8 Things Aspiring Authors Need to Know

So you want to write a children’s book, but you have so many questions, like how to start, do I need an agent, how do I get an agent, what about the illustrations? Then there’s I keep hearing about self publishing, it just seems so expensive. I know I’ve been there. Ultimately I decided to self publish, that may not be the route for you and that’s okay.

I’ll go through the most common questions I see posted in author forums.

1. How do I start?

Whether you choose traditional publishing or self publishing the answer is ALWAYS the same. Write. I know it sounds way to simplistic, that can’t really be the first step. Well you’d be surprised at the number of potential authors that have all sorts of ideas in their heads, but haven’t written a single one down.

Its okay if you don’t know anything about writing yet, if you don’t get the ideas on paper they will flitter away and you’ll lose them. So write, type, whatever, your first step is to get the ideas down.

2. Work on the craft of writing.

You may be an amazing story teller, that doesn’t mean you will be an amazing writer from the get go. In fact, even if you are, finding a critique partner, or taking classes will only make you more confident. Master Artists of all types go through a period of honing their craft. Authors are no different. Take time to build your skills, this will make the editing process much easier for everyone.

3. Study your genre.

Are you writing picture books, or middle grade books? Are you aiming for the preschool crown, the barely mobile and not yet articulate? How about the beginning reader, or those firmly in the chapter book section. This is a starting point. Dig deeper, are you writing fantasy, mystery, rhyme? Go out there and see what is on the bookstore shelves. You want to see what is popular, what is not. Then, if your self publishing your looking for what they are selling for.

Do not forget to check out how long those books are. Yes the number of pages, also the size of the print and the number of words. The average picture book, for example is 30 pages and 500 words long. The goal for this type of book is as close to 500 as you can get but the range is typically 500-1000.

4. Do I need an agent.

This is where the decision to self publish or not finally rears its head. If you want a tradition publisher then yes you need an agent. Can you get published without one? Occasionally, but an agent will make sure you get the best deal, and gives you more options. They are also a cheer leader for you, its someone in the industry that believes your book has potential. An agent shouldn’t cost you anything, they get paid when you get paid.

5. Traditional or Self-Publish.

You will have to decide for yourself. Just be aware that a traditional publisher does not charge you to publish, they pay you. If your approached by a small publisher asking you to split the cost, check and double check that they are not a vanity publisher. A vanity publisher exists to take advantage of the unwary. If you’ve been approached check the list Writer Beware to see if that company is there.

If you want more info on Self Publishing before you decide Here are some good resources.

6. Your going to need to Market your book.

Don’t be fooled with either option, you will need to do your own marketing. Yes a traditional publisher wants to make money, but they don’t exactly set aside big bucks to market a first time author. Publisher’s do give you guidelines to follow. They do set the price points. Some will offer advice and maybe hold your hand along the way. In the end, you will still need to market.

There is no way around it, so go ahead and read up on what works and what doesn’t. Start taking notes. Dig around a little and check out established authors, what does their web presence look like. Once you have a draft of your book done, start marketing.

7. How do I find an illustrator?

If your traditionally published, then you don’t. That is another great perk of the traditional route. They want to pick the illustrator and pay them. The downside, you will have less creative control. In many cases the author and the illustrator never meet, or communicate. The publishing company does it all for you.

If you’ve decided to self publish, then their are several routes to go.

  • Fiverr is popular.
  • Join a writer and illustrator groups on Facebook, and ask there.
  • Giving a shout out to the community you know. (I actually did this with my local homeschool groups and found my amazing illustrator.)
  • Looking into local art schools.
  • Join SWBCI and use their resources.

8. Dollars and Cents

I’ve heard that you can publish for no money down or very little out of pocket, is this true? Technically, yes. Just be advised you get what you pay for. At the very least pay for an editor before you start looking for agent. Yes, a publishing house will do more edits, you want to put your best foot forward. So even if you go the traditional route, you may want to invest in some small way to make sure that your have polished it, and made your story the best you can.

Self publishing can be done for very little. For example if you are an artist and can produce high quality illustrations. Here is my break down on what you need money for.

  • illustrations (unless you can do them yourself)
  • cover art (this can be separate from the rest of your illustrations)
  • editing (the longer the story, the more editing you will want done)
  • Formatting – you can teach yourself, or pay, just decide upfront.
  • ISBN -in the Unites States you have to pay for this, however it is optional if you publish through Amazon, they will give you an AISN. Its not exactly the same thing but it will work.
  • physical books-you can use a print on demand company, but you still want some books on hand to give away, or simply show people. The two most common are IngramSpark, or Amazon’s KDP
  • Marketing -whether is amazon ads, facebook ads, or vendor booth fees you will need an advertising budget.

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