5 tips to successfully self-publish a (children's) book
When I self-published my first children’s book back in July 2019, I knew almost nothing about self-publishing and what it would involve. I knew that books were sold on Amazon, but I had no idea how to publish a children’s book (or any other type of book for that matter) due to the illustrations and visual nature of children’s books.
I had no idea about the ins and outs of how you go about not only writing a book, but also the marketing involved in trying to get people to buy it!
There are so many resources out there for self-publishers (and I guess I’m now one of them) but so many of these resources just say the same things, just in slightly different ways. And they often aren’t specific to children’s books, and a lot of the information just isn’t applicable.
So, I decided to share a few tips and tricks I’ve learnt along the way about self-publishing (children’s) books and hopefully help you avoid making some of the mistakes I did and save you some money!
This advice applies to all types of books, not just children's books!
1. Publish on KDP and enrol in KDP Select
Self-publishing itself is actually pretty easy… there I said it.
I know this might sound stupid, or it might perhaps sound like a lie, depending on how you look at it, but I think it’s a pretty valid point.
The actual act of self-publishing a book is relatively straight-forward (the writing is actually the difficult bit, but that’s a topic for another day.
To self-publish, you just need to know a few things about basic editing and formatting for documents, and I recommend you sign up for a free Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account - Amazon’s self-publishing platform for authors.
With just a few clicks of a button, you can upload your manuscript and cover artwork, and it will be available for sale in just a few days to millions of customers worldwide.
Although there are several different ways and platforms for self-publishing a book, I definitely recommend Amazon KDP.
The reason I recommend using KDP over other platforms is because it’s a Print On Demand (POD) service. This means when someone buys your book, Amazon prints just one copy and then handles the delivery. So, you don’t have to pay for large quantities of your book to be printed and then find somewhere to warehouse them and organise the delivery – Amazon do everything for you.
Amazon currently offer a variety of book sizes and offers full-colour printing, and the print quality is really good to be honest. I have no complaints. Amazon however do not offer hardbacks. For that, I recommend using IngramSpark. It’s a similar service to Amazon KDP in that it’s a POD service, but the difference is that they offer hardbacks and they also distribute to lots of retailers, such as Barnes & Noble and Walmart, as well as Amazon. I use the two platforms in conjunction: KDP for Amazon Kindle and paperbacks and IngramSpark for everywhere else plus hardbacks, which get distributed to Amazon plus all the other distributors.
I also recommend placing the eBook version (kindle version) of your book in the KDP Select program. This means that your book will be placed in the Kindle Unlimited program and you get paid per page read. For those of you that don’t know, Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service for book reading – think Netflix, but for books.
A significant proportion of my royalties actually comes from page reads, which is only possible if your book is in the KDP Select program. Just to forewarn you though, if you do place your book in KDP Select, the digital version (i.e. the Kindle eBook version) must be sold exclusively on Amazon, nowhere else. This restriction only applies to the digital version of the book, not the physical versions.
This exclusivity does put some people off, but for me it’s been well worth it due to the amount of page read royalties I get, and I’ve also won Amazon’s ‘All-Star’ bonus on a couple of occasions for being one of the top-read illustrated books. These bonuses are hard to get but can be worth thousands of dollars!
2. Fiverr will be your best friend
A lot of people think self-publishing is going to be expensive. Now, it can be if you go down the traditional route of hiring high-profile editors, formatters and illustrators, or using an agency.
I’m not knocking these services, as I’m sure they’re very good. But for us mere mortals that don’t have heaps of cash lying around to invest in our books, this can be a real deterrent to self-publishing children’s books, especially if you need illustrations for your books.
Fiverr is an online marketplace where you can find cost-effective freelancers to provide these services. I really do swear by Fiverr (and no, I’m not a paid spokesperson, although I do now offer services on the platform) because it’s really quick and easy… and cheap, most importantly!
As a children’s book author myself, illustrations are an incredibly important part of my books, so they have to be good. I’ve found amazingly talented illustrators on Fiverr who cost about 10x less than the quotes I’ve received from established illustrators I found online. And the results were amazing!
You do have to be selective and careful on Fiverr, as there are a lot of sub-standard ‘professionals’, or scammers, out there. But there are also lots of very talented people on Fiverr who charge very reasonable prices (including me – I’m now a full-time freelancer on the platform!)
3. Facebook is the secret weapon to getting book reviews
One of the most important factors when it comes to building your brand and selling your books is the number of reviews you have. Let’s face it – reviews are very important and can be the deciding factor between someone buying your book, or not.
I managed to get 100+ reviews for my books over the course of several weeks/months by using Facebook, and this really helped boost my sales. To get the reviews, I simply set up a free book giveaway (for the eBook version on Amazon) and for the days before, during and after the promo, I just hammered all the ‘free book’ Facebook groups I could find. I just posted about my free book and tried to make it sound as appealing as possible. Luckily, children’s books tend to be short and don’t take long to read, so people are usually quite happy to volunteer. For longer books, you may have to be more persuasive, but it's still doable.
