Bobbie Hinman has sold over 50,000 children’s books and has won numerous awards for her Best Fairy Books series.
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.
- Read my book, How to Create a Successful Children’s Picture Book.
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!