You can see more about our picture book and our Amazon bio pages by clicking here.
At the end of last year, Chase and I published our first ever picture book, and I’m very proud of how well it has done. Since then, I’ve been inundated with messages asking for advice in this area. My initial thought was I’m not qualified to help anyone else. I’m still brand new at this myself!
But the truth is, this project of ours had been in the works for over two years, and in that time I have learned SO much. I won’t claim to be an expert by any means, but I’m happy to share my experience and newfound knowledge for the sake of helping others pursue their own goals. If there’s a way for me to help you find success, I will absolutely do it, even if the anxious voice in my head insists I’m not qualified to do so.
Btw, here's an ongoing list of picture books we recommend. If you're gonna create picture books, you should be reading picture books!
Okay, so on to the good stuff, the reason you’re here. Here are the three important tips I have for you if you’re interested in self publishing a picture book:
1) Realize Self Publishing May Not Be The Right Path For You
This might seem a little obvious. I can see some of you rolling your eyes right now, like wow, why am I reading this, what a waste of time… but trust me, this is an important aspect that is overlooked more than you might realize.
For one thing, there is a misconception that self publishing is the easy way to go. Well, excuse me while I go laugh into my third cup of coffee.
Self publishing is one of the most time-consuming, tedious, mentally-exhausting things I’ve ever done. It’s amazing that my laptop survived the process, because I have been tempted to throw it across the room on numerous occasions.
Not to mention the fact that when you self publish, you have to put your own money into it to get things started.
Having said all that, self publishing really was the right path for us, and there are a lot of benefits to it. You just need to decide if it’s the right path for you. So how do you do that?
I get asked about this mug a lot lol.
It was a gift, but I found one just like it on Amazon.
If you’re reading this post, I’m going to assume that you’ve either written a children’s book and you’re not sure what the next steps are, or you have a concept for a picture book in your mind, probably one you’ve thought about for a while now, and you aren’t sure whether or not you should do something with it.
The first step is to educate yourself on both processes. Congratulations! You’re literally doing that right now. Well done! I'm seriously so proud of you!
The next step is to be really honest with yourself. What are your main goals?
Are you wanting to generate an income from your books? Are you just wanting to have a tangible copy of something you’ve created? Is it something you only want for your close friends and family? Do you want a career as a children’s book author? How important is creative control to you?
If you’re not concerned with whether or not you’ll make any money off your book, then self publishing is a natural fit for you. If you DO want to make money, but creative control is very important to you, then self publishing is also a good path for you. However, if you don’t have much of an online presence, it will be harder for you to generate income. This is the reason a lot of people choose traditional publishing.
If you walk away from this blog post feeling like traditional publishing might be the better option for you, don't be discouraged by any means. Traditional publishing comes with bragging rights, validation, and a lot of experienced, invaluable people who will help you every step along the way. This is why it’s the preferred path for most people.
I won’t write a whole lot about that, since it’s not the route we went, but I will say to keep in mind that traditional publishing is still a lot of hard work. You don’t just write/illustrate the book and hand it over. You have to edit and revise, you have to query agents, you have to get a publisher interested, and you still have to help market the book.
And also, be aware that if you’re going to sign a publishing deal, you need to be prepared to produce more than one book. Usually they’re looking for career authors not one-hit wonders.
Side note, this is one of the how-to books I personally read when I was deciding whether or not we should self publish our books.
Traditional publishing is fantastic. That said, it's not for everyone, and there is no shame in self publishing, especially these days. You can truly produce a quality product and even make a living doing so. There was a time that self publishing was often considered a sign of failure, but those days are long gone.
Not only is it not taboo anymore, it’s truly the smart choice for many people.
In our case, self publishing made the most sense, because we wanted full creative control, and we felt like we had a large enough following on our social media accounts to help generate sales.
If you don’t have a large online presence, that does not mean you can’t still self publish and see income from your books. There are plenty of people who do it. I just want you to keep all of this in mind when you’re deciding whether to go the traditional route or not, and I want you to be aware that most of our personal success does stem from the fact we had a decent-sized following before publishing.
My suggestion for you would be to focus on a single platform - Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, TikTok, Youtube, whatever - just pick one and focus on growing it while you're working on your picture book. If you're interested in growth hacks for social media, stay tuned. I've got blog posts about that coming soon.
I have created a handy-dandy little chart for helping you assess whether or not self publishing is a good fit for you. If you’re interested in receiving this free download, just use this link to give me your email address, and I’ll send it right over.
