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Self-publishing books for children can be challenging because of higher printing costs and difficulties in marketing to your target market. In today's show, Karen Inglis explains how she sells thousands of copies of her books for children and tips for how you can do it too.
In the intro, I mention my own writing update with Valley of Dry Bones, as well as how Gutenberg update will impact your WordPress site [The Digital Reader], and The Story Studio podcast episode about creative burn-out, focusing on the wrong things and how to get your writing mojo back.
Today's show is sponsored by IngramSpark, who I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It's your content – do more with it through IngramSpark.com.
Karen Inglis is the author of books for children including The Secret Lake and Eek the Runaway Alien as well as book apps. Her latest book is How to Self-Publish and Market a Children's Book.
You can listen above or on iTunes or Stitcher or watch the video here, read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and full transcript below.
- The 3 key age groups for children’s books
- Issues with getting picture books into readers’ hands
- Getting known locally in your community so that parents ask for your book in bookshops
- Thoughts on paper types and quality for picture books and when they matter most
- Tips on finding and working with illustrators
- Using AMS ads to get parent eyeballs on your books
- On whether to do ebooks for children
- Why Karen finds school visits so worth her while and how she makes money from them
You can find Karen Inglis at KarenInglisAuthor.com and on Twitter @kareninglis
Transcript of Interview with Karen Inglis
Joanna: Hi everyone, I'm Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I'm here with Karen Inglis. Hi Karen.
Karen: Hi Joanna, how are you?
Joanna: I am good. It's great to have you back on the show four years later which is amazing.
Karen: We don't look any different, do we?
Joanna: No. Perhaps I think we look better. But just a little introduction for those of you who don't know Karen.
Karen is the author of books for children including “The Secret Lake” and “Eek the Runaway Alien” as well as book apps. Her latest book, which I know many of you will be very excited about, is “How to Self-Publish and Market a Children's Book”.
Karen I've been bugging you about this for years so I'm so happy you've got this book out.
Start off by telling us a bit more about you and your writing journey and also what has changed for you since 2014.
Karen: My writing journey really started when my children were young. I was a professional writer, I've been a copywriter for many years for the financial services industry.
When the children were at home and I was not working full time, that was how I got into children's writing because I was reading to the children and seeing some great stories like “Harry McClarey” but also some not such good stories and thinking, you know, I could have a go at this. And so that's how I actually got into writing to begin with.
I obviously tried to get my stories published in the beginning and had the usual thing of rejections and they all went back, I had one called “Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog” and “The Secret Lake” and they got turned down and they went in a wooden box for 10 years.
Then I got them out again in 2010 when I had a sabbatical from my work, I had a whole year off, and did a lot of editing and that was the time that self-publishing was coming around in CreateSpace. I think you were pretty much the only other person in the industry who was English although you were in Australia doing it. But that's when I actually started looking into it and decided I'm not going to send it out again this time, I'm going to do it myself.
Joanna: And then, and then so 2014 you had a couple of books out. I think you were doing an app around then, you had started doing apps.
Joanna: What have you been doing since then?
Karen: I will no longer market the app and that's very, very recent. And I would say to anybody just in case that's a question in their mind, I would just say go with caution with apps.
I have sold over 550, which apparently is a very good number to have but you've got to keep up with the platform changes and it's not really a priority for me. It costs quite a lot to get it done in the first place but it was an experiment that I wanted to do.
But you also, once you have a book app you have to pay Apple 79 pounds a year just to have it on the platform, never mind keeping up with any changes that they make.
So I sort of reluctantly just this year have pulled it and that was only because now it was going to require updating and I just thought well, I can't justify the cost because I'm not selling enough to justify that. So rather than go down the app route, since you and I have both spoken I've come out with, I've got more children's books out now.
I've got six books altogether. I've got obviously the first Ferdinand Fox story which I had when we spoke probably and “The Secret Lake” and “Eek”. I've now got “Henry Haynes and Great Escape”, “Walter Brown and the Magician's Hat”, and “Ferdinand Fox and the Hedgehog” which is another picture book in the same series. And those I have out in print and in e-books.
I've continued to go into lots of schools. I think I was probably visiting schools when we first came round. And I would just say to anybody, really if you're going to write for children you need to get out there and meet your readers because most children buy, read in print, most children's book sales are in print.
Unless you're very well known that's going to be the main way that you start to sell to begin with. Things have changed recently and there's more hope in terms of marketing online. I would say, what has been most successful for me is where I've got the book with good reviews, good organic reviews and I've built up over time. And those have come around as a result of my going out and doing school visits.
