Since we offer illustration services, we deal with children’s picture book authors most often. This easy to understand guide is going to explain to you exactly how to publish a picture book so you can start getting book sales and readers.
In publishing a picture book, keep this in mind:
- The importance of picture books
- Have quality picture book illustrations
- Ensure your book has been edited
- Test the market or age group you want to target
- Self-publishing vs Amazon self-publishing
- Children’s book publishers
- Costs involved with publishing a picture book
Let’s get right into answering your big question…
How do I publish a children’s picture book?
To really answer this question we need to first make sure the foundation of creating a really excellent picture book is already there.
Keep reading! It’ll all come together by the end.
While this article will focus on picture books, I’ve written a more comprehensive article on how to write a children’s book. You can see that here: I want to write a children’s book. Where do I start?
That article covers things like needing to practice as a first step to becoming a good writer.
Then there are a few things you need to do before you start writing, like knowing what age group your book will be for, getting ideas and developing your characters. You should also study your genre and see how long your book should be.
Then you can write your manuscript!
After this comes feedback, editing and (if needed) illustrations.
That’s a brief overview of how you get started.
Picture books are a child’s first introduction to books and reading. I won’t launch into an article here about the importance of reading, but suffice it to say I believe everyone should read. A lot.
Reading a lot of picture books to a child will grow a love of books in them and set them up for a life of literacy and learning, exploration, adventure, magic and fun via books.
Picture books can create and strengthen the bond between a child and an adult. Whether it’s an endearing book, making you both feel a moment of love; or plain fun, interesting or exciting, reading picture books with a child will give you many delightful moments to share.
Picture books are also the perfect way to introduce a child to new topics and open up the floor for a conversation. You can get to find out a child’s ideas about things you probably would’ve never discussed otherwise.
Picture books can help a child in so many ways:
- They can learn and discover things they may not see or experience first-hand.
- The right story can help a child learn to process certain emotions and experiences in a safe space.
- It can develop an appreciation for art in a child.
- They learn to match up visuals and words, ideas and concepts.
- They build vocabulary.
- And a lot more.
There are many famous books with wonderful lessons, like “The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched, they are felt with the heart,” from The Little Prince.
This article shares more ideas on the subject.
Now that you know why picture books are important, it’s also easy to understand why it’s important to create a high-quality picture book, including the illustrations.
By definition, a picture book is not complete without illustrations. They are more than decorative, they tell part of the story and fill in gaps in the text. Without them, we wouldn’t fully understand the story.
That means you’re not just looking for pretty drawings, you need drawings that tell a story.
Perhaps the definition and origin of the word illustrate explains it best, as in ‘to explain or make (something) clear by using examples, charts, pictures, etc.’ from Latin, ‘illuminate, shed light on’.
So, yes, look for an illustrator whose illustrations are attractive to you, but also keep in mind you want someone who can help you tell your story.
At GetYourBookIllustrations it’s our greatest joy to help picture book authors bring their stories to life with illustrations they, and their audience, love.
It saddens me when I read a wonderful story, sometimes with gorgeous illustrations, and it all falls apart at the seams because of poor (or no) editing. Sometimes it’s grammar or typos. Sometimes it’s a mistake like a character’s name changing mid-story (I’ve seen this more than once!). Often it’s just that the prose, or rhyme, could have flowed much better.
A good editor would fix all of these.
You’ve put the time and love into your book. Writing and illustrating it is a big job (and expense), not to mention all the work to publish it and promote it (which is a long-term commitment). Don’t waste all this to save a couple of hundred dollars on editing.
One benefit of publishing a picture book is the low word count. You can get editing for less than $250. Trust me, it’s well worth it!
Two great picture book editors:
You need to text your book to see how it’s received. This exercise will help you more than you can imagine in improving your book.
Either read your book aloud to your target audience, or give free copies of your book to teachers or parents. Check for things the adults and kids enjoy and don’t enjoy. Maybe some parts are hard to read aloud or to understand. Is the topic and writing style engaging? Does it keep the kids’ attention? If not, where does it lose them?
Do they have questions or confusions? Does it start and end fast enough? Is it too long? Is the ending satisfying?
You can never really answer these questions without testing your book. It’s free and easy to do, so don’t neglect it.
The next step in how to publish a picture book is the actual publishing! You can self-publish, or aim to work with a traditional publisher.
Since Amazon sells more books than any other platform in the world, we should consider Amazon self-publishing vs self-publishing on various platforms (known as going wide) as two options you can go for.
There are pros and cons to both.
If you go with Amazon exclusively, you can join KDP Select. (This means you may not publish or distribute on any other platform.) And note, you need to sign up for KDP Select to get any benefit from going exclusively with Amazon.
With KDP Select you can:
- Earn higher royalties (up to 70%)
- Choose between two great promotional tools:
- Kindle Countdown Deals, which is time-bound promotional discounting
- Free Book Promotion where you can reach readers worldwide for a limited time by giving them your book for free
- Reach new readers by making your book available in Kindle Unlimited in numerous countries
‘Going wide’ means distributing your book on various platforms, like Google Books, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, ScribD and Apple Books. It can include Amazon. You distribute your books directly or with the help of a professional distributor.
This can include eBooks and physical copies of your book. With the physical copies, it can be print on demand or using offset printing in bulk and doing your own distribution. You can read more on that in my previous article, How to publish a children’s book yourself.
If Amazon is so big, why go wide?
Firstly, while Amazon is very dominant in the US market, it’s far less so in other countries. For instance, Kobo is the largest ebook (and audiobook) company in Canada. So only being on Amazon could hurt your international sales. You simply won’t reach many of your readers.
Another reason: Things change. I’ve read more than one story of an author who was earning well on KDP Select, then Amazon changed something, and … crash! It comes down to not having all your eggs in the one proverbial basket.
There are more reasons, but I’d say these are the main two.
My recommendation: If you’re just starting out, KDP could be a good way to get exposure, while keeping things simple (no uploading your book on many sites, figuring out everything that goes along with that, etc.).
But as soon as you have two or a few books, I’d recommend going wide. In the long run this should create a higher, more secure income for you.
You may decide self-publishing is not for you. That leaves the traditional publishing route.
You need to work through an agent to get in with publishers. They don’t accept manuscripts directly from authors.
The good news is there are many other options. Here is a list of thirty publishers who accept submissions straight from authors.
Make sure to read and follow their submission guidelines.
There are quite a few costs involved with publishing a picture book, some of them obvious and some not. Working with a publisher, your costs can be little to nothing.
If you’re self-publishing, you will need to carry all the costs. Crowdfunding is also an option that some indie authors use.
Illustrations and promotion and marketing can often be the biggest expenses. You can learn more about illustration costs here.
Due to the costs involved, I highly recommend learning as much as you can about writing, publishing and marketing your book. That way you can create a high-quality book, publish and distribute in the best way and market effectively, which enables you to recuperate your costs and make a profit from your work.
There are thousands of books, articles, podcasts, videos, conferences and online groups where you can learn.
I’ve listed out specific costs in another article, if you’d like to get a better idea.
The best way to get inspiration is to go to your local library and look at lots and lots of picture books for your age group. Try to stick to books published in the last ten to fifteen years.
There are of course way too many writing and drawing styles, characters and topics for me to even share a drop in the ocean here. Here are just a few popular picture books, divided into the two main age groups.
While this article is only a start, I hope it gives you a much better idea of the importance of picture books, why you need to invest in great illustrations and editing, and test your book with your audience.
If you do that, you’ll be on your way to a fantastic picture book.
Whether you choose to self-publish or traditionally publish, I wish you the best of luck!
I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
- Is there anything I didn’t cover in this article you’d like to learn more about?
- What kind of picture book(s) would you like to publish?