I recently wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign for my first kids’ book, and wanted to share a run down of the whole experience for anyone else interested in self-publishing this way.
PART 1: Make a book
Easy, right? Well, there was a little more to this part than just writing a story. Before I got too deep into the creation process, I did some research on picture book formats and styles to get an idea of where my story would fit in the market. This isn’t to say that your book has to be just like the others in its category (mine certainly isn’t, at 52 pages long), but it’s still good to understand your market, and to be able to make and educated decisions about the format. Based on what I learned, I decided to go with 8.5” x 8.5” for the size, and then designed the pages layouts from there.
I also want to mention how important it is to accommodate for revisions at all stages of writing the story. Show the book to friends and family (and an editor, if you have one) as soon as you have basic sketches done for the book. I made a lot of changes based on feedback from early readers, and continued to tweak the story and pacing throughout the creation process as I showed it to more and more people. It would suck to wait to show anyone your story until it was fully finished, only to find out that some fundamental element doesn’t make sense to any of your readers. Even in the stick figure stage, show that shit to anyone willing to look.
PART 2: Funding that b
I already wrote a blog post about how I ran my Kickstarter, which was how I chose to cover the fixed overhead costs of publishing a book. Having a successful Kickstarter under your belt can also be good promotion and a nice resume booster, but you can self-publish on the cheap of you don’t want to deal with the hassle of running a funding campaign. Many POD services, including Amazon’s KDP, have no upfront costs to publishing.
Here are the costs that factored into my publication choices (which I based my Kickstarter tiers on):
Ingramspark fees: $49
Ingram printing/shipping to me: $737
Packing materials: $85
Shipping from me to backers: $75
Without Kickstarter, your only costs would be for an ISBN (which is optional, but recommended if you want your book to be easily accessible to booksellers and individuals) and Ingramspark’s publishing fee. I chose Ingramspark because they had far and away the lowest printing costs for a hardcover picture book, and because they have the best distribution options if you want to make your book available to public markets.
PART 3: The nitty-gritty (aka ISBN and IngramSpark hell)
Okay, this was the worst part of the experience for me, but only because I wasn’t expecting it to be so difficult. Basically, ISBNs are much more complicated than just connecting your book to a number. When you give your book an ISBN, you also provide a bunch of information for libraries or book stores to catalog your book, including a summary of the story, recommended reading ages, themes, categories, and more. Be ready to sit down and have a good think about all this stuff when you register your ISBN, if you haven’t figured it out ahead of time.
As for IngramSpark, they expect a similar amount of information about the book at the time of upload, so if you do both of these at the same time, there is a fair bit of overlap. They also don’t give you a preview of your book immediately upon upload- instead, you have to wait several days for a digital proof to be created for you to approve. (Note that when it comes to interior pages’ content, your first page will always be on the right, so include a blank page at the beginning of your PDF upload if you want your content to start on the left.) They also expect you to have some understanding of bleeds, and don’t do a great job of explaining this if you haven’t encountered these concepts before. Here’s a short article explaining it. Once the book was all uploaded and approved, it was printed and arrived quickly, which I was grateful for because I definitely cut the timing close with the printing/shipping.
PART 4: Bringing it to the people
The last thing I had to do was ship everything out! I made sure that all of my non-book rewards could slip inside the book itself, so I was able to package everything in the same shipping materials. I used the mailer boxes from cheapassshippingsupplies.com and bought a big roll of bubble wrap for some extra padding in the boxes. I also used Media Mail, which is the cheapest way to mail books with USPS (but also very slow, so make sure you have some wiggle room in your delivery time if you use it!)
Now that all my Kickstarter rewards have been delivered, I've been setting up an author account on Amazon to make my book available for purchase there. Once the author account is set up, you can allow for pre-sales, and Ingram takes care of the whole print-on-demand process when someone orders your book. With Ingram, it will also be available to book stores if someone goes in and asks for a copy.
And that's it! Overall it took me about 4 months to create the book and run the Kickstarter in my free time, and it was a really rewarding experience. If you've always wanted to make a children's book but didn't know how to make it happen, this is one way to get it done.