Things I’ve learned from self publishing my children’s books – and how you can do it too!

This post has been a long time coming.  Ever since I published my first children’s picture book in 2013, I have been regularly quizzed about how to self publish – in particular questions about self publishing children’s books (in Australia).

This week I ended up putting it all in an email for a dear friend, so I figured now I just have to condense it down a bit and I’ll have my blog post!  So, without further ado – here’s what I have learned….

Self publishing, is basically not going through the traditional publishing companies

It means that will get the final say and have to make the decisions on everything!  This is great for control freaks like me…. on the negative side however, your book may not end up in as many shops or distributed as far and wide as they could be under traditional publishers.  Probably the biggest bummer – whether you outsource part or all of the process is YOU need to pay for EVERYTHING.

There are publishing companies that will help you (for a fee), self publish your book

Some of them will just do the publishing part, some will provide the whole service (i.e. beautiful printed book on your door step… after you’ve paid them for their services of course).

If you choose to go this route, shop around – get lots of quotes!!  Read the rest of this post to see what steps are involved, and that way you’ll know exactly what they are doing for you and you can make up your mind about whether their services are saving you time, or whether you would rather not outsource and do it all from go to whoa.

Whichever path you choose to go down… if you’re self publishing, start saving money now!

I began putting some money into a special account every pay day and I am so glad I did.  Then, once I had my first book out there…. published and printed and actually selling, I made sure every cent from book sales went back into that account to help pay for the next book/s.   It was so much easier financially the second and third times around.  The subsequent books almost paid for themselves because that money was already in my book account!  It also means if you go through a tough time financially, you can justify spending a bit of money on your book making hobby without it affecting your family budget!!

Think about whether you want hard copy books or if you can cope with eBooks

I was keen to have hard copy books printed – firstly because I think kids spend so much time on devices, it’s nice for them to have a break and physically hold a book.  Secondly because I just love books and I guess it was one of my dreams to create an actual hard copy book.

If you do choose eBooks, it is certainly easier and cheaper to get a far reaching audience.  They can be reasonably easy to set up, with little set up costs.  Many electronic options also have print on demand options too.  Per unit, it will be more expensive than printing in bulk, but it is definitely the cheaper option if you want to satisfy the urge to hold your creation in your hands.

To be honest, I haven’t looked into this option too much, so I don’t have advice about how well picture books turn out in eBook format or what kind of options there are for print on demand.

Of course, as with anything, you can go directly to places like Amazon Createspace and do it all yourself – or you can outsource and go through a company who may be able to value add with things like readying the book for all different types of eBook formats, and some of the other steps mentioned below.

Think about what you want to do after it’s published – AKA your marketing and distribution strategy

If you have boxes and boxes of books piled up in your spare room, you’re going to want them to sell!

Getting a bookshop, or indeed any shop to sell your book for you is wonderful and super exciting  But remember… they no doubt have thousands and thousands of other titles for your book to compete with.  How will your book stand out? Is there something special about your book that would make it perfect for a unique market place?

i.e. my first book about a wombat who digs a tunnel into Parliament House sells incredibly well at the Parliament House gift shop.  Everywhere else it sells ok, but compared to APH, I’d say average or below average.  Don’t get me wrong. It’s the most incredible feeling to see your books for sale in a bookshop (one of my favourite types of shops), it’s just hard to compete with Mem Fox, Dr Seuss, etc etc.

I’ve found most bookshops prefer to take self published books on consignment.  This means that you get nothing from them unless they actually sell the book.  If the books you’ve given them on consignment get lost, stolen or damaged you don’t get a cent and of course if they are lost or stolen, you don’t even get the books back!  It’s a bit of a risk and it’s really hard and a lot of work to keep track of consignments, but until and unless the shop know they are going to be able to sell your books, you probably need to take that risk.

Distribution is the other consideration.  There are distribution companies who can help you out for a fee, but I’m not sure how many of them in Australia deal with self published children’s books.    Again, this isn’t an area I’ve looked that closely into because with my books – I knew from the start that although my books make a lovely gift for anyone visiting Canberra, the market was very local.  The best places for my books are places like visitor centres and the actual tourist attractions the books are set in.  In fact, this is one of the reasons I had to self publish – I think the market for my books is too small for most publishing companies.