And I've also, by the way, those school visits by the beginning of this year had garnered me something like 4000 copies in print of “The Secret Lake” sold. I've already sold another 2 or 3000 online between print and e-book so I was already at 7000 sales of those.
I'm probably up to about 12,000 sales all round by the beginning of this year and that's now jumped up again with more online sales recently, which we'll no doubt come on to talk about.
Joanna: We will. That's fascinating and you've touched on a number of things that we're going to get more in depth in this interview. So people listening going, “Oh, but I want to know more about that,” we're going to come back to it.
Joanna: But first of all I want to start with the question of age because people go, “I'm writing a book for children.” I mean even you, these books you've just mentioned, the age bracket is huge.
We all know the difference between a wooden block book for a two-year-old or a one-year-old and then a child goes all the way up to 16 I guess.
Karen: Technically I'd say if you say you're writing for children you're writing up to age 12. But one of the biggest mistakes you could potentially make is to not know what target, what age group you're writing for.
And I would say and I talk about this in my book is, there are three key age groups. They're sort of naught to 5, the picture book, and there you've got between naught and 1000 words with an average, an ideal of 500 or fewer words. You've then got chapter books which are really for early readers. So those will be aimed at age 5 to 7 and those will have a different word count, typically between 1000 words and 6000 words.
And then you've got what is being adopted as this term middle grade novel, which is for ages 8 to 12 and that can be between 20 and 40,000 words and mostly doesn't require any illustration but you can, you might find some, Chris Riddell puts illustrations in his “Goth Girl' books and things like that.
So those are the three broad categories. And anyone says to me “Oh, I'm writing a book for children,” my first question will be, well what age group is it aimed at? Because so many things flow out of that, which is not just the book-length but it's going to be the level of language that you use, the sort of themes you might be covering, and also the actual format of the book.
Will it need illustrations, will it not? How big will the font size be? What will the line spacing be? There's some quite subtle differences which make all the difference between getting it right and getting it wrong when you're writing for children. So it's knowing your target market and that's broadly how it falls.
Joanna: I would think that middle grade fits into many of the other discussions I have. It's text-based, it looks like, I mean obviously the writing style is different, but in terms of self-publishing, you can self-publish it in that way.
But the children's book in print, so when we're talking about heavy illustration which is expensive or we're talking premium paper or we're talking about hardback distribution in bookstores, it seems to me that children's book publishing is expensive and difficult.
People think, “Oh, I'm going to do a kid's book, it will be in hardback, it will look gorgeous, and it will go in a bookstore.” So is that right?
Can you talk about the print publishing side of kid's books? What are the issues there?
Karen: Well I would say that getting into a bookstore, I wouldn't think that should be your priority other than getting into your local bookshop. Because unless you've got a national marketing team behind you, it's the same as actually any other self-published author.
It doesn't matter which age group you're writing for, adult, young adult. Unless people know you they're not going to be walking into stores around the UK saying you know they want to buy your book. Therefore, that shouldn't be your focus.
And I wouldn't say hardbacks, I'd say paperback books is to get them potentially into your local bookshops, ideally into your local bookshops, but also into the hands of your readers that you're going to meet going out to live events and typically school events.
Now, what can happen over time if that works well and you do it properly and you follow all the rules that you and I know that you should follow, which is using editors, doing it professionally, you can start to build your author brand and get known. The more you get known, the more other bookshops might actually welcome you because if they've had parents coming in locally.
So for example, and I think this might have already been underway when we spoke last time, I have, during my early years, I've been in six or seven branches of Waterstones doing book signings there and selling a lot of books with them. And that was on the back of the fact that I've built up my brand locally through schools and then one Waterstones heard about me through another one.
I live in London and there are lots of bookshops within quite a close range of each other but I don't think that's typical.
So I think with your print, you would typically you'll start doing print on demand using either Create Space, a combination, I do CreateSpace and Ingram Spark. Get your school stock, or your short run stock from Ingram Spark or KDB Print.
And I don't know, I'm just assuming, just do the sums to see whether KDB Print is cheaper to get your books for home stock or whether Ingram Spark is.
So you would get maybe a small stock to start with, use that for your local events to begin with. What can then happen is, and I cover this in more detail in the book, is if you find you're building your brand up and you're selling a lot, which I have, so I was typically ordering 200 copies of “The Secret Lake” at a time from Ingram Spark.
There are other ways that you can get a slightly cheaper run and that might be the point at which you go to short-run digital printers. And perhaps you'll find that the per-cost, per item cost is lower that way.
Now actually, I've only recently turned to doing that because of the success “The Secret Lake” has recently had online. And I wanted to make sure that if bookshops wider than around the corner started ordering it that it was showing in stock. So I've gone through another route using Claive for that.
