How to Self Publish a Children's Book

by sheilamarie

Deciding to self publish a children's book may seem simple, but there are many things you must consider. Here is how I self published my children's book and why I made that choice.

Do you have a children's book you'd like to get published? Join the club. So many people have written children's stories that may be delightful and worth sharing, but because the publishing business has become so cut-throat in these days of economic woe, most of these stories will never see the light of day.

Although self-publishing was not my first choice, I am glad I took this route. I've learned a lot along the way, both about writing and about the business of publishing. Read on as I share my experience, and maybe you can learn from it, as well, before you take the plunge.

Have You Written a Children's Book or Story?

Leave a comment about what you've written.

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No, but I like to read them!
ohcaroline on 04/10/2013

I have one in my head that I've been carrying around with me for a long time. When I think about the publishing process, it stymies me.

Ragtimelil on 07/17/2012

I've thought about it.

Yes I have!
Genesis on 02/09/2013

Mine is for older kids, but yes!

Mira on 09/03/2012

Yes, I did try to write one as a grown-up... It's not that great by any means, but I enjoyed the exercise.

MHeart on 07/09/2012

I am currently writing my children books story for the Kindle book store

Tolovaj on 07/03/2012

Yea, I have written about three hundred children stories, all are published in different media, I am author of about 20 books, 20 compact discs and 50 radio plays...
:)

katiem2 on 06/26/2012

Yes, In fact I've written many and now I understand how to get them published. I include related children's songs I write as well one relating to each book. Hmmm now maybe the time to dust them off and get them published. I primarily wrote them for my own kids.

BrendaReeves on 06/26/2012

Yes, I have. I wrote it for a class at UCLA. I sent it out to publishers and actually got some wonderful encouragement from editors along with my rejection card.

The Bumpy Road to Publishing

So first of all, who am I, and why do I think I'm qualified to write on this subject?

In the 1980's, I self-published a children's activity calendar/datebook called Tot's Agenda. It included simple and fun activities parents could do with their kids and also included pages that were similar to what you'd find in a baby book -- places to record the cute things kids say, favorite things, accomplishments, and the like. At the time, I thought that it would be something I could sell while I wrote my stories and poems. We lived on a farm and there were few opportunities to make an income. With the help of my husband and my brother-in-law, I distributed a thousand books over a few years.

Around the same time, I had a story accepted by Cricket Magazine, a renowned children's magazine in the U.S. The story was called "Sunrise," and it was published in the March, 1989, edition of the magazine. The story was well received, and I heard from teachers as well as the School Board in Portland, Oregon, who used it in some materials they were preparing statewide.

I wrote four middle grade novels, none of which I was successful getting accepted by a publisher. Now this is nothing to brag about, but in hindsight I can say that my main problems were twofold: first, I was shy and not well-connected and second, I was so broke all the time that to go to conferences where I would meet agents and editors, or to get that MFA in writing I so wanted to to get, was impossible for me. I worked many jobs during this period while raising my three sons. Nothing I did paid me more than peanuts, including the full time teacher's job I got at a private school.

I wrote volumes of poems and story after story. Most of the time, when I sent my stories out, I would have to wait almost a year just to receive the standard rejection note. Yes, people told me how so many famous authors received rejections before their masterpieces were accepted to become best sellers, but that knowledge didn't really help. The last straw was when I got my envelopes back a year or so after sending them off and noticed that the envelopes hadn't even been opened. After that, I decided that sending a manuscript to a New York publisher was not even worth my time. I chose three Canadian publishers to try, and when all three rejected my story, although two wrote me personal notes saying that they enjoyed it -- one even calling it "charming" -- but that they publish only a few books a year, I made the decision to print it up myself at a Print-on-Demand company and to promote it online. I consoled myself by admitting that I was doing this just so that I could share the story with my own grandchildren. I didn't have time to wait until they were too old to enjoy it properly.

I went the easiest way I knew of, which was to upload my book to Lulu.com. The people at Lulu make the process easy. You can download a template on which you can paste your story. Then they provide you with another template for creating the cover. Once they have created your ready-to-print file, you download it onto your computer and give it another look over. If all is well, you can order a copy of the book to see it in a hard copy.

