I asked Aaron Shepard permission to post this self publishing related excerpt from the update to his book about the business of writing for children. The 99 cent Kindle version of the new book has been released and is available here, the print update is a few weeks off. What I like about his advice is that he doesn’t promise success if you just follow his formula with enough work and heart. Life is rarely that simple.
For most writers, breaking into children’s publishing takes at least several years. This is a period of apprenticeship, when you learn and develop your craft. If you short-circuit it by self publishing, you may never reach a professional level. On the other hand, the field of children’s writing has become so crowded that even a professional-level writer may never sell work or may not continue to sell after initial success. In this case, self publishing can provide an alternative outlet or, if successful, attract a traditional publisher.
For children’s books, self publishing is most appropriate if you (1) want to reprint books of yours that have gone out of print, (2) have sold books to traditional publishers but have other manuscripts of similar quality that have not sold, (3) have been unable to sell work despite validation of quality by editor or agent comments, or (4) are not interested in investing the time and effort to get published traditionally.
New technologies have improved reader access to self-published books, increasing their popularity and greatly enhancing opportunities for success. At the same time, these technologies have made it easier than ever to self publish, leading to a flooding of the market. The upshot is that self publishers may find it no easier to succeed than before and may also find it growing harder with time.
Success in children’s self publishing is most likely with books for teens and becomes less likely as the audience grows younger. That’s because many buyers of books for young children are conservative in their choices, preferring books that have already proven themselves or that come from proven sources.
Books for younger children are also handicapped by costs. Though today’s technology of print on demand makes it possible to publish a full-color book with much lower investment than before, printing costs per copy can require a selling price too high for most potential buyers. Likewise, high-quality illustrations in an ebook may result in a file size large enough to trigger significant transmission fees or high minimum pricing, again saddling your book with a selling price that is discouraging.
Self publishing a book can take at least as much time, skill, knowledge, and effort as writing it. If you choose to self publish, understand that the resources you devote to it will be resources that will not go into your writing. This may hinder you from establishing a career in traditional publishing or even cause such a career to decline. Make sure beforehand that you are comfortable with the tradeoff.