Self publishing

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!