I shared my early version with my siblings as well as with my children. One of my sisters teaches grade three in Massachusetts. She read Fiona the Theater Mouse to her third grade classroom who loved it. As an assignment, each of the students wrote me a letter telling what they liked and what could be better about the book. Mostly they thought it was funny and exciting, but they gave me some helpful positive feedback, too, such as that they wanted more information at the end as to what happens next. I took that advice to heart and added a couple of paragraphs at the end so that the reader gets a more satisfying resolution.

Fiona the Theater Mouse

Final Version

During my experience of creating Tot's Agenda, I started a tiny publishing company called Publications Eva Nova (in French) or Eva Nova Press (in English). I had ISBN numbers assigned to me. I took advantage of these numbers to assign one to Fiona and to move forward with publishing this children's book. Fiona the Theater Mouse is a 65 page chapter book for kids in grades 2/3, although as a read aloud, it would be fun for kids from about kindergarten to grade 4.

I published my new version of Fiona with a new cover this spring. Because Lulu is a print-on-demand company, I didn't need to put up a lot of money to get started. I only needed to pay for a few copies at a time. My first print run was for only 30 copies, which quickly sold out. I made another order for more, but as a result of the strong positive feedback I'm receiving from parents and kids, I've come to the conclusion that if I can find an even cheaper per book price, I could actually make a profit on this book. I am now researching printing companies for prices, and as soon as I can scrape together the funds, I will print up enough books to make it possible to sell to a wider audience. Meanwhile, Lulu does such a good job at producing a quality book, that I'm happy to continue selling the book online as best I can.

I'm also looking at publishing an e-book version on Kindle. (See link below.) Lulu also publishes e-books, but people are more likely to find the book on Kindle.

Which brings me to the next subject: Promotion.

How to Promote Your Children's Book

Getting the Word Out

Promotion is a challenge, but when you are confident in your product, it can even be kind of fun. With the internet, promotion has become a lot more doable than it was in my Tot's Agenda days. Then I had to go door to door, from bookstore to bookstore to gift shop to craft store. At times it felt excruciating, especially for someone like me who can be uneasy about selling in general and selling my own product in particular. And then it took time and money to place books in a variety of venues. Oftentimes a bookstore owner could only accept a few copies at a time, and so I would have to manage checking up every so often to get paid and to restock the supply.

But things have changed, and a person can now tackle the promotion side of things with much more efficiency. Email makes it easier to keep track of inventory. But even more important, writing about your book online is such a great way to get people interested in reading it. You can research not only printing prices, but places to send review copies and press releases. 

Which brings me to another point: Press releases. It's important when you publish a book to let people know about it. An easy thing to do is to write a short announcement and submit it to your local newspaper. You can also take out a classified ad to let people know where to purchase the book. Radio stations are always looking for local news stories, so you could send your local radio station a copy and see if they are interested in interviewing you or in reviewing the book. Without doing some of these things, no one will even be aware of your book. Offering to do readings and book signings at libraries and book stores and even schools can also drum up some interest in your book.

Have I done all these things? Not yet -- but they're on my to-do list.

Leave me a comment below with any other questions, and I'll try my best to answer them.

My Self Published Children's Book

Fiona the Theater Mouse
Fiona was born behind the dressing room closet wall at the Noodle Soup Community Theater. A children's book about friendship, courage, and how even a little mouse can save a life.

Edit, Revise, and Edit Again Before You Publish!

Make Sure Your Book Is the Best It Can Be

One thing that distinguishes a professionally published book from most self-published books is the quality of the editing. Don't make the mistake of publishing your book before getting feedback from an objective eye who can help you perfect the little irregularities that are bound to be there. If all the best selling authors need editors, don't fool yourself by thinking you don't need one, too.

