I first learned of the incredible Kara McDougall when she posted a picture of her book character, Grace, on a Facebook group, asking what we thought of her. Naturally, everyone fell in love with her design and wanted more of Grace. Kara has since published her first children’s book, Grace’s Gift Book. I've invited her here today as my #CuriouserFave—and she's going to talk to you about self-publishing your very own children's book.
This is my handy-dandy guide to children’s self-publishing. Or, as we are officially calling it, 10 Steps to Self-Publishing Children’s Books.
This is not a marketing guide; I will leave that to the experts. This is about the actual creation of a book from idea to reality in 10 steps.
Projects are 80% planning, 20% execution. You need a plan.
Decide on a target audience, which is a list of characteristics for your ideal reader, including age, gender, and interests.
If your story is already written, evaluate your writing and decide on a target audience from there.
Plan the layout of the book. Be clear about the style of illustration you want and which typeface would suit the story and illustration style you want to use.
Everything. Go to the library and read children’s books. In particular, take note of how end pages are treated, the difference between an outside and inside cover, and how back-cover blurbs are written.
Research illustration styles and character design. Make copies of illustrations you like. Make notes. Lots of notes. Do this until you get a clear idea of what you want your book to look like.
Research your self-publishing requirements early. They may have specific page dimensions and specifications for their books. They also require an author’s biography. So research how to write those effectively.
Add the outcomes of your research into your plan.
Separate your story into pages. Then, based on your research, map out the illustrations.
You don’t have to be able to illustrate to do this. A simple square with an X through it will do. Note what you would like to be included in the illustrations. Be as detailed as you like. Write it all down.
I am an artist and graphic designer, so I created most of my book on my own. That may not be your situation. It’s not an issue, though; you’ll just need to delegate.
You’ll need an editor. I did, and you will. I can recommend one. Scroll up to the top of this page and look left. See? That was easy.
You will also need an illustrator and layout designer. Sometimes the editor, illustrator, and designer roles can overlap. That’s fine. As long as all elements of your plan are covered.
If budget is an issue, then you will need to get creative. Here are some options:
Hire a student: Show your plan to art or design tutors. Ask who they think would do well and what price you should offer. Talent is only half the equation; the tutors will know who will follow through.
Trade: This is where both parties evaluate their skills/talents and worth for equal trade. Not everyone will want to work that way. But you won’t know if you don’t ask.
Make a printed copy of your first draft, including the illustrator’s images and the overall layout. Then form a focus group. I asked for feedback from teaching colleagues and some children I work with. They were my focus group.
If you don’t work with children, then contact your local schools and libraries. Most teachers would be thrilled to have a writer visit.
Consider everything you have been told. Decide what to change and what to keep.
This step means joining Create Space and working your way through their checklist. If you planned well, this step should be pretty straightforward.
Ask for reviewers in your community or even through social media. Send out draft copies, then ask them to post the review on Amazon once the book is live. Note: Make sure your reviewers actually read the book and have a verified purchase on Amazon.
As a children's author and lover of children's books, I would want to know the following from my reviewers:
1. What did you like and what did the children like?
2. What was your favorite part?
3. What did you think of the illustrations?
4. Any other comments you would like to make.
There will be a point when there is nothing left to do. Your editor has checked every single word. You have combed through every illustration and double-checked the layout with the designer. The price is set, the bio is written. Your book is ready to publish. It comes down to a mouse click.
Think about the experiences that you had. Would you repeat it? Streamline your creative process. You are an author. You have an audience. They want more. Return to step 1.
That’s it. Self-publishing a children’s book in its most simple form. It’s not simple, though. It’s gloriously complicated and messy. But it is worth it.
I hope that was useful for you. I love talking about this kind of thing. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to ask. I want to help.
Kara lives in New Zealand, where she drinks inordinate amounts of coffee and stays up late creating whatever happens to be wandering through her imagination. She suspects there could be a relationship between the coffee and the late nights but is having far too much fun to pay attention.
Download your own little Grace here.
Snap a pic of her having an adventure, then post it back on Instagram with #GracesGiftBook so we can all see what she has been up to.