“My professors in art school never taught us how to make money from our art. We were taught to create for the sake of it,” explains Natalie Merheb.
In speaking with children’s book illustrator and graphic designer, Natalie Merheb, I found myself nodding my head in agreement with almost everything she was saying.
The rules for succeeding at making money as an illustrator were the same I have found as a writer—1) conduct research, 2) practice until your hand falls off, and 3) create quality content. Easy, right?
Can you describe your process when you work with indie authors?
If the author doesn’t do this themselves, then I will split out the text into pages. The number of lines of text will affect the design and placement of the illustrations on that page. Sometimes, just 10 lines of text will have five different actions but an illustrator can only show one action per page.
I often choose what I feel are the priorities within those actions that move the story forward.
I consider what action fulfills these three qualities: identifiable, remarkable, and memorable and then I illustrate that action.
For example, if the scene is that the kids are waking up in the morning, getting ready for school, and waiting for the bus, I’ll decide to illustrate the kids waiting for the bus. The bright yellow color of the school bus is immediately identifiable, remarkable, and memorable to the kids reading the story.
I also take the readers’ age into consideration as to what they’d like to see on each page.
What are some of the trends in traditional illustrations?
Many traditional artists are moving to digital painting because it is easier in a lot of ways. The equipment is an investment upfront but then you don’t have the ongoing costs of consumable materials like paint, paper, canvas, etc.,
In digital art, everything is composed in layers. Since every illustration has layers, if the chicken needs to be moved and resized, I can do that very easily to create the right composition.
It is easy to adjust colors in Photoshop and many watercolor paintings are enhanced in Photoshop to make the colors more vibrant.
How long does it take you to create an illustration?
For my clients, it depends on the quantity and complexity of the project. I calculate my time spent emailing, sketching, and revising into every illustration and budget 8 hours per spread.
Illustrators should factor in all of the business aspects related to creating something for a client and build that into their payment process.
What advice would you give to another artist who is looking to illustrate children’s books?
Push yourself to create the best work you can and target your ideal client. They will want to hire you based on your quality of work.
Within two months, I was booked months in advance and am now charging what a traditional publisher would pay its artists.
Having done branding for solopreneurs, that experienced really translated into illustration.
My advice is to treat any activity as an entrepreneurial venture. Treat your art like a business and you’ll make money.
Treat it like a business
All new business ventures require a lot of research. Don’t go into anything blind and don’t try to do it at half effort.
Learn the roles of the traditional publishing process and learn about marketing, aesthetic style, and trends in illustration.
Once you get a feel for what you like, practice, practice, practice, and pursue feedback. “Let me know everything you don’t like about this.”
Prepare yourself ahead of time, make the investment, and get out there.
Natalie Merheb is a children’s book illustrator depicting stories written by others, as a brand strategist & web designer crafting brand stories for small businesses. She is a mama to twin girls, wife to a fellow entrepreneur from Lebanon, daughter to parents from the USA and Argentina, a Minnesota native, and Dubai expat.
You may be thinking that a $1 reward is a waste of your time. Who is going to pledge $1 if they are truly interested in your book? Why would someone even bother running a $1 charge against their credit card? It’s just not worth it…right?
As a former restaurant server, I equated the $1 reward to the penny tip on a bill. It can be viewed as insulting to the creator, so why include it?
Well, I’m changing my tune on the whole $1 reward thingy and here’s why.
1. $1 is an easy gesture of support
Whenever approaching strangers about your crowdfunding campaign for your book, you may feel reluctant to pitch a large pledge amount but with the $1 reward option, you’re giving those folks an easy way to say, “Yeah, I’ll support you at little-to-no cost to me.” It’s a no-brainer for people who may not know you personally but like your campaign and want to follow along.
2. The $1 reward acknowledges gratitude at all levels of financial support
Anyone, even those who are not in a financial position to support you at a higher level will be able to support the $1 reward. By placing it there, you’re giving them an option and telling them, “This is a legitimate option to support my campaign and I won’t view it as an insult.”
3. $1 backers receive all campaign updates
It’s really tough to reach people via email if they haven’t backed your campaign. Getting more people onto your email list at the $1 level means that they’ll receive your campaign updates and emails. They may decide to modify their pledge to a higher reward later on during your campaign.
4. It can’t hurt to include it
I was surprised when people skipped over my discounted Early Bird Reward and pledged higher amounts than was available. In the same way, you’d be surprised how many extra people you’ll get at the $1 level who you might not have engaged without it. It can’t hurt to include it, so put it in there.
5. Every dollar counts
When fundraising, every dollar counts, even in $1 increments. Some creators have gotten really creative in the types of rewards they offer for $1 and you can read about them here.
One creator reached out to contacts and asked them to commit to pledging at the $1 level on launch day. To his surprise, many of those backers pledged at a higher level and helped him create that much needed launch day momentum.
One reason not to include the $1 reward on Kickstarter (not applicable on IndieGoGo) is that Kickstarter lists rewards in increasing monetary value and that extra reward takes up valuable real estate when it comes to directing backers to the higher valued rewards.
It does take up real estate so keep your description short and make it fun. Use the $1 reward area to showcase your personality and gratitude.
Did I miss anything?
Be sure to leave a comment below if you think the $1 reward is a good or bad idea.
