By Ron Pramschufer, President , Self Publishing, Inc. – Helping Authors Become Publishers since 1995
The answer to this question has been a moving target over the past ten years. Technology has helped lower the entry level into the children’s book market but still not to the point where it makes financial sense to produce digitally other than for tests or family and friends. In other words,. POD for illustrated children’s books, is still not a viable option, with a few exceptions
Parents have been telling children bedtime stories since the beginning of time. Many of these stories are passed down from generation to generation via word of mouth. Some of these stories find a publisher’s desk and become illustrated picture books which are printed in the hundreds of thousands so many more children can enjoy them. At this moment there are literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of different stories being told from memory while only hundreds of these stories ever make the printed page.
As with trade books, the cost of publishing an illustrated children’s book has dropped dramatically. It is dropped enough that the same vanity presses who are sailing freely on the Internet picking trade book writers’ pockets have unfortunately, jumped on the children’s book band wagon as well. I won’t dwell on any of that in this article but let it suffice for me to say if you are dealing with one of these companies, you are wasting your time and money. It’s real simple. If there is any doubt in your mind, ask your prospective publisher if 8 ½ x 8 ½ is a standard illustrated children’s book size. If they say yes, stick your money back in your pocket and run the other way. Enough said on vanity presses and illustrated children’s books.
As with self-publishing a B&W trade book you need to seriously examine your motivation in publishing your story. If your intentions are to merely convert your oral story into a printed format for your family, there are many options. The easiest option is to have your son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter illustrate the story that you have either written by hand or typed in a word processing program. You can then scan the illustrations and type and combine them into single pages and either print them out on your printer, one sided, and staple them into a book. This can actually look pretty nice. A step up from that would be to take the same thing to a local print shop where they could print on two sides and print a separate cover and comb bind the whole thing into a book. Producing your book in this manner would take a little time but would only cost $25, at the most. Various memory book printers have popped up on the Internet who specialize in printing one or two copies of color books. They even have online programs where you can upload files and have it all come back to you as a bound book. I have used these services myself. For one or two books, they are great but they play no part in the commercial world of self-publishing.
The real fun, and money, comes in at the next level. This is the point where all of your friends and family have told you that you have a great story that should be shared with the general public. When I write about trade book self-publishing I referred to this level of commitment as the “Serious Hobbyist”. I’ll stick with that label in this article as well. Now that you have made the decision to take your story beyond your family and friends, you need to follow some basic publishing standards if you hope to succeed.
First you need to have your text edited. Editing a children’s story is a bit different than a normal trade book. First, you are only dealing with under 1000 words. How hard can it be, you ask yourself? I have seen children’s book edits take two and three times as long as a standard trade book edit. I have seen single phrases go back and forth between editor and author to the point I can’t watch anymore. Editing runs between $500 and $1000 depending on how much back and forth with the editor. In addition to a regular edit, many authors choose to also have the same editor edit the artwork. This second edit insures that the illustrations work well with the words. This type of editing can run as high as $3000-$4000. There doesn’t seem to be much in between.
If you don’t have professional editing in your budget, at least go down to the local elementary school and talk to the reading specialist for the grade level you are trying to reach. This is not just an elementary school teacher who likes to read, it’s a person specially trained. My daughter earned her Master’s Degree in reading and is a 2nd grade reading specialist. Over the course of publishing her three titles in the Oliver the Clown fish series (www.OlivertheClownfish.com) she tried all three types of edits. She would be quite happy if you bought all three titles so you can compare the three.
Next, and most important are the illustrations for your book. Those pictures your six year old daughter drew for you in the first example, will probably not be good enough, once you have decided to take the leap to Serious Hobbyist or Pro. It is at this point I have seen projects get completely out of hand. A few years ago (seems like yesterday), I introduced a Let us guide you illustration program that has worked very well for many authors. The whole program costs around $2200 for 24 pages and $2700 for 32 and includes layout and cover design. The name of this program has since changed to Let the Illustrator Be in Control.
This program is perfect if you have an open mind and let the illustrator lead the project. Unfortunately, I have seen an otherwise reasonable author, turn completely unreasonable fanatic when it came to illustrating their book. The closer you are to having a perfect image in your mind of what your illustrations should look like, the more expensive the illustrations will be and the least likely that you will ever be happy. This is not to say you can’t be happy. If you consider yourself a perfectionist or some variation of that word, you better have a boatload of money. Illustrations for a 32 page book can easily be driven north of $5000 – $10,000 and even more. If you are a perfectionist and on a tight budget, stick with your daughter’s drawings.
Once you have your text edited and your book illustrated, it’s time to put it all together into a book. For this you need a book designer. If you have a sharp illustrator, they can design and layout the book at the same time they are doing the illustrations. Our $2200-$2700, Let the Illustrator be in Control program includes layout and design. If your illustrator does not want to create the final layout, figure you will pay between $1000 and $1500 to get that part done for you. Of course you can spend more, if you want but around $1000 should do it.
Up to this point you have spent between $2700 and $3500 for the basic editing and our Let the Illustrator be in control illustration package. Unlike any of the vanity presses out there that are pimping themselves off as children’s book publishers, you will own the printing files to your book, once you’re done printing free and clear. IE: No strings attached.
Now comes the fun part, turning your idea into a printed product. Before I go further, remember when I mentioned running the other way if someone told you that 8 ½ x 8 ½” was a standard size? That size was pulled out of the air by someone with a digital press who knew nothing about children’s book publishing. (There is a funny story about this that I won’t tell you here but maybe at a later time.) This odd size works fine for the digital press but you are never going to make any money with digitally printed children’s books so you need to think in terms of what fits the offset printing press. 8×8″ fits perfectly. A single sheet of paper will yield a full 24 page book. As the quantity gets above 10,000 the size fits perfectly on a half web which runs 2/12 page signatures(sections) without waste.
Digital copies of this 24 page paperback product cost about $3.50ea (100 minimum) and will never be any less. At 1000 copies, the price drops to $3.17ea. At 3000 copies the price drops to $1.43ea. If you have ever looked at this size in Target or Wal-Mart and wonder how they can sell it for $2? The publisher printed 50,000 to 100,000 at a time and bought them for less than 25 cents each. On the other hand, that 8 ½ X 8 ½ size works for nobody other than that digital printer. It’s Ok if you want to pay $4+ ea. forever for a book that should never retail over $6 but if you want to be in the publishing business, and make money it doesn’t work.
The hardcover (most popular) version works pretty much the same. Hardcover is so popular because it is easier to compete on a retail level because even the large publishers are not printing huge quantities. (I’ll write a whole article on exactly why.) Hardcover digital copies cost about $8 (100 minimum). At 1000 copies the unit cost drops to $3.73ea and at 3,000, under $2.00
The good side of the digitally printed copies is that it is sometimes a good idea to run a few test runs prior to running the longer offset run. When my daughter first printed the Oliver the Clownfish book, which you see all over my website, she printed three different digital runs and found things she wanted to change after each one. The books in the test run have a high unit cost but a low overall cost, especially given the fact that mistakes were found at each printing. Once she got everything perfect (as perfect as publishing gets) she ran 3000 copies at the $1.43 unit cost. My daughter has now sold out the original 3000 copies, and has published two more books in the series. The “Oliver” story would make an interesting article in itself…look for that in the future.
In conclusion, how much does it cost to self-publish a children’s book? There are a lot of choices that need to be made with no easy answer. The one thing for sure, you need a competent company like Self-Publishing, Inc. on your side, helping you along the way.