But that's only very, very recently it's the kind of thing I'd say you know do it gradually even though you might be able to get a big order at a cheaper price through a second supplier, how many plates do you want to be spinning in those early days in terms of because you're going to have to come up with a separate load of files for that third printer? Do it gradually is what I'd say. And I think, you know, we can probably all value, it's one of those things organically growing is the best way.
Joanna: I just want to come back on the illustration. Because you mention there like what you described there was kind of straight print on demand publishing.
What are the issues with children's books that have full-color illustration?
Karen: In terms of print?
Joanna: Yeah. Which a lot of, you know those younger zero to five I would have thought a lot more people would want that.
Karen: Yes, want those. So something I came across early on was I didn't realize until the last minute the print on demand doesn't do the silk finish paper, which is a slightly thicker paper that a lot of those picture books have. And so I therefore did go out and source an upfront print run through a company.
And it was quite scary because I started off ordering 100 and it wasn't that economic. In the end I ended up ordering 500 and I sold 500 that way. Now interestingly, because most of my picture book sales, and this would apply to most self-published children's authors, they're going to either happen at school events or they will come off Amazon or somewhere.
And actually the parents, the parents don't mind about the paper. Because actually I've said it in my blog that's live now and I say it again in the book, the quality of the paper that you do get from print-on-demand for color is actually very nice.
When I decided to go and get an advanced print run and pay a bit more to have silk finish, several people I showed the book to said, “But why are you bothering to do that? It's fine.” And actually, the reason I was doing it was because I wanted it to sit comfortably alongside other books in the bookshops.
But then if you think about what I've just been saying about bookshops, that's really a few copies in your local bookshop. Parents really don't mind, I mean as long as you've done a good quality book, and the quality of the paper is good.
So I would say actually whereas once upon a time I said that, I thought that was a problem, I've in the last few years changed that to say actually on balance I don't think you need to do it unless you're absolutely hellbent on getting into lots of bookshops.
Joanna: That's really good advice and it's that ego thing, isn't it? It's basically saying well, I'm expecting this to sit next to this book in a bookstore. Whereas that might happen but it's a tiny part of what the sales will be.
Coming back on the cost for the illustrations, again, some people might not realize that you have to pay an illustrator upfront for these picture books.
How have you managed that? And what are your recommendations for finding an illustrator? And maybe some idea of some of the upfront costs when you're doing a picture book.
Karen: There are lots of online places you can go and look for illustrators and there's a huge, huge range of costs that you can go for.
You've got all the websites like Fiver.com, I think 99 Designs I hear people have used. I found my illustrator who is in Bosnia and we've worked together ever since through what was then called Elance which is now UpWork.
Also there are some UK-based organizations and they're listed, off the top of my head I'm trying to remember the names of some of them, childrensillustrators.com I think. There's another one called behance.net I think over in the States. So you can go on there and it is a bit like, you go and have a look at the style and then you see what they're charging and you go from there so to speak.
But most of the time, or all of the time in my case, you'll end up paying for the illustrations and then owning the copyright at the end, it's not royalty share situation. Because think about it, that's a huge risk for an illustrator.
But the budget, I think some illustrators will do an image for $10. Others might be $25. It's one of those things actually because of this global world that we live in that you can, there's something for all budgets but you've obviously got to find something that fits with the design that you want for your book. And that in turn is a matter of doing all your research at the start to see what other books similar to yours, what kind of style are they, what's selling and so on and so forth. Does that answer the question?
Joanna: It's great, actually. And you talk there about relationship, you know, you and I have known each other a long time now. And it's the same with me with the cover designers, with editors, it takes awhile to find people but when you do find people you carry on working with them. So I think that's the thing.
If people listening are just starting out, it may seem difficult at the beginning. But there's these hurdles and once you're over the hurdles, like your process flow for your books and everything is settled, as is mine.
I think it can seem insurmountable, but that's the print side. Let's just talk about e-books because many people say oh, don't bother about e-books for kids.
What are the different types of digital aspects?
Karen: A few years ago when we first spoke I might have said, “Look, e-books yes, by all means do them but they're definitely not a priority.”
Whereas today I would say yes, definitely do an e-book because it's another way that you can use to market your print book, if you see what I mean.
As we probably all know, online advertising has burst onto the scene recently through AMS Ads. And certainly in the early days over in the States when AMS Ads came along, you could only advertise e-books and I actually happened to have them so they were already there and that was great.
But what I found was that parents were obviously clicking on the ad for the e-book and then buying in print. So it was a means to an end.