You can start by sharing your story with family and friends, but don't stop there. It would be worth the investment to hire a professional editor to look at your work and to give you feedback. And if you are writing for children, as I am, be sure to also give your story a test run with the children at the age for which you're writing. Kids can be brutally honest -- you can tell immediately if the language and story line appeal to them or not. This is essential if you really want to reach an audience.

What poetry and children's stories have in common (I write both) is that every word is important. I have learned that many words and sentences can be cut out. In revising Fiona, I even cut out a whole chapter because, though it provided background information, it wasn't necessary as part of the story and it actually slowed the story down. Out it went.

Grammar and syntax must be perfect. Word choice is important, too. Although only 65 pages long, I revised Fiona over a hundred times. You must work and rework a story to lift it from the cobwebs and bring it to life.

Just when you think it is 100% done, be prepared to revise it again.

But at some point, just as you would a child, you have to let it go.

Grammar Really Is Important!

Edit, Revise, Edit, Revise: Repeat Daily
Commas and how to use them turn some people in knots. Yet when used correctly, commas make the difference between text that is easy to read and text that makes no sense.
Apostrophes have been called commas on a high. Some of us act a bit tipsy when we are faced with them in our writing.

Beyond Fiona

Treasure in a Mountain Cave

Since successfully publishing Fiona the Theater Mouse, I have also put together a study guide to make it easier for teachers to use the book and to extend the readers' experience, adding to the fun. This study guide is filled with activities for kids in an 8 1/2" x 11" format so that teachers and homeschoolers can photocopy pages easily. 

I have also prepared a second novel for kids, Treasure in a Mountain Cave. This is a 100 page book for grades 3-4.

How about you? Are you ready to take the plunge? Leave a comment below.

Updated: on 04/09/2014, sheilamarie
 
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sheilamarie on 03/10/2014

@Dashippy What is the title of your book? Is it still available?

Dashippy on 03/10/2014

I self published myself (though it wasn't a children's book) and I really understand the woes and struggles. Especially with promotion. Unfortunately I didn't really have the courage to put myself out there. It might not have gone as brilliantly as I wanted, but I must admit I did learn a lot I hope to take to the game next time I do something like that.

sheilamarie on 04/10/2013

Hi Brenda! Calvin sounds like a great hero, especially in these days when kids need to learn right from the start how to compost and recycle. Thanks for adding the link.

sheilamarie on 04/10/2013

Thank you, ohcaroline. I appreciate your kind words.

BrendaBarnes on 04/10/2013

Hello sheilamarie. I had forgotten to come back and follow up. Ohcaroline's comment came across my email and reminded me. Here is the link to the book. Thank you.
http://www.thelauruscompany.com/book/...

ohcaroline on 04/10/2013

This is a very encouraging article, Sheila. You laid out your road map that makes it easier for others to follow. I will be re-reading it to get all I can from it. Much success to you in your publishing endeavors.

sheilamarie on 10/07/2012

Thank you, Brenda! When your book is available, post again with the details, and I'll link to your book from here, too.

BrendaBarnes on 10/07/2012

The publisher is Laurus Publishing. They have been wonderful, ethical and involved. The book is scheduled to be completed the end of October. It is Calvin Compost, a story about an earthworm. Then the hard part begins with promotions. Your page here has given me great idea like contacting the local newspapers. I live in a small town and that is a great idea. Also I met two authors at our fall festival recently. They had set up booths to sell their books.
I agree that we all need to support and share one another's work. I have a blog and I can put a link to Fiona on there with your permission. The blog is for grandparent raising grandchildren so it is appropriate. Thanks, Brenda.

sheilamarie on 10/06/2012

What is the name of your book, Brenda? And what publisher is publishing it? It would be fun to share each other's books.
I know what you mean about stories "languishing." Stories seem to demand that we share them, don't you think?

BrendaBarnes on 10/06/2012

I am so very happy for you. Fiona looks like a lovely and fun book. I thought about using Lulu or Smashwords for my own children's book. I have gone with a publisher though. This is my first time and I needed an illustrator. I am a writer, an artist-no! Several more children's stories that could be books are languishing in my desk. You have given me options and hope. Thank you.




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