How to Self-Publish a Children’s Book: 7 Steps to a Magical Launch
If you write for children, self-publishing your children's book can be a great route to take. Increasingly accessible and with a quicker turnaround than traditional publishing, self-publishing is becoming more and more attractive.
In this post, we'll cover all the essential steps for successfully self-publishing a children's book.
1. Understand the pros and cons of self-publishing
There's no such thing as a 100% good thing. Self-publishing takes a lot of hard work and dedication but the potential rewards are great. Before you commit to any single publishing path, it's always good to know what you're in for.
- You have complete creative and artistic control 🎨
- You aren't being limited to industry standards (e.g. typical 32-page picture books) 📖
- The ability to publish quickly ⏳
- You needn't rely on a 'gatekeeper' to offer you a book deal ✅
- You will likely foot the bills for editing, illustrating, printing, distributing, and marketing 💸
- You have to find trustworthy tools and professionals while avoiding scams 🔍
- You won't have the clout of a publisher to strengthen your launch 📣
If all of this seems reasonable and you're ready to board the Self-Publishing Express, then let's make our way to the next stop on this line.
2. Research the children’s book market
Ideally, you would’ve done this before writing your children’s book, although it’s easy to get swept up in that lightbulb moment of an exciting story idea. In researching the market, you’re essentially identifying your target audience, their preferences, and their habits — all of which can help improve your book and strengthen its reach.
If you’ve already done your research, now’s the time to revise and refine it before moving forward. If you haven’t done much other than revisiting your own favorite children’s stories, here are a few things to ask yourself.
What type of children’s book have you written?
The categorization of your book is the foundation of all the work that follows, from editing to designing to marketing. What you don't want to do is to stray too far from the market conventions of your niche while producing and promoting your book.
The main categories of children’s fiction are summarized in the table below.
What are some recent popular titles in this niche?
Browse through the books at your local bookstore or library, or even online on Amazon, to see what new children’s titles look like, what kind of stories they tell, and what topics they cover. For instance, children’s books about diversity are on the rise, as are those about famous historical figures.
Trends like these should by no means dictate your work, but they do reflect the tastes of children as well as the concerns of parents and educators who will actually be buying your book. Keep them in mind as you go along.
How much does it cost to self-publish a children’s book?
The fact that children's books are generally shorter than books for adults doesn't automatically mean that they're cheaper to produce. In fact, the illustrations for children's picture books alone can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $10,000, though they generally don't exceed $6,000. Each author's circumstances will alter the costs incurred in the process: a more polished manuscript, for example, will be less expensive to edit. For that reason, we're a little wary of giving estimates when individual cases differ so much.
That said, however, if we absolutely have to give a ballpark figure for the cost of self-publishing a children's book, we'd say you should expect to spend at least $5,000, and likely more than that if we're talking children's picture books.
3. Edit your manuscript
As with every other kind of book, you need to get your manuscript edited. There are many types of editing, but at this stage, you’re probably most concerned with developmental and copy editing. Questions that you should ask yourself throughout this process include:
- Do you have a clear story that engages young readers?
- Are the characters memorable, with distinct voices?
- Is the language too complex or too simple for your target audience?
Revising your manuscript on your own, at least at first, is key! Perhaps this free course on how to self-edit can be of use to you. And once you’ve done your best to refine your book, it’s time to get some outside perspective.
Work with a professional editor
As an indie author working on children’s books with shorter texts, you might be tempted to do all the editing yourself to minimize costs. However, since these stories are so short, the editing rates are often quite affordable. More importantly, the insights that editors have can transform your book.
If you’re still on the fence, let Roald Dahl’s story convince you. Even in the latter half of his career, he was working closely with his editor to cater to his young audience. Stephen Roxburgh helped Dahl extensively revise the manuscripts of The BFG, The Witches, and Matilda, tackling everything from major plot points to whether Dahl should use “candy” or “sweets” in his writing. If this legendary children’s book author benefited from the help of an editor, then so will you.
Reach out to some beta readers
Beta readers, though not publishing experts, can give you a very useful idea of how your story might be received. They won’t be able to represent your entire target audience (unless you aim to publish for a small group, such as your family or classroom), but they do bring you closer to your readers.
Have a combo of children and parents or caregivers as your test audience. The younger readers can tell you how enjoyable the story is, while the adult audience can comment on your themes and other more complex elements of your story.
4. Hire an illustrator
Once you’ve got the words perfected, the most exciting part of the story begins — visualizing the narrative!
Lively illustrations are obviously a prominent feature among the best children’s books, although genres such as Middle Grade and Young Adult don’t need them. That said, every book needs a good book cover at a minimum, and for younger children's picture books, illustrations are essential. As such, the answer to the question “How do I self-publish a children’s book?” almost always involves working with an illustrator.
If you're curious about how much an illustrator may cost you, we first recommend taking this quick 10-second quiz below that will give you an estimate based on real data.
What will it cost you to hire a children's book illustrator?
We also have a detailed guide to how to find the perfect artist in our post on children’s book illustrators, which you may wish to peruse. If not, here’s a quick summary of what you need to do.
Determine your vision
Draw on the knowledge you collected about popular titles in the market and combine that with the style of your particular story. Is it a fantastical adventure that simply begs for bold, colorful art? Or is it a trailblazing story that would pair well with contemporary, impressionistic illustrations?
Scout for illustrators
There are tons of talented illustrators out there, but not all of them will have the right experience and skills to help you tell your story. Obviously, a professional with years of work in game design would be able to create beautiful graphics, but they might not be the best match for your children's plot!
