There are some non-negotiable aspects in self-publishing that are needed for your book to compete in this oversaturated market—flawless text and a professional cover.
While many authors understand their writing can always be improved by a good editor, some children’s book authors think that editors aren’t necessary because they are writing for children.
I asked editor Tamara Rittershaus to share her thoughts on the importance of editing every book, but especially children’s books.
Here’s what Tamara has to say:
People will buy a great product.
“Self-published books have a bad reputation because they are often bad products. They’re often not edited, have cheap-looking illustrations, and grammatical errors in the blurb.
But with a good product and focused marketing, it can be successful.
The Traditional Publishing Process
In traditional publishing, an author should have their manuscript critiqued, beta read, and professionally edited before sending it to their agent.
The agent offers editing. The agent sells the manuscript to a publisher, which would also have an editor.
So a book that is traditionally published has a stamp of approval from at least three editors (sometimes more than that).
Readers can trust these to be quality products.
The indie-author community needs to focus on putting out better products.
In order to compete against traditionally published books, indie authors must hire professionals to work with them on creating the best book possible.
Here is what I recommend to an indie author:
After you write and revise a manuscript, find a critique partner!
Starting out, I swapped my picture book manuscripts with dozens of other writers through a Facebook group called “KidLit411 Manuscript Swap.”
Over time, I have found the four or five critique partners who I trust the most.
Once you’ve had it critiqued and made revisions, hire an editor!
Ask for developmental editing. A good editor will have an eye for how to really enhance the story.
They will explain how you can improve your story arc, the tone of the story, how to create better scenes, and more.
If you make significant changes, send it back to your critique partner or hire your editor for a second round of developmental editing.
When your story is solid, have another round with your trusted critique partner(s) or look for “fresh eyes” in a beta reader.
Now is the time to have the story line edited. This is the final check through for grammar, punctuation, syntax and minor inconsistencies.
If you’re hiring an illustrator, I suggest you wait to start illustrations until the manuscript is ready for line editing.
A change to the manuscript text is easy, but changes to illustrations will cost you.
Create a relationship with your editor.
Editors want our clients to succeed, especially the loyal clients that we know well. I offer my picture book clients a free once-over before publishing, because I don’t want to see any avoidable mistakes getting published.
If you write in poetry, I suggest having your manuscript checked over by a poetry specialist.
I offer “poetry coaching” for clients who feel compelled to write in rhyme, but haven’t been trained in writing in meter.
I use the client’s own manuscript to teach them how the meter could sound. This is a very effective teaching method and my clients have great success learning to write in meter.”
Tamara Rittershaus offers editing services for children’s literature authors as a picture book editor. She will give you a thorough and honest critique of your work.
Connect with Tamara on Facebook or Twitter for more information:
Crowdfunding your book entails offering readers extra rewards that are only available for a limited time.
Non-crowdfunding authors can use the same approach to drive more book sales or pre-orders.
Also, this strategy involves MUCH LESS stress and nail biting compared to launching a Kickstarter or IndieGoGo campaign where it’s all-or-nothing.
So, if you like all upside and very little downside (really just your time and effort), then this strategy will set you apart from the other authors who are struggling with Facebook ads and Amazon marketing.
Here’s the process:
Step 1: Create 4 (or more) rewards
These can be anything, really, but can include:
Activity workbook with material that complements your book
Printable coloring pages
Anything that involves your time (e.g., course, coaching, training, webinar, event, etc.)
I advise you to keep it relatively easy to create, original to your work, complementary to the book you are launching, and easy to deliver (digital rewards can be delivered via email).
If you start deviating from the above characteristics, you’re going to create more work for yourself than necessary.
Remember, these are valuable rewards for readers but you shouldn’t be spending tons of money creating them. Mostly, invest your time and effort into creating the rewards.
2. Make those Rewards Disappear
Incentivize readers to take action right away and not wait to pre-order your book.
So, anyone who pre-orders or buys your book during this Reward the Reader month (or whatever you want to call it), will have access to disappearing rewards in addition to your book.
