My Recommended Resources for Self-Published Authors

In today’s world with information so readily available, there is really no reason to not know something. You can simply Google whatever it is you are looking for and find some article or video tutorial! That being said, not everything is good quality. I have spent several years reading articles, books, and watching videos that helped me through the process. Here are the resources I found most helpful and I recommend to others!

Books

  1. Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children. This book is so incredibly helpful! It talks about illustrating, self-publishing, editing, and has a list of publishers, editors, and literary agents.
  2. Writers Digest. Writers Market: The Most Trusted Guide To Getting Published. Another really helpful resource! It even talks about how to query agents.
  3. Gabriela Pereira, DIY MFA. You don’t have to get a degree in English or Journalism to write a book. This book tells you everything you need to know about starting and finishing your writing project.

Podcasts

  1. Tim Grahl offers a lot of really helpful tools and resources about book launches. He has helped launch NY Times bestselling books, and on his podcast he shares his proven strategies.
  2. The Creative Penn is a similarly helpful podcast and resource! It interviews authors and shares their tips for success.

Videos

  1. One channel I follow is called Project Life Mastery and focuses on how to be a self-publishing success on Amazon. Here is a helpful video about mistakes people make with Amazon. Browse through his other videos for more helpful content on Amazon self-publishing.
  2. If you are struggling with insecurity about your book or writing, I found this TED Talk to be encouraging and gave me a game plan for building my own creative confidence one step at a time.
  3. Ever wonder how to design a book cover? This TED Talk is really insightful for the design process!

Frequently Asked Questions About Self-Publishing

In this post I will be collecting the most frequently asked questions I receive about self-publishing. This covers topics including:

  • Traditional vs. Self-publishing
  • Is hybrid publishing right for me?
  • Amazon vs. IngramSpark
  • Should I make an eBook?
  • How to fund a book?
  • Book launch and promotion strategies

1. Should I self-publish or traditionally publish?

To know which publishing path is right for you takes an understanding of the market you are entering, how it operates, and how it is motivated by business and profits just like all other companies out there. Let’s look at traditional publishing.

Traditional publishers, especially the large publishing houses, acquire many titles a year. Most of these titles are considered B-List titles. Though, the strategy is to acquire many titles with the bet that at least a few will be bestsellers. Once your book is acquired by a publisher, it enters the publisher’s pipeline where it is passed from editor, art director, agent, and anyone else on the team. It takes, on average, 1.5 to 2 years for a book to get to the market. In the meantime, an author is paid an advance on the books. Once enough copies of your book are sold to cover the advance, the author begins to receive royalties. All of these payments are spilt between the author and their literary agent. The amount of support an author receives for marketing and promotion depends on the publisher. Most traditionally published authors I know say there is little suppor or communication with the publisher as to how many copies are sold or what marketing efforts are being done for the book. If it is a small publishing house that acquires less titles a year you may get more support from your team. But as an author, always expect to participate in the book promotion process and not let the publisher do all the work.

There is much more control for the author with self-publishing. There is more control over the timeline, so that your book doesn’t have to take 1.5 to 2 years to reach the market. There is more control over the money, as you are not splitting advances or royalties with a literary agent or a publisher. There is more control over the quality, especially with resources more readily available to produce a high quality book. This is definitely great for someone who is self-motivated. Self-publishing is often self-financed, no publisher advances involved. While there is no advance, the royalties are much higher. With options like Amazon and IngramSpark, it is very affordable to print on demand and not have to pay for large print runs (more on this in question #3).

2. What is Hybrid Publishing and is it right for me?

Hybrid publishers are companies that print and distribute your book, but it is self-financed unlike traditional publishers who pay authors advances. The hybrid publisher is playing the role of the traditional publisher without assuming the financial risk, that falls on the author. On the other hand, the author does not split royalties with the publisher or literary agent. Sometimes, hybrid publishers are called “Vanity Presses”, in that they are not selective of what titles they print, so they are not as respected as traditional publishing houses within the publishing industry. Advantages of a hybrid publisher, especially if you are a children’s book author, is their connection to artists and illustrators, editors, cover or graphic designers, and other resources. Also, the hybrid publisher may offer the print run, in addition to listing it on Amazon and making it available as an eBook. Some questions to ask your hybrid publisher before making any payments include: who retains publication rights and copyrights, do they offer illustrator/editor/Graphic designer services, are there any fees aside from printing costs (such as processing fees, reading fees, etc), will they provide an ISBN number, what is their editing process, what marketing support do they provide, will it be listed on Amazon, will it be made into an eBook? I always tell authors to do their research, and go into it smart!