Be mindful of his and take care as you search for freelance illustrators online. General freelance job boards like Fiverr or Behance provide a broad list of artists, but most of them don’t work in publishing. You can save time and find the best fit by looking at publishing marketplaces, or even asking your editor if they know any suitable illustrators.
Set your budget
On average, getting a children's picture book illustrated costs between $2,000 and $6,000, although the fee varies with the book’s length, art style, and the amount of detail required. A simpler kind of illustration, like in Mo Willems’s beloved Elephant and Piggie series, is probably going to cost less than the wild, often elaborate drawings of the Dr. Seuss books. (Check out our summary of the cost of self-publishing if you’re only looking for a cover design.)
Some — though not many — illustrators will also offer to lay out your book. And that brings us to the next step...
5. Nail the interior design of your book
Though the story is paramount, a good book also provides an enjoyable reading experience — a fact that’s especially true when it comes to children’s books. Patching texts and illustrations together the way you would make a PowerPoint presentation, while easy and quick, is not how you keep children engaged.
Indeed, every element of your book layout design (also known as typesetting), from margin size to typeface, will be extremely important for capturing young readers’ fleeting attention. So make sure you get it right!
Formatting text-based titles
If you’re writing a Middle Grade or YA novel, this process can be simple. Using book formatting tools such as the Reedsy Book Editor (which is available for free!), you can create a flawless book interior that’s ready to be exported into an ebook, or a PDF file ready to be printed.
Of course, if you want to customize your typeface or add fun chapter headings, this standardized format may not be satisfactory. For that, you’d have to look for a professional designer.
Designing illustrated books
If you’re working with more illustrations, as is the case with children's picture books, the matter will be more complex. Amazon has tried to make things easier by introducing a formatting tool called the Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, but it doesn’t guarantee professional-looking products. Ultimately, to produce a unique and attractive children's picture book or chapter book, you’d still need some design expertise.
Below are some resources to help you better understand the many aspects of interior book design. Dig in and find out about it for yourself — although we strongly recommend collaborating with a professional to ensure a high-quality, thoroughly enjoyable book.
- What is Typesetting? Your Guide to Interior Book Design
- What is Typography, and How Can You Get It Right?
- What are the Standard Book Sizes in Publishing?
💡 Top tip: Go over your book with an editor once it’s formatted. Such an expert can provide a meticulous proofread of the text and presentation of your book, thereby assuring you whether it’s publishing-ready or not.
6. Pick a distribution method
Congratulations — you’ve finished crafting your book! It’s now time to determine how you’ll share this beautiful volume with the world.
Do you want print books or ebooks? Should you print on demand, or in bulk? Which printing company and distribution channels should you use? What about your ISBN? Let’s go through these issues one by one.
Ebook vs. print
Whether ebooks genuinely help children read is an ongoing discussion between researchers, educators, and parents. The electronic format makes books easier to buy, carry, and interact with (thanks to audio excerpts or animated images). For an author, it provides the chance for wider reach at a lower cost.
On the flip side, ebooks mean more screen time for children, they’re often more distracting, and studies have shown that children retain more information through reading prints. Then there’s the indisputable fact that most of us grew up reading physical children’s books and may find it difficult to imagine one that’s not actually in print.
That said, certain kinds of children’s titles seem well-suited for ebook distribution. For instance, language learning books that schools can use to build children’s vocabulary are more convenient to use and store in digital form. YA novels for older children, who are more likely to own e-readers, are also good ebook candidates.
In any case, you can produce printed and ebooks if there’s a market for both. (Note, however, that the two formats will have different ISBNs — you can read all about that here.)
Print on demand vs. offset printing
If you’re set on printing your book, the next question is how that will happen. An indie author can choose between POD and offset printing services, although more companies offer the former service. Nonetheless, we've provided a table here, breaking down the pros and cons of both types of printing to help you decide.
There are many self-publishing companies that can print and distribute books for indie authors, and Amazon is a common choice. As unsettling as you may find the growing omnipresence of Jeff Bezos’s empire, it’s undeniable that Amazon provides substantial exposure to a wide audience.
Moreover, its publishing division, Kindle Direct Publishing, invites just about anyone, regardless of their expertise, to bring out their own book. The process of publishing on Amazon is quite simple: you create a KDP account, upload your book, fill in the product details, and hit publish.
Our Amazon self-publishing guide offers a comprehensive walkthrough, for those interested.
7. Plan your marketing campaign
You may be wondering whether we’ve strayed from the main question of how to self-publish a children’s book in this step, but rest assured we’re not. Marketing is an integral part of publishing even when you’re taking the traditional route, but especially when you’re doing everything yourself!
As an author, you want not only to boost your book’s exposure but also present a friendly face behind your stories. It’s how you connect to children and parents alike.
This is no easy task. Luckily, bestselling author Eevi Jones has put together a 10-day course on how to market a children’s book, available for free through Reedsy! It covers everything from getting book reviews to leveraging social media — and it’s definitely not something you should overlook.
That said, here are some crucial marketing strategies in children literature.
📚 Get your book into libraries. Parents and educators trust such an institution to endorse valuable titles — sitting on the shelf of a local library is an impressive stamp of approval.
🏫 Go on tours at schools (in person or virtually). Why not go directly to your readers? If you cannot visit a school physically, email them and ask if they’d consider virtual events.
⭐ Get positive early reviews. “Good reviews” don’t just mean five-star reviews — they also include comments from reputable blogs, sites, or newspapers. If you’re wondering how you can buff up your book’s profile, check out our step-by-step guide on how to get book reviews.
With good marketing, your lovingly crafted children’s book can touch the hearts of young readers anywhere.
In the next post, we'll show you how to perfect your children's manuscript with the help of someone with years of experience doing the job: a book editor!