Week 1: Readers get all 4 rewards
Week 2: Readers select 3 out of the 4 rewards.
Week 3: Readers can select 2 out of the 4 rewards.
Week 4: Readers can select one reward.
At the end of your Reward the Reader month, you’ve successfully rewarded ALL of your readers (they should be super happy) but the early bird readers should be the happiest because they got ALL of your goodies.
Step 3: Deliver the goods
At the end of the pre-order marketing blitz, be sure to deliver all rewards to everyone who pre-ordered your book, encourage them to read your book and leave a review, and thank them for being awesome and supportive people.
The best way to do this is via email using your newsletter service provider.
Be sure to have them specifically opt-in to receive your newsletter if they want to continue to receive emails from you to be GDPR-compliant.
Rules, man, I know, but transparency is crucial to building trust between you and your readers.
Benefits to using this approach
1. Everyone can do it
Whether you have already published your book or are still planning your book launch strategy, everyone can use this approach reward readers.
Come up with some great digital rewards that your readers want and get to work.
2. It relieves some pressure
If you aren’t “salesy” and don’t like talking about your book, then you’ll LOVE this approach.
Many authors find it easier to promote FREE items than they do about promoting their book for sale.
3. Organic sharing
Readers love to share free things. They are more likely to share a bundle of four free goodies that are available with the purchase of your book than they would an ad for a book. (Actually, does anyone share ads? Not really.)
4. Everyone wins
Your readers get 1-4 valuable rewards in addition to your book and you get more book sales and exposure. Win-win.
Less Stress but Still Requires Effort
So, no need to stress about launching an intimidating Kickstarter campaign in order to benefit from crowdfunding marketing strategies.
And just a reminder that as everything goes, you’ll only get out what you put into this process.
Creating and promoting these disappearing rewards still requires time and effort and marketing dollars to drive those book sales, but you should feel good about the value you’re giving your readers.
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.
Nicholette Thomas wrote and illustrated her first children’s book, Ibari’s Curls, that focuses on creating a dialogue with her young readers. I know this because my kids love “answering” the main character’s questions throughout the book. I’ve never seen anything like that before and we have quite the collection of children’s books in our house.
It turns out that creating that conversation was the main reason why Nicholette decided to self-publish her book. That style of writing is not commonly found in children’s books (but it should be because it is quite effective).
Read more about my conversation with Nicholette and how she plans to educate kids (and their parents) through this type of interactive reading style.
Why did you decide to self-publish your illustrated children’s book?
I always wanted to write a story, and I set a goal to publish a book. I wasn’t sure traditionally publishing was right for me because it takes a long time and I can be really shy. With self-publishing, I felt in control, I didn’t need approval from anyway, and I could accomplish it all by myself.
The illustrations are really unique in your book. What was your process?
I sketched in pencil, did the watercolor, outlined in marker, and then scanned and enhanced them to make them transparent. I wanted a painted background to make the illustrations more unique. I didn’t use any fancy tools—I dropped the scanned file into Word and clicked the tab “Set to transparent,” and that was it. I upgraded my Canvaaccount so that I could control more of the settings, but that was really it.
You really used Word to manipulate your images? That’s crazy. Word is not designed for that at all. I’m impressed.
Yeah, I did! I made it work.
You ran a quick Kickstarter campaign to cover some of the fees of your book. Can you explain what the campaign covered?
I wanted the Kickstarter campaign to cover the costs of the ISBN 10-pack ($395), the Canva upgrade ($12/mth), and then the set-up and printing costs of the book (Ingram Spark $49 and CreateSpace $75).
Next time I self-publish a book, I want someone to take my artwork and make it digital, but for this book, I didn’t hire any editors or cover designers.
How long did it take you to create the book from start to finish?
It took me about a year. I ordered a bunch of copies from Ingram Spark to have on hand, giveaway, and sell on Multicultural Children’s Book Day. (Set your calendars for the next one Jan 25, 2019)
Ingram Spark ($8/book) ended up being much cheaper than CreateSpace ($13/book) for me to produce since my book was full color and there was no noticeable quality difference that I could find.
