What I Learned about Writing and Self-Publishing a Kids’ Book

coverTwo aspects of self-publishing always worried me.

  1. Without agents and publishers as gatekeepers, would it be too tempting to publish a product before it was ready?
  2. Was the process of self-publishing going to be a huge hassle?

Creating a Compelling Product

I always thought it would be fun to write a kids’ book. I’ve certainly read a lot of them. In fact, for a few sleep-deprived years when I had no time to read novels, I sustained myself on the bedtime stories I read to my kids. I’d ask my college literature students what they were reading, and when they got embarrassed and said all they had time to read was Dr. Seuss, I’d nod adamantly.

Besides, I liked the way I could count on the best of these books for a happy ending that felt right but not cheesy. I envied these authors because, in my own attempts at writing adult fiction, “happy” and “cheesy” were awfully hard to separate.

When my older son entered kindergarten, we were introduced to the Junie B Jones books. I loved how Junie B’s voice was able to disguise the moral of the book well enough that kids didn’t have time to put on their moral-lesson-deflector shields. They were learning without even realizing it. Bwahahaha!

Since I have sons ages 6 and 7, I wanted to explore the world of a kindergartner through a boy’s perspective. That’s why I created SuperDylan, a five year old boy trying to find his place in the family. He’s sassy, but he’s got a sweet side, too. As one reviewer wrote, “Impossible not to love, Dylan deals with his role in the family with occasional frustration, frequent bewilderment, and just enough harebrained schemes to make readers of any age laugh out loud.”

After much revision and editing, I researched agents and sent SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right out to my top 10 agents. I got one rejection, but heard nothing from the others. I know I was supposed to have sent it out to more agents and gone to conferences to meet agents, and so on and so forth. But I didn’t want to. The book was a fun, simple book, and I wanted a fun, simple publishing process. So I shelved it. I got it out every month or two over the next year, re-read it, and felt sad that I hadn’t made the effort to put it in the hands of readers who would enjoy Dylan as much as I did. That’s when I started to consider self-publishing.

I was lucky enough to enlist the help of my brother, a talented mechanical engineer who had been sketching as a hobby for years. Maybe he’ll help draw some basic poses for me, I thought, and then I’ll just somehow miraculously make this work.

Grant’s an amazingly generous and helpful guy, so he said yes. He drew up some initial sketches and we talked about how cartoony (versus realistic) we wanted these characters to look. As soon as the characters and styles were determined in these first sketches, the book took on a life of its own in Grant’s hands, and what a wonderful re-birth it was. He envisioned the 12 color illustrations in a much better and more creative way than I had.

In the crucial epiphany scene, Grant thought to meld BabyNate and the hamster Chubster.

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He added angel wings and a halo to show Dylan’s attitude while being lectured by his mom.

image009He used unique perspectives so that even the pictures of the bookshelves and the laundry room boxes (two illustrations with no characters at all) communicated a feeling.

image008He’d send me the illustrations and I’d literally laugh out loud when I opened them.

We sent the book out to a few people to read before we put in on Amazon (many thanks to Jeanne Ford, Sherri Woosley, and Kate Benchoff!), and then we looked over it another 50 times to make sure it was the best book we could make it. We were ready!

Self-Publishing on Amazon through Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing.

The actual process of self-publishing your product can be done in less than a half hour, especially if you don’t have illustrations or are particularly good with MS Word, so now I understand why self-publishing can get a bad (though unfair) name. Self-publishing is easy and fun to do, but if you do it, you have to be your own critic and really hold yourself up to a high standard.

The self-publishing process itself is a series of mesmerizing green traffic lights.

We used Createspace to publish the print version of the book. It ran us through a series of idiot-proof screens where we listed the basic information. There was a royalty calculator and there were many additional options for help. Since we designed our own cover and formatted our own interior, the process was free, but Createspace offers add-ons for people who need help with these processes.

We used the measurements they provided for the cover file, and then Createspace used that cover file to create the thumbnail for our book.

The interior file is an MS Word file converted to a pdf. We submitted our files to Amazon;  they checked for inappropriate content and major formatting issues and they got back to us in less than 24 hours. Then we had the options of viewing the book online and also ordering a print proof through the mail. I would recommend doing both. A few times, we had to adjust the dpi of the illustrations, and I managed to screw up the dimensions of our first cover, but these little bumps in the road were relatively small. Once we approved the new proof, our product showed up on Amazon in less than an hour.

Createspace imported our files to Kindle Direct Publishing so we could create our Kindle version of SuperDylan and the Powers of Just Right, but the interior needed to be a little different. The interior file of the Kindle version is a Word file, saved as a filtered HTML file and placed in a zip file along with all the image files. This is pretty easy, especially if you download the free e-files “Publish on Amazon Kindle with Kindle Direct Publishing” and “Building Your Book for Kindle.”

At first, Amazon wouldn’t allow us to sell the print version for less than $8 because of the color interior. This was a bummer because we really wanted to sell the product for more like $6. We knew we wanted full color, but we wanted an affordable price, too. When we originally published it, the book was listed at $8.99 (our royalties were set at $1.18) and we were a little disappointed with the pricing. However, only a few days later, Amazon changed the price of the book to $5.33, and it appears we’re still getting the same royalties.

Now we’re thrilled to offer a full-color, quality early reader chapter book for under $6. We’re excited to see our work enjoyed by others. And best of all, we got to work together on a project that makes us smile.

This Doesn’t Mean that Self-Publishing is Right for Every Project

I have a very different project in the works, an 80,000-word novel about hoarding. I’ve been working on it for about 3 years now, and I’ve put more hours into it than I’d ever be willing to admit. As you might imagine, I have less of a “we’ll just see how it goes” feeling about this one. If I put it on Amazon and sold a hundred copies, only to realize that was pretty much the end of the line for the book, I would be disappointed.

However, with the SuperDylan book, I know that self-publishing was the right option. I’m able to share this lovable character with others without waiting years and years to find a publisher.

As we prepare book 2 in the series, SuperDylan and the Night Horse, to be released in time for Halloween, we are still laughing with Dylan and his family, and we’re still loving every minute of the process.

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