I had not huge sales of e-books, although again, that's creeping up, I would say for middle-grade novels, 8 to 12, you're probably going to find you're selling, once you're discovered, you will be selling in a reasonable number. Particularly I've noticed that “The Secret Lake” now it's creeping up from very few to a reasonable number each day.
Now that might just be the summer holidays are coming and people are about to go on holiday. And for that age group particularly, that seems to be it's picked up a bit.
In terms of the tools, what's amazing now as you know, since we probably last spoke, I mean I remember back in the day when I did “The Secret Lake” trying to work out how to make a MOBI file. Those were the days. Reading all those instructions on the KDP, oh God. And then Vellum came along and changed my life.
Joanna: We love Vellum on this podcast.
Karen: Absolutely love Vellum to bits. Just mad about them. I've been telling them for years I'm going to write this book and they're going to have this great big chunk inside and they're so pleased.
So if you have a map that really has revolutionized and even, even to the point of “Eek the Runaway Alien”, “Walter Brown and the Magician's Hat” which have black and white illustrations inside of them, they were really easy to do on Vellum, very easy to do.
Again, even though most buy in print the idea, the only book I've ever given away, I've never given away “The Secret Lake” I did give away a short insta-freebie with “Eek” just to see whether I could get more interest over in the States in the print side.
So they are good for sort of give away type situations. And as we probably know, Book Funnel has now come out with these print codes, so I was thinking there's another good tool if you've got a book that you're trying to promote perhaps you could have some little labels that you give away at schools that say look, you can get the e-book for free, or give it to parents and they can test it and have a look and then buy the print book ultimately for their child, that sort of thing.
Joanna: Or the other thing with the e-books, I mean I'm happily childfree as you know, but I have nieces and nephews and I shop for them online.
And you know you can only see certain pages when you look inside. But if you download a sample, a digital sample, you can actually see more. So I think like you're saying, the e-book can be bought because they want to buy the e-book or it can be a sample for the print book.
Joanna: So we're saying yes, do e-books for any of these age groups.
Karen: Yes and it's a means to an end really. The bonus is that you might get some sales of people generally, that there is a number of children who do like to read on Kindle. And so they will get them.
The other thing I have done that's quite interesting is I took, because of course I don't write in a series because I'm silly, I've just done all these standalone books which you know, they just came to me. But by accident rather than design, they go across all these different age groups. Which at least means when I go into schools I can often go and see the whole school, so to that extent it works.
But what I have done is with three of them, so with “The Secret Lake”, “Eek the Runaway Alien”, and “Walter Brown and the Magician's Hat” because of those are roughly same age group, sort of 7, 8 to 11 I have taken the first 3 chapters of each of those because Vellum is so easy to use, I created what I want to call a box set sample.
And I've made it free on, I set it free. That's the only place where I'm wide at the moment, made it free. And of course Amazon has price matched, and I just thought well actually, that's again another way of using it as a marketing tool because then that's got links to obviously the fact that the print books are available, the full version of them.
So that was the closest I've come to mimicking what people who write for adults have been doing with their first in a series, if you see what I mean. Just using again, so e-books are good for sort of taste of marketing I suppose is what I would say.
Joanna: That's fantastic. Okay, well let's stay on marketing because one of the things that again people say is oh, it's so hard to market children's books because you can't market to your audience. It's like it's unethical to advertise directly to children and half the time you can't reach them directly.
So there's obviously the two sides of marketing, the digital marketing and then the in-person marketing. So let's start with the digital. You've mentioned a couple of things.
What's the reality of digital marketing for children's books? Are you just targeting adults or how are you doing that?
Karen: The most successful I would say is AMS. Obviously I'm targeting adults just by targeting books that are similar to my books, so on Amazon.
And I would say the whole thing of Facebook and I've tried Facebook over the years, I tried it back in the early days 2011 and 12 or whenever it was first allowed. And I've tried it more recently as well and I haven't found a way to make money from it, I've just found that Facebook takes my money.
Joanna: But AMS works for you.
Karen: Yeah so what I'd say is you have to try these things to find out. The thing is you can with Facebook advertising target people with children aged 8 to 12 and who like Enid Blyton and this and that. And you think oh gosh, this is going to work, but it hasn't worked for me and I don't know many children's authors or any who have said it has worked for them other than that big book called “I Lost My Name”.
But even there at London Book Fair this year we're talking about how the cost per acquisition of customer was very, very big on Facebook. You know I got the impression they've got million pound budgets and things. And I think the reason that particular book worked was because it's a personalized book. So it was quite an unusual product.
