In this comprehensive guide, I’ll take you through the entire process of publishing a children’s book, step-by-step, based on my personal experience. From writing tips to finding an agent or publisher, marketing advice, and everything in between, I’ll provide you with the essential information you need to successfully publish your own book.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
In this article, you will learn:
- The different types of children’s books and key writing guidelines
- How to edit and refine your manuscript
- What to consider when deciding between traditional vs. self-publishing
- Steps for getting a literary agent and publisher
- Tips for hiring illustrators and designers
- Strategies for marketing your book before and after publication
- My personal recommendations at each stage of the process
I’ll also share examples from my own journey, insights from industry professionals I’ve connected with along the way, and plenty of encouragement to keep you motivated. Think of me as your publishing coach, here to guide you through everything you need to make your book publishing dreams a reality. Now, let’s dive in and start this exciting journey together!
Step 1: Decide What Way You Want to Publish
The first big decision you need to make as a new children’s book author is how you want to publish your book. There are a few main options, including:
This is the route that I took. It involves signing with a literary agent, who then shops your book around to publishers. If a publisher offers you a book deal, they’ll take care of editing, illustrations, printing, distribution, etc. The big trade-off is that you receive a smaller percentage of royalties.
The major benefits of traditional publishing are that you get the backing of an established publisher, broader distribution, and you don’t have to pay for things like editing and marketing. The downsides are less creative control, a smaller cut of royalties, and a longer timeline – it can take over a year from being acquired to hitting shelves.
This is when you publish the book entirely on your own, with total creative control. You either publish through an online retailer like Amazon KDP or IngramSpark, or work directly with a printing company. The pros are greater creative freedom, higher royalties, and a faster timeline. The cons are that you pay for all editing, design, and marketing costs yourself upfront. You also have to handle distribution and marketing entirely on your own.
Smaller Publishing Houses
There are many smaller, independent presses that provide a nice middle ground between self-publishing and the major publishers. They often accept unsolicited (unagented) manuscripts, provide higher royalties than big publishers, and may give you more creative input while handling some distribution and marketing. It takes more research to find the right fit, but can be great for first-time authors.
What Do I Recommend?
If your goal is primarily to get your book out there and potentially make money from it, I think self-publishing is the way to go for most people. However, if your main goal is prestige and you don’t mind making less from royalties, traditional publishing may be better suited for you. Do your research to weigh the pros and cons of each route for your specific book and goals as an author.
Step 2: Research Your Audience
Once you’ve decided how you want to publish, the next step is researching your target audience. As a children’s book author, you need to have a very clear sense of who you are writing for.
Take some time to visit libraries and bookstores to browse the shelves in the age category you’re targeting. Examine the covers, flip through the pages, and read the jacket copy. Get a sense of what illustrations, themes, and writing styles are popular and selling. Make notes about:
- Popular authors, titles, and series
- Themes and keywords that come up repeatedly
- Major publishers in your category
- Length and format expectations
You can also look online at bestseller lists, join Facebook groups for parents, teachers and librarians, and check out reviews on sites like Common Sense Media. These will give you additional insight into what types of books kids, parents, and educators are responding to.
The clearer you can be on who your exact audience is, the better you can tailor your writing style, voice, illustrations, and marketing. Really put yourself in the shoes of your ideal reader.
For example, my first book was a picture book for 3-5 year olds. So I imagined a spunky 4 year old girl who loved animals, princesses, and helping her mom in the kitchen. Whenever I got stuck writing, I visualized telling the story directly to her. This really helped me hone in on the right playful, imaginative voice.
Step 3: Write and Refine Your Script
Now it’s time to get writing! Drafting the text for a children’s book differs greatly depending on what age range and genre you’re writing for.
Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Picture Books: These are for ages 0-5 and under 1,000 words total. Rhyming and repetition are very common. You want to focus on rhythmic, lyrical language and leave plenty of room for illustrations.
Early Readers: Aimed at ages 5-7, with 1,000 – 5,000 words. Sentence structure and vocabulary need to be simple enough for new readers. Rhyme and repetition are often used. Illustrations on every page are a must.
Chapter Books: For ages 6-9, chapter books range from 5,000 – 10,000 words total and are divided into short chapters. Language can be more complex but still conversational. A handful of illustrations dispersed throughout is typical.
Middle Grade: These target ages 8-12 and run from 25,000 – 50,000 words. The vocabulary expands more, stories become more complex, but the perspective should still feel accessible to kids. Usually little to no illustrations.
Young Adult: For ages 12 and up, with 50,000 – 80,000 words. These read much like adult fiction in terms of themes, plots, and voice. Almost never illustrated.
No matter what age group you’re writing for, stay focused on crafting a compelling, engaging story. Use vivid descriptions, active verbs, and brief sentences to keep the pace moving. Read your manuscript out loud often to make sure it sounds natural.
Get feedback from critique partners, beta readers, writing groups, and even kids in the target age range. Revise until you and the readers are fully satisfied. This will ensure your story is as polished as possible before submitting to agents or publishers.
