After writing, illustrating and self-publishing over 70 children’s book titles worldwide, I figured it would be wise for me to share my entire process. This how-to guide should be helpful for those looking to get started on their first book, or to just learn a few extra tips.
Before I begin, I’d like to say that there are a number of ways to go about making and sharing children’s books these days. I’ll do my best to highlight all of the ways I am familiar with.
My background is in marketing and business, and I am self-taught in graphic design. Those who have gone to school to study literature may understand more in-depth approaches to story creation. I’ll do my best to focus on the execution of the craft.
To keep this guide organized, I’ll dive into 3 parts: writing, drawing and self-publishing.
When crafting a children’s book, I start by forgetting about the format or end-objectives. I just write. It turns out that Stephen King does this too. Neither he nor I know what will happen by the end of the story, compared to when we started. That’s the joy of writing. You never know where you’ll be by the end of it.
My writing tool of choice is a simple notes app. I never use a pen or paper, but many authors choose to do so. I find that when I’m out and about, ideas strike spontaneously. With a notes app on my phone, I can jot ideas down anywhere.
For picture books, a simple sentence can easily fill an entire page. In my case, they do. My reading level is typically for ages 3-5, so this makes sense for me.
Traditionally, picture books are 32 pages long. Here you can break the rules too. Go for less or more. Some of my books are only 10 pages. Some are 60. Then I made a 2,000-page limited collection, just to really shake the boat hehe. Ahhh this is fun!
If you are writing out paragraphs for an older audience, it might make sense to outline everything extensively first.
For me, I write and write and write. The characters develop along the way. I have a rough idea of the main character and what I want to accomplish, but the words have a tendency to take me on an adventure.
Writing should be a fun adventure. That’s what will help you finish your book. If writing becomes a chore, you won’t want to do it.
Don’t be hard on yourself when writing out your story. Try to let it free-flow. There is a time for editing later, as I always look at story creation as a flowing, natural process. What we originally want to say is always best said.
Your story may cover a main character, their struggle or sense of adventure/fun and a cohesive plot. Or you can break the rules and just have fun. With picture books, you are most free to do so. Hey, some books need not have any writing at all! We are talking about picture books hehe.
Once you’ve written what you want to write, don’t try to add more to fill a quota. Be satisfied with the words on the page. These words will change later in the drawing process.
To set up the drawing process, I like to take the words I’ve written and add them to my pages. This simplifies the drawing process, because all I need to do is draw for the page. I use presentation software for the pages.
For the drawings, you can use pens, pencils, paints, laptops, drawing tablets or coloured paper. Anything goes with this craft.
I typically use my laptop for formatting the book dimensions, and a canvas app in tablet mode for illustrations.
One-by-one, I complete each page with the associated illustrations to match the text. It’s so much fun!
By doing everything on a computer, I can edit colours easily and reduce chances for error. Dr. Seuss did everything by hand, and we can imagine how long it would take to fix a mistake! Rhyming unintended haha.
When I feel comfortable about the product, I read through it several times to check for spelling and drawing errors before publication.
Throughout this process, I use a similar setup for each book to ensure publishing takes no time at all. In fact, I can have a finished book published in a day when I follow my procedure.
With the presentation software (Google Slides), I use a standardized template, which I can just replicate for each book.
From the software, I export the book as a PDF.
With this PDF, I can either self-publish on my personal website here (using PayPal for payment), or head over to Amazon and upload it there via their proprietary software, which is called Kindle Kids’ Book Creator.
I do a mix of both. For the most accuracy, I like publishing PDFs to my site if I’m giving them away for free. Otherwise, I go with Amazon.
There are tremendous advantages to having your book on Amazon. Potential readers will trust you, thus more likely to buy from you. You can take the PDF and convert it to print-on-demand paperback there. Better distribution methods. Payment processing is a breeze. For most new authors looking to make money from book sales, Amazon is the ideal launchpad. With time, as you’ve built an author brand, you can start selling on your own website as well.
Speaking of your author brand, part of self-publishing is having a presence to show your credibility as an author. That can be with your personal website (I use WordPress), Amazon’s Author Central, and a Goodreads profile, to name a few suggestions.
Showing your personality on these platforms is key. To take your publishing efforts up a notch, having a social media presence on one or two platforms can be really helpful. For children’s books, you’ll want to target parents. I interact with various parenting communities on Facebook, but you could also check out other platforms, like Instagram or Pinterest (moms love Pinterest).
The most important thing is to stick with a self-publishing and self-promotional process. It takes time to gain traction, and with each subsequent book release, you have a chance at growing your audience.
You can then consider creating a series of books if you find one story to be popular. Readers will buy the sequels and become loyal fans. I’ve created several sequels to my books, mostly because I like the way a story turned out.
With self-publishing, you have to tell the world who you are. I find it really helpful to have other bloggers and media publications talk about you. Research a list of the top magazines in your story’s topic and do an email outreach campaign to get noticed on a bigger scale. Parenting magazines are great, and book reviewers could help validate your story with a positive recommendation. This is especially helpful if you have little to no following or fans. I’ve done freebies and giveaways with day cares and preschools, which has been helpful for reader exposure. There is no limit to what you can accomplish creatively with self-publishing.
That’s it for this guide, I hope this helps to give you ideas for your next children’s picture book creation. Now is the best time to create your story and share it with the world. The next best time is yesterday. Someday soon I hope the world will see what you can do.