The first thing you need to know is that you are destined to lose money. You have to decide whether you are going to lose a few dollars, a few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars or more. Your choice. Unless you are willing to spend your waking hours marketing your own books (and provided that you know how to do so) you are 99% guaranteed to lose money.
The second thing you need to know is that self-published children’s books tend to be amateurish on many levels. There is nothing wrong with being an amateur, as long as you acknowledge it and try to be the best amateur that you can.
Traditional, professional publishers employ copy editors and content editors. They find the right illustrator, set up the book properly, go over it thoroughly and print it professionally. And much more. And they are very picky about selecting content and authors.
The third thing you need to know is that you don’t have to run and publish a thousand “hard copies”, i.e., books. It’s difficult for an individual to sell more than several dozen books. Over 90% of the authors self-publishing on Amazon end up selling less than forty books.
Furthermore, hard copies can’t be corrected (unless you are very good with Tippex). You can self-publish your story on Ourboox, Createspace or elsewhere and continue to make corrections. Even when you think you’re done, you probably aren’t. Professional writers often revise a story dozens of times. That’s a lesson we amateurs must learn.
Fourth thing: When you are more than sure that you’re ready, you can create a pdf, go across the street and make a few dozen beautiful digital hard copies of your book at any digital publisher. You can sell them or give them to friends and family. You will find things you want to fix for the next edition. Fix. Go and make another thirty copies. Spend hundreds of dollars, not thousands.
The fifth point I want to make is that commissioning illustrations for your story can be pricey, and once they’re done, it’s practically impossible to improve/modify/change your story and keep the original illustrations. What happens if you decide that a mouse would make a better main character than the rat you’ve written about? It’s happened to me more than once!
You can save a money by asking a family member or friend to illustrate your book as a personal favor or as a cooperative project. If you’re dealing with professional illustrators, they will want to be paid for their hard work. And they deserve to be paid.
Next. We authors tend to be over wordy. Modern picture books often have 500 words or less. Editors at the publishing houses keep professional children’s book writers from being too verbose. This includes describing exactly what appears in the picture, running on and losing focus.
There is nothing wrong in trying to be a professional writer. As long as we realize that it is a long journey. We amateurs need to improve, to “hone our craft” as they say. Taking the right courses, finding the right mentor, reading a lot of books, going to meetings of authors (SCBWI is key for writers of children’s books), joining critique groups, are all part of the process.
If you want to sell a lot of books, it’s worthwhile checking to see what the market may be interested in. A book to help children tie their shoes? Go for it. The books tend to be more didactic and less imaginative when you have a goal in mind. On the other hand, you are likely to sell more books than us dreamers.
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