What advice would you give an indie children’s book author?
My advice is to hire a cover designer and illustrator if you don’t know how to do it yourself. Also, have kids look at it and make sure that the words make sense to them. I got a lot of great feedback from the kids who read the book and pointed out things that I wouldn’t have thought about. Getting group feedback is really good even if it means you have to change things.
Do a lot of research and keep testing before you publish.
Your book used to have a different title. What made you decide to change it?
During the research phase, I noticed that a lot of children’s books had really unique names. Golden Girl and Her Curls (the original title) just didn’t seem unique enough to stand out. I asked for feedback in a book group, and Ibari’s Curls was overwhelmingly more popular.
Be careful in how you share your work publicly as you might still be working through things and changing things right up until publication.
Has self-publishing your book resulted in any new opportunities for you?
Self-publishing definitely forced me to put myself out there more than I was already doing writing for my blog. A book is a much more visible product of your work, so it’s easy to feel more vulnerable because it is being seen and judged by others.
What’s next for you? Are there any new books in the works?
I’ve started illustrating another book about unique families and want to show different makeups of families. There will be all sorts of families with two dads, two moms, one mom, one dad, etc., and I want kids to know that this is normal.
For any book I create, I want there to be a dialogue with the reader, so they learn as they read while still having fun.
Any last takeaway messages for indie authors?
Make sure publishing a book is something you feel passionate about.
Don’t do it to try to make money, do it because you love it.
Even if you don’t sell one copy, you’ll still feel great when you hold your book in your hands.
Nicholette Thomas writes at mixedfamilylife.com about her interracial marriage and family life.
There are tons of self-publishing tools out there and with the proliferation of Word and InDesign templates, writers have a myriad of options to choose from when it comes to interior typesetting their paperback.
Templates are great for saving time and energy on the big things like headings, margins, and gutter widths, but you still need to do the fine tuning before you hit publish.
As a self-publisher, it is your responsibility to make sure that your book looks and feels like a traditionally published book. Yes, I’m putting that on you, not on the template.
The template can’t tell you when there is a widow/orphan even if you check that box in Word (don’t check that box, uncheck it right now).
I’ve seen both small and large mistakes happen with authors who didn’t manually adjust anything after plunking their text into the template. Don’t be that person.
I get it. You’re fatigued and you think the template will take care of everything, but it doesn’t. It can’t.
Remember to always think like a reader and don’t settle for anything less than your best. Strangers and friends will be reading your book. You want to impress them. Your template doesn’t care as much as you do about how your book looks on the inside. Don’t give into your fatigue and do the necessary fine tuning.
If you are too tired to care, hire an extra set of eyes to help you out.
Justified text formatting results in really weird spacing between words to make up for the justified text.
Ok, that is an exaggeration above that I created manually but I have seen this in so many self-published books. Whenever I see this, I know that someone wasn’t experienced enough (or too tired/lazy) to go back and fix it.
Not a good look. Tsk, tsk.
You can correct this funky text justification manually by heading to the line(s) below wherever you see this bizarre spacing taking place and add in a hyphen to one or more of the words in those lines.
Try it out and watch your spacing adjust like magic. Voila!
It’s a bit of an art form to find the right word to hyphenate that adjusts your spacing.
Whatever you do, only hyphenate where it makes sense for the reader (e.g., “be-tween” not “betw-een”).
When you’re first starting out, this will take some experimentation to find out where it makes sense to add a hyphen so as not to confuse your reader.
Go through your entire document starting at the beginning and work progressively through your document from start to finish. Eliminate all of these overly stretched spaces between justified text.
As a reader, I want a seamless reading experience and too much white space between the words in a sentence is annoying, not helpful.
Not controlling for orphans/widows.
I will admit, there was a point in Knocked Up Abroad Again (aff link) where I gave up adjusting for every single orphan and widow.
