One of the most overwhelming parts of becoming a self-published children’s author is figuring out what you really need to publish your book and make it a success. There’s a lot of well-intentioned advice out there about the million and one things you can do to make your book absolutely perfect and reach as many potential readers as possible. However, in my experience some of these options just add unnecessary stress, expense, and complication to the process of self-publishing.
With the disclaimer that these are just my opinions based on my own publishing experience and working with other authors, here are my thoughts on what you really need to succeed as an indie children’s author:
Unless you’re an experienced illustrator, this is one expense I absolutely recommend to everyone. It’s usually very easy to tell whether a book was illustrated professionally or if it was done by an author trying to save on illustration costs. There’s a lot more to great artwork than just drawing what you’ve written, and in my experience kids know and appreciate the difference. It’s possible to get great artwork done inexpensively, so there’s no expense for skimping on this part of your book. Great artwork can absolutely be the difference between a bestseller and a flop.
Verdict: Essential (unless you’re an experienced illustrator yourself)
For the vast majority of authors, I recommend hiring an editor, even if it’s just someone to edit for grammar, typos, and flow. As an author, it’s easy to get too close to your work and not catch the mistakes you’ve made when writing it. I’ve just run across way, way too many self-published children’s books that are riddled with mistakes that leave a bad taste in my mouth as a reader, parent, and lover of books. These mistakes range from glaring typos to capitalization errors to rhyming books that don’t actually rhyme.
There’s just no excuse to publish a book with these kinds of mistakes in this day and age. There are many talented, reasonably priced freelance editors out there who can help make your book better and fix the mistakes that can make people leave negative reviews. Or, if you really don’t have the money to hire an editor, join a writer’s group and ask other authors to help you edit your book. Just make sure that they’re good spellers and grammarians themselves 😉
Verdict: Highly recommended
You don’t necessarily need to hire a cover designer, as long as your illustrator understands how to design an image that works well as a book cover. You’ll want an image that works well both at full size and at the tiny postage-stamp size that shows up on Amazon. This means visible fonts and an eye-catching image that gets people interested in clicking on the listing and taking a better look at your book. One thing you can do to make the process easier for your illustrator is to find some cover examples you like so they have an idea of what you’re looking for and how it differs from an in-book image.
Verdict: A great cover is essential, whether it’s done by your illustrator or a dedicated cover designer
Although you don’t need a website right off the bat, it’s a good idea to eventually give readers a place where they can find out more about you, discover your other work, and get freebies or updates from you. You don’t need an incredibly fancy, flashy website, but your website should look inviting, clean, and professional.
One note on websites: I see many authors create their website on a free platform like Blogspot or WordPress.com. While these are OK when you’re first starting out, you don’t technically “own” the site since it’s on someone else’s platform, so you run the risk of losing your site someday if the service shuts down.
Personally, I recommend registering a domain name, either with your name or a company name you publish under (for example, mine is 3B Books). This costs about $10/year to maintain, so it’s a tiny expense. I then recommend using a web host like HostGator, which is about $5-8/month, and installing a self-hosted version of WordPress. I’ll go into this in more detail in a later post, but it gives you the most flexibility and ownership for your site, and at a minimal cost.
Verdict: Recommended in the long term, but not necessary right away
Social Media Profiles
This one may seem unnecessary, since pretty much all of us are using social media on one platform or another these days. What I’m referring to is creating dedicated “author accounts” where you post stuff about your books, interact with fans and colleagues, and more.
While I think social media can be pretty effective, in my opinion the key is to pick one or two platforms that you’ll use consistently and appropriately, and stick to them! It’s easy to get distracted by the thousand and one new social networks popping up, but it’s better to use just one effectively than to use all of them but only post and interact once in a blue moon.
So pick the one or two you like the best and feel most comfortable using, and really use it like it’s intended. By that I mean don’t just post links to your books and beg people to buy them. Actually treat it like the average user, add value and be a part of the community, and you’ll get a lot more out of it than if you just view it as a sales tool.
