said, “I was definitely creating all the momentum.”
A Third Option: Hybrid Publishing
Hybrid Publishing is what a sounds like—a cross between traditional and self-publishing. Like self-publishing, you initiate the process in partnership with an outside company.
When you hire a hybrid publisher, it's akin to hiring a general contractor to oversee your kitchen remodel. You are outsourcing the creation of your book. You are hiring a company to perform all the necessary services for getting your book created.
First-time author Jamie Gagnon—founder of The Rendered Root—told me this about her decision to use a hybrid publisher:
“I choose to self publish with Silver Street Media/Bridgeport National Bindery out of Agawam, Massachusetts. Working with a smaller and more local establishment has provided me with prompt and personal attention, along with the opportunity to be involved with the entire process, all of which was very important to me! The best part of the process has been knowing that I have a team behind me, a one stop shop that genuinely puts the best interest of their clients first.”
She went on to describe the menu of options she was offered:
“I outsourced illustrations on my own, then invested in Silver Street's design services at the rate of $105 per hour that they offer in house (which I would have had to pay to outsource elsewhere as it was). The print on demand service that they offer which includes the listing on their site that they do all the distribution for, they collect 15 percent of the list price and then issue me a royalty check, as opposed to the 35 percent that Amazon is known to take. The only other investment that I have with Silver Street/Bridgeport National Bindery are any bulk orders by choice that are discounted at a tiered percentage, depending on the order quantity. With that being said, I’ve found that the cost is dramatically low, especially in comparison to other examples I've heard.”
Jamie is correct. The cost of Hybrid Publishing can vary widely. Talk to a few companies to compare and contrast their services. One industry veteran puts the cost between $15,000 and $30,000 for a complete package.
Often an author will have to pay additional for marketing services. Also, you'll want to thoroughly vet any company you hire, to make sure you know exactly what you are paying for and the timeline for services.
Traditional, Self, or Hybrid? You Choose
There's no right or wrong way to publish your children's book. There are many authors who have chosen each of these routes to great success.
There might, however, be a best avenue for you to publish your children's book. And only you can decide which route that is. Consider your goals for your book and the resources you're able to invest in it (time? money? skills? etc.) to determine the best fit for you.
And keep in mind that you can change your mind throughout your career. One avenue might be the best fit for the book you're writing right now, but you might decide that you'd like to publish the next book through a different route—and that's perfectly okay.
Depending on what your goals are for the book and for yourself as the author, hopefully this helps you narrow down your best options for publishing your book and getting it in the hands of your readers.
Which route feels right for your goals? Share in the comments.
All three publishing paths require a short synopsis of your book. Today, let's look at some examples and write your own.
Spend five minutes researching the paragraph synopsis or summary of a children's book similar to your own. You can find this on the sales page of any online retailer or the back cover of the book itself.
Then, take ten minutes to write a synopsis of your own book.
Share in the practice box and be sure to leave feedback for other writers!
I'm Marianne Richmond—writer, artist and inspirationalist. My words have touched millions over the past two decades through my children's books and gift products.
Basically I put love into words and help you connect with the people + moments that matter. You can find me on my website, Facebook, and Twitter (@M_Richmond21).