Now that's not to say I won't go back because I have an idea to try and have the app targeting grandparents because we know that grandparents have more time. And so that is something I would perhaps go back and look at.
But being a children's author, as anyone will tell you, you're so busy physically getting the books out and then spending time getting events organized and then going to the events, there's only so many hours in the day as it were.
But yes, AMS ads I would say out of all of them, and best done when you've already established yourself and got some decent reviews on the books. But as you know, you can control the budget anyway, you can just turn it off so you know.
Joanna: For people who don't know, so Amazon Marketing Services and you can basically pick a book, like “The Gruffalo” and you can say I want my book to appear underneath “The Gruffalo” so that basically you choose the books you're targeting. And you mentioned, I can't remember which book, but that you're seeing a lot more success recently.
Joanna: Is that purely because of AMS you think?
Karen: I think so. What's happened with “The Secret Lake” is it's always been my best seller. And so it's such a traditional story, which I didn't think there were enough of around, and when I go to school events it always sells probably almost double any of the other books.
And I get teachers mentioning it to me, it was considered, it was also read by the head of independent commissioning at CBBC many year ago, I think many years, three years ago, four years ago, I met her at an event, I mentioned it to her and she said “Oh, send it to me”.
I thought I wouldn't hear anything and she emailed me within a few weeks to say I really enjoyed it and actually very much would lend itself to something like BBC TV. And she said, “Because I'm the head of independent commissioning, I'm not the person to go to because I'm the independent,” but she said “You can either go direct to BBC or you can go via an independent commissioning route.”
I did go direct to BBC and it took awhile and in the end they didn't go with it because of so many things and she said go the other route as well and I haven't had time to do that.
But coming back to your question, I think it is a very special story and it's just never been able to be seen on Amazon, people can't find it. I think what it's done is because I had already sold about 7000 copies by the time I started doing AMS ads, it had proven itself that it is a good story, it was just that it's a good story if you know it's there.
What AMS does, and I think this applies to everyone and we all know too, it puts us on a level playing field with other publishers because we can put our books on that front table in the same way that they can when you go into a shop.
And so then it's down to how good's the cover, how good's the blurb, how good's the story, and are you targeting the right people. And that's what it is at the end of the day.
Very quickly after AMS opened in the UK to me, I'd been trying to get into it for ages but it kept asking me for a VAT number and I had de-registered for VAT about three months before. And it was when they finally realized that you didn't, they stopped you having to be registered for VAT when I got on. And very quickly I saw the numbers starting to creep up, noticeable actually.
Joanna: You mentioned the front table in the bookstore there, very importantly if people don't know, you pay for the front table in a bookstore and you pay for Amazon Ads. You've done the testing and worked out what works and what books to put it on.
And we've had podcasts about Amazon Ads before, so we won't go into that anymore. Let's talk about in person marketing. The school visits to me that just sounds like so much work for very little return.
What do you think about the schools side of things?
Karen: I think it's great. You say you get very little return, you actually make a much bigger return when you're selling your books at schools because there's no middleman.
My book at 6.99 “The Secret Lake” maybe it's cost me two pounds to create it. When I sell it, if I sell it at full price I'm getting a four-pound profit, which is a lot more than I will get when I'm selling online. So that's the first thing.
The second thing is that you can sell a lot and if you do it properly. And it takes time, you've got to build it up, you've got to give them a good performance, as it were, but you can sell a lot of books. And also you can charge for your time.
Only in the first few visits that you do do you do it for nothing. And I talk about when you're building your confidence locally you can offer to do a visit here and there to build your confidence. But now if I go to a school, I will be charging either a day or a half day.
That will vary according to the school, if I know it's a state school with a small budget I'll adjust it, it just depends on how far you're going. So you are getting paid for your time as well as selling the books.
And even how many books that you sell sometimes depends on how organized the school is. You can sell 100 in a day or you might only sell 35. But at the end of the day that's 35 more children who've seen your book and the word of mouth is really how people start to know you.
But it is a slow and gradual process. There's no race to market with it. I think most children's authors will be writing because that's what they want to do and they're very keen to see children enjoy a story and to encourage reading. So it's not a chore. The hardest part is probably ringing round and contacting the schools and getting the bookings.
But now I'm at the stage where people contact me. I've already been contacted a few weeks ago by a school in Herefordshire saying oh we love “Ferdinand Fox”, would you come to our school in the deeps of Hereford? I said I'd love to come but we'd need to find another school and I'd have to come for the whole day.