Beautiful illustrations can make up for a weak story. On the other hand, ugly illustrations can tank a really great storyline.
A great book—one with both an amazing story and beautiful illustrations—is what we should all strive for, but if you’re going to create a children’s illustrated book, investing in beautiful, high-quality illustrations that enhance your story is priceless. Priceless.
Many indie authors think that they can tackle the illustrations themselves but sadly if you do not have artistic talent in your DNA, you’re not going to create illustrations worth publishing. Save your pennies and hire an artist while you focus on the story and characters.
I spoke with graphic designer and illustrator, Natalie Merheb, who is on a mission to educate indie authors about the level of skill and experience required to create beautiful children’s book illustrations.
What are some things you’d like more indie authors to know?
There are a lot of different roles in the traditional publishing world—agent, author, publisher, art director, illustrator, editor, book designer, and then marketing and distribution.
Too many indie authors try to take on multiple roles and it’s really to their detriment (and results in lower quality books).
Not many people have all of the skills and interest to take on all of these various roles. Remember that you, as an indie author, are both the publisher and the author but many authors are forgetting to pay themselves (all authors are paid for their work) like a traditional publisher would.
If you’re going to wear the publisher hat, you need to pay the author of your book (or you, in this case).
Which is easier—author-turned-illustrator or illustrator-turned-author?
It is much easier for talented illustrators to create a story than it is for talented authors to become talented illustrators. You see a lot of illustrators becoming authors because they already have experience telling a story through images. Adding the text is a logical next step.
In what types of illustrations are you a specialist?
I really fell in love with digital drawing over painting and spent all day practicing with my digital drawing tablet. I have my degree in fine arts and nobody taught us how to make money on our art.
I looked at the market of children’s illustrated books, which is so different from art. You have to be able to replicate the same character 40 times, capture emotion, and tell a story.
I studied the different styles the big illustration agencies are using and the type of work they are producing and found a particular style that comes naturally for me.
You don’t need to be in love with your own style but it has to be whatever flows most easily from your brain down your arm and out of your hand.
There are a lot of different trends in children’s books and you need to look at what type of art is sellable in the market.
How many styles should an illustrator have?
Not everyone is going to like your style but if you do your style well, someone will want to hire you. Some say you should be a one-style camp but I say that you can have one or two styles that are your absolute best work.
Remember that your portfolio is only as good as your weakest piece so don’t showcase anything that would bring down your portfolio.
What is a big problem indie children’s book authors face today?
The children’s illustrated market is oversaturated on many levels–in both the traditional and indie markets.
The Internet has given a platform for indies to rise, which is great in one way, but it also means that it is harder than ever to stand out.
There are great stories and illustrators in self-publishing, which is wonderful because it gives people like me a way to make a career doing what we love.
On the other hand, it opens the door for anyone to enter the market.
Being great is not good enough. You have to be at the top of your game to break into the traditional publishing market.
What is the best part of working with indie authors?
I love having a close working relationship with my clients. There is a personal satisfaction I feel in making someone else’s dream come true. I also love the potential for repeat clients.
I have one client who wants to sign me for her book series, which is amazing and not always a guarantee in the traditional publishing world.
What is the biggest challenge working with indie authors?
I said earlier that many times, indie authors will take on too many roles, and I may need to find a kind way to refer them to an editor. If there are grammatical errors on the page I’m illustrating, I’m going to let the author know.
A lot of indie projects are passion projects which means that the author is too close and can’t really be objective. They often want the illustrations to epitomize their child—hair, clothes, body language, etc., —and that’s not always what is best for creating a good children’s illustration.
Creative works are always personal so the hardest part is giving and receiving critiques on our personal works of art.
Continue reading the second part of this interview—
Natalie Merheb is a children’s book illustrator depicting stories written by others, as a brand strategist & web designer crafting brand stories for small businesses. She is a mama to twin girls, wife to a fellow entrepreneur from Lebanon, daughter to parents from the USA and Argentina, a Minnesota native, and Dubai expat.
Julia and I have a lot in common—we are both raising our families outside of our home countries (the USA), we are both authors, and both indie publishers dedicated to producing high-quality books.
Julia recently pushed back her launch date of her first book, Nonni’s Moon, because she was unhappy with the print quality of the first round of books she received. I admire her willingness to sacrifice a bit of ego and time for a better reading experience.
In this interview, I asked her about the nitty gritty of children’s illustrated books and I think you’ll enjoy her responses.
Why did you decide to self-publish your book?
I know how long it takes to traditionally publish a book and honestly, I knew the odds were slim. Self-publishing nowadays is even more possible than it was in the past—which is both good and bad. It means that it’s easier than ever to self-publish but also that bad books can flood the market.
I really wanted creative control, and the direct financial rewards. I know friends who have traditionally published and they will all do a ton of work the month before and the month after their book is released. If I’m going to do all of that work anyway, I might as well have the creative control.
What aspects did you do yourself vs. hire out to someone else?
I hired an illustrator, Lucy Smith, via a Facebook group of indie authors for children’s books. Her interpretation of my story really opened my eyes to a whole new level that I had not intended. The bereavement aspect really spoke to her and it reminded me why beta readers are so important for providing feedback.
How much did it cost to produce your book?
