Today, we’re excited to have Laura Backes with us. She’s the publisher of Children’s Book Insider, The Children’s Writing Monthly and co-founder of The Children’s Writing Knowledge Base, an online membership community for aspiring and published children’s authors. She is also co-creator of Write for Kids, a site about children’s books and the publishing industry, and Picture eBook Mastery, a course on how to use Amazon’s KDP Kids’ Book Creator software to create
illustrated ebooks for children.
Author Susanna Leonard Hill, author of Not Yet, Rose, and Can’t Sleep Without Sheep says,
I have been through all the modules of the course and wow! You guys did a terrific job of covering a lot of information clearly and thoroughly and efficiently! The videos are easy to follow, and all the extra resources, like the links to where to find illustrators and royalty-free images and photographs and cover designers, are very helpful.
A 27-year veteran of the publishing industry, Laura has worked in publicity, subsidiary rights, and as a literary agent and freelance editor. She’s the author of Best Books for Kids Who (Think They) Hate to Read (Random House), and technical editor of Writing Children’s Books for Dummies (Wiley). Her articles have been featured in The Writer and Writer’s Digest magazines, and the 2012 edition of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrators’ Market. Laura lives in Fort Collins, CO with her husband/business partner Jon, and their teenage son Matt.
Children’s Picture eBooks: The Newest Publishing Wave
There’s a revolution taking place in children’s book publishing, and it’s changing the way illustrated stories are being created and sold. Everything we’ve always believed about picture books—that they’re incredibly expensive to produce, that you can’t write or illustrate a picture book without the backing of a large publisher, that you won’t find an audience unless you have a huge marketing budget—has been shattered. And even more important, the people who traditionally had the least amount of decision-making power in the process—the authors and illustrators themselves—now have complete control.
So what happened?
Back in September 2014, Amazon announced the release of its KDP Kids’ Book Creator, free software that allows authors and illustrators to build picture ebooks with color illustrations, using the landscape format to mimic print picture books. The ebooks are automatically formatted as MOBI files which can be uploaded to Amazon with a few clicks. And then a couple of weeks later Amazon released the Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition, a tablet designed just for kids. What this tells us is that the world’s largest book sales platform is committed to offering illustrated ebooks for kids, and it’s looking for content. Lots of content.
The smart authors and illustrators jumped on this opportunity immediately. When K-Lytics.com, a site devoted to tracking ebook trends, released its November 2014 report, they found that children’s ebooks were the fastest-growing category of any type of book on Amazon, with their average sales rankings growing 46% in one month alone. And what’s really fascinating is that children’s ebooks also had the biggest price increase of any category. So not only are people buying these books, they’re willing to pay more for them than in the past.
So are you willing to ride this wave?
If you’re like most authors and illustrators I know, when I asked that question you responded with “Yes, but…” So let’s take a look at some of the objections that I’m sure you’re wrestling with right now.
Yes, but isn’t self-publishing looked down upon in the publishing industry?
It used to be. Back when I started in the business in 1986, self-publishing was a last resort for people who couldn’t write well enough to get picked up by a publisher, or who didn’t have the persistence to learn their craft or the fortitude to weather scores of rejection letters. The books looked “self-published” and were shunned by reviewers and most distributors. But now, that’s changed. Not only can self-published books mimic traditionally published books in design and content, but self-publishing is a perfectly acceptable entree into the field. In fact, many authors have built their entire careers from self-published works. Others become “hybrid” authors, choosing to self-publish some books, and submit others to publishers. And the industry trade journals often highlight authors who got big publishing contracts after self-publishing and gaining an audience for their work.
Yes, but doesn’t this mean a lot of bad ebooks will get published?
Yes. Yes, it does. There’s no way around it. Every time the publishing process becomes more democratized, some writers and illustrators will see it as a shortcut to putting in the hard work needed to create a quality book. But since you’re not one of those authors or illustrators, repeat after me: “What other people do is not my concern.” All you can control is your own work. Now that the gate-keepers are gone (those hard-working editors who toil to make sure only truly great work gets a publishing contract), you must build your own quality control network. Study writing. Read a lot of published picture books, especially those with good reviews. Join a writer’s group and get feedback. Hire a freelance editor. Take a design class if you’re laying out the book yourself. Good books get talked about; bad books get forgotten. Make sure your book is one people will recommend to their friends.
Yes, but won’t I have to spend a lot of time marketing?
Sorry, but I have to provide a reality check here. No matter how you get published these days, you will be expected to do the lion’s share of the marketing. Once you’re famous, once your books have hit the best-seller lists, then a publisher will spend money on full-page ads and book tours. But all beginning authors are in essentially the same place. One of the first questions an agent or editor will ask you is, “What’s your platform?” You’ll need a website, a Facebook page, a Twitter account. You’ll need to be building a following even before you publish your book, regardless of the route you take. If the idea of marketing makes you cringe, then consider self-publishing as a hobby, creating books for family and friends. But if you want writing to be a money-making endeavor, you’ve got to sell.
But here’s the good news. Marketing used to be a huge financial investment. Now, the Internet has leveled the playing field. The blogs that get read and the Twitter feeds that get followed are those by the most creative authors. So have fun with this. You have the same access to social media and (via Amazon) the same distribution as the authors on the New York Times Best Sellers list. You’re a writer, so pen posts that people want to read, and your following will grow.
Does this mean traditional publishing is dead?
Not by a long shot. But now you can pick and choose how you want publish each book. Self-publishing a picture ebook with KDP Kid’s Book Creator is surprisingly easy from a technical standpoint, very cheap compared to print publishing (especially if you’re also an illustrator), and your success depends entirely on how much effort you want to give to the creation and marketing of your book.
What do you think about self-publishing picture books? Are you eager to give it a try? If not, what’s holding you back?