And by the way, of course I've got this all set up now, I just said here's my Books overview, here's my school visit format, I can do the whole school, now if we can find another school nearby, now that's already now been sorted out. So I've got two days in Hereford, a friend of mine just happens to live just outside Hereford, so I'm staying with him because I said look, I actually happen to have a friend there. So, but they come to me now.
Joanna: I had no idea you would get paid for that. I doubt if it's thousands and thousands.
Karen: No, it'll be between, I mean the society of authors I think when I last looked up their page, it was said that a typical author's day rate should be between 400 and 1000, depending on whether you're David Williams or a mid-list unknown author.
I know anecdotally that people will charge between 300, 450 a day, that sort of thing. And that's the kind of thing I'm charging just because I'm very conscious of school budgets at the moment.
If I was asked to go a long, long way to a very wealthy school then I'd probably charge more. Oh, and talking of going a long way, I just have to tell you this. I was contacted earlier this year and asked if I would consider going over to Sao Paolo.
Karen: All expenses paid, flight, the whole thing, for World Book Day Week. And it was down between me and someone and I said “Love to” but in fact it didn't come off, it was between me and one other author who turned out she was traditionally published, her husband was the illustrator and the books went in with the curriculum. So it was fine, but it was very flattering.
Joanna: That's fantastic.
Karen: It was amazing although I do think it's World Book Day Week when I'm always completely booked. And I probably ultimately would have lost money by going, because I did about eight school visits this World Book Day Week all around that time. But really even so this is how things slowly evolve over time.
Joanna: That's so interesting because again so many people think the life of a writer is just the writing. Whereas there's an unexpected amount of work that goes into a 500-word picture book.
Joanna: But so much of what you're talking about is the production and the marketing and the outreach and the relationships and all of that type of thing.
You've mentioned some figures, and you've said to me before the number of sales that you get as a children's author just doesn't compare to other genres.
What are the myths or the mistakes or the things that you think people always get wrong about it?
Karen: I think most people coming in to write for children probably have no idea how many books they're going to sell, unless if they know the children's market they'll know. But certainly and I'm guessing it still holds true, certainly for picture books I was told very early on that you know, you'll be lucky if you sell a couple hundred, unless you're Julia Donaldson.
I've proved that you can sell more than that. I should have looked at my figures before we spoke, but actually I've got some here, I'm just trying to see. “Ferdinand Fox's Big Sleep” total print sales, that was 874, that was in February of this year, I know it'll be not much more at the moment because the hedgehog one's taken over.
But that's nothing compared to what you'll be selling as an e-book and writing for YA and adult e-books, you'll just be selling a lot, lot more. So that's the first thing to understand but equally that said, “The Secret Lake” is now selling a heck of a lot. I think it sold this month alone on Amazon it sold something like 1800 copies. Which would have been unheard of before. But it's because it's been discovered, so it is possible.
Joanna: Any more mistakes or things that new children's authors get wrong or surprises that we might not have covered?
Karen: The main thing as I say is just knowing that the main way you're going to sell is by going out and doing those events. And it's hard. But it's because schools are busy, busy places, so you've just got to find your way in and be patient.
And the other things I've done which is not just school events, there will be local events which you might think in first sight aren't worth doing. So to give an example last year, no it would have been 2016, it was the 50th anniversary of the World Cup, England winning the World Cup. And they had a family day down the road here at the local sport center.
And I took a table there, because “Eek” is about an alien who runs away from space to Earth because he's mad about football and the World Cup's on, so I thought well I'll go down there and get a table. It cost me 15 pounds for that table and I was there from 9:00 to about 5:00, popped out a couple of times. I think I sold 30 books, so it was 15 pounds for the table so I made about 15 pounds.
So we were joking about my hourly rate. But having said that, one of the little girls who bought my book went back to her school who then contacted me and said, “So and so's bought “The Secret Lake” she really loved it and would you like, could you come and do World Book Day for us?” So I ended up doing World Book Day for them which was a paid event and selling to the whole school.
And on top of that I had this Barry Davis, very famous World Cup commentator from 1966, I got the picture of him holding “Eek” because he was commentating for this event. And I got a picture of him with “Eek” which I used at the time and now the World Cup just coming around I've sent a couple of tweets out with pictures of, oh here's my fan Barry Davis back again.
There are things you do where you don't make a lot of money but later on they're all part of that mix. But I would say it's definitely, with children's books, it's definitely not a race to market, it's passion and being patient with it and don't give up the day job if you see what I mean.
Joanna: Have a long-term view basically.
Karen: Absolutely long-term view, long-term view absolutely.
Joanna: That's fantastic. And final question, you're very well connected, you go to all these events, you live in London. You're also very professional, and because you've worked in finance, you know all the figures.