I did my best to take care of the really obvious/annoying ones but I let a few slide because it seemed that no matter how I adjusted my spacing, they remained.
You may find that you need to delete entire sentences to accommodate widow/orphan control and this can start to mess with your story. Again, typesetting is an art form.
Being able to keep all of the content and have it properly spaced—the lines and the spaces between the letters—to provide a seamless reading experience is why typesetters can charge what they do for their services.
I recently read a traditionally published novel that did zero widow/orphan control and it really bothered me. At least make an effort.
Templates cannot control for widows and orphans even if you check the “Widow/orphan control” setting on Word (don’t do that, by the way).
You need to go back and take care of widows and orphans by adding/removing words from a sentence or changing the letter spacing/kerning.
Again, work progressively through your manuscript from start to finish or all of your hard work will be erased as soon as you make any change whatsoever. Fun, right?
Headers on pages with no content or headers on title pages.
ACK! This one is easy to miss for many beginning authors because they simply don’t know how to remove headers. This is one of the main dangers of using a template.
If you don’t understand how the template was created, you can’t edit the template accordingly and you’re left with headers standing proudly at the top of blank pages.
Blank pages should be blank.
Typesetting in Word is tricky because it’s not a software that is designed for typesetting. You have to beat it into submission to make it do what you want, but you can do it.
When creating headers in Word for your author’s name and book title/chapter title on each page, you need to use your Word Sections wisely.
Create a new section and check off the boxes as such:
So, that’s really it.
Templates can result in a few obstacles that you can easily sidestep if you know what you’re looking for.
Templates are great tools for saving time and providing the consistency that readers expect in their formatting, but it’s still up to you to be sure your book looks and feels the way you want.
If you want to get extra nerdy, which I always recommend, here are some additional articles to get you typesetting like a pro.
If you haven’t grabbed it yet, be sure to grab my FREE video training on designing a beautiful book, inside and out where I go over interior formatting in more detail. –>
If you’re looking to hire a fresh pair of eyes (mine) to review your manuscript before you hit PUBLISH, and aren’t afraid of keep-it-real feedback, then send me an email. I’m happy to help you avoid making unnecessary mistakes.
I had the opportunity to chat with Britt Reints, author of An Amateur’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness, who was kind enough to share her insights on why she chose to self-publish and the interesting things that happen when you are marketing your book.
Why did you decide to self-publish your book?
Honestly, I didn’t even try to publish the traditional route because I was scared someone would tell me I couldn’t do it. I’m an instant gratification person, and I didn’t want to wait for a long time only to be told, “No.”
What aspects did you end up doing yourself and what did you hire out?
I hired a cover designer and a few editors. I also hired a short-term publicist who blasted out my press release to every outlet and got me on a few radio shows. I did my website all by myself and the interior formatting of my book and e-book. I used Scrivener for the writing and organization of my book.
Do you remember how much it cost to produce your book?
I can’t remember exactly, but I’d say somewhere around $1800. The cover designer charged around $500, editors $800, and the publicist was around $500.
You’ve been writing for about 12 years. How helpful was your blog in informing your book?
Well, I traveled for a year, but I didn’t write about that trip. I wrote the book that I didn’t see in the self-help genre (I cringe at the term).
I wanted to write something that discussed the topic of happiness in a way that reached more people. I wanted it to be accessible.
I saw the same themes coming up over and over again on the blog, so I knew they were universal, and I wanted people to know how to do it.
Do you consider yourself a happiness guru of sorts?
After I wrote my book and did a Ted Talk, I haven’t written. It kind of killed my writing because after writing my book, marketing my book, I got annoyed with my topic.
Being associated with my book’s topic ended up being limiting in a way. I was interested in happiness because of a personal experience I had, but I’m kind of over that and want to explore other things.
What was the biggest marketing event that went the furthest?
I definitely sold the most number of books when I was speaking at corporate events and conferences and had my book for sale in the back of the room. I could sell a lot in bulk—20-30 books at one event, so that’s where I saw the most traction.
What advice would you give others?
Hone your craft and be a good writer (and all that jazz) but know that 90% of your work is going to be in marketing your book. If you’re not good at marketing, then invest your money in someone who is.
Do you think it’s worthwhile to self-publish a book?
Writing a book is a stepping stone. When you’re done, you have a huge sense of accomplishment, and it solidifies your platform. Similar to getting your college degree, it shows that you can do a good job and finish something. You can flesh out an idea into a finished book. It’s a major portfolio builder.
What’s next for you?
I would publish again, but now that everyone is writing on the internet, I feel less inclined to put my opinion out there until I know how my opinion is different from everyone else’s. I’m still active on social media, but Twitter is so noisy. I prefer Facebook for tracking conversations.
In this interview, I sat down and chatted with Kiran Prasad, author ofA Mindful Move: Feel at home again, to pick her brain on what she loved and would recommend to anyone thinking about self-publishing.
Why did you decide to self-publish your book?
I tried to go the traditional publishing route and got nowhere with it. I spent a lot of time researching how to do it and sent off book proposals only to receive one rejection after another. I was lucky to get any response at all. Felt a bit like applying for jobs in a tough economy!
It seems that these days it is not enough to write a good book, you need a social media following of thousands before you can get noticed by traditional publishers.
Publishing is essentially a business and they need to be sure your book will sell well.
In the end, I was glad I self-published because I got to have autonomy over the entire process.
What aspects of the publishing process did you do yourself and what did you hire out?
Being an English Literature major and teacher, I value quality writing, therefore, I paid for professional editing. I also paid for a cover design because I know how important a polished look is to selling a book.
I set up my own website and social media following on my own after attending a writing workshop, reading books, and watching video tutorials.
I found it tough to justify spending much money upfront on my book not knowing if I would get a return on my investment.
Since we’re talking about investment, how much did your book cost to produce?
Most of my cost was for professional editing. But the total cost for editing, proofreading and cover design was around $3,000 dollars.
We all know that royalties won’t pay the bills but what types of things have happened after you published your book that surprised you?
At a webinar that I attended, we were advised to think of our book as a glorified business card. Really, I haven’t done much marketing of the book since it’s publication but I’ve still had a lot of people, like you, contacting me about it.
I’ve been on a few podcasts, blog interviews, and a New York Times journalist contacted me to write a column about mindfulness and moving. I’ve also been contacted by a women of color empowerment workgroup to give a 60-minute workshop and potentially give a talk at a university too.
None of those things would’ve happened if I hadn’t published my book.
What surprised you about the self-publishing process?
I was surprised how long the cover design ended up taking me and how the cost of professional editing could be variable as I went through the different stages of editing.
A pleasant surprise was how quickly my book went live on Amazon Kindle! It was the most incredible feeling to see my book up there for the world to purchase!
What advice would you give someone thinking about self-publishing?
Research the process before jumping in so you know what you’re getting into. It can become overwhelming to learn and do at the same time.
Build a following before you publish so that you’re not tackling the marketing aspect at the end.
Research who the leaders are in your subject area and reach out to them for connections. I sent a free copy of my book to Naomi Hattaway, the community leader of I am a Triangle, and she’s been a great help.
I also recommend joining the Alliance of Independent Authors. You can join before you are self-published and put the member badge on your website that lets your readers know that you’re a professional.
I suggest following Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn. She has a ton of great advice, podcasts, tutorials, and e-books that really helped me while I was researching everything.
You need to set a deadline and hold yourself to it. Make it public if you need to. I posted to my Facebook page that I would release my book on my birthday and I hadn’t even started the process.
Without a deadline and someone holding you accountable, it’s easy to just keep on writing and writing.
What’s next for you, Kiran?
I’m going to keep moving forward and publicly announce that my next book will be released on my birthday in 2019. I have so much to say about my plant-based diet and how it has truly changed my life but more on that to come soon!
I really want the books I write to make a difference in people’s lives.