One reliable hybrid publisher is Mascot Books located in Herndon, VA. I have had several friends publish through Mascot and they have been very pleased. I have not used them myself, but I think their reputation speaks for itself.

3. Amazon vs. IngramSpark?

Amazon and IngramSpark are both print on demand (POD) services. This means that books are only printed and shipped as people order them online. This is a great option for an author who either cannot afford, or doesn’t want to to, print a large order of books. It is well known that bookstores do no get along with Amazon. After all, Amazon has taken a lot of business from traditional bookstores by driving discounted online booksales and dominating the self-publishing market.

Amazon has over 65 million prime members. 85% of all ebooks are consumed via Amazon Kindle. Over 50% of all ebooks consumed are self-published, and Amazon owns over 50% of the self-publishing market space. With such a huge market share, it is imperative for a self-published author to list their book on Amazon! There is so much potential in book sales, and more control over profits. Before 2018, you would have been able to publish on Amazon through CreateSpace self-publishing services. In 2018, Amazon acquired CreateSpace, and now it is called Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing. Through KDP, you can offer your book as a paperback and list it as an eBook. Once you make your book available, Amazon will print and fulfill orders for you. In addition, there is an option called KDP Select where Amazon retains exclusive selling rights to your eBook, which for most authors is not a problem. In essence, Amazon is a self-publisher’s best friend.

If Amazon is a bookstore’s worst enemy, than listing your book on Amazon alone will be of no use to getting your book on shelves. Your best bet to building relationships with bookstores is to use IngramSpark.

Ingram, the parent company of IngramSpark, is one of the largest book distribution and wholesale companies. This means that Ingram works on behalf of traditional publishers to distribute books to bookstores and retail or wholesale chains such as Costco or Barnes & Noble. When you self-publish through IngramSpark, bookstores will receive similar retail discounts that Ingram offers traditional publishers. This gives your self-published book the chance to get into a bookstore. Notice that I say you have THE CHANCE. Understand that bookstores have a limited amount of shelf space for book titles, and they need to make sure they are stocking their shelves with titles that will sell. Bookstores have to pay the bills, too. The best bet you have for getting your book on the shelf is to increase demand for it. This comes down to marketing and promotion (more of this in #6).

4. Hard copy or eBook?

When considering hard copies or ebook, I always tell authors to think of their reader first. How will your reader be experiencing this book? If it is an adult audience, an eBook is just fine. Imagine your reader breezing through it on their tablet during their morning commute on the train. If it is a child audience (children’s book), they will most likely be reading hard copies with parents and teachers and will probably not read an eBook version. With this in mind, make it available in a way that your reader will find most helpful.

Another factor to consider with eBooks is cost. eBooks are priced very low, so you will not be making a lot of money per sale. Though, because of the low cost, you have an ability to sell your book in mass. That is something to think about when planning a sales strategy, how to plan for mass sales of an eBook.

One of the greatest challenges authors have with publishing their book is funding the project. Self-publishing has never been more affordable as print on demand is becoming more available. I recommend to authors that just want to start, but cannot afford to make it available as a hardcover, start with an eBook and test the market demand for your book.

