6 BIG lessons I’ve learned indie-publishing my children’s picture books
It was late 2017 and I’d just finished editing the manuscript for my first children’s picture book, The Witch’s Cat and the Cooking Catastrophe. But what did I need to do next? I hadn’t thought much beyond this point. I mean, writing the story is the hardest bit, right?
So I started planning how I was going to bring the book into existence. But how? How should I go about finding an illustrator? Did I need an editor? How would I get it printed and distributed? What timescale was I looking at? How much would it all cost?
Luckily, at this point, I wasn’t in any particular rush, and happy to learn as I went along. It was daunting and thrilling in equal measures.
And wow, what an adventure it’s been – still is. I’ve been down many a dead end, I’ve wasted money, I wish I’d done some things differently, I’ve cried, I’ve had sleepless nights, but I can honestly say it’s all been totally worth it.
In this post I’m going to share some key things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Indie-publishing is much more than just writing
It took me a while get my around this. Independently publishing a book for profit is not just a hobby, it’s a business and it should be treated as such. It encompasses MUCH more than just writing a story (though that’s not necessarily the easy bit). It’s crafting a new product from scratch. Not just a product, an asset. And it requires many hats:
Social media expert
You could literally have a whole team of people for this – you know, like you might expect to find at a traditional publishing house.
2. But that doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself
If you want your product to be the best it can be, that means sometimes hiring people who will do a better job than you. Yes, this will cost money, and no, you’re unlikely to have a never-ending budget. So, it’s worth identifying the areas where you’ll need help the most, and prioritising spending money on those.
Personally, I always invest in editing, proofreading, illustration, and book design. Everything else, I pretty much manage or have learned to do myself.
It’s well worth hiring an experienced book editor who specialises in books for your target reader. Even the best writers in the world have an editor – and for good reason. They help ensure your story works for your readers in terms of structure, plot, pace, setting, language, and characters. They will also help refine readability, consistency, and accuracy.
I wouldn’t risk any spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors making it into the final product. For the small price of a professional proofread, it’s worth making sure that doesn’t happen. I also ask everyone I know with a penchant for writing to proofread it for me – just in case.
I’m no illustrator and frankly, I don’t have time to learn. I have got a lot of respect for the creative gifts of an illustrator and am willing to pay for them. Unless you are an illustrator already, I would suggest you do the same.
I tried to do this myself but got stuck with Adobe InDesign pretty quick. I didn’t want my books to look like a homemade PowerPoint presentation, so I subbed this out too. People do judge a book by its cover – so better make it a good one eh!?
3. Hold off on hiring an illustrator right away
If like me, you’re working on a children’s picture book, it’s tempting to dive right in and find an illustrator as soon as possible. I mean, it’s not a book until it’s illustrated, right?
But, even if you’re an author-illustrator, I’d hold off on illustrations until you’re manuscript has been edited (by a professional editor) and is the absolute best it can be.
This might be obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me, and I rushed right in. I tell you this from experience – going back and tweaking or adding new illustrations later is annoying, time-consuming, a waste of precious budget, and totally avoidable.
4. Put some serious thought and effort into your marketing plan
This is a biggie, and something that I certainly overlooked the first time around.
In short, you will need to market your book to a wide audience if you want to sell more than just a few copies to friends and family.
This process is ongoing and has taken me LOTS more time than it took to write the book in the first place. It requires persistence, a thick skin, and at least half (if not much more) of your budget.
I’ll cover this in more detail in an upcoming blog – in summary, you’ll need to think about social media, paid social media ads, Amazon ads, author visits/book readings, a book launch event, and setting up a website/online store.
5. Spend your time wisely
It’s easy to make this 'indie publishing' thing bigger than a full-time job. I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent working on my books – mainly because it’s my passion. But I’ve recently had to rein myself in a bit (i.e. drag myself back kicking and screaming), because there are just not enough hours in the day.
But, as per my earlier point, I try to remind myself that this is a business, and I should therefore spend the lion’s share of my time on areas that add the most value – i.e. any task involved in either the creating of or the selling of books. Easier said than done, I know!
6. Leave plenty of time between finishing your book and launching it!
Boy, I learned this the hard way with my first book. I left two weeks between the delivery of my stock of books and the book launch event. That didn’t leave much time for the catalogue of printing and distributing issues that ensued.
I ended up having to order books from a local, significantly more expensive printer, that arrived the day BEFORE my book launch. Not to mention that I didn’t allow any time for pre-launch marketing. It still gives me nightmares!
Now I always plan to have at least two months between printing and book launch.
I could go on and on, but I think this summarises some of my biggest learnings so far – and I want to make sure I have things to talk about in other posts.
Just before I wrap up though, I'd like to ask you some questions.
Are you working on an indie-book project? If so, tell me more!
Have you already published a book? If so, What lessons have you learned along the way?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. Please leave a comment or email me through the Contact page.
Thanks so much for reading!