2) Get Fresh Eyes On Your Project
Just because you’re publishing it yourself does not mean that you should be doing everything all by yourself. I cannot stress this enough. It is so so so important that you get someone to proofread your book. It’s really easy to think that because there aren’t that many words in a picture book that you don’t need to hire an editor, but the last thing you want is to go through all the work of creating a beautiful book and then see a glaring typo in it once it’s in print.
(You’ll probably notice typos in this blog post, because I’m trying to frantically type it while my toddler insists on slapping my keyboard and also standing on my head, but please just take that as further proof that you need an editor. Nobody likes an ugly typo, even if you have a valid excuse for its existence.)
It’s imperative that you get fresh eyes on your work, not just for grammatical mistakes, but for the storyline, too. I’m not talking about your spouse or your mama or your first cousin, either. Sure, show it to those people, but you need to join a critique group or find beta readers in the form of elementary teachers, librarians, and anyone else who is familiar with the world of children’s books.
Also, read it to some kids! Watch their reactions and see what really works, and be honest about what parts kinda bombed. Kids are less likely to care about hurting your feelings, and their honesty will absolutely make your book better.
On this note, you have to put your feelings aside and be open to revisions. Chase is the one who wrote the words for our picture book When A Llama Gets Loose, and from the very beginning, I thought that his concept was hilarious, and I thought his first draft was pretty fantastic. But the book still morphed a lot over the next year.
I’ll never forget, we were standing in kitchen one day, and we were reading the most recent draft of the book after it had been seen by several beta readers and a new critique partner.
There was one moment when Chase was extremely frustrated and he made a comment like, “This doesn’t even feel like my book anymore!”
And he was right. Because it was no longer his book anymore. A lot of other people had touched it by that point, including me, and while the book was written by him, it was never intended for him. It was intended for an audience, and collectively we made changes that would endear it to the readers.
He totally got past that moment and he loves the finished product, btw.
The cheapest, fastest way to check out our book is by getting the digital version.
There were a few battles he fought and won, so I will add that it’s totally okay to fight for your own vision - one of the benefits of self publishing is the creative control, after all - but it’s important be open to the improvements and changes others suggest.
Your focus should always be making the best product you can, not on preserving your pride or soothing your ego or being overly-committed to your original draft.
(As the illustrator of this book, I had my own series of meltdowns, but that's a whole new blog post, ha.)
3) Don’t Rush The Process
This is one area I feel like we really screwed up. As I mentioned earlier, the full process took probably about two years total. I was expecting it to be more like three months.
To be fair, we were not constantly working on it during that time. We had plenty of other projects distracting us. Still, I think the self publishing process takes a lot longer than most people realize.
If you go into it from the beginning realizing that you’ll have to be patient, I think you’ll be in a better mental place, whereas I was stressed and frazzled about it all the time, because it didn’t fit my expected schedule.
We really wanted our first book to be released in early November of 2020, just in time for the holiday season, so that people could purchase it as a gift for the kids in their lives. And technically, that did happen. Lots of people ordered the book as a Christmas gift. Some of those people got it in time… and many, many others didn’t.
Most of the books were delayed for reasons out of our control, but still, everything would have been different if I hadn’t rushed the process. The reality is that it was my first time self publishing a book, and there were a lot of things I simply didn’t foresee or plan for.
I absolutely believe it will be different for our future books (the next one is scheduled for release this spring!) because we’ve learned so much, but my advice to you is to not box yourself into a particular timetable. Be prepared for every single element to take longer than anticipated.
For example, if you’re going to offer pre-sale copies of your book, make sure those books are already in your home, ready to be shipped out before you advertise them. Also, make sure those books don’t have a formatting issue that is going to take OVER A MONTH to correct. (It’s fine. I’m not bitter. I’m totally over it.)
If you're a bookworm like I am, check out Kindle's UNLIMITED reading membership.
The silver lining here is that even with all the things I messed up along the way, we still sold a whole lot of books and we learned a lot that I think will help future books perform even better. I try to focus on that part, and I hope you find comfort in it as well, because I promise you that you’ll mess something up in your self publishing journey and you’ll want to quit, too. Give yourself time and give yourself grace.
It’s funny. I didn’t think I was qualified to write a blog post on this subject, but now I’m freaking out because this post is so long and I have so much more to say. Oops. I guess that means there will be futures posts on this subject. If there’s something you’re specifically interested in, please let me know! And also, subscribe to our newsletter, so you’ll receive updates and never miss a post.
Thanks for reading. Stay salty!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jenn Scott Pickett is a freelance writer for hire who specializes in parenting and lifestyle content. She is half of the comedy duo that makes up Salty Mermaid Entertainment based in Atlanta, GA. In her free time - Wait. She's a mom of three. She doesn't have any free time. Learn more by clicking here.