OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Self-publishing picture books for children is doubly difficult than adult books in terms of production, because of the cost of print books, which are necessary for that market, and also because targeted marketing is much harder.
In today's interview, Karen Inglis shares her fantastically detailed and honest information about writing, self-publishing and marketing books for children.
In the introduction, I mention my own goals for 2014, as well as commenting on Joe Konrath's resolutions for writers. I also discuss Russell Blake's success and what I constantly have to come back to in my own writing schedule. I talk about translation plans for my books, and also why you should consider exploiting the rights for your own work.
The podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
Karen Inglis is the author of books for children including ‘The Secret Lake' and ‘Eeek, the runaway alien,' as well as Ferdinand Fox's Big Sleep, which is also now an iPad app.
- How Karen got started with writing for children after being a copywriter for the financial services industry for many years. The stories ‘found' her, beginning with a beautiful fox she saw in the winter mist one morning, which became Ferdinand Fox.
- Why self-publishing picture books for children is so hard. There's the aspects of illustration and the cost of printing, but also, the stats show that the sales of picture books compared with general children's fiction are much lower, and especially so for unknown authors. 500 copies is a very good number to sell for picture books, so don’t expect to sell a lot.
- The problems with print on demand for children's picture books. You can't get the ‘silk page' finish with print-on-demand, and the books don't look like the others in bookstores, plus the income per book is much less. It's much more of a labor of love.
- You can make more income selling direct into schools if you do short print runs, but that means you have to order more units and pay upfront costs. Karen explains how she has books for different age groups so when she goes into schools, she can present to the whole school and sell them all. Hence the time spent on the personal appearances and upfront printing can be worth it, if you have multiple books.
Tips for children's picture books
- How to write and publish a children's picture book. You'll need to plan your word count and page count, and Karen shares her mistakes in this regard. Creating a storyboard will help you to avoid common design mistakes. Here's Karen's free template.
- How to find and work with an illustrator. Karen recommends ChildrensIllustrators.com and LinkedIn Groups for children's writers and illustrators. Karen found her own illustrator on Elance.com, he's actually in Eastern Europe and they do all their communication virtually. There are different styles of working e.g. controlling every aspect vs letting the illustrator do their own creative thing. There are also different business models e.g. JV split or payment up front. Remember to discuss the copyright and who owns the images when they are done.
- On book design, Karen does a lot herself for the older children's books using Createspace templates. She also uses Lighthouse24 for book layouts to make sure it will all work without problems.
- For distribution, Karen uses Createspace for Amazon.com, and Lightning Source for everything else so she can order short runs, make it easy for UK bookstores to order her books and provide books for party bags. I mention my trick which is ordering my own print books from Amazon.co.uk as a member of Amazon Prime which gives me free shipping, and I get ranking and money back in royalties, so the pricing works out at a similar rate.
Marketing books for children
- On marketing, Karen talks about copywriting, optimizing keywords on her blog, about her author website. She uses specific #tags on twitter to find people searching for children's books. She has targeted specific book bloggers but this is a long-term and long-tail strategy, as you can't control the timing of their reviews.
- The importance of networking with local bookstores, including large chain Waterstones (which doesn't usually let indies do signings). Karen talks about using a wholesalers to be the middleman with Lightning Source and how she gets round the issue of ‘out of stock.' [Karen is one determined lady, and I am so impressed with her tenacity to persuade industry folks to give her books a chance!]
- Karen does a lot of physical appearances at schools. She phones them up to get the right contact, and then emails directly with links to the website and the books and an attachment with lots of information. For children to buy books on the visit, Karen provides a slip that the school can send home for the money and even arranges pre-signing to speed things up. Sounds like a great idea!
- Karen explains the decision behind turning her picture book, Ferdinand Fox, into a book app, and how the process worked in finding and working with her developers, East Yorkshire Apps.
- Karen also mentions Authorly which will help authors to make apps with drag and drop software, and then publish them to the various platforms.
- You can read her article on creating a children's book app here.
You can find Karen on twitter @kareninglis and at her websites:
SelfPublishingAdventures.com – packed full of great info on self publishing for children and a fantastic article on tax for non-US authors which I recommend to everyone!
Her author site KarenInglisAuthor.com which has all the info and buy links for Ferdinand Fox, EEEK and The Secret Lake.
Do you have any questions for Karen on writing, publishing or marketing books for children? Or any tips of your own? Please leave them below in the comments.