There are many paths to self-publishing a children's book. I'm sharing my story here since I often have people ask me how I brought my book to life.
my book baby, "Strong, Smart, Kind and Brave"
Writing is something that has been in my blood since birth. I was writing existential short stories in elementary school (I found one recently, titled “The Rowboat”, about someone alone in a boat at the end of the world - and she DIES at the end - I wonder what my grade six teacher thought??)
Then in high school, I wrote diaries full of angsty love letters and poems and manifestos. I helped organize poetry cafes and readings in our high school gym. I even had a part-time job shelving books at the library that allowed me to discover new books and be among fellow bookworms.
Slowly, my writing fell away. The busyness of life took over. The season of being a mom to babies and toddlers and small children filled every crevice of time outside of Work.
But. There’s always a but.
In 2020/2021, in the midst of a global pandemic, I slowly began feeling the pull back to writing. I started writing random thoughts and what I call "Bad Poetry" in the notes app on my phone.
Turns out the writing never stopped, I just forgot to listen.
I had a half-formed concept for a children’s picture book for over a year. Then one night in March 2021 I couldn’t sleep. And a book came to me in small bursts, as I wrote it in my phone. It kept me up until almost 2 am.
I woke up convinced it would be terrible. I sat on it a week. I reread it multiple times. I wondered if it was maybe okay - perhaps had the bones of something special. So I shared it with three dear friends (all educators and moms) and they gave me the confidence I needed to figure out what the heck to do with this Thing.
Once I got some feedback that the book I had written was maybe, possibly, okay, I did a LOT of learning and gathering resources.
Over the next few months this included:
- chatting with some business friends, to pick their brains
- devouring podcasts and content by the amazing Laurie Wright
- getting feedback from some beta readers (all parents of neurodiverse kids, some neurodiverse themselves)
- joining children’s book author Facebook groups (this one and this one are amazing)
There were a few decisions I had to make during my journey.
DECISION #1: TRADITIONAL ROUTE
Most people are aware of the traditional book publishing journey; however, it is EXTREMELY hard to get a publishing “deal”. Even if you do get one, it can take 1-2+ years for a book to be released. The “easy” part is that the publisher takes care of the design, publishing, marketing and distributing of the book.
Thankfully, the internet has made publishing more accessible for authors and has definitely helped self-publishing. That’s how I decided to release my book into the wild. The only “easy” part here is that no one is gatekeeping you publishing, other than your time and money.
DECISION #2: TO EDIT OR NOT EDIT
Not all self-published authors choose to hire an editor. I knew I wanted to produce the best possible book I could, so I looked through the editors available for hire on Reedsy and I found the incredible Jennifer Rees (who edited the Hunger Games series!) who helped polish my story and gave me incredibly affirming feedback on my story.
Jennifer did developmental and copy/line editing for me, and I asked a few eagle-eyed friends to do a final proofread at the very end.
DECISION #3: HIRING AN ILLUSTRATOR & BOOK DESIGNER
Illustrators are such a personal decision - there are so many styles of artwork, so as the author you need to balance someone whose style matches your story, someone who can work within your budget, and someone whose availability fits your publishing timeline.
Luckily, through a Google search I found the talented Hugo L Cuellar whose style I adored, who fit within my budget, and who could work within my timeframe. He also was willing to create a character who felt gender-neutral, since my character is never gendered in the book. We went through a few iterations, and the final main character in the story is so well done.
There are many places to find an illustrator, including Reedsy. I found Hugo during a Google deep-dive into children's book illustrators.
Most illustrators work with self-published authors on a work-for-hire basis - which means you pay them a straight fee for their work, and do not share royalties. This fee can vary from $500-$10,000+. I believe that illustrations are truly important for a picture book, so I was willing to invest in a talented illustrator who guaranteed original artwork.
I also chose to hire the lovely Praise Saflor as my book designer. She was able to lay out the text on the pages, as well as design the covers. She worked with Hugo to ensure the finished book was true to my "vision".
DECISION #4: PRINT ON DEMAND
vs BULK PRINT RUN
I knew I wanted to offer a high quality hardcover book, so doing a bulk print run was the best way to make a decent profit per book. Amazon offers softcover print on demand books (stapled spine), but that wasn't what I wanted to offer for this book. You can offer a hardcover print on demand through Ingram Spark/Amazon, however it's quite expensive - and, many of the reviews in the author world were not great when it came to the book quality.
I ended up printing a hardcover bulk run with Maracle Press in Oshawa, and a softcover (perfectbound, glued spine) with Mixam Print in Toronto. Printing in Canada vs China was something I considered, but keeping it in Canada allowed me to both support local businesses and ensure I could release my book before the holidays.
Since I have run e-commerce businesses since 2015, I decided to sell my book via my own website (and not on Amazon - yet...) and handle the fulfillment myself.
This is generally how I project managed self-publishing my book in 2021:
March: wrote first draft of book
April: shared draft with three trusted friends who encouraged me to pursue publishing
April/May: looked for and booked editor, illustrator and book designer; requested printing quotes from book printers (in Canada and China)
May: received feedback from editor; illustrator started
June: illustrator continued; book designer started
July: illustrator finished; book designer continued
August: final proofreading; book designer finished
September: print files submitted to printer
October: books were delivered
November: website launched & books released into the wild!
As I said, there are many ways to self-publish a book and my path is not the only one. Writing and releasing a book into the world was definitely a "bucket list" goal of mine, and the feedback I get from families who are touched by my book's message is definitely worth the steep learning curve and stressful moments from the past year.
Many people have asked me if I plan to publish any more books. I do have a second one written, but the publishing process is a LOT of work (and a LOT of upfront money...) so I am trying to figure out the best way to bring the second book to life. Plus, I have an idea for early chapter books for kids... some motherhood-inspired poetry... and a few other things up my sleeve... I highly doubt this will be my only writing endeavor, but I plan to take it slow with future publishing projects.
As always, the best way to stay up to date on any of my future projects is to join the Wild + Brave Email Club!
Yours in wildness + bravery,