How to get your children's book published
So... can you actually make good money writing a kids' book?
Let’s start on a high: well, of course you can make good money – there are thousands of children’s book authors, worldwide, many of whom are making a very comfortable living. The trouble is, many also aren’t, and the “aren’t” pile is probably the largest! Let’s have an honest chat about how you ensure you make it into the right one of these two categories!
This article will cover the following 10 topics:
Is my children's book REALLY good enough to get published?
Does it need to be perfectly edited?
Who manages the illustrations?
How do I actually get it published?
How much will I earn $$$?
How many books can I expect to sell?
Should I submit to more than one publisher?
What if I get rejected?
What if readers leave bad reviews?
Final words of advice
PS. Would you like your children's book to be published by Ethicool? To give yourself the best chance possible, we highly recommend undertaking a manuscript assessment. More information on Ethicool's manuscript assessments is available here.
And so, let's begin...
1. Is my children's book REALLY good enough to get published?
Firstly – and to be blunt – if you have not published a children’s book before, you shouldn’t make this assessment on your own. That would be naïve. It’s not to say your book isn’t amazing, but you should get others to assess this too. You don’t need a world-class children’s author to “make the call” for you, but you should get a bunch of avid readers you know to give you their honest thoughts. If you have 10-odd people telling you they love your story, then you’re more than likely onto something. Conversely, if you can read between the lines (pun not intended) and ascertain that the majority of people aren’t really digging it, maybe it’s time to try a redraft?
Bear in mind, you might write (what is ultimately the same narrative) a good ten times over before you’re happy with it. And that’s the good thing about children’s books – they really don’t take that long to write. I recently finished an average length novel, which I’m working through the publishing process for… it took me over a decade to write and be 95% happy with. Don’t give up when you know you’re onto something.
It’s no secret, too, that first time authors have an especially hard time landing publishing deals. We’ve all heard the stories of now-famous writers getting repeatedly rejected by arrogant publishing houses (J.K. Rowling’s tale of rejection is surely the most well-known!).
How can I make my children’s story good enough to be published?
A handful of tips, though – try to ensure your children’s story ticks most of these boxes (this is the mental checklist I’ve used so far):
- It “feels” adventurous: children are wildly imaginative/creative so you need to ensure your story plays into this.
- You can easily imagine how to support your story with illustrations: illustrations can absolutely make or break your children’s book – if your story doesn’t feel like something that can easily be visualised, it might be too hard to engage little readers/listeners.
- It’s different/unique/special/funny or even characterful/meaningful/impactful: your story probably won’t be all of these things, but it should be 50% of them. And, much like determining whether it’s good enough overall, you shouldn’t make this assessment on your own. Ask other readers to tell you how it made them feel. Listen to their feedback and try to work it through your story where it’s logical to do so.
- It has an accessible main character (a protagonist): young children like to really put themselves in the shoes of your character/s. If you have too many characters swarming around the narrative (or one that’s too hard to “grasp”), it’s really easy to “lose” your little readers. Keep it simple. You can have a “unique” character, but typically not more than one actively driving the story.
- The language has a flow or rhythm: your book absolutely doesn’t have to rhyme, but it does need a level of fluidity to the language. We have tested this extensively: books with weaker sentence syntax and less harmonious language just don’t retain the attention of children like books that seamlessly flow. Yeah, there are exceptions, but not that many. This is REALLY hard to get right, and often the difference between a world-class children’s book, and one that’s just “pretty good”. I spent a long time perfecting the language in Remembering Mother Nature. I have been writing poetry for two decades, but never to suit anyone but an adult audience. I knew how to make words flow, but doing it in a more simple, accessible way is much harder.
- If you’re instilling a “message”, do it covertly: children’s books that educate and inform are everything – the whole Ethicool brand is built on them – but the STORY must always come first. Don’t lead with your message. You need to gently weave it into the story and also help the message gain traction and meaning through the illustrations. This, again, is not easy. You pretty much won’t nail it on the first pass and that’s completely ok. Just keep redrafting until you’re happy.
2. Does my children's book need to be edited perfectly?
Hmm, it needs to be pretty darn close. There are several grammatical standards that can be followed, which only serves to complicate things even further! I recommend following the grammatical practices of the Modern Language Association (MLA Style). I studied this thing cover to cover during sub-editing training at university… I reckon I remember 10% of it, at best – but that 10% is enough to satisfy worthy adherence to “good grammatical practices”.
If you submit a children’s story for publishing that is littered with grammatical errors, a trained eye will see them before they’ve even really started reading, and it might mean they park your story before giving it a fair chance.
This is another one of those things that takes time and patience. For kids’ books, I would discourage paying a professional editor (unless you’re convinced that you’re really bad at grammar), as these books are so short and have less room for mistakes. Adult novels are a WHOLE different story, but that’s for another blog, and another day…
3. Who manages the illustrations: me or the publisher?
This is a loaded question and also really hard to answer. If you publish via Ethicool, we like to do the whole lot… not because we want to take control, but because we’ve worked really hard to create a shortlist of world-class illustrative talent.
As you've no doubt seen, Ethicool are known for working with illustrators who create art (not just simple illustrations) and we know, as I'm sure you know, that this level of detail is critical to the success of your book.
If you're a talented writer and illustrator, you are welcome to submit to Ethicool, and many other publishers, with an illustrated book. If you do, though, ensure that you include an illustration-free manuscript in the submission as well as an illustrated one. This is because the illustrations can change the story and some publishers will want to make a “text-only” assessment of the calibre of your work.
4. How do I actually get my children’s book published?
Oh, gosh, maybe this should have been question one?
Rather than write paragraphs on this topic, it’s probably simpler to use another checklist. If you’re getting ready to submit, you should cover off the following things:
- Review my items against point 1 in this blog (!).
- Edit, check grammar – drink coffee – edit, check grammar… then repeat (again…).
- Lay out your submission page-by-page: this can help to visualise to others how you envisage the actual story will flow in print. I.e. don’t just send one page with a huge blob of text; instead, mimic the layout of the final book.
- Include a cover page/letter: it should say a little bit about you, but more about the purpose or intent behind the story. With this, you’re trying to demonstrate your thought process to the publisher. When they read the story, this should then cement everything. When writing a novel, you typically include a synopsis – you needn’t go this full-on for a kids’ book, obviously. If your publisher doesn’t care about “you” and this summary page, you’re talking to the wrong publisher.
- Submit to more than one place – don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
- Avoid using an agent until you’ve been knocked back a few times: why pay someone else (who’ll ultimately do very little in the process – sorry, agents, but you’re often from a bygone era) until you’re sure you need help?
- BE PATIENT: even small publishers may take a few months to respond. It’s ok to follow-up on your submission, but once is probably enough.
5. How much will I earn as a children's author?
Well, who wouldn’t want to know this, right? Fortunately, we've published a whole other blog on this ... you can read it here.
“Ok, hang on… if a book is like $20 RRP, how do I only make a fraction of that?” I hear you… And it’s because illustrating, printing, marketing and distribution are darn expensive and time-consuming. It’s also because most books pass through a couple of organisations (all of whom take their cut) before they’re in the hands of the final customer.
Just to give you an example, typically, a book distributor would expect to buy books from a publisher at discount of between 65-80%. This means that there isn't a high percentage left for the publisher. In fact, in the children's book publishing industry, it's actually common for children's book authors to make a higher percentage profit from their books than the publishers do!
How much you’ll earn obviously depends on how many books you sell! To give you an indication: a children’s book that gets some traction in market, such as Remembering Mother Nature can comfortably sell thousands of copies in a year. When a book is first launched – and assuming it’s a good one! – setting a target of 1000 or 2000 copies is a good starting point. Some books will do way more than this… and, sadly, some will do WAY fewer than this.
6. How many children's books should I expect to sell?
See point number five!
7. Should I send my children's book to more than one publisher?
Unless you’re really in love with a particular publisher – and if it’s Ethicool, you know, we understand! – submitting to two or three outlets is very much worthwhile.
Ultimately, once you’ve got your submission all sorted, it’s not hard to flick it around to more than one email address, is it?
It’s worth me asking, too: are you worried about your copyrights? You probably don’t really need to be… someone would have to be monumentally stupid to steal YOUR words and take them to print (and you’d inevitably find out anyway), but for peace of mind, I would ensure your name is on every page of your submission.
8. What if I get rejected?
So, you probably will get rejected. More than once. And, that’s actually good – well, sort of. If you can manage to get feedback as to why your book didn’t make the cut, you can use this to improve it for next time.
In our manuscript assessments, for example, we offer multiple, actionable insights into how to improve your stories.
Now to the hard part: if you’re rejected more than five times, YOU need to consciously decide whether you want to keep pushing. It can become pretty draining emotionally. The worst thing is (as the J.K. Rowling example shows us), rejection doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad writer.
9. What if readers leave bad reviews?
Come on now… you GOT published – you can’t have it all! You WILL get some bad reviews. Ironically, some bad reviews aren’t a bad thing, either. If you can learn to be light-hearted, you might even get a laugh out of them. You can probably also use the feedback to further refine your next masterpiece!
Every single author gets some negative feedback. With children’s books, though, it is less likely, so that’s yet another positive to not writing a longer adult novel.
10. Final words of advice
Getting your children's book (traditionally) published is a tough gig ... research shows that less than 1% of all aspiring authors secure a traditional publishing deal. But as someone who has successfully published a number of children's books, I can unequivocally say don't give up on your dream.
Seeing the delight on thousands of little faces as hang on every word of some of the books I've authored is worth all of the effort (and rejection!) in the world.
If you're a first-time author, though, I'd highly recommend a children's book manuscript assessment so as to maximise your chances.