Just because children’s books seem shorter and “simpler” doesn’t mean the publishing process is shorter and simpler, too. If you want to self-publish a children’s book, there are certain facts you need to know before you begin, so you can walk into the process with your eyes wide open.

Keep in mind that what follows isn’t a definitive guide to self-publishing a children’s book—there are as many types of children’s books as there are self-help books. This list gives you what to consider when creating a typical children’s book. (e.g., illustrations, full-color printing, coated paper, and type of cover.)

1. You Need a Qualified Illustrator.

The success of a children’s book depends on its illustrations. If the illustrations aren’t engaging, it won’t interest children. And it’s not about finding someone who’s “good at drawing” either. A qualified illustrator understands the industry and knows how to bring your story to life in a way that’ll translate to a printed book.

A quick rundown of how to work with a qualified illustrator: look at potential illustrators’ portfolios, choose someone whose work speaks to you, have a written contract in place, and make sure it’s work for hire, which means you—the author—own the work.

2. It Takes Time. A Lot of Time.

Illustrations—good illustrations—take time. If your illustrator has a waiting period, it could be weeks or months before they’re able to get to your project. And that’s just the beginning. You also have things like editing (yes, even children’s books should be edited!), the layout of the interior and cover, and—finally—printing (or ebook creation) that have to happen before your book can be made available for purchase.

That means if you want your book out by Christmas, you have to start the Christmas before. And if you want the opportunity to have your book in bookstores by Christmas, you’ll probably have to start even sooner, since most bookstores make their holiday selections in June or July.

3. Your Purpose for Publishing Influences Your Printing and Distribution Choices.

Distribution is how the book gets from the printer to the reader, whether that’s through bookstores, online retailers, or a direct-to-reader sales page. Your purpose for self-publishing should influence your choice of printing and distribution. Do you want to see your book in bookstores, or do you want to create something to give your family? Do you have a readership established that you can direct to your website, or do you need the distribution options of larger retailers?

Your answers to these questions can make a huge impact on your book’s profitability. For instance, you might make a couple dollars from a sale through a bookstore if you print in large quantities (500 or more). But at the same time, you might make a similar amount through a direct-to-reader sales page, without having to print so many books upfront.

Here’s an example of how print costs can impact your printing choice.

Printing Costs for an 8 x 10 Hardcover, 36-Page, Color Interior Children’s Book*
Number of Copies Printed Cost per Book
Under 500 $16.46
500 to 999 $5.24
1,000 or more $3.62

*Note: These numbers are for example only.

Keep in mind that to get a cheaper cost-per-book price, you’d have to print at least 500 books. If you only want a few copies to give to your family, is it worth the extra books (and costs)? But if you want to see your book in bookstores, having a high per-book cost (the result of printing fewer than 500 copies) will bump the retail price so high that people might be unwilling to buy it.

If you don’t want to print 500 or more copies, but you want to sell beyond your family, consider selling through a direct-to-reader sales page. With the increase of tablet use by kids and adults alike, you can also consider going the ebook only route.

4. Saving Money Now May Cost You Money Later.

Children’s books don’t come cheap. Between quality illustrations, color printing (which is more expensive than black and white), and the number of books you may have to print ahead of time, publishing a children’s book could easily cost you $10,000.

While you might be tempted to find ways to save money now, remember that your decision may cost you money later. Skimp on paying a capable illustrator? Your illustrations may not be unique enough to sell copies of your book. Save money on printing by going print-on-demand? Not only will the quality not be as good, but you might not sell books because they’re priced so high to cover the color printing.

What seems like a huge upfront investment may actually help your chances of success later on, so although you may want to cut costs, make sure you’re not cutting corners.

5. You Don’t Market to Children.

Children’s books may be the only kind of book where you don’t actually market to your target audience. Because children aren’t the ones buying books, you market to the people who buy books for children: the adults in their lives.

That means your job is doubly difficult: not only do have you to write and publish a book that children will love, but you have to write and publish a children’s book that their parents and relatives want to buy. Your book has to appeal to both audiences, which means it’s especially important to publish a book that sets itself apart from other children’s books.

How Mill City Press Helps

Our Publishing Consultants have helped numerous children’s book authors make educated decisions about what works best for them. If you want to publish a children’s book and would like guidance, contact one of our Publishing Consultants.