5. How to fund a project?

There are various ways to fund your book project, and I have spoken with many self-published authors who have been very pleased with their return on investment. Here are a few ways you can fund your project:

  • Self-fund your project. The author pays for everything upfront. Costs may include illustrator, graphic designer, editor, ISBN number, copyright, and fees. This can cost anywhere from $1,000-$3,500 just to create your book (not including printing costs). This is a good strategy if you KNOW you can sell enough copies to make a return on investment. This is essentially how traditional publishing companies work. They invest in your book by paying the author an advance, knowing they will make a return on that investment through book sales. If this is the route you will take, I recommend authors develop a marketing plan and set up pre-orders to begin making a profit right away.
  • Crowdfund. Not everyone has the money to self-fund a project. I know I didn’t. I chose to crowdfund my project using Kickstarter. Kickstarter has a proven track record of fundraising publishing projects. Though, there are other crowdfunding options such as Indiegogo, or GoFundMe. The key is to set your funding goal low, enough to complete orders and cover fees. Here is a helpful article on Crowdfunding strategies.
  • Competitions or Grants or Sponsorships. This option is not as easily available, but if you plan it right, it is a viable option for funding your book. The SCBWI offers several competitions with financial rewards that can help fund your book. It is worth seeing if there are any society’s or literary guilds in your genre that offer similar benefits. If you are writing a nonfiction book or community based book, it may be worth looking into grants or sponsorships. For instance, if your book is about a certain illness, getting a sponsorship from a local hospital or organization in exchange for exposure in your book, and exposure at all your speaking engagements is one form of funding your book. Get creative with ways to finance your book! The only limit is the ceiling you place on yourself.

6. Book Launch

Here are things no one ever tells you about being an author: how to plan a book launch, how to market your book and promote it for the long game. In essence, your book is a product just like a toy is a product. You have to sell your product! Now you are not just a writer, but an authorpreneur. Before planning marketing, I want you to really consider your reader. How will they interact with your book? Where will they most likely find it, and how (a friend referred them, Amazon search, a blog reviewed it, their doctor recommended it, a school book fair, on a podcast, etc.)? How will they read it, eBook or hard copy? Will they be likely to tell others about it? You want to help make every single step easy for them! How do we do that?

  • Pre-launch. Consider your pre-launch as an awareness campaign. This is a period of building awareness, educating your audience about your book, and essentially priming them for sales. Take inventory of the relationships you have: friends, family, colleagues, community, associations, universities, etc. Get the news out to as many people as you can, and ask them to share with their networks as well. Talk about the book writing process, the editing process, explain why this book matters to you, and all the things about your book!
  • Book launch. I tell authors that this is a time to celebrate all the hard work they have put into the book, and invite readers to celebrate with them. There are so many ways to do this! Host a book launch party at your local bookstore or library with an author reading. Do a virtual book launch party on Facebook live (if you have a facebook group) with giveaways. Do something at your house and invite your closest friends, family and supporters to just celebrate with you! I have an acquaintance that wrote a book about pet adoption. She threw a book launch party at a local gift shop, had her books on sale, had the local bakery make dog treats to sell, invited the fire department to talk about their service dog, and made the entire event a celebration of pet adoption. She the invited the local news crew and received press coverage for it. Be smart! Everyone likes a celebration!
  • Post-launch. Once all the hype from the pre-launch and book launch dies down, you are left alone to promote your book. This is a good time to seek out author visits at local schools, events, host workshops, and get face-to-face time with your audience. Approach events where you can present. Connect with facebook groups to host live facebook Q&As. Connect with podcasts. Pitch local news networks that are always looking for local businesses and talents to present. Always eep asking for reviews on Amazon to drive your book up the lists, and always ask readers to share it with friends. For some authors, it is enough to simply make their book available to readers. For other authors, they are very book sale and goal minded. You are the number one driver of sales to your book!

Illustrating a Children’s Book

Are you self-publishing your children's book? Here's what to expect when working with an illustrator.

Are you self-publishing your children’s book? Here’s what to expect when working with an illustrator.

Since I started writing and illustrating a couple of years ago, I have met so many people who are interested, curious and have considered writing their own children’s picture book. Lots of teachers want to write books they wished were available to them in the classroom. Many parents are inspired by adventures or struggles with their children. Grandparents want to write about memories and share their experiences. Even industry experts have talked to me about making educational nonfiction children’s books. Does any of this sound like you?

Are you self-publishing your children's book? Here's what to expect when working with an illustrator.
Are you self-publishing your children’s book? Here’s what to expect when working with an illustrator.