Verdict: Pick one (most authors seem to prefer Twitter) and stick to it
There are a lot of overhyped marketing tools you “need” as an independent children’s author, but a mailing list isn’t one of them. Being able to communicate directly with fans who want to hear from you, whenever you have something to say, and in a way that is far more reliable than social media channels (link to proof), is worth its weight in gold. Email is still the best way to let readers and prospects know when you have a new book coming out, are running a pricing special to sell more copies of your books, want to request that they leave a review of your books, or just want to share something fun and valuable with them.
I’ll cover creating a mailing list in more detail in a later post, but if you’re looking for a great service that’s free to start with, I recommend MailChimp. That’s a referral link, but I recommend them because I’ve personally used them myself for years and love their service. Best of all, they’re free to start with, and will be until your mailing list size is pretty large. There’s no excuse to not be mailing fans and readers when it’s a free service!
Verdict: Highly recommended if you want to really succeed as an author
Book trailers are a hot topic, and I’ve spoken to quite a few authors who have invested in a book trailer or are planning to before they’ve done a lot of the other things on this list. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t have personal experience with book trailers, but to be totally honest they seem pretty overrated and like an unnecessary expense for most authors (and especially first-time authors). Even some of the “best of” book trailers I’ve seen that are given as examples of “what to do” have a relatively low number of views in the grand scheme of things, and that often includes backing from traditional publishers and with some media attention. I have to question whether the time and money spent on book trailers really results in enough sales and attention to justify the cost (both in money and in time that could be spent on other marketing activities).
Since I’ll admit I’m not an expert on book trailers, I’d be happy to be proven wrong on this one. If you have any insight or opinion on book trailers, please share it in the comments!
Verdict: Skip it
Children’s books are one genre where print books are still king. There’s just nothing to compare to holding a book in your hands while you read to your kids, so as an author you definitely want to offer that experience to your fans. Kindle books are great too, though, so I’m a firm believer that it’s worth the little bit of extra effort to offer both versions to readers.
One important decision you’ll need to make when offering print books, though, is whether to use a Print on Demand service like CreateSpace, which has the excellent benefit of not requiring you to carry lots of unsold inventory or pay any upfront costs but gives you limited options on size, paper quality, and only soft covers, or opting for a more traditional printer, which gives you more flexibility and options but puts the upfront cost on you.
In my opinion, this decision comes down to personal preference and your confidence in your ability to sell books. If you want to limit your costs and risk, I recommend going for CreateSpace. If the most important thing for you is the overall quality of the printed book, and you are confident that you can sell your book without too much trouble, then a traditional printer might be worth it.
Verdict: Definitely worth doing
Do you really need a detailed plan for how to “launch” your book and get it out into the world? It’s not strictly necessary, as you can always just put your book out there and see what happens, but if you follow the “Field of Dreams” approach, you’re likely to be disappointed by the results. Too many new authors quietly put their book on the market and then get discouraged when it doesn’t sell a lot of copies.
I recommend having a launch plan, even if it’s relatively simple, so that you can make the biggest impact you can early on. This will make your book release feel like the celebration it should be, instead of feeling like a letdown after all of your hard work creating it. You can also take advantage of certain sales-boosting channels like Amazon’s Hot New Releases lists or “new book” websites, Twitter accounts, and Facebook groups & pages. All in all, it’s well worth putting together a plan for launching your book, so you can get sales off to a strong start.
Verdict: Not required, but highly recommended
A few final thoughts:
First off, please take these recommendations as my opinion based on my experiences and my conversations with other self-published children’s authors, and not as gospel. Every author will get different results from a particular tool, resource, or technique based on how they use them, how people react to their specific books, and the vagaries of time and luck.
If one of the things listed above really appeals to you and you feel like you can benefit from it, go for it! Just don’t let anyone pressure you into spending money or time on something you don’t believe in or know you won’t take advantage of.
Also, my thoughts on the items in this post are based on my experience with them and opinion of them as I write this (September 2014). Things can and do change in the brave new self-publishing world all the time, so if a few months or a year from now you see me cranking out book trailers or spending all day using 10 different social media platforms, it’s because I started seeing the value in them and changed my mind.
I hope this post was helpful for you! In the comments please let me know your thoughts or questions on these and any other items I forgot to address. If you totally agree or disagree with my recommendations, or have another tool or resource you’d like me to weigh in on, please let me know in the comments!
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