When you talk to publishers you give a very good representation I think of yourself and also indie writers. So I wondered, with all your connections that you have and the fact that you decided not to go back to traditional:
Do you see the attitude changing towards indie children's writers and illustrators? Or do you think it's getting even worse because the biggest children's authors are famous like David Williams for example?
Karen: The answer is in some ways I don't really know because I'm not pursuing a traditional publishing, so I don't come into contact with them hugely.
What I would say is that the wider attitudes are definitely much better than they were. So for example, I ran a session at the Barnes Children's Literature Festival this year, I had a packed tent. There were probably about 50 people there and the subject was how to self-publish and market a children's book.
It was a paid session and it was a sellout. Now when I first did that festival a few years ago the idea that someone might be talking about children's self-publishing would have been you know.
Joanna: Especially in Barnes.
Karen: Absolutely. Especially in Barnes. Actually to be fair to them that first year when it first started, and it's now become the biggest children's festival in the UK, I was a local author and they welcomed me and I had a session there. It wasn't paid, that was fine and I've been there every year since.
So to that extent yes, and I think always my experience has been that schools are agnostic about whether you're self-published or not and some actively support self-published children's authors.
There's a school in Kingston called Holy Cross that I went to a few years ago. And I rang them just before the summer holidays just to say I thought you might be interested to know that “The Secret Lake” seems to have taken off because they were so supportive of me.
And she was delighted to hear and she said, “Oh yes, we have another self-published author coming in, we like to support them.” So schools have always been very supportive.
I think the local media have and up to a point I think probably the national media. It is just things like the National, I want to say the literacy trust, I'm trying to remember their exact name, they are a charity that helps encourage reading for you know all children. I've had problems getting, now my books are quite established and have been for quite a long time and I've contacted them previously to say would you consider including me in your reluctant readers recommendations and I've come up against a brick wall. And I think there's still a bit of that in yes, in the working area of traditional publishing.
But then you get fantastic people like Sam Missingham who from the traditional world and she's now started up those Lounge Books isn't it where she's agnostic as to who is there, you know? It is changing but it is a slow release on that side, on the traditional publisher side but I think eventually it's all going to merge into one.
It was quite interesting as you probably saw at ThrillerFest this year that Mark Dawson or James rather had been interviewing all these traditionally published, Lee Child and all that lot. I just think there's this whole thing of everything colliding together and it's going to from the bottom up we're all going to come together and just probably, not blow it out of the water, I don't want that to make it sound negative.
But I think slowly, it's all going to melt together I think. I might be being a bit optimistic but it certainly has moved on.
Just last point on that; when I did go and give a talk at Penguin, it was called A Children's Book Circle, I think it was back in 2013 they were asking about self-publishing. And at the time I said to them, I think there's going to be a lot of freelance work for editors coming your way. And that was just at that moment where it was all starting to change and I just suddenly thought yes, all these people in the traditional world, they're going to start jumping on the bandwagon, in a good way.
I'd just like to see a little bit more with the maybe some of the bookselling press as it were, I suppose.
Joanna: Things are definitely changing. Fantastic. We are out of time.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Karen: My website is kareninglisauthor.com. And of course I have a Karen Inglis page on Amazon so they can go there to see print and e-books. They can read about, can I hold my card up? My new book?
This will be out as an e-book at the end of this month but actually the print book won't be out until September because it's so much work. And so much is changing at the last minute, not least things like ConvertKit suddenly deciding to re-brand itself.
Joanna: Oh yes. That was fun.
Karen: Amazon deciding there's all this funny stuff to do with reviews and there was enough important things changing that I thought well, I don't want to go and publish this in a hurry not to include those things. So I had hoped for a June publication but e-book now going out fingers crossed 31st of July it will be available. I imagine it will be much better as a print book. I would personally want the print book, but then again.
Joanna: But it will be a great e-book as well.
Karen: Yes. Hopefully by the time this goes out the print book will either be out or nearly out and it will have the page going up. And it will be under the name Karen P. Inglis, P for Patricia Inglis because I don't want the self-publishing book to sit there as this sort of tomb sitting there in front of all my children's books when people go to my Amazon page.
Joanna: Yeah. The “also boughts”.
Karen: Exactly. Rachel Austin has just sent me actually she's just put a P in my name so I can at least create the e-book page for now and the print book will be available.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Karen. That was great.
Karen: All right, well thank you, Joanna.
Hannah Ross says
Thanks for this informative post, Karen and Joanna. I’ve had a Middle Grade novel in my drawer for a while now and I’ve been going back and forth as to what to do with it. I tried querying agents, but you know what a lottery it is. I do not have the mobility that would enable me to travel around schools. So if I go the self-publishing route, I’ll have to depend on online marketing. I wonder if it will even be worth my time, or I should just stick to promoting my adult fiction.