While anyone may write a story or manuscript, illustrating a picture book takes technical skill and training. Not everyone can do it. While I am just in the beginnings of my illustrating career and working on building my freelance portfolio, I do want to share my illustrating process and demystify it for any authors out there considering children’s bookmaking.

Also, please consider that at this moment I am working with self-published authors. This means that I, as the illustrator, get to work directly with the author – which I love doing. I love getting to share the vision and hear author intention because they are enthusiastic and excited about their projects! This is different than traditional publishing, where the author and illustrator most often do not communicate and work with the art director, editor, or even agents. So if you’re considering self-publishing your children’s book, this post may be of particular interest to you.

Let’s dive in! Here is what the book illustrating process looks like for self-published authors and freelance illustrators.

Finding An Illustrator

How do I find my author clients? In the past, it has been through personal relationships, so a friend or family member, through Instagram or social media referral, and through the SCBWI. I have spoken with other self-published authors who have found their illustrators through freelance sites such as Fiverr or Upwork. Either way, always ask for a portfolio of work.

I do my best to be upfront about pricing and timeline with the author. Sometimes authors have expectations that I as an illustrator just cannot meet. Also, how are we going to handle delays in the project? These are all terms we discuss before working together. Once we agree on the terms and sign a Work-Made-For-Hire Agreement, and possibly a Non-Disclosure Agreement, we can move forward with the real work – illustrating! I do not start any illustrating, not even sketching until the author has completed their manuscripts and edits. This saves everybody time and prevents going back and forth.

Pagination and Imagination

Art Process for Illustrating a Children’s Book: I take notes on the margin after reading through manuscripts, and then go on the computer to type up changes.
I take notes on the margin after reading through manuscripts, and then go on the computer to type up changes.

Once the author has completed their manuscript, they hand it off to me. I read through it cold just to get a sense for the book, overall themes, how the book makes me feel. Then I think about how I can communicate all that with illustrations. I will take notes in the margin on things I imagine.

The first thing I look for is pagination. Pagination is simply separating the text by the page it should be on. This is essential for picture books because the words will be paired with the illustrations. Sometimes the author gives me the text already paginated. Other times, I make suggestions of pagination for the sake of story flow with the illustrations. Though, I find it best to keep communication open with the author and not jump ahead without the author input.

Thumbnails and Dummy Books

Using good ol’ paper and pencil, I sketch out small thumbnail sizes of some of the visions I have for the book spreads. It’s easy to erase and redraw using a pencil. This is internal, only for me and does not get shared with the author (though I may share it on social media for a behind the scenes look).

Illustrating a Children’s Picture Book. Picture Book Dummy and Thumbnails
These are several pages of thumbnail sketches for picture books.

Then I sketch out the final thumbnails on my iPad. I illustrate all my picture books with my iPad and the app Procreate. It is so easy, intuitive, and transportable! Ha! I am usually illustrating in cafes, bookstores, or anywhere I can get away from my kids and focus. These final sketches do get shared with the author for feedback.

Color Roughs

The next phase is color roughs. This is just color blocking the illustrations and not adding too much detail. To be honest, this is probably the hardest part for me. I am a very detailed person and have a hard time leaving things undone like this. I want to spend extra time making it look nice, with small details in the shadows and light, every blade of grass, etc. But it is good to leave it color blocked so that the author can get a sense of color scheme, placement, where the words will go on the page, and so on.

The author gives feedback such as the skin tone colors, hair textures, dimensions, and more. It’s important not to get to far ahead of the work, and just allow it to “be in the process” and invite the author to participate in that process by providing feedback. When working with a traditional publisher, it is the art director that will be providing this regular feedback to the artist. The author normally does not have involvement.

Finals

This is the final round that is open for author feedback. All the details have been added, and there has been so much communication with the author at this point that there is usually very little to do. The feedback is about a shadow, a word placement, or something minimal.

Art Process for Illustrating a Children’s Book. A finished spread from my picture book Fear and a Friend.
A finished spread from my picture book Fear and a Friend.

