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What I Learned from Self-Publishing a Children's Book

A collage of images from the children's book Elsie-Babe. One image shows the front cover with a fairy holding a tooth. A second image shows an illustration of a tooth fairy with orange hair and pink wings holding a tooth out in her hand and the third image is of toadstool houses in a forest.

Okay, so this week I thought I'd talk about what I learned from self-publishing a children's book and what the experience was like for me. I've recently just sent my first picture book, Elsie-Babe, out into the World and it has been quite the adventure. So I thought I'd talk you through what it has been like - the good, the bad (that weren't all that bad) and the exciting!


To give a bit of background into this commission, I was given a poem to turn into a children's picture book. Other than the words having already been written and up to the printing process, I have done the rest of the work on my own - illustrating the book, designing the page layouts, adding the text on each page, designing and creating the cover, preparing the files for print, sending the files to print, liaising with the printing company, approving the proof, ordering the books to be printed, marketing and selling the book.


Going into this project, I had never published a book before; either self-published or traditionally published. So everything I did, was for the first time and I learned a lot and fast! Other than illustrating, the bulk of the work has been learned on the job and I guess that is the best way to learn. Mistakes happened along the way and the process took a lot longer than I thought it would (I'm writing this now in February 2024 having just started selling the book and I thought I would have been at this stage 6 months ago!)



#1 - Why Did I Self-Publish a Picture Book?

So why did I self-publish in the first place then? Well, I was asked by Michele Fudge, an anti-bullying campaigner, to create a children's book from the poem she'd written inspired by her daughter. At the start of the project we had a traditional publishing set up in mind, where once the book was complete, we would send it to well known publishers.


During the project I started to learn more about publishing and started to look more into self-publishing and the more I learned, the more appealing it sounded.


There are pros and cons to both types of publishing. For instance, with a traditional publishers, they do all the liaising, printing and selling for you, however you don't know if/when your book will get picked up by a publishing house. With self-publishing, you can start selling your book as soon as it's printed, but you have to be prepared to do a lot of the work yourself, or outsource the things you can't/don't want to do.


Ultimately for me, by self-publishing I was in control of how the book looked, how soon it could be printed and what it would feel like in the customers hands. There is a lot of upfront cost too. To avoid spending a huge amount on printing and then no-one buying, I released Elsie-Babe on a pre-order basis so that I know how many books to order. I have set a date to receive all the orders by and that gives me two weeks then to have them printed. As you can imagine, I was so excited to receive my first order and within the first week, I hit over 20 sales - talk about validating!


#2 - The Good Bits

  • The story itself was a lovely one to illustrate and I really enjoyed having a free reign on the way the book looked. Michele and I discussed the way the characters should look and she had a particular view for the book that I was happy to run with. Other than that, the design was on me. It was fun to play around with shapes and colour and I then chose to limit the palette and see what I could come up with.


  • When it came to turning the illustrations into an actual book on the computer, it took a lot of deliberating over softwares/subscriptions. So while I researched, I set up a file in Canva to the book measurements and as the files were scanned in, I created my book in there. For those that don't know, Canva is in an online graphic design tool that you can create a huge range of things in! This actually worked out great and I could do everything I needed to with it. The only thing I couldn't do on the free version of Canva was set the file to CMYK, so I signed up for the free trial of the pro version.

I am so glad that I did create the book online as my laptop refused to turn on not long after I'd scanned all the files and added them into the book format. Trying not to panic that my laptop had seen its last days, I was able to log into Canva on my partner's laptop and see all my files - where I did indeed finish the book!


  • Canva make it really easy to turn your files in to print ready files that are recognised by your printer (Ensure you have print bleed selected from the settings then download as a Print PDF with crop and bleed ticked, along with flatten PDF and change the colour profile to CMYK).


  • At the printers I chose, they have an option of a free file assessment that gives peace of mind that when your files go to print, they are set correctly and ready to go.


  • Though there was a lot of too-ing and fro-ing with the files, I was able to get an online proof that I could check before signing off on the printing, thankfully at no cost. On the first take I realised my files weren't set up correctly, on the second go, one of the illustrations needed cleaning up and on the third go I did sign it off.


#3 - The Bad Bits

So I wouldn't say this was a bad experience at all. It was timely due to the way I create illustrations and I had to research a lot and I learned a lot. I would say the process would be quicker the next time round given all that I've learned (maybe a 'how to self-publish' is another post for another day!)


The lessons (frustrations/mistakes) I learned though;


  • Misunderstanding the PDF options on Canva cost me a few days and an extra proof! Partly down to the advice on the printers website and my inexperience with printing from Canva, I sent the file as a PDF Standard. With the print bleed showing on my files and the printers suggesting PDF Standard was fine. I didn't realise that until my first proof, the bleed wasn't actually showing. So I got quite a shock when the proof came back and a chunk of my illustrations had been chopped off!


  • The process is a long one! As someone who likes to sit and create more than using a computer, I was not prepared for how long it would take to put the book together. Scanning the pages in at high resolution, creating the book file and adding all the illustrations, adding the text and ensuring it looked good while taking margins and print bleeds into consideration all took a lot of time. It was definitely worth taking the time to get things set up properly though, to get everything looking right!


  • Close to the end of the process I realised some key parts of my illustrations were being cut off once the bleed was added on. So I had to move some parts about (thankfully I work with collage and the pieces were only tacked down) and then rescan them. A mistake that could have been avoided but easily fixed!


#4 - What I'd Do Differently Next Time

So if I did this again, would I do things differently?! Yes! I would. Here's a few things I would do differently;


  • I would create the front cover first so that I could start promoting the book much earlier on. Once the cover was revealed, more people were keen to buy! This time I created the cover last, so I lost time in not having a mock up book ready to market.


  • I wouldn't have major elements so close to the edges. While I knew of margins and print bleeds, by the time the illustrations are scanned in and these are applied, a lot of the edges are cut away. So next time time I would steer much further from the edge of the pages.


  • I would show off my process a lot more online while the project was ongoing! As this has been a long standing project, I felt a bit conscious of talking about the book a lot. I got a lot of good feedback from it though, so I don't think I needed to worry so much!



#5 - What I Learned from Self-Publishing a Children's Book - Would I Really Self-Publish Again?

Despite this taking longer than I planned, I would definitely self-publish again. I learned so much about the creation of a children's picture book and I'm not sure you get that insight without doing all the stages yourself.


Taking into account all that I've talked about above and making some changes along the way, I think it would be fun to do again. My daughter says I should do it this year... but we'll see. I want to really enjoy the glow of Elsie-Babe first!


What I Actually Self-Published


The children's picture book that I self-published is called Elsie-Babe. It's a story of a naughty

tooth fairy. I illustrated the book with collage on oil pastel and coloured pencil backgrounds. If you want to learn more about the book, head to Elsie-Babe Picture Book | Nicola Ellen Illustration


You can purchase your own copy of Elsie-Babe until 19th March 2024 at https://nicolaellendraws.etsy.com



A children's picture book is laid on a brown wooden table. The book is dark blue with an illustration of a fairy holding out a tooth. The fairy has orange hair, a green dress and pink wings. The title of the book is in white - Elsie-Babe.

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That's all for this week. Thank you for taking the time to read today's post - I hope it has given you an insight into self-publishing if you're looking to give it a go yourself!


I will see you in a couple of weeks for my next post!

xxx


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