However, with this approach, it’s a total numbers game – of the people that agree/volunteer to read and review your book, around 50% of them won’t actually do it. It’s annoying but it’s just a fact. People either forget or just end up ghosting you (i.e. never responding to your messages). So, just get as many people as you can and be prepared to chase people up constantly.
One word of warning though; you can’t offer any sort of 'reward' in exchange for a review (e.g. payment or some sort of freebie). Amazon wants reviews to be authentic and they are pretty hot on tracking down inauthentic reviews and deleting them. Amazon even sometimes bans authors from the platform for violating the rules.
I would also avoid asking family members to review, especially if they have the same surname as you, as it’s just too obvious. And it’s probably not a good idea to agree to ‘review swaps’ (i.e. “I’ll review your book if you review mine”) because Amazon can also easily track this and it's against the rules.
4. Advertising is a must
I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but you will most likely have to spend some money on advertising if you want to make book sales. This isn’t always the case, but in my experience, if you just upload your book to Amazon, sit back and no nothing, you will find that your book will fall into the ‘black hole’ of Amazon.
With over 3.4 million books on Amazon these days, the platform has become oversaturated. You can bet that for every book you publish, there are probably hundreds of others that are very similar to your book and therefore competing for the same customers. And you also can bet that some of your competitors will be advertising heavily.
So, to stand a chance, you also need to advertise… sadly. I’ve heard some people express the view that “authors should be paid by the platform, not the other way around.” This is all well and good to say, but it’s ultimately futile as it will not change the facts.
I strongly recommend trying out Amazon Advertising - Amazon’s own advertising platform that ‘sponsors’ your product (in this case, your book) so it appears higher up the search results page and targets relevant customers.
I would say don’t bother with any other sort of advertising platforms, like social media or newspapers, until you’re better established. In my experience, they just don’t work.
If you do use Amazon Advertising (and there are loads of tutorials on YouTube) just make sure you NEVER pay the ‘recommended’ bid cost. Otherwise you’ll end up having to remortgage your house to pay it (if you’re lucky enough to own a house that is).
I made this mistake and ended up spending around $10/£10 within an hour or so. Luckily, I noticed and quickly shut it off, but that could have been a very expensive mistake if it had been running for days on end!
5. Start a mailing list straight away
Lots of first-time authors (like me back in 2019) think that mailing lists are only for the big, well-established authors and/or that they are difficult to set up and manage or cost a lot… wrong!
Just to clarify, when I say a ‘mailing list’, I mean some sort of newsletter or email that you send out to people who have signed up to receive such emails. There are loads of free platforms to do this, like Mailchimp, and they’re actually really easy to set up and manage.
A mailing list is an extremely valuable way of maintaining a list of potential buyers and a way to grow your sales. If you can get, let’s say, 1,000 people on your mailing list, that means you have 1,000 potential sales just by sending one email. If someone has signed up to your mailing list, it means they are at least vaguely interested in what you have to offer. You can promote new books, any promos you have coming up, ask for reviews… anything really.
The real difficulty is how to get your first 100 (or so) sign-ups. The best thing to do is just ask anyone you know, like friends and family, to sign up and just ask them to spread the word to anyone else they know.
The other vital thing you need to have is a ‘lead magnet’. This basically means giving away something for free in exchange for someone giving you their email address. People won’t sign up for nothing; they need to be offered a freebie. This can be a free book, a chapter of your latest book, some sort of activity or exclusive content. And make sure you promote this within your books. Have a page at the back of your book that says, "Want a free [lead magnet]? Sign up to my newsletter at [link]." It’s that simple.
I created an activity book based on my best-selling book "Sam The Speedy Sloth" with colouring-in pages, spot the differences, word searches and a quiz, and this is what I offer for free in exchange for people signing up for my mailing list. I only started actively promoting my mailing list a short while ago and I already have 200+ subscribers. Every time I have a new book out, new merch or want to promote something, I can draft a quick email in 5-10 minutes and I’ve already reached a guaranteed 200+ potential buyers. Good, right?
So, there you have it. These were just 5 low-cost tips and tricks to help you when publishing a (children’s) book. I hope you’ve found them useful!
Self-publishing can be a long and (sometimes) arduous process, but it’s totally worth it in the end. The constant stream of passive income also helps!
If you’re interested in getting some professional help with self-publishing from someone who’s been there, done that and now has the T-shirt, you can hire me on Fiverr!
I offer professional book editing/proofreading, keyword and category research as well as expert advice and consulting on ways to improve your sales or just answer your self-publishing questions! Read more about my freelance services here.
Check out my Fiverr profile here: www.fiverr.com/mrtwriter
Or you can contact me directly on: firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.