I use Adobe InDesign to add the text to the illustrations and to turn the document into a PDF which is compatible with most publishing sites and softwares such as Amazon KDPS, IngramSpark, or Blurb.

When I first started illustrating picture books, I greatly underestimated the amount of time that goes into the project. Now, I can reasonably predict a project life cycle. Usually about 6 months for a standard 32-page picture book, book cover or jacket.

So What Does The Process Actually Look Like?

You’re wondering what will the process look like for you? Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Find an illustrator. Whether that is through social media, word of mouth, referral, freelance websites, SCBWI, or any other way. Look through their illustrator portfolio, see what work the illustrator has done.
  2. Be upfront about payments, timelines and contracts. The relationship between author and illustrator is very important and requires trust. After all, the author is entrusting their manuscript and their money to the illustrator! Ask the illustrator about their pricing, and what payment arrangements they accept. Talk about the timeline you can expect, and how you will handle delays in the process. Have it all down in writing, and sign a Work-Made-For-Hire Agreement.
  3. Go through the process. Illustrators have their own unique way of working through their art and communicating it to the client, whether that is with a self-published author or through a traditional publishing house. The process should be agreed upon before payments are made, and listed out in the contract. Again, setting up expectations from the beginning. Trust your illustrator, and don’t be afraid to ask for updates.
  4. Publish your book! Your children’s book is illustrated! Celebrate good times, come on! The work isn’t over yet. Now it’s time to publish your book, whether that is using online platforms such as Amazon or going with a hybrid print publisher.

Writing a book is a large undertaking. Don’t be discouraged, it is absolutely an achievable goal! Whether you are writing a novel or a 32-page picture book, they are all projects and labors of love. I want to see you get through your project, turn it from a dream into a reality, and produce a work you are proud of! Hopefully, this article takes away some of the uncertainty behind getting an illustrator for your children’s book.

Did this article answer your questions? Still unclear about agreements, disclosures, payments, publishing platforms, or more? Leave a comment below with your questions. It is very important to me that I keep making content that is helpful to you!

To receive more helpful articles like this, or to learn more about self-publishing your book, sign up for my author newsletter! If you want to follow along on my freelance and illustrating misadventures, follow me on Instagram.

Starting Small and Celebrating Big

2018 has been an exciting year for me. As you may know, this year I self-published my first picture book with a Kickstarter campaign. This past month was spent receiving books, packaging, and shipping Kickstarter orders. It was such a gratifying feeling to hold the final book in my hand, and to receive boxes of them in the mail! It was months, over a year, of hard work on this book and promoting it. My expectations were low, to be honest, and I am so happy with the way everything turned out! 

Receiving boxes of books from my first Kickstarter! 

Truth be told, I was overwhelmed most of the time. When I am overwhelmed, I tend to ugly cry (no pictures of this, thank goodness!). It took four months to get the book finalized, formatted, printed, and shipped. Not to mention the time before that to write and illustrate the book, as well as prepare and run the Kickstarter campaign.  Everyone received their book in time for Christmas, just as I had planned, but I always had a sense of frustration for not being able to deliver as fast as I had hoped. In all of this, I have learned to give myself a break! 

There is a saying that goes, “When is the best time to plant a tree? 25 years ago. When is the next best time to plant a tree? Today.” With this in mind, I began my journey towards becoming a published author/illustrator. I stopped waiting for things to be perfect, and just started taking baby steps. A tree takes decades to grow big and full, but a career also takes decades to grow and be fruitful. I learned to stop comparing myself, to stop being hard on myself, and to just do it! Now I sound like a Nike commercial… 

Like I said, I have been baby-stepping my way. Baby steps include branding myself as a children’s artist on social media, picking projects and creating art that are in line with this brand and the direction I want to go. I have been actively building my illustrator portfolio and network of other children’s writers. 

This month’s big step was opening an Etsy shop. Though I am still working on uploading my art prints to Etsy!

The biggest ongoing challenge has been managing motherhood and starting a side hustle, mainly time management. I did not enjoy the continual feeling that I was frustrated with my kids for distracting me while working, but I was also frustrated at my work for getting me frustrated at the kids. It was a cycle that had to stop! Common advice I received has been to wake up early or go to sleep really late to get work done, but most days I was too exhausted to even stay awake during the kids bedtime routine. Other moms are nodding in sympathy as they read this.

Packaging Kickstarter orders while the kids nap.

But over time, I learned how to structure the kid’s day in a way that allowed me to free up at least one hour to get my work done. Every morning (okay, most mornings), I make a priority list to tackle during their nap time to get the most important things done. Eventually, I trained myself to wake up at 6:30 am, and then 5:30 am, and now I get up at 4:30 am to get my work done (about 4 out of 7 days I wake up at 4:30 am). During the day, I am present with the boys and not thinking about my list. During work time, I am not thinking about the boys. I have found this is the best way to make it work for me. 

2018 has been a year of growth! Of keeping commitments, mainly promises I make to myself. It has been a year of growing in confidence and getting out of my comfort zone. My next goals for 2019 are to promote my Etsy shop and share my art, not just the book. 

May your holidays be merry and bright! May your New Years be full of growth  and hope for the future!


Illustrator Inspiration Board

I am intentional about following other illustrators on Instragram. It has been a huge help to my art! First, I love to study other artists’ art process, what mediums they use, their techniques. It helps me improve my own art. Whenever I feel my artwork is getting stale, I study other artists to see what they are doing. Second, I love to see how other artists market themselves. It helps me stay creative not just in creating art, but in sharing it. For instance, how artists run their social media, or how they get speaking and presentation engagements. There is so much to learn from other artists!

The challenge lies in not getting jealous of other artists success, or FOMO. It is very easy to look at other artists highlight reels on Instagram or on media outlets, but not see the hours or years they put in to build their career. To avoid jealousy, I try to follow artists that are in a different niche than I am. For instance, I love looking at Holly Nichols fashion illustration, her use of copied markers and the iPad. Though, I am a children’s illustrator and not a fashion illustrator, I truly admire her work. So I learn a great amount from Holly (and she has even personally answered my Instagram questions!), but I don’t get jealous because I am creating a different kind of art.

Here is a list of all my favorite illustrators, and a brief description as to why I follow them:

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Holly Nichols

I first started following Holly back in 2016. She is very generous with sharing her art process. She shares how she uses copic markers, how to blend them, how to choose colors, how to outline figures, and more. She has since then also given mini tutorials on Instagram on the Procreate app. She gives out a lot of information, and it is for free on Instagram. I love her fashion illustrations! I love watching how she markets herself, from various fashion events to workshops at Apple stores, and so on. Also, how she runs her Etsy shop. All in all, Holly is a BOSS and there is so much to learn from her on how to make a living as an artist!

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Vashti Harrison

I have been following Vashti since before her book, Little Leaders, came out. It was exciting to watch her career take off! She really leverages Instagram to promote her art, and she is very open about her art journey by sharing photos of even her high school sketches! If I would describe her artwork in one word, it would be “magical”, which is perfect for children’s illustrating! She definitely has her own style, but experiments with different techniques which I appreciate. Just like Holly, Vashti is also very generous with her information and teaching others. She has a class on Skillshare on using the Procreate app to make art, which was really helpful to me. I find my favorite artists are the ones that share openly about their process and journey.

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Benji Davies

Benji Davies makes artwork that I aspire to produce. Granted, I don’t want to make work exactly like his, but I really do enjoy his style and let it inform mine. There is a childlike quality to it. It reminds me of the children’s books I used to read growing up. I look at his artwork and always get inspired by different techniques I can use in mine!

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Mark Conlan

Mark Conlan is a great artist to follow for Instagram inspiration! His feed is wonderfully coordinated and so colorful. His artwork uses bold colors, and more color blocking than you see in traditional picture books. I am also very curious about how he makes videos of his art process, and plan to learn that one day to share my own work. I really look at Mark for his social media marketing mastery and his colorful work.

A few other illustrators I follow and greatly admire include:

Mark Chambers

Kim Smith

Rebecca Green