That will depend on your story, Hannah — and how much time you’re ready to invest in the online marketing side of things. My book covers in detail what you need to do to give it the best chance of succeeding from the perspective of the story, and covers ways to get feedback ahead of publication and early reviews etc. If it’s for the upper middle grade age group (10-12) and is an excellent story then you may strike lucky and find that you can sell well online without needing to rely on school visits. With AMS ads coming along that may be possible if the book stands out. If you don’t try you won’t know, so it’s really down to whether you think you want to give it a go and commit to the time. Best of luck either way 🙂 — and sorry for the delayed reply. We left for holiday on August 11th and just back and catching up. Karen
Martha Knox says
I am unable to post a comment. I am not a spammer. My comments have all been favorable. I love your podcast and have bought both fiction series and non-fiction. I do not understand. I merely wanted to agree with your co-host how delightful it is to buy children’s books for your grandkids and great-grandkids. Thank You
Joanna Penn says
Your comment is posted, Martha! Must just have been a delay in updating the site.
Sue Wickstead says
Thank you for this,
I have currently published 4 children’s picture books with a further two more about to go into print this autumn.
It is good to read and hear that I am in fact going in the right direction.
It can be slow but you need to view the long game.
I visit many schools (both as a cover teacher and as an author – different hats) and have even been to a couple of schools in mainland Spain, but like Karen said, you have to put yourself out at events etc…
Sometimes these might work or not work, who knows, but in the end it just might bring an unexpected bonus.
I feel I am still learning and it is definately good to know this.
Karen Inglis says
Great to hear it’s going in the right direction, Sue! It’s hard work but if you keep at it and follow best practice the rewards do follow…. Karen
I’m getting ready to launch my middle-grade fantasy Hook’s Daughter (on Sept. 12th which happens to be talk like a pirate day), so I was super excited to see this week’s topic! Thanks for having Karen on – super helpful!! I am curious if school’s in the U.S. are willing to pay for authors to come in or not. I guess I’ll find out! 🙂
I was so excited when I saw who you would be interviewing today! My middle-grade fantasy adventure, Hook’s Daughter will be launching on Sept. 12th (which happens to be Talk Like a Pirate Day). I found so many useful and encouraging tips in this interview. Thank you so much for having Karen on!
Sorry – didn’t mean to comment twice! 🙂
Four years ago we launched a children’s African adventure book series (The Adventures of Obi and Titi) and Karen’s website was an invaluable resource. I can say we tried nearly everything on there and avoided many pitfalls thanks to the depth and transparency of her blogs.
I believe going to events are a must for children’s authors to help build that foundation of offline followers. We attended loads of fairs and library events and yes, got paid upfront to do book readings too. Unfortunately, at the beginning we were pigeonholed into Black History Month events, which meant we were booked out and sold mainly in October (UK BHM), December (Christmas and Kwanza) and February (USA BHM) and flatlined for the rest of the year. Fortunately, due to the pushback in the lack of diversity in children’s books we are now selling well, all year round.
I think there are two things we’ve done that have been successful for us and not on most people’s radar. Firstly, having a book trailer, which I didn’t believe was cost effective at the time but then landed us a spot on an international news channel. With so much competition out there you have to be able to stand out online and you only have a few seconds to do so. Now, we send the trailer out with all our introductory emails and use it on social media quite a lot and always get a good response.
Secondly, merchandising, which nearly doubled our revenue and I think works very well for children’s IP, especially a series. We have produced T-shirts, mugs, clocks, augmented reality birthday card, but pin badges have been our best seller and also help our fans advertise for us 🙂
The more we do outside the scope of books the more people have started to look at us more as a brand than a book series.
Presently we are looking at building a classroom educational pack for teachers. Will let you know how that goes.
It can be frustrating at times as it takes maximum effort and seems like minimal returns, but when we set off we knew we had to be in it for the long haul. At four years and seven books we are still infants and have a lot of learning to do but what could be more exciting?!
Karen Inglis says
Thanks so much for the kind comments about my blog, Begho. I’m so glad it helped you avoid pitfalls and mistakes – I get a lot of comments about this and it makes all that effort so worthwhile 🙂
How to Self-publish and Market a Children’s Book of course goes into a lot more detail than the blog and I hope it will help others starting out, as it did you.
Huge congratulations on your success btw — I just took a look at your site. Most impressive. And, yes, great news that the BAME message is finally making a difference! All the best. Karen