Until recently, creating ebook versions of children’s picture books was something publishers reserved for their best-selling authors and illustrators. If you wanted to self-publish a picture ebook, you either needed to be a whiz at writing code, or you paid an ebook creation service to do it for you. (That said, it was possible to find a few services targeted toward publishing books for kids on Apple devices, such as Book Creator.)
Last September, Amazon released KDP Kids’ Book Creator, which allows the average Joe to create illustrated children’s books for the Kindle and upload them directly to Amazon. These books can be designed in the landscape format (to mimic the layout of print picture books) and can include text pop-ups that enlarge the text with a tap or a click, making it easier to read.
Side note: Using the KDP Kids’ Book Creator means you’re publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program. You can choose from several royalty structures within that program, and also choose whether or not to be included in KDP Select, which gives Amazon exclusive distribution of your ebook for a certain time period in exchange for marketing perks.
While the KDP Kids’ Book Creator still has a few rough spots (which Amazon is presumably ironing out in response to user feedback), it’s a good start. Those of us who have worked in children’s publishing for years recognized this move for what it was: a game changer.
Just how much has Amazon’s new free software changed the game?
With the release of the Kid’s Book Creator, as well as the Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition tablet, Amazon is investing in illustrated ebooks. And they need content.
So now comes the big question. Are you ready to ride this wave?
Not every self-published picture ebook will make it. Many will slip into oblivion as soon as they’re released.
Does Your Book Have a Fighting Chance?
Here are some positive signs.
You have a book that appeals to a niche market. Often publishers reject a manuscript simply because there isn’t a big enough audience to justify their expense to bring it to fruition. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the book shouldn’t exist. You’ll just have to make an effort to directly reach the consumers searching for the specific topic in your book.
If your story features a child with certain food allergies and how he must navigate snack time in preschool, you can write guest posts for parenting blogs that focus on these issues, or even blogs about nutrition and cooking. Many mommy bloggers welcome guest posts about all aspects of child care, and you can mention your book in your bio.
You already have a good online following. Jessica Shyba’s popular blog Momma’s Gone City, featuring photographs of her toddler and puppy at naptime, prompted publisher Jean Feiwel to offer her a two-book deal. Naptime with Theo & Beau was published by Feiwel and Friends in February, with a huge social media campaign using the hashtag #theoandbeau.
Could Shyba have chosen to self-publish the book and do the same thing? Sure. These days, authors and illustrators reach readers directly via their blogs, Twitter feeds and YouTube channels. Even if your blog is attracting the kind of people who would buy your picture book, you still have a potential customer base.
You want to begin establishing yourself as a professional author or illustrator. Waiting for an agent or editor to say yes can take months or years of submissions. Getting two or three picture ebooks out now means you’re working on creating a name for yourself and building a platform. If you do these books well, and market them smartly, you can build a reputation that can lead to more opportunities and possibly traditional book deals.
You have taken the time to study your craft. The quality of your work will be compared to those authors and illustrators who appear on the bestseller lists, so it must stand up to the scrutiny. Take classes in picture book writing and design, attend workshops, join a critique group, hire a professional editor. You want, and need, for your book to garner five-star reviews on Amazon, and not just from your mother.
Why Your Book Might Not Make It
Your book has been rejected 25 times and you’re tired of submitting. Self-publishing won’t fix the flaws in a manuscript that had received nothing but form rejections from editors. Nor will it camouflage an ill-conceived story or writing that doesn’t appeal to the intended audience. You first need to figure out why the manuscript was rejected, and fix the problem.
You don’t have a solid marketing strategy. Complain all you want, but there is no way around it—if you want to sell books, you’ve got to market. And this goes for authors who are traditionally published as well. Don’t expect to post a link to your book on all your friends’ Facebook pages and call it a day.
You lack quality illustrations. This is crucial if you want your picture ebook to attract an audience. Remember that your first sales tool is your cover, and your second sales tool will be the first two pages of your book if you have Amazon’s Look Inside feature. If your illustrations look amateurish, the overall impression you’re giving potential customers is that this is not a professional product.
If you’re not an illustrator yourself, get the best illustrations you can afford. Start by checking the rates of some experienced illustrators. You can search the Illustrator Gallery of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators, or find freelance illustrators at sites like elance.com.
If you decide to design your own illustrations, it’s wise to take a graphic design class so you learn the basics of font choices, image placement, and how things fit together best on a small screen. And speaking of the smaller screen, remember that the images should be clear and without too many tiny details so they can be easily viewed on a Kindle or iPad.
At the very least, the biggest hurdle toward successfully self-publishing picture ebooks doesn’t need to be the technology. Trust me, the KDP Kids’ Book Creator software is easy to use. Hundreds of authors and illustrators have already taken advantage of this opportunity, and are selling their books on Amazon—and they’re not all young upstarts who could use an app before they were potty trained!