Steps for self publishing a hardcopy [children’s] book [in Australia]

1. Get printing quotes
During this process you’ll have to decide things like:
  • would you like hard cover/soft cover
  • paper size and thickness
  • whether your book needs to be full colour or b&w
  • how many pages it will have (depending on the type of binding, you may want, you may need to have pages in multiples of 4)
  • whether the printers will or can send you a proof
  • ask the printer if there would be a particular size print that would be more cost effective
  • ask the printer what format they will need the book in (usually PDF with bleeds)
  • do the printers have designers or people who can help you if you don’t have a way to send them your book in the format they need?
I’ve kept my books 100% Australian made, however you can also look into overseas printers. If you’re looking into overseas printing you should also look into the importing customs costs… there may well be additional costs there.
2. Purchase an ISBN and barcode
Once you’re ready to go and have decided on the printer, you’ll need an ISBN and barcode for the book. (for Australian ISBN’s and barcodes)  If you want to publish more than one book (even if you don’t want to publish them all at the same time), you can buy ISBN’s and barcodes in bulk packages.  Get the ISBN because if you don’t, it will be very hard to sell, particularly in bookshops – libraries use them too.  I wouldn’t bother printing a book without one.  The barcode is an additional cost, but it contains the ISBN and it also makes it easier to sell.  (i.e. places like Amazon will not allow something to be sold though them unless the item has a barcode).

When you do get the barcode you’ll need to add the RRP to it. Once you’ve put that on, it can’t be changed.  If you want to change it, you need to buy or use another one of your barcodes (if you’ve purchased them in a bulk package).  So think hard about what you want to sell it for before you lock it in (this is why it’s also helpful to have the printing quote so you’ll know what your costs are).

3. Apply for Catalogue in Print (CiP) from the National Library of Australia
It’s recently changed, so now, as soon as you submit the CiP application online, you can download the standard little picture file that says “the catalogue record for the book is available from the NLA” and this image should be included on the copyright page.  This basically tells librarians where to go to get the search words.
4. Time to get your books printed!
Send off the finished electronic document with updated copyright page (including the CiP image) to the printer.  Then wait patiently (seriously one of the hardest waits ever) for it to be put into a queue, printed then couriered to you.
5. Legal Deposit
Once you have received a hard copy from the printers (take some time to celebrate your great work and marvel at how awesome it is to hold that lovely creation!) then send a copy to the NLA for Legal Deposit.  When they receive it, is actually when they decide the CiP data.

6. Sell, sell, sell!
As discussed above, there are so many options for selling your books.  The obvious ones like bookshops, markets and of course you’ll want to sell them online, but also think outside the box and again, think about what makes your book special and use that to your advantage.

I’m beyond hopeless at social media.  Partly because I’m not terribly interested in it, but do set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Instagram and whatever else is being used by young and old and try to occasionally post things so that people know it’s not a dead account (mental note: maybe try to follow your own advice Angela!!)

Anyway, I hope this post is helpful for you!  It’s the path I have followed – I might be wrong on some things, but so far I’ve done ok. 🙂

When/if I get time I might try and do a post about what I’ve learned about illustrations for picture books… and possibly something about book launches too!



9 great reasons to go to a conference

Yesterday I went to the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) National Conference here in Canberra. I’ve never been to a children’s book conference before – I’m not a teacher, librarian or even a mum. Yes, I like to write, but up until six months ago I didn’t admit that to anyone – well very few.

Did I have any business going to such an event? Well, I didn’t fit into any of the above categories but my over thinking mind ended up reasoning that since the conference was in my home town, it wasn’t going to be a huge imposition or substantial cost – and it was only for a day, so I could still do all the other things I had planned for my weekend.

To say I am ecstatic I went is an understatement.   I left the conference on a high and I am still thinking about it. One of the things I got out of it was to make a bit of time each day to write something, so I decided, I would get back into writing by make a list of things I loved about the event…

  1. Being surrounded by other people who love books
    It was very cool to speak to people who had come from all over Australia. Even cooler when you realise we all have a passion for books and children and a desire to see children fall in love with books and reading.
  2. Discovering books I’d never heard of (and severely lengthening my list of ‘books to read’ in the process)
    I am a little embarrassed to say it, and I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I hadn’t heard of Barry Jonsberg or Michael Gerard Bauer before I registered. Please don’t think badly of me. Technically it’s been a while since I was a ‘young adult’ and I really only just got back into children’s books in the last 5 years (since the birth of my oldest niece).

