Friday, June 27, 2014

The Ugly Truth: What You Need to Know About Children's Books

This article is meant to be a wake up call for the many aspiring children's book authors out there who need to know what they're getting into. The first thing you need to know is that it's the most competitive, expensive, and least accessible part of the publishing industry.Most children's books cost more to make than the author will ever get back. Does that mean you shouldn’t bother? That depends entirely on you—how much you want it, how much you're willing to determined you are. If writing children's books is your dream, then it is absolutely worth it! Here's what you need to know.

Traditional vs. Self-Publishing Children’s Books

In the cutthroat world that is children’s literature, the harsh reality is that, unless they are self-published, most children’s books will never be printed. That’s one of the biggest reasons many authors go indie. Independent publishing has a lot going for it. You have more freedom than being under the thumb of a publisher, profit margins are higher, and you are your own boss. However, you also have to pay for the costs of your book on your own upfront, whereas a publisher will take those costs out of your royalty check after your books start selling. 


Children’s books are expensive! To many of us, it seems like these books should cost less, after all, they don’t take as long to write, editing costs less, etc. The biggest cost is getting your book illustrated. On average, a decent professional illustrator will charge $300 or more PER illustration. The average children’s book is anywhere from 24-62 pages. That’s $7,200-$18,600 just for illustrations, assuming you get a low price, and that there’s only one picture per page (many books use more than one.)  Now ad editing, formatting, printing, advertising and marketing costs…. Do you have sticker shock yet?

General Tips

  • NEVER do your own illustrations unless you are literally a professional illustrator! I’m not talking about how you took a few art classes. Books need high quality illustrations. The ebook market is flooded with cute kid books that are permanently free because their horrible illustrations make them unsellable. 

  • Unless you're self-publishing, or do your own professional quality illustrations, don't get your book formatted and illustrated! Publishers will want to see your naked manuscript. They want to know that you will be flexible and easy to work with. Having your book laid out and complete with illustrations can give the impression that you are set on one style and you'll be harder to work with. Perhaps most importantly, they don't want to see your book already illustrated because they don't want to worry about copyright issues and having to worry about working with two clients (you and the illustrator) instead of one. Also, most publishers will already have an illustrator on hand that they like to work with. 

  • Never sign a contract without knowing exactly what every part of it means! Get a lawyer or another professional to look it over. Need one good reason why? For starters, look up non-compete clauses, they can ruin your future career. 

  • When hiring an illustrator, be sure to sign a contract that gives both you and the illustrator the copyrights you need. You’ll want the rights to the images to use for your books, promos, website, etc. The illustrator may want use of them for a portfolio, etc. Do NOT give an illustrator the rights to use the images that you are commissioning in other books. If you do that, you may as well be paying for stock art (which is a heck of a lot cheaper!) Sign a contract before ANY work is done and paid for!

If you have more questions about children's book or illustrations, contact author and illustrator Deirdra Eden, she is an expert in this field and absolutely wonderful!

I'll be posting more about writing and publishing soon. In the mean time, sign up for my email updates so you'll be in the loop! 

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  1. I NEVER would have thought any of this! Thanks! I wrote a YA book several years ago for my daughter-I'm glad I didn't pursue publishing it.

    1. YA books are different than illustrated children's books. Young adult fiction typically doesn't have illustrations. For YA, invest in good editing, stunning cover work and a marketing plan.


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