It depends on how you look at it because a lot of my costs were start-up costs for the first book. The illustrations cost the most (I’m paying her a flat rate with no royalties). I paid someone to do my website, and I purchased ISBNs, etc., For a 32-page illustrated book, it’ll cost between $6k-$7k if done properly.
I saw a deal on Bowker for 100-pack of ISBNs for the cost of a 10-pack, so I actually saved some money there.
What surprised you the most about the self-publishing process?
The length of time. Initially, I wanted the book out by Christmas but I didn’t find Lucy until July (I had been searching since February 2017). The level of detail and skill needed to create the illustrations takes a long time and I’d rather not rush anything.
What advice would you give someone who is interested in self-publishing?
You have to decide what your strengths are, what are your skills, and where you want to spend your money. I always feel like I should at least try to figure things out on my own.
First and foremost, join a Facebook group because any question you have has already been asked by someone else. Read 5-6 marketing books—I recommend Martin Crosbie’s book.
Definitely team up with another author to do a dual book launch or book signing event so you have a larger crowd.
You’ll want a timeline to keep things moving forward and most importantly, it’s crucial to build a marketing balloon before you publish.
What do you think worked well?
My launch team is working out really well. I put out a call for people interested in reviewing the PDF version of the book in exchange for being a member of my launch team and the group now has 186 members.
Had I not joined a lot of Facebook groups and done research, I totally would’ve launched without a marketing plan and would’ve missed out on a ton of momentum.
I submitted the book cover to a contest by KidsShelf Books and we actually won! It’s a nice shiny badge to put on the cover that adds a bit of credibility and it was something for me to do while I was waiting for the rest of the illustrations.
I can also recommend the Curiouser Author Network, which is a brilliant group of indie authors. They gave me great ideas for the book launch teams.
It also took me a week to figure out Canva but it was worth it.
Julia Inserro is a mom of three littles, living abroad with her husband and a handful of cats. She is a writer, reader, photographer, and explorer. She is the author of Nonni’s Moon, her first children’s book, set to release in July 2018. Julia finds that life is a series of wanderings and wonderings and enjoys sharing her musings with the world. You can find her at juliainserro.com
I often get frustrated with IndieGoGo because they bury their Writing and Publishing projects on the front page of the website. One has to know exactly where to look to “stumble upon” those projects whereas Kickstarter makes it very easy to navigate from the homepage.
I have no idea how many Writing and Publishing projects have been launched on IndieGoGo because they haven’t published category-specific statistics and many of their campaigns are acquired through their InDemand program (described below).
IndieGoGo wins over Kickstarter in this category. IndieGoGo provides a landing page where you can collect emails from people who are interested in your book.
This is just a screenshot—don’t enter your email here 🙂
Not only will they help you collect emails but they feature your landing page on their website under “Launching Soon.”
Pretty cool, right?
Creators on Kickstarter will need to collect emails using a separate lead generator or on their own websites.
Pro tip: Don’t lose your emails! IndieGoGo creators need to grab those emails before your campaign goes live because that same page turns into your campaign page and those emails disappear. Grab those emails and enter them into your newsletter provider like Mailerlite or MailChimp if you want to hang onto them.
IndieGoGo’s InDemand Program
If you launch on Kickstarter your Kickstarter page will no longer accept backers once the campaign ends.
IndieGoGo wisely sees this as an opportunity to swoop in and acquire successful projects to their platform.
You’ll be contacted by IGG to feature your campaign as part of their InDemand Program.
The InDemand program allows you to redirect backers who missed your original campaign to order your books through their website.
It won’t really hurt you to do this, but I’d rather direct folks to buy my book directly from me using PayPal or Stripe and pay those fees (~6%) rather than the IndieGoGo platform fees plus payment processing fees.
Either way, when you’re on IGG doing research on books in your genre, be sure to look out for books that were actually acquired through this program. Those books were not successfully funded on IGG.
Here’s what it looks like—you have to hover over the question mark icon to get the truth about where that author found success.
Name recognition factor
A lot of people mistakenly think that the general population has heard of a Kickstarter more often than an IndieGoGo campaign and therefore, they are better off launching on Kickstarter.
Most people who you will want to support your campaign have zero clue what crowdfunding is and will need a step-by-step explanation. They really don’t care if it’s on Kickstarter or IndieGoGo because it’s all foreign to them anyway.
Choose the platform that feels right for you since you’re going to be directing your audience to that page anyway.
Rewards on Kickstarter are listed in ascending value (cheapest reward is listed first) which means that more backers are going to select the first thing they see unless they scroll down.
And who wants to scroll down?!? Such work.
IndieGoGo campaigns have a neat “Featured Reward” designation that pins whatever reward you want to the top of your campaign so people are more likely to select that reward.
Pro tip: Set your featured reward to the average pledge you’d like to have for your campaign. Don’t set your reward value too low and lose out on awesome conversion opportunities.
Kickstarter and IndieGoGo have similar analytical features on the creator-side of their projects but Kickstarter creators can utilize Kicktraq—a Chrome extension plugin that provides predictions for how a Kickstarter project will ultimately end.
IndieGoGo’s backend analytics are pretty cool but they won’t show you how your campaign is trending into the future—only past contribution levels.