    When I was a kid I had awesome Aussie authors like John Marsden, Ruth Park, Robin KleinPaul Jennings and many other local writers to immerse me in my little fantasy worlds, help me gain a healthy obsession with reading and get my overactive mind buzzing.

    Now after listening to their fun and witty banter on stage, Barry and Michael feel like old friends and I desperately want to read everything they have written. 

  3. Inspirational speakers
    Barry and Michael fall under this category of course, but there were so many other writers and illustrators, artists, editors and publishers who were all open, frank and extremely entertaining, some of whom will be mentioned below. 

  4. Cool Canberra author chicks
    What a revelation! We have some very cool and talented authors in Australia, but how thrilling for me to see the ones who have strong links to Canberra. These awesome ladies – Tania McCartney, Tracey Hawkins, Stephanie Owen Reeder and Irma Gold talked about Motherhood and Mayhem.

    I have been very bad. With all the craziness of work and life in the last six months, aside from writing emails to a very dear friend – I haven’t sat down to write anything (including any real posts for this blog). In fact I’ve hardly thought about it – and this is bad because I’m always thinking of crazy stories, rhymes and nonsense ideas. These ladies have inspired me to make the time to write, and stop making excuses!

  5. Experiencing a real book launch
    It may not sound like a big thing, but until my book launch last year – I had never been to one before, so I was desperate to know how a ‘real’ book launch should go down.

    I have no complaints about how mine turned out, in fact it was actually pretty darn amazing. But it was very nice to go to a book launch for a consummate professional and Belinda Murrell did an absolutely brilliant job of launching her new book The Sequin Star.

  6. Talking to people at the trade exhibits
    There were book stalls, library suppliers and educational publications. I really enjoyed talking to them and finding out what they do – and even if I don’t have kids/run a library/teach a class, it is still very cool to know about them.

  7. Learning about Australian history and writers
    Anthony Hill another local author, spoke on a century of war, Australia’s part in war and children’s books. I was amazed to see how many children’s books there are about war, but having experienced another touching ANZAC day only weeks ago, and knowing the sacrifices many of the men and women in my family made for their country and their ancestors – it is not something we should ever take lightly or forget.

    Belinda Murrell also shared about her great-great-great-great-grandmother Charlotte Waring Atkinson who was Australia’s first children’s book author and had an incredible life story which Belinda has written about in her book The River Charm. Can’t wait to get a hold of it and read it, it’s up top of my list! Belinda’s sister Kate Forsyth is also an accomplished author and by the sounds of things, their family tree is enriched with a long line of talented and creative people.

  8. Opportunity to meet childhood heros
    Ever hear of a little book called Possum Magic? If, by some reason you haven’t read it, I could almost guarantee that you have seen the stunning and well recognised cover and/or some of the beautiful watercolour illustrations from the book that were crafted by the talented Julie Vivas.

    Not only did I get to hear her speak about the process she went though to illustrate Davy and the Duckling, but I also got to meet her and she signed my very own copy of Possum Magic. (Should I mention that I was actually shaking and too scared to say anything thoughtful or meaningful to her? – nah, I shouldn’t admit to that).

    There were other very renowned and talented authors and illustrators which made me proud of all the home grown talent we have here in Australia and leads me to the final thing I loved…

  9. Seeing other relationships between authors and illustrators
    We got to listen to two author/illustrator collaborations – Glenda Millard & Stephen Michael King and Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood (who by the way is so young, talented and such an amazingly sweet lady).

    I have actually had experience in this regard working with the fabulous Ian Coate (who spoilt me rotten by making every tiny step of our working together fun, interesting and exciting). But seeing the way these other couples produced their children’s books – in very different ways, was so good for me. I realised how important it is for an author/illustrator to get on, have a mutual vision for a book, and how when all these things align, the result can be incredibly rewarding for those involved and of course equals a win for all potential readers. I am blessed beyond belief for crossing paths with Ian and his lovely wife Sue.

I’ve always believed that a short blog post is a good blog post, and this one is now too long, so I’m going to leave it here. But I would like to say that if you have a passion for anything – you should make an effort to get yourself along to a conference with that theme. There is a very good chance it will inspire and delight.