In February I published my fourth children’s book, The Dirt Girl, about little girl named Zafera, who is laughed at and teased at school. Zafera doesn’t understand, so she just smiles, but the story tells how she goes from being an outcast to the most popular girl in school -- in the best possible ways.
Right now, I’m finishing my fifth book, The Hand-Me Down, which will be released at Christmas. This story is about a little jacket that is handed up and down demographics, and ends with a little girl as part of a major relief effort whose family suffered the devastation of a multi-cyclone disaster. It’s a story of how generous Americans are, and how our culture is one of donating and sharing. I am very excited about this title; recycling, especially clothing, has always been a big part of my lifestyle.
I have always loved words, and write constantly about spirituality, self-discovery, and self-help. I dreamed of being a published author but I never imagined I would be transitioning into writing full time, or continually able to come up with new ideas. I think once you open that channel it just starts to flow.
Writing a book is something that many people think about, yet despite always writing, it never crossed my mind I would ever pen children’s books. But, after reading thousands of children’s stories to my three children over a decade, I was disappointed to find there were few stories about real life experiences or challenges that children face. There are a limitless number of animal stories and pretend characters. I wanted my stories to emulate real life and real people.
My Jesse True series, about a little boy who changes color based on how he feels, was my first attempt at writing a children’s book and fiction. This was a lot of trial and error. My first illustrator was also new to the industry and we learned together.
If writing a children’s book (or any book!) has been on your bucket list -- take the plunge. While writing a book itself may seem overwhelming, the process of publishing a book today is much easier today than ever before. Anywhere from 600,000 to 1,000,000 books are published every year in our country alone (those statistics vary greatly), and almost half of those are self-published titles. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Writing and Editing
The first step is actually making the commitment to write and finish a book. There are some great Master Classes (masterclass.com) by famous authors like Judy Blume and James Patterson to help with the writing process. Outlining, taking notes, research, and editing are all important. Storyboard your idea. I personally think in flowcharts and pictures, but some prefer outline format, white boarding, or plain sticky notes. Do whatever works best for you; there is no right or wrong way!
There are a lot of free resources and limitless article of advice online. There are writing workshops and conferences throughout the year. Join writing groups on social media sites, at your local library, or in your community. Networking with other writers is super helpful, and often these are your first editors who provide invaluable feedback.
If your goal is to write a children’s book/picture book and you need an illustrator, social media is a great place to start and network. I found two of my illustrators posting on my own personal Facebook and LinkedIn feeds, and one through a professional website of illustrators for hire at artstation.com. Picture books tend to be a little more complicated because they require formatting and layout design too. For this you need to hire a person who specializes in it (illustrators generally just draw pictures).
Once your draft is complete, my best advice is to find a good editor. Honest feedback is critical. There are many different types -- content editors, proofreaders, and those who just look at punctuation and grammar. Finding a good editor is not always easy. I also networked on social media, and asked for referrals. The best editor I found was my daughter’s sixth grade English teacher. Out of three professional editors, he was the only one who actually provided wording and content recommendations that brought my newest children’s book, The Dirt Girl, to the next level.
Agencies and Publishing
I figured out publishing through trial and error, and again there is no right or wrong answer. The two routes are self-publishing and traditional publishing.
Self-publishing is quick and easy (compared to the grueling hours of finding an agent, and then finding a publisher). There are many print-on-demand companies that offer full service self-publishing (KDP Publishing, Amazon, Ingramspark, Lulu, are some), from formatting books to print to cover design, even ghostwriting or editing. These companies allow you to print your books cheap and on-demand (meaning you do not need to order, store, ship, or process orders for 1,000 copies). Customers can order right from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most major online retailers (if you publish through any of these self-publishing companies), and they ship seamlessly on your behalf. The downside is, there is no marketing of your title and royalties are nominal. The cost of print-on-demand is much higher than ordering in bulk. For a full color picture book, the cost to print-on-demand is about $10+ per book. The retailer takes between 20-40 percent, so that leaves little left for the author.
Traditional publishing used to be the only way books were distributed and sold, and authors were at the mercy of these channels. While self-publishing has dramatically changed the market, this, unfortunately still remains the case. Without marketing and distribution channels, it is very difficult for someone to find your book among millions of other titles. Publishers will bring your book to stores, enter it into contests, showcase it on tours, and advertise it for you. Unless you have a huge social media following, it is unlikely you will sell many books without a publisher. Having an audience is everything. The downside, is again, royalties are nominal. However, some will give you an up-front signing bonus and the chance of selling more books is much greater because someone is marketing it for you. Most publishers take 40 percent or more, after printing and shipping costs, or returns.
Generally, the first step in finding a publisher is finding an agent, as few publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts. This can be a challenging process. Just like finding a best friend, finding an agent takes time and patience. Agents are looking for specific things -- not all agents for example, want young adult titles or romance. Some only want science fiction, new age, or picture books. Each agency has a process for submission and most never provide feedback. Agents also take a percentage of every sale. Still, agents can be your best asset. Dr. Wayne Dyer was an international best-selling self-help author who sold millions of copies worldwide. His agent believed in him and actually helped him edit and sometimes rewrite his books. Dr. Dyer said his agent was one of the most important people in his success. A great resource is writersdigest.com, which publishes a list of agents every year.
On average, each book published sells less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime, self-published or published. Best-selling titles are rare, but do happen. Regardless, if the passion burns inside of you, and you have an idea for a story, do it!
I was offered a publishing contract with a large publisher and a small press publisher, but I turned their offers down. Each wanted to change my vision, change my stories, and even change my characters. One sent me an illustration of my “Dirt Girl” that looked like a Barbie Doll. I said, “that is completely the opposite of what the story is about,” and he came back with, “that will sell.”
I could not compromise my vision on either project. The works themselves are more important to me than the money. For me, the joy is in seeing it come to life.
I did a ton of research and learned how to become a publisher at the same time as learning how to publish. I entered my titles in contests myself. I act as my own agent. It is a lot of work and may not be for everyone, but writing is my passion.
My best advice is simple -- just get started. In my opinion, if you write for you, the rest will fall into place.
Mom of three Jodi Dee has more than 30 years' experience in Early Childhood Education and business. She has a B.A. in Psychology and a Masters in Education from Clark University. A columnist, blogger and children's book author, she recently launched createahomeoflearning.com to promote education and early learning.