So you want to self-publish a picture book. Congratulations and welcome to the writer’s world! You have that draft finished, so what’s next?
In this article I hope to provide clarity on steps it takes to self-publish a picture book. I’ll give you a brief overview of self-publishing and then give you a list of do’s and don’ts, a jumping off point to help you along the way.
What is self-publishing?
Self-publishing is when an author has decided to bring his book to print without the help of a publishing house. Today, that often looks like a book printed on demand, as oppose to a traditional run of copies. It also means that while you’ll be in complete creative control of your book (YAY!) you’ll also be footing the bill—a price worth paying for many people. Not so much for others, especially when there is little to no promise of a return.
In the end, self-publishing is not better or worse than publishing a book traditionally, it’s just a different path.
Should I self-publish my picture book?
This article is for authors who have come to an educated decision to self-publish their picture book. Keep in mind that the children’s book market is competitive. Not all traditionally published books make their way into classrooms, libraries, and bookstores. Self-published picture books have an even more difficult time.
Additionally, on-demand printing has not quite caught up with traditional printing when it comes to full color illustrations. You might find your published book printed on-demand isn’t the quality you envisioned.
You might come to the conclusion to self-publish for many reasons.
Maybe you have given yourself enough time to become familiar with the traditional market, and it’s just not the path you want to take. Maybe you have a project that you aim to share with a limited market like family and friends, or you plan to write just this one book. You might be writing a book to fill a need for a specific audience. Make sure that reason is clear before you self-publish.
At the end of this article I have a list of resources that can help you on this journey and answer a lot of your questions about whether or not self-publishing is the right path for you.
7 DO’s and DON’Ts to Remember
1 – DO read a lot of picture books.
Take time to read picture books, especially ones that have been published in the last five years (both self-published and traditionally published). This a great way to get a feel for what has been successful, and what people are reading.
If you’re not sure which books to start with, consider asking your librarian for a handful of their contemporary favorites. You also might follow a blog like ReFoReMo, which translates to Reading for Research Month. This book blog helps picture book authors reform their writing by researching and reading mentor texts. It’s a great way to get access to a focused booklist if you want to do a broad dive into the picture book canon.
2 – DON’T self-publish your first draft.
There is a misconception about picture books, and it goes something like this: Picture books are so short. It’s going to be easy. You might be surprised to learn that some people argue that writing a picture book is harder than writing a novel.
In a picture book, you only have around 500 words to work with. But you still need a character arc, or a three-act plot structure, or to deliver a concept in full. Remember that having a quality story is important too. It takes revisions and rewrites to perfect a manuscript for publication.
The concept book Water Is Water by Miranda Paul, which explores the water cycle in rhyme in fewer than 1000 words, and The Best Pet of All by David LaRochelle with only 460 words, a story about a child who is seeking the perfect pet, are great examples of well-crafted picture books that utilize structure to work within the picture book format.
If you want to learn more about the craft of writing for children, check out these writing guides and this article on the craft of writing picture books.
3 – DO ask for input.
Work with a critique group. Read your book to others. Do a manuscript swap. Join a writers group online or in person. Work with an editor. Some of my favorite resources are the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge and the Kidlit411 Manuscript Swap Group.
Read your book aloud. Even better, ask someone else to read your book aloud to you. Picture books are made to be read aloud, so having a clear grasp on the read-aloud quality of your book is important. There is no better way to do this than to listen to others read your words to you.
4 – DON’T commission illustrations until your text is complete.
Once you have worked through revisions on your manuscript, and feel you are fairly close to a final draft, work with an editor on your manuscript until it is crisp, clean and complete. Then, hire an illustrator.
Why? Quality illustrations will be costly. It always breaks my heart when authors jump the gun on illustrations then decide they need big changes to their book. Patience is important here. Get the text just right, then hire your illustrator.
5 – DON’T assume your editor is a proofreader.
You may be surprised to learn that not all editors are proofreaders. Once you’ve gone through the editing process, you will need to have your book professionally proofread before it goes to print.
Sometimes the press where you self-publish the book will offer proofreading as an a la carte service. You can also hire someone through the Editors Freelance Association or Reedsy to take care of this for you.
You can learn more about proofreading and other types of editing here.
6 – DO follow picture book page standards.
With self-publishing there is a huge misconception about how books are printed and why standards exist. For the most part, standard pictures books are printed with 32 pages, including the title page, copyright, dedication, and any front and back matter.
Picture books are printed in runs of eight or sixteen pages per parent sheet. The parent sheets are then folded and bound into four or two signatures respectively. Then they are bound together to make a book. Sound confusing? This article on Writers’ Rumpus explains the process in more detail.
The golden rule to follow: If you are going to publish a book with more or less than 32 pages, do so in multiples of 8: 24, 32, 40, 48, etc.
If you want to learn how to apply this knowledge to your own writing, this article from InkyGirl is a great place to start.
7 – DO be patient.
Writing a book –– even a picture book –– is no easy task. But it’s absolutely a rewarding one! Know that by applying patience you will come out with a better product, a stronger story, and a more professional looking book than you would have otherwise. Happy writing!