Book Covers and Children’s Book Illustration
Do you really need me?
I know that's an odd question to ask since presumably I am here to convince you to pay for my services. But the fact is you may NOT need me.
Types of Publishing
- Traditional Book Publisher: They pay for everything and make all the decisions.
- Vanity Press: You pay for everything and they may offer additional services.
- Self-Publishing: You pay for everything and plan everything.
I'll be going into further depth on each on this page.
What are your goals?
There are no wrong answers here. Just be honest with yourself about why you want to publish a book. It will help you make the right decisions moving forward.
- To be a successful author?
- To be rich?
- To say you wrote a book?
- Make an impact?
With a traditional publisher, money only flows one way. Toward the writer. If your "publisher" is asking for money, they are not a publisher. They are a vanity press.
Traditional Book Publisher
If you are aiming to get your book published by a traditional publisher, they pick up the tab to get your book published. You hand over the manuscript and they take care of the rest.
Even if you submit illustrations you paid for, a traditional publisher will most likely not use them. Which makes sense if you think about it. Traditional publishers know what currently sells: book size, type, style, subject, etc. They will have an educated vision on how to complete your book that will be more likely to sell.
Traditional publishers will take care of things like:
- Cover Art
- Book layout
A vanity press is really just a printer, with a few extra services to sell you. They get a bad rap because some will pose as a publisher to the uninitiated. If they print your book, you are still not a "published author" because a vanity press is technically not a publisher. You just paid someone to print 50 books for you to hand out to your friends. However, this can cause problems down the road if the press in question is misrepresenting itself as a proper publisher and the real publisher you decide to try and sell your book to finds the listing on the vanity press's website. No one will accept a manuscript that has any appearance of having already been sold.
Side note to the above, be extremely leery about signing contracts with vanity presses. While they will not print any books you don't directly pay for, some presses have a side hustle of collecting your publication rights and then suing authors who find an actual avenue for publication.
A traditional publisher will never ask you for money. If they do, they aren't a traditional publisher. They are a vanity press.
That being said, vanity press has a place. If your goal is not to become a "successful author" and you just want to have copies of your books printed to sell a few to friends or give them away, it may be a perfect solution for you. Some vanity presses will offer additional paid services for editing, illustrating, layout, advertising, etc. Do your homework and make sure you are dealing with someone on the up-and-up.
If you want to self-publish you will need to make plans from the outset to create a good product. You'll need to take care of the following items yourself.
Artwork and Layout:
Layout: Now that you have the story written, it's time to think about what the book will look like. What size will it be? What is standard for your industry? Will it be hardback or softcover? What kind of paper will it printed on? How many pages should it be? A printer can help with these questions.
A graphic designer will combine your manuscript, illustrations, cover art, ISBN, dedication, copyright, etc. into print-ready files to give to your printer.
Cover Art: All books need a cover, spine art, and back cover. You need to have the layout established to get cover art created. You'll need to know the size of the book and whether the book is hardback or softcover. You will also need to have an idea of page count, book size, and paper type so the spine width can be calculated. When calculating the spine width, don't forget to include the "other" pages of your book you might have like the copyright, title, dedication page, etc.
Illustration: Some books will require illustrations. If it is a children's book, you'll probably have illustrations on every page, the cover, back cover, inside covers, etc.
Again, you'll need to have the specs to give to your illustrator and at this point, you should have already been in touch with your printer to figure out the size and type.
Editing: While this is the most commonly skipped step, the truth is that if your manuscript is unedited, it isn't finished. A writer—any writer—is too close to their own work to see the flaws. Reputable freelance editors are out there, and a good one will have exactly one goal, to make your manuscript as good and as marketable as it possibly can be. Use an editor, and listen to them.
Proofing and Editing: While writing your book doesn't cost you anything but time, you'll need to invest in people to proof and edit your book, and these may not be the same person. At last count, my author husband had three different people proofing and editing his work before each book was ready for publishing. There are different types of editors (content, story, grammatical, etc.) and they all have their speciality. Get familiar with each and choose accordingly. Nothing is quite so embarrassing as discovering major plot holes on your Amazon review page.
Other content: Don't forget to include the "other" pages of your book you might have like the copyright, title, dedication page, etc.
Distribution is your plan to get your books out to the masses. If you have a publisher, they will put you in professional industry catalogs for book sellers to order from. If you are self-publishing, you can't get into these catalogs. But, all is not lost, you can do your own legwork by going to small bookstores, trade shows, churches, and other businesses to ask if they will buy your books to resell. (Yes, this is hard, but on the upside, it is also slow!)
- 50% of the retail price is standard payment from a reseller, which means you need to be able to