How To Write & Publish a Children’s Book: Part I

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In October of last year, I published Five Little Zombies and Fred, a not-so-much-for-children children’s book about the perils of surviving a zombie apocalypse. With the rapidly changing publishing industry, both traditional and self-publishing, and crowd-funding platforms, such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter, creating and publishing a book can be relatively simple.

But, where does one start?

The most obvious first step is coming up with an idea for the story. Most of the time, that is the easy part. Once you have your idea, the execution is where things tend to get tricky.

If you have an idea for a children’s book, whether you want to make it as a special gift for your child or make it available for distribution, here are some tips to get you rolling.

The idea for Five Little Zombies and Fred came to me in almost an instant. I had just finished interviewing The Zombie Tarot author Stacey Graham for my Geeky Pleasures Radio Show. Within one minute of finishing our conversation, I had written my first children’s book – in my mind, anyway. Not only did I have the text finished, but in my head I had a clear picture of how I wanted the book to look and feel. I also had a very clear idea about the target audience of this book: geek parents, their children ages 8 to adult (the older the child, the more they will appreciate the subtle humor), and children between the ages of 4 to 8, with parental discretion due to mild violence.

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Now, all I needed was an illustrator, a source of funds, a publishing platform, a way to reach my target audience and a distribution platform. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Even with my already established audience, I knew I had a lot of hard work ahead of me.

Remember, this is not a failsafe method to achieve success, but it will help you establish a solid foundation for launching your book.

1)      Write the story, including making notes regarding the desired look and feel of each page. The importance of the first part is self-evident, but the second part is essential to make working with your illustrator easier. For Five Little Zombies and Fred, some of these visual elements include geek Easter eggs in the background of every two-page spread; Fred wearing a red shirt for reasons that become obvious at the end of the book; a zombie wearing a shirt that is a nod to the “He’s dead, Jim” shirt from ThinkGeek; a squirrel that turns into a zombie; ridiculously adorable zombies, with ridiculously adorable splash pages illustrating how to best kill a zombie; and every aspect of the book being ridiculously adorable to help relay that I personally find zombie stories to be hilarious. I wanted to both spoof and play homage to a genre that once had a cult following, and now is mainstream; bringing it back into the geek world through subtle visual elements.

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2)      Decide on your target audience. Not only will this influence the text, but it will also influence the illustrations. The fact that my book has images of zombies getting shot in the head with a shotgun — even though these aren’t much more graphic that the classic Daffy Duck/Elmer FUdd encounters  — will limit my audience based on parental discretion. There are people who read the book with their 4-year-olds without qualms.  Others are waiting until their child is a little bit older, enjoying and keeping the book to themselves because it speaks directly to their inner-child. If I wanted to eliminate the need for parental discretion, then I would have had to approach the proper way to dispatch a zombie from a completely different angle — or entirely re-write the book. Worst case scenario: I would have had to come up with a different idea if it was really important to me to not limit my target audience.

3)      Do your market research. This part is extremely important. Search the online bookstores to find anything that is even remotely similar to your book. If the market is saturated, you may need to come up with a new idea or drastically revise your existing idea in order to make it standout. Market research also involves book pricing. You need to determine the average retail price for similar books, both book size and page count.

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4)      Decide on a publishing platform. Are you going to self-publish or shop your book to a traditional publisher? Each option has its pros and cons. If you are going the self-publishing route, you will have complete creative control over your story, including working with an illustrator of your choice. The downside is that marketing your book becomes more difficult. If you decide to go the traditional route, you have to learn about how to submit your book for consideration. Each publisher has its own guidelines. You may have to find a book agent. You will have to be willing to give up a certain amount of creative freedom, especially in the area of illustrations. They will assign an illustrator to you, and chances are you will have no say in how the finished product will look. You will also have to wait for a very long time for the book to be published. The typical cycle, once a publisher agrees to purchase your book, can take up to two years before it will hit the shelves. The upside to a traditional publisher is access to their vast marketing system and an advance on sales. If you do decide to go the traditional route, then you may need to seek out an agent, or you will, at the very least, be faced with the challenge of contacting and gaining the interest of a national publisher.

If you are interested in pursuing the self-publishing route, then stay tuned for part two.

Five Little Zombies and Fred is available on Amazon.

Here is a live preview of the book.

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