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How I Self-Published a Picture Book for Children

The front and back cover of tooth fairy story book Elsie-Babe with the title in the middle of the image 'How I self-published a picture book for children' @nicolaellenillustration

This week I am talking about how to self-publish and how I self-published a children's picture book. I will talk you through the process and the pros and cons I found along the way. It is a long read, but there is a lot of useful information here!

To give you a bit of background on my self-published project, Elsie-Babe - I have recently self-published my first children's picture book. The story is a poem that I was asked to create illustrations for. Other than the words, the rest of the design process was completed by myself. We chose to sell online rather than in shops and this does change the process slightly. I will talk about that further on.

So, what is self-publishing anyway? To self-publish an book, you (the author/illustrator) are creating, printing and distributing a book on your own, without the input of a traditional publishing house. You are in control of the whole process but you also have to put the funds into your project, usually upfront before you see a return from your book.

Why we self-published and why you might choose to, is so that we had full control over how our book was going to look and feel in our customers hands. We also knew it would be quicker to get our project out into the World publishing it ourselves, than sending it to a number of publishing houses hoping that one would say yes. We had a book we loved and wanted to show it off!

How I Self-Published a Picture Book: The Pros and Cons

As I mentioned above, the advantage of doing things yourself, means you are control with how your project looks.

The disadvantage in this is that, unless you outsource certain parts of the process, you do all of the work (and not just the fun bits like writing and illustrating the story!). I had a lot along to learn along the way because I was doing things that I'd not done before or wasn't maybe not so good at. You have to design the book, put it together in whichever software you choose, add the text, proof read, making your files print ready, sourcing a printing company, liaising with the printers, approving proofs, market your book and then send them out to your customers. It is a lot of work and it does take time to make sure your masterpiece is going to look amazing! I found it was worth it though!

The upside of a traditional publishing house is that they will promote and sell for you, so you don't have to. When you self-publish you will need to promote the book yourself and then decide how you will sell your book. We chose to sell online. It is possible to sell via a shop, but again, you will need to do the work to make that happen (as I didn't go down that route, I don't talk about it in this blog).

Legal Deposits and ISBN Numbers

Now this bit may vary depending on where in the World you live. I live in the UK, so that is the information I will share. There is a lot of information about legal deposits and the different requirements online for different countries around the World, so you should easily be able to find what is relevant to you if you are not publishing in the UK.

A legal deposit is where you are required by law to send a copy of your published book to the British Library within the first month of its publication date. This is so that they can add it to their records and "preserve knowledge and information for future generations and 'maintain the national published archive of the British Isles". This law has been ongoing since 1662 - imagine the amount of books stored by the British Library! It's a really simple task to complete. You send a copy of your book to the British Library site in Wetherby with a cover letter asking them to add you publication to their database and you should receive an acknowledgment in return. There are 5 other libraries across UK and Republic of Ireland (the National Library of Scotland, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, Cambridge University Library, and Trinity College Dublin Library) that are entitled to a copy of your book to add to their records too - you don't need to send anything to them unless they request it though!

As for ISBN numbers and barcodes - you only need to purchase them if you are selling your book physically through a shop. As we are only selling Elsie-Babe online via my Etsy shop, we haven't had to buy either an ISBN number or barcode. Some printing companies will do this for you, along with the legal deposit request, but it's always worth doing your own research into this as sometimes it works out more cost effective to do this yourself, even if it does take a little more time.

Legal deposit has existed in English law since 1662. It helps to ensure that the nation’s published output, and thereby its intellectual record and future published heritage, is collected systematically and preserved for future generations. Legal deposit material is made available to readers within the designated legal deposit libraries. - Bodleian Library website

Choosing a printer/ printing company

This is surprisingly harder than I expected it to be. For me, the company had to be in the UK and hopefully local, the process to order what I wanted from my files to the finish book had to be easy to follow, the customer service had to be really good and they had to have really good reviews (this will soon give you an idea of how the companies work!)! It might seem like I have high expectations, but if I'm going to trust someone with a lot of money and a project I worked really hard on, I need to know it's going to be spot on!

While the advance copies look great and were printed really well, the overall experience wasn't great. The customer service was poor when I queried things and despite having a file assessment completed to make sure the files were print ready, it turns out my files weren't assessed correctly and making amendments afterwards delayed the printing by half a week. As you can imagine, a poor experience like that is enough to take my business elsewhere.

So when I chose a printer for the main batch of books, I have been extra critical and ensured I am choosing somewhere that will support me instead of hinder me and do a really good print job!

So be picky! Scratch someone off your list if they have an annoying flashing message box in the corner of their website while you're trying to concentrate on their services page, check their reviews on Trustpilot and see how they respond to any bad reviews (this is very telling of how they might treat you!), is their website easy to follow and can you easily order the exact type of book that you want, will you be able to get a printed proof, is it clear how long the printing process will take without having to contact the printer once your files have gone to print? If you've put all the effort into making a book that you are proud of and can't wait to show off, then it makes sense to find someone who will put the care and time into printing it correctly too.

The printing process

Unless you are outsourcing the cover art or book design, this might be the first time you have to converse with other people about your project. Make sure you do a lot of research into what you want and what you are asking for.

Once you are happy with your choice of printing company, you want to make sure your files are print ready with bleed and crop marks and preferably in PDF format (some printing companies do accept other file formats but PDF works well across the board).

The artwork is given in two files - the inside pages and the cover.

The company I used first had a free file assessment service - this actually didn't work out well as they told me the files were fine so when I sent my files for print, the proof came back with a chunk of the images missing because I hadn't been told in the file assessment that the bleed was missing!! I thought it was already there! The second company I used checked my files as part of the ordering process and asked any questions they needed to ensure I'd given them all the parts of my book design etc and then sent me through a digital proof to approve.

Before the files are sent to be printed, you will (should**) be sent a digital proof at the very least. From some companies you will have the option to order a physical proof and although it is at an extra cost, I encourage it to avoid any nasty surprises when your books arrive! Once you've approved the proof, the book files go to print and then they are posted to you!

A screenshot of Elsie-Babe as an Etsy listing with the price and details about the book next to it by Nicola Ellen Illustration

Selling Your Book

Research all your options and go with works best for you. Consider your time and costs and what makes the most sense for you.

I chose to sell Elsie-Babe online for a few reasons. I didn't know how much interest there would be, I didn't have the money to put behind sending it out to bricks and mortar shops and I knew if I sold online, I could get my book into customers hands much quicker.

I did consider a PayPal button linked to my website but in doing this, I couldn't control who was ordering and that would affect how I posted the books. While I'd love to send my books all over the World, living in the UK and sending things to Europe is quite the headache right now. So in the end I chose to sell through my Etsy shop as I can control which countries are able to buy from me and I can also set shipping costs per country too. Hopefully in the future, posting to Europe gets easier!

With Etsy, I can see all my orders easily, they keep me up to date with shipping dates and I can order my postage through - it makes it a smooth process for me. They also let the customers know when their order has been posted.

Why I chose to sell with a pre-order

I chose to set up a pre-order because printing costs can be a lot of money! For me, I needed to know there would be interest in Elsie-Babe before I paid the money, so that I didn't end up with a pile of unwanted books hanging around my studio! Thankfully, I've just been able to put in an order of 30 books for the first print run, so no lonely books here! But I couldn't be sure I would sell that many, so by selling the book in advance, I had the money ready to pay for the printing when I was ready to order.

I also put a deadline on the pre-sale too so that people knew there was a certain point where they wouldn't be able to buy the book, so if they wanted it, they needed to buy sooner rather than later.

Text is in the middle of the image 'Why Elsie-Babe is only available to pre-order'. Around the text are four images from Elsie-Babe picture book.

How I promoted Elsie-Babe

Of course, without the help of a publisher, we had to promote the book ourselves. Which as someone who just likes to sit and make pictures, this was always going to be tricky. How would I reach many people?! Will people get fed up of hearing me talk about this book? Will they get annoyed by seeing posts about Elsie-Babe?

I focussed on Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube for promoting online. I also talked about the book in my newsletters. There is also the power of word of mouth. When you have friends and family who have or know small children, you have a warm audience right there! A combination of all of these have really paid off for me. It takes perseverance and consistency, some well times social media posts, making it clear EVERYWHERE (social media banners, profile pictures, email footers, on your website etc) that you have a book to sell and some well crafted visuals to share. It is possible though.

Thank you for reading. I hope this has given you an idea of how I self-published my children's book Elsie-Babe and also an insight as to how you too can self-publish a picture book. This is the process that has worked for me. It's likely other people may do this differently and that is okay too. There are advantages and disadvantages to both self-publishing and traditional publishing; neither one is better than the other. It depends on your circumstances and what you want from the process. I advise doing your research on both and deciding from there.

That's all for this week. In my next post I will be talking about drawing outside and what I take with me!

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