Step 4: Hire an Illustrator
If you’re working on a picture book, early reader, or possibly a chapter book, you will need illustrations. Here are some tips on how to find and hire a great illustrator:
- Determine the illustration style you want. Look at books similar to yours to get an idea of the types of styles that appeal to your audience.
- Search online portfolios to find illustrators who match what you envision. Social media and sites like Children’s Illustrators are great places to look.
- Reach out to a few illustrators whose work you love and ask for an illustration sample, like a character sketch. This will show if they can bring your vision to life.
- Provide illustrators with a synopsis of your story and any vision elements in the contract. But give them creative freedom to do what they do best!
- Rates vary greatly, but plan to invest a few thousand dollars for a 32-page picture book. The investment is well worth it for quality illustrations that bring your story alive!
If you plan to traditionally publish, wait until you have a publisher to discuss illustrations. They may prefer to match you with one of their go-to illustrators. For self-publishing, hiring your own illustrator gives you full creative control.
Step 5: Format the Book
The next step is formatting your manuscript based on your publishing path. Here are some formatting tips:
- Use a book formatting template like from Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing to ensure proper formatting for online publishing.
- Submit your text as a Word .docx manuscript without extra illustrations or images embedded.
- Hire a professional book designer to create print layouts and book covers. Their expertise is worth the investment!
- Submit your manuscript as a double-spaced Word .docx document, without extra formatting or illustrations.
- Follow publisher submission guidelines closely, including things like font, margins, chapter headings, etc.
- Trust your publisher’s experienced design team to handle layout and book covers. Focus your energy on writing and marketing!
Proper formatting is essential for a clean, professional look. For self-publishing, it also makes your book look credible alongside traditionally published titles. Take your time with this step before publishing.
Step 6A: Get an Agent and Publisher
If you want to traditionally publish, the next steps will be querying literary agents to represent your book, and having your agent submit to acquisitions editors at publishing houses. Here are some tips:
- Research agents who specifically represent your book’s genre and age category.
- Craft a compelling query letter that pitches your book, comparable titles, and author bio.
- Submit query letters in batches of 5-10 agents at a time. Follow up after 8-10 weeks if you don’t hear back.
- Once you have an offer, make sure to thoroughly understand the contract before signing. Get help from an intellectual property lawyer if needed.
- Be patient through the publication timeline – from acquisition to release usually takes 18 months or longer. Use this time to build your author platform.
I sent over 200 query letters before getting my agent, so persistence is key. But once you have that first acceptance, it’s incredibly exciting to know your book will get read by thousands of kids!
Step 6B: Publish on Amazon
If self-publishing, you’ll want to publish ebooks through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, as Amazon has by far the biggest market share in children’s books. Here’s an overview:
- Set up your KDP author account and tax information
- Format your manuscript using their templates and guidelines
- Create book metadata like title, description, keywords
- Upload your manuscript and final cover files
- Pick categories that fit your book
- Price your eBook between $2.99 – $9.99 for the 70% royalty option
- Publish your eBook and paperback on KDP!
Self-publishing on Amazon does involve some upfront costs, but you get to keep a much larger cut of royalties. I recommend starting with eBooks to test the waters before diving into print distribution.
Step 7: Market, Market, Market
The publishing journey doesn’t end once your book is out in the world – that’s when marketing kicks into high gear! As a children’s author, you need to take an active role in promoting your book, whether you’re traditionally published or self-published. Here are some of my top marketing tips:
Choose Keywords Carefully
Brainstorm lists of keywords that parents would search when looking for books like yours. These help optimize your Amazon and social media presence.
Send advance review copies to book reviewers, bookstagrammers, parent blogs, etc. Focus on reviewers your target audience follows.
Get Organic Traffic on Social/YouTube
Create author accounts sharing your process – giveaways and ARCs can gain followers. Use relevant hashtags.
Contact administrators and librarians about doing author visits, readings, and selling signed copies. Great for building local buzz.
Coordinate a Book Launch
Host a launch party at your local bookstore or library. Invite fans, give free signed bookplates, read an excerpt, etc. to create excitement.
Book marketing is an ongoing effort, but each strategy expands your reach. Collaborate with other authors in your genre for cross-promotion opportunities. Persistence and creativity are key!
And there you have it – a complete overview of my guide to publishing a children’s book, from blank page to launching into the world. I hope this guide gave you a clearer sense of the steps involved and got you pumped up to start your own publishing adventure! Remember, I believe in you and your ability to make this dream a reality. Now go get writing, and I can’t wait for the day I see YOUR book on store shelves!
Publishing a children’s book is no small feat, but breaking it down into clear action steps makes it feel much more manageable. Whether you choose traditional publishing or self-publishing, the most important ingredients are passion for your story, commitment to your craft, and perseverance through the long journey.
Use this guide as your roadmap, but don’t be afraid to take some detours along the way too. Building relationships with other authors, getting involved in the community, and learning all you can about the industry will help you succeed. Trust your creative instincts, ask for help when you need it, and enjoy bringing your unique story to young readers.
I’m excited to continue this discussion in the comments! Let me know if you have any other questions as you start on your publishing quest. I’m here to provide support and encouragement whenever you need it. Now get out there and make your children’s book dreams reality. You’ve got this!