Grabbing backers’ emails
Communicating with your backers is a huge part of engaging and encouraging your backers to share the campaign. Unfortunately, Kickstarter holds your backers’ emails hostage during your campaign and only allows creators to communicate using the Kickstarter platform itself.
In doing so, Kickstarter backers (usually a distant relative who has never backed a campaign before) thinks that they are getting emails from Kickstarter itself and not you directly. They generally ignore these emails and wonder why you’re not communicating with them (insert eye roll emoji here).
Kickstarter also has a new “anonymous backer” option which allows backers to hide their identities from creators.
This anonymous feature may result in more backers but it also makes it impossible to properly thank your Aunt Mary for generously contributing to your campaign.
IndieGoGo gives you backers’ emails as the pledges come in, which is great for adding them to your newsletter provider and communicating with them directly.
Kickstarter has added a “Live” feature which is similar to Facebook Live videos but I don’t think they are very helpful for indie authors’ campaigns who are relying on readers from outside of the platform itself.
Which platform you choose is really up to your personal preference. When I launched my second book on Kickstarter, I was wholly convinced that it was the platform for me.
When My Super Science Heroesfound amazing success on IndieGoGo and I got to see firsthand how the email capture, Featured reward, and referral options worked, shockingly, I discovered that I preferred IndieGoGo’s features over Kickstarter’s.
But don’t take my word for it. Hop over to both websites, back a few projects, and decide for yourself.
I’ve analyzed a lot of crowdfunding projects over the years and there are a TON of mistakes that indie authors can easily avoid.
In this article, I’ll explain the mistake, how I can tell someone is making a mistake, and how to fix it.
Mistake #1: Zero marketing strategy
Many indie authors think that backers will come flocking after they put up their campaign page. They have a cute video, good graphics, and nice rewards but absolutely no strategy for marketing the campaign to potential backers (readers).
How I can tell you have zero marketing strategy
Most indie authors without a solid marketing strategy happening behind the scenes will not reach more than 100 backers. I look at the number of backers a campaign has every day (thanks to Kicktraq) and if you have a few days in a row with 0 backers/day, I can tell that there either is no strategy or the strategy isn’t working.
It’s really tough to create a solid marketing strategy mid-stream but all is not lost if you act quickly. Try to reach at least 30% within the first 5 days of your campaign or prepare to fold up camp and relaunch after you’ve built up your audience a bit.
You can start reaching out to big bloggers, journalists, and influencers who might be interested in your book, add a new reward that you KNOW will entice more backers, and do a full-out media blitz everywhere you think your readers might be lurking.
That said, with a short campaign timeline, you really don’t have time to develop a new strategy on the fly and your time, effort, and energy might be spent better on a relaunch a few months later.
Mistake #2: The rewards are all wrong
Many indie authors actually price their rewards too low. Remember, we are crowdfunding which means that backers are willing to pay a bit more than retail to help you create your project. That means you need to price your rewards higher than you would if you were selling them on the street.
If your goal is $15k, then you’re going to need a lot of people to buy your $20 reward…
How I can tell your rewards are bleh
Usually, I can see right away if your rewards are reasonable based on if I’d be willing to take out my wallet and enter in my credit card information based on what you have.
Are your rewards structured in a way that makes it enticing for me to “level up?”
Are you offering an early bird discount or special reward to spur action on my part?
No? Big mistake.
What else does your audience want besides your book that is of value? What else can you offer? Bundle that together and slap a $50 price tag on it and get people to level-up to that reward.
Mistake #3: Video is too long and rambles on and on and on…
Your video does not need to be professionally created, although that does help, but it needs to be relatively short. Remember, you are trying to get people’s attention very quickly so jump straight to the point with a call to action.
How do I know your video is boring?
Because I’m bored and want to click away but I won’t because I’m analyzing your page.
What do you want someone watching your video to do? You want them to back your book so you can do X for Y.
So say that.
Say, “Back our project to introduce classical music back into the classrooms of 4th and 5th graders in New Jersey,” or whatever your awesome book brings to readers.
Say your call to action loud and clearly within the first 30 seconds of your video.
Mistake #4: Your goal is too high
I wish we could all raise $30k on Kickstarter by simply creating a campaign and posting the link to our Facebook pages a few times but that’s not how it works.
Behind the scenes of every crowdfunding campaign is a tremendous amount of emailing, outreach, article creation, videos, podcasts, and other activity on the Internet.
If your goal doesn’t match your audience size (remember, the average backer will spend $45-$50) then you’re not going to be successful.
How I know your campaign goal is too high
I look to see if someone has created a campaign in the past, I evaluate the activity on their social media pages, and I do a bit of market research on other crowdfunding campaigns on similar topics in the past.
Unfortunately, your goal is locked in once you launch your campaign.
You cannot, I repeat, cannot have a $30k goal without knowing how you’re going to secure at least 600 backers.
Factoring in a 2% conversion rate, you need to reach at least 30,000 people.
You can always relaunch with a more reasonable goal.
Mistake #5: No interactions or updates on the campaign page itself
A stranger wanders onto your crowdfunding campaign page and is looking for more information…more personality…an update or two to find out how the campaign is going.
Many indie authors don’t post any updates on their campaign’s page and this is a lost opportunity to get more backers.
How I can tell you aren’t utilizing updates to their biggest potential
It’s all quiet on your page and I’m wondering what’s up? How are things going? What else can you tell me about your project? Are you grateful for all of the support so far?
Use the public updates on your page as a way to showcase your personality and share insights into the project that weren’t already covered in your campaign’s description.
Can you share something from your illustrator? Have you decided to add a new reward? Have you been featured in the Washington Post, Forbes, or some other fancy website that people would think is cool?
Share your social proof that others are on board and link back to your campaign.
Why include a link to your campaign that’s in an update about your campaign?
Both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo email backers all public updates but Kickstarter (annoyingly) doesn’t automatically link the reader back to your campaign.
That means that if someone wants to forward the email they received from Kickstarter about your campaign to a friend, they can but then the person just gets a body of text—no link—and you’ve lost a potential backer.
Make it super easy for people to find your campaign by always including a link back to it.
In her latest book, How to Create a Successful Children’s Book (part of KindleUnlimited), she gives readers her tips and tricks to creating a bestselling children’s book (hint: fart and poop jokes will go a long way).
Like any good fairy godmother, Bobbie was gracious enough to answer my questions about her Fairy books and take us behind-the-scenes on creating a book like a traditional publisher.
What was the original inspiration behind your fairy book series?
It all started when my husband and I were babysitting our six-year-old twin granddaughters.
I was trying to comb through Emily’s morning tangles, causing her to wail loudly, so…I did what grandmas do so well—I made up a story.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, came the story of the sweet little Knot Fairy who visits sleeping children and loves to tangle their hair. Emily stopped crying. She loved the story and begged me to tell it every day. I was energized by my grandkids’ excitement. The Knot Fairy book was born.
Deep down, I had always known I wanted to write a children’s book. Hubby and I were both retired. So, why not?
You were self-publishing before it was popular. What convinced you to give self-publishing a try? Did you ever pitch your ideas to traditional publishers?
As the author of seven traditionally published cookbooks, I had learned a lot about the book business.
Thankfully, I did learn that, no matter who publishes your book, you, the author, must plan to promote, promote, promote. Even with a traditional publisher, I spent many hours working hard to supplement their marketing efforts.
Yes, I could have submitted my ideas to traditional publishers. It had worked with my cookbooks.
However, the publishing world today is more competitive than ever, especially when it comes to children’s books. I didn’t want to start sending query letters and possibly fill a shoebox with rejection notices while waiting for the right publisher to show interest in my book.
This time I wanted to be the one to make all the decisions—and keep all the money.
You published your first book in 2007 before a lot of the self-publishing tools exist today were available. In your opinion, how has the self-publishing industry changed in ways that have had the greatest impact on indie authors?
Competition in the book world is tougher than it has ever been. Yet many more people are self-publishing. The dilemma I see is that it is too easy for people to publish books that are not of the highest quality.
With the advent of Print on Demand publishing, anyone willing to pay can publish a book, often resulting in higher priced books and, sadly, too many books of poor quality.
Often there is little or no editing offered, and the paper and covers are of inferior quality. I’ve also witnessed the growth of social marketing sites, such as Facebook.
The good news for authors is that they now have a giant platform for marketing their books.
Unfortunately, the growth of social media is bad news for two reasons:
First, too many authors rely only on these sites to market their books, making their marketing efforts very one-dimensional; second, these sites are extremely crowded with authors saying “Buy my book” to an audience of thousands of other authors.
If you don’t mind sharing, how do you print your books? What printer have you found that has the best quality for the price?
My books have been printed by a wonderful company, Amica, Inc., that has headquarters in Kent, Washington in the U.S. I chose them after seeing their finished products at Book Expo America.
They print in China and they produce top-quality books. I recently had 2 of my books printed in the U.S. by Bang Printing Co. They also did an excellent job and were very fair with the pricing.
The price depends on the amount of books ordered—the larger the order, the lower the price.
You include an audio CD with your books, which is something I haven’t seen any indie author do before. What level of production is required to add such a valuable item and do you feel it is worthwhile?
Having been an elementary teacher, I felt that adding a CD would provide an added bonus for toddlers and young readers.
It gives the book the ability to appeal to another one of the children’s senses, helping them learn better by both hearing and seeing the words at the same time.
Producing a CD is an interesting process that involves writing a script and recording it in a sound studio, with an audio engineer.
My basic script consisted of the story narration and an original fairy song. I became a song writer! I tapped into a lot of local talent to make the process work without breaking the bank.
I found a young audio engineer with a studio in his basement, “hired” my vocalist daughter-in-law to sing, and turned my grandchildren into a children’s chorus.
People love the added value of having a CD inside the book, and also love the fact that their children are learning to read with the help of the CD.
If I were to do it today, I would go through the recording process but, in place of a CD, I would use a QR code that would take the reader to my website to listen to the recording. (I haven’t explored the details of doing this, but I have met people who say they have done it successfully.)
Approximately how much does each book cost to produce?
There are so many variables here. It depends on the format (hardcover or paperback), the size of the book, the paper quality, and any additions (dust jacket or CD) and the number of books ordered.
I certainly don’t recommend mortgaging your house to purchase thousands of books, so you have to be realistic and know how you plan to market your books before you print.
Also, of utmost importance, is to first produce a top-quality book that has been professionally edited and market-tested with a focus group of age-appropriate readers.
Your illustrations are beautiful and it is clear that there is a team behind each book. Where did you find your collaborators?
I don’t know why it’s called “self-publishing” because you certainly can’t do it all yourself!
A team of professionals provide the checks and balances you need to produce a top-quality product.
I found my illustrator (Kristi Bridgeman) by doing an internet search for “fairy illustrators.” It was love at first sight! Her magical watercolor illustrations turned my books into works of art.
My graphic designer was a young friend of a friend, who worked from home and was affordable. He meshed the words and illustrations in just the right way.
Although I am an editor, even editors need an extra pair of eyes to check their work. Luckily, my pilates instructor was a retired editor who had worked for a large publishing house.
My team worked together beautifully, even though we were in different states—and countries!
Have you ever felt pigeon-holed by your topic? (Ever want to write about non-fairy books?)
No, I’ve never felt pigeon-holed. I love fairies and love finding things to blame on them. I actually have a few other fairy books written that I would like to publish. (No, I won’t tell you what they are.) That being said, I have also been collecting cat photos for a new toddler book and—to add something different to the mix—I am working on a true-life ghost story. Stay tuned…
What would you say was a mistake that you made that taught you something valuable?
Oh, dear. Here it is: When it was time to print the first book, I thought the cost of encasing the CDs in tamper-resistant plastic sleeves was too high, opting instead for paper sleeves. They seemed sturdy enough to me. I ordered 5000 copies of the book!
Only when I sent a copy to the children’s buyer for Barnes & Noble did I learn that my books were deemed unacceptable due to the use of paper CD sleeves. Fortunately all was not lost, as 10 of my family members agreed to convene on a Sunday morning around a large conference table in my son’s office.
We formed a production line and spent twelve hours unpacking each case of books, carefully removing the paper sleeves, placing each CD into its newly purchased plastic sleeve, meticulously gluing each CD back into place and repacking the books.
Lesson learned: Do it right the first time!
What advice would you give someone considering indie publishing?
Know your target audience. When you decide what age you are targeting, go to the library, find out what this age group is reading, and read as many of these books as you can.
Have your book professionally edited—yes, even if there are only 100 words in your book.
Own your ISBN. Whoever owns the ISBN owns the rights to publish your book.
Before using POD or subsidy publishing companies, ask for samples of the companies’ work and ask yourself if this is what you want your book to look like. Also, make sure to discuss the total price and know what to expect in the way of quality and service.
Are your books available in bookstores, libraries, and schools? Can you briefly describe how you’ve approached each channel?
I have been fortunate to have had my books accepted by a large distributor, which is the only way I know for an indie author to distribute their books to bookstores and libraries nationwide so quickly and efficiently.
As for schools, this has proven to be a very lucrative market for my books.
I do classroom visits where I read a book or two and teach the children the songs on the CDs. I prepare order forms for the teachers to send home with the children a few days before my visit.
I charge a fee for my visit, plus sell my books. For practice, you can offer to do free visits at your local libraries.
What other opportunities has publishing your books led to? (e.g., speaking opportunities, lectures, etc.)
A whole new world has opened since my granddaughter refused to have her hair combed.
I have been a guest presenter at numerous book fairs all across the U.S. and in Canada. I have been a guest blogger on blogs all over the world.
I have had Barnes & Noble book launch parties that have attracted as many as 300 people. I have been invited to sign my books at many Costco stores.
Occasionally someone even recognizes me on the street!
Anything else you’d like to share?
This is an exciting journey. My books have received 28 children’s book awards along the way, including the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Gold Medal for “Best Picture Book Series of 2017.” I invite everyone to take the journey with me.
Would I recommend self-publishing? Yes, if you do it right.
Let’s face it: As self-publishers, our books are often judged more critically and held to a higher standard than traditionally published books. Therefore, if we’re going to represent ourselves, let’s make our books the very best.
There’s no room in today’s market for more run-of-the-mill books.
Competition is tougher than it has ever been.
On my journey I have verified an important fact that some self-publishers fail to recognize: In order to compete in the book world, you MUST produce a high-quality product!
Read the Best Fairy Books
Note that all of Bobbie Hinman’s books are available in the KindleUnlimited program so you can check them out for free when you are a member (which I am).
I have also purchased the Belly Button Fairy and the Fart Fairy books with my own dime because I like to do my own research when it comes to bringing you the best information and believe me, these books are a hit with my kids.
Bobbie Hinman is a former elementary teacher with B.S. degree in Elementary Education/Children’s Literature.
She is the recipient of 28 children’s book awards, including the Moonbeam Gold Medal for “Best Picture Book Series of 2017.” Her achievements are numerous:
Author of The Knot Fairy, The Sock Fairy, The Belly Button Fairy, The Fart Fairy and The Freckle Fairy which have sold over 51,000 copies
Author of “How to Create a Successful Children’s Picture Book”
Ten years experience editing children’s books
Member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators) and IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association)
Getting folks onto your email list should be your #1 priority after you’ve created some content for your website.
Because nobody can rely on Facebook’s or Twitter’s algorithms to put your content in front of your readers. Sending messages directly to your readers’ inbox is the best way to deliver valuable content and create a dialogue with your readers.
Before we talk numbers, I just want you to know that I successfully Kickstarted Knocked Up Abroad Again with a list of only 110 subscribers. They were my core group of people who I reached out to to generate momentum on launch day of my Kickstarter campaign, but I also leveraged the readers of the book’s 25 contributors.
Pulling the trigger—Sending your first email to your list
Over the years, I’ve struggled with finding topics to send my newsletter recipients. Should I send them links to my blogs? (Yes.) Should I send them links to affiliate courses or products by other people I know, like, and trust? (Yes.) What should I actually send my newsletter recipients?
In short, you can send anything to your readers as long as you are delivering meaningful content. Make it valuable, insightful, or emotional and people will open, read, and share your emails.
I feel most comfortable with sending no more than two (2) emails a month. I have enough to include in each email—blogs, podcasts, articles, etc.—and I can be consistent with bi-weekly emails.
If you’re just starting out, I’d start with monthly emails and see how it goes from there.
Be authentic. Be yourself.
As long as you offer up high-quality content that your readers find valuable, people will stay on your list.
Your readers are smart
Almost everyone knows at this point that if you register for a free webinar or e-book, your email is going onto someone’s list. There will always be folks who hop on your list for a short time to grab your freebie and then unsubscribe right away. Don’t worry about those people.
Focus on delivering quality content or insights about your writing process that will keep your readers engaged.
Ways for indie authors to create valuable freebies
Using MailChimp or Mailerlite, you can create sign-up forms and use automation to deliver digital content as an incentive to increase your subscribers.
Here are some ideas specifically for indie authors but you should use your creativity here (go crazy!)
Podcast about a specific topic related to a popular blog post
Narrated version of a short-story
Special interview with a special guest (video or podcast)
E-book with tips for your readers on a topic related to your book
Special access to digital content that enhances the reader’s experience with your book
Animated short featuring a character from your book
First chapter of your book with a link to purchase the full book
Coupon code for your book or other items you might sell
Anything you can think of that your readers might want
In short, have fun with your content creation and create multiple avenues for people to get onto your list. Send out consistent high-quality content, and be yourself.
With only 3% of readers leaving reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, it’s no wonder that authors (both traditional and indie) are struggling to encourage their readers to leave book reviews.
Amazon and Goodreads are like the TripAdvisor and Yelp equivalents for books and many readers rely on reviews to guide them on what book they should purchase next.
Unfortunately, although Amazon acquired Goodreads in 2013, the reviews on each platform stay where they were originally placed so you need to encourage readers to leave the same review in two places. Annoying, for sure.
While I can’t guarantee that every review will be favorable, here are some tips for getting more reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
1. Encourage your readers with every newsletter you send out
First of all, your readers should be subscribed to your newsletter (I use MailerLite but I’ve also used MailChimp in the past and have enjoyed both.) At the end of each newsletter you send out, make a strong appeal to them asking for reviews and hyperlink your request directly to your book’s page on Amazon and Goodreads.
Go ahead and say something like,
“Readers rely on honest reviews to inform their book purchases and I’d love your review on Amazon and Goodreads if you enjoyed the book. I personally read each review and really appreciate hearing your feedback.”
“Without reader reviews, books will go largely unnoticed on large websites like Amazon. I’d love it if you could kindly leave a review if you enjoyed reading my book(s). For every review you leave for an indie author, an angel gets its wings.”
Or something like that. You get the idea. Have fun with it but remind your readers that you love and appreciate their reviews.
2. Add an image to your sidebar on your blog/website
The one I have on my sidebar is a standard social media post sized graphic from Canva and it took me approximately 4 minutes to create. Clicking on that image takes my readers directly to my books’ Amazon sales pages.
You’re welcome to steal it/borrow it/modify it however you want.
3. Give books away for review
I’ve done this a few ways—handed out physical books to friends in person, ran giveaway contests on my Facebook profile to drive social media attention, and have run a free download giveaway of the Kindle version on Amazon. All approaches have their pros and cons but I’d recommend doing something where you giveaway books to people for free.
That’s right, I said free.
“But Lisa, that will cost me money and sales rankings and and and…“
I know, it will cost you all of that but when you’re marketing, you have to think of the long game. The more copies you have circulating in the population, the more chances you have that people will read your book. More readers equals more reviews which should equate to more people purchasing your book.
If you give away books for review purposes, be sure to have your reviewers declare that in their Amazon reviews. Amazon wants transparency in their reviews so as long as they include something along the lines of,
“I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes but the opinions are my own.”
Amazon will be satisfied that your readers are providing honest and transparent reviews about your book. Don’t get dinged by Amazon!
When I was new at this game, I was extremely protective of giving away free copies. I was like, “No way! If they want to support me they will buy 5 copies!” And that’s true to a certain extent. Your family will buy more than one copy and they will help you in so many ways, but you can also generate a lot of goodwill and loyalty by giving away copies to strangers (gasp!).
Build a loyal following. Enroll your book in KDP Select for 90 days and see what happens.Knocked Up Abroad has been on KDP Select since I launched it and it currently has 37 reviews (which I am very happy with.) My second book, released only 10 months later, has 23 reviews. It has never been enrolled in KDP Select.
Is my first book that much better than my second book? No, not at all. I think a lot of readers in the KindleUnlimited program exclusively read books that are enrolled in KDP Select. Those folks are avid readers and are more likely to leave book reviews.
4. Move the acknowledgements section to the beginning of your Kindle version
Kindle readers are automatically prompted to leave a review on Amazon whenever the reach the end of the manuscript on their Kindle device. If you have 4 pages of acknowledgements like I did in Knocked Up Abroad Again because you have to thank hundreds of Kickstarter backers, many readers aren’t going to flip through to the end that generates that review prompt.
Move your acknowledgements to the beginning or shorten them entirely and take advantage of that Kindle prompt that will do a lot of heavy lifting for you.
5. Encourage your readers at the end of your book to leave a review
Jen Mann is the New York Times bestselling author of People I want to Punch in the Throatand she has created her own publishing imprint and is a total badass. Read her work and learn from her.
Thank you for reading this book. I appreciate your support and hope you enjoyed it. I hope you will tell a friend—or 30 about this book. Please do me a huge favor and leave me a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Of course, I prefer 5-star, but I’ll take what I can get. If you hated this book, you can skip the review, it’s cool.”
Encourage your readers to leave a review while they are still holding your book in their hands and maybe, just maybe, they’ll leave a review for you.
Pro tip: Readers love 4-star reviews
My first 4-star review really stung. It was from someone I admired and someone I thought would give me a 5-star review without question. Fortunately, she softened the blow a bit by letting me know that she was leaving me a 4-star review.
She said, “I absolutely loved your book but I think that readers are suspicious about 5-star reviews. I always leave 4-star reviews so that readers take me seriously and that will help you more in the long-run, trust me.”
At first I thought she was yanking my chain and just trying to make me feel better about my horrible 4-star book, but now, after reading a ton of 4-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, I agree with her.
If every book you read gets 5-stars, then the rating loses its value.
Also, reviews on Goodreads are a bit more honest than reviews on Amazon. If you get 5-stars on Goodreads, you really knocked someone’s socks off.
If you have any tips for getting more book reviews, be sure to leave them in the comments.
After successfully crowdfunding my book on Kickstarter and helping other indie authors find success on IndieGoGo and Kickstarter platforms, I fully believe that more indie authors can successfully crowdfund their books with some research and strategic planning.
Here are my reasons why you should consider crowdfunding:
#1 Proof of Concept
Erin Nelsen Parekh Kickstarted her debut children’s board book and felt that the crowdfunding process proved her book was worth creating. “Going through the crowdfunding process really made me feel like the entire project was vetted.”
If you can get more than 150 people to pre-order your book based on a sales page and campaign video, then you have a really strong message that resonates with people. Chances are good that you should create your book.
If you can’t raise the necessary funds to make your book a reality (i.e., your campaign doesn’t successfully fund), then it means that you need to reevaluate your idea, your audience, or your marketing efforts. Something is flawed and a failed crowdfunding project doesn’t mean your idea isn’t valuable, it just means you need to rework your approach.
Crowdfunding in a do-or-die scenario is a really good test of your book’s concept and will undoubtedly improve your future marketing efforts.
#2 Expand and engage your audience
When I launched the Kickstarter campaign for Knocked Up Abroad Again, I only had a newsletter size of 140 people and a Facebook page around 700. That was it. Scary, right?
Traditionally markers said that I wouldn’t reach my $10k goal with those numbers and normally, they’d be right. The difference is that crowdfunding isn’t like traditional marketing campaigns.
Crowdfunding forces you to create valuable content that people will want to share with their friends and family—organically—and those articles, videos, and images all have the link to your campaign on them.
Fortunately, I had the help of a team of 5-8 contributors who developed their own blogs, videos, and graphics to share with their networks. Crowdfunding is truly a team effort that undoubtedly results in expanding your audience.
One of the best parts about crowdfunding is that you engage your audience. As the creator, you provide them an inside peek into the development process of your book. They are along with you on the ride and are excited to share your concept.
This type of audience engagement is rare during the development process. Normally, writers will create a book and release it on a launch date.
Not many readers get the chance to influence a book during its development and that’s what keeps people coming back to platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo.
#3 Condense 3-6 months of marketing efforts into 30 days
This condensed marketing effort really takes a lot of strategic planning and development. You can’t just throw up a campaign page and expect the backers to support your project.
All of the marketing efforts that other authors spend over the course of the year are condensed into a very short timeframe. This can be exhausting, which is why all crowdfunding campaigns should end after 35 days or so.
During your crowdfunding campaign, you’ll write press releases, create videos, reach out to bloggers, social media influencers, and hopefully, get the attention of a few news outlets.
Erin Parekh’s campaign link was retweeted twice by Neil Gaiman out to his 2.72M followers.
You’re not supposed to be able to sustain this level of a marketing media blitz longer than 30 days, so please, don’t try.
#4 Your book is funded
The best part about crowdfunding your book is that aside from your marketing budget during the crowdfunding campaign, your wallets aren’t entirely empty.
Many indie authors struggle with finding the thousands of dollars necessary to hire a quality editor, illustrator, and cover designer. As a result, their books aren’t as well made and don’t sell as well.
Crowdfunding offers a unique proposition to readers that basically says, “Invest in this idea and you’ll get a much better product than you could’ve if I did this on my own dime.”
Believe me, people will invest a few extra books if it means they get a better book plus a few extras.
Tired of reading and want the video version of this blog instead?
Watch me reiterate the points above (and more) in the video below.