So you've written your book. You've got the illustrations. You are ready to embark on the self-publishing journey, but you don't know where to begin...
Here are some things to consider:
BUY YOUR OWN ISBN!
This is self-publishing commandment number 1. Buy your own ISBN and register it in your name. ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. Each different publication of each book has its own ISBN to help distinguish them. Don't get lulled in by print-on-demand companies that offer a free ISBN: they will be registered in that businesses name, not yours. And that means they own your book. So it's really important to buy your own ISBN in your own name, to keep the rights to your own book.
You can buy ISBN singly or in bulk. In the UK you buy your ISBN's from Nielsen .
Remember that each new edition of a book, even if it is the same title, needs a new ISBN. So it might be worth buying in a bulk of 10 to future-proof yourself.
Remember that in the UK it is mandatory to send a copy of your book to the British Library within 1 month of publication.
TO PRINT-ON-DEMAND OR NOT?
The idea of using print-on-demand companies to print your book may be appealing for the new self-publisher. You don't have the initial cost of buying your books ourtight, you don't have to work out where you're going to store all of your books, and you don't have to worry about the sales and distribution aspect.
However it is not all good news. Firstly, make sure you read the terms and conditions. Like, actually read them. You don't want to find out that you are signing away your rights to your book without knowing about it. Don't use a free ISBN from any of these companies. The ISBN's will usually be registered in their name, not yours, meaning that they own your book: not you.
Secondly, always order a proof copy. Children's books have a certain look to them: the big, bright colourful and glossy pages. You want to make sure your proof copy compares when next to other children's books. A lot of the print on demand companies are more geared towards printing text books (novels etc). And even though they may say that they can print children's books, they may be using the same matt office-type paper that text books are printed on, instead of the specialist tools required to make your children's book look amazing.
One print on demand company to check out is IngramSpark. Even though I did not use them for my children's book printing because of the poor quality of my proof copy, they do have a bunch of really useful free information about the industry, so definitely check them out.
The alternative to printing on demand is printing outright, or offset printing. This requires you to have your money ready to pay for a heap of books outright, but you will have a bigger choice of printers to choose from. And because you are choosing your own printer, you can make sure all of the paper choices are appropriate for the correct look of your book.
To fund the creation of my children's books in this way, I created a crowdfunder. I used Kickstarter, but there are many platforms available for you to use. Crowdfunders are also great because they allow you to start marketing your book early, and help to generate a buzz around your book. People like the idea that they are helping to bring a product to market. TIP: Read all of the advice that your crowdfunding platform give you. Because they charge a fee on top of your earnings (small, but worth taking into account), it's in their best interests to make your campaign as successful as it can be. If they advise to create a video for your page, do it. If they advise you make a spreadsheet of everyone you know and write emails to all of them about your book, do it. Follow their advice and you will have more chance of reaching your goal.
PRICE YOUR BOOK WITHIN YOUR MARKET
Printing children's books is expensive. 32 full colour pages are not cheap. So as a self-publisher you might be tempted to raise your book price to cover the cost, right? Wrong. Becasue the world is not short of children's picture books. If the price differs too much from the one next to it on the shelf, the consumer will pick the cheaper one. Let's face it, children are expensive too.
So what to do? Buy in bulk to keep your prices down. Usually, the more you buy, the smaller your unit cost gets.
SHOUT ABOUT YOUR BOOK!
Marketing is so important when self-publishing. If you don't shout about your book from the rooftops, no-one is going to know it exists. Try to find a way to describe your book in a sentance or two, so you are ready to wow people with your book concept when they ask. Like an elevator pitch. Make it short and snappy, and make them want it.
Set up your own website and social media. And don't create them in the name of your book! Make sure that any websites, instagram accounts etc are in your name. If you have an instagram account for the children's book Our Dave, then what happens when you create your next book? That's right, you start all over again, and have to work really hard to get your audience following you.
Emma Woodthorpe is a children's author and illustrator living in Sheffield, UK. In September 2020 she published her first children's book Our Dave, all about a very special cat who was searching for his forever home. Our Dave is available to buy from embersandink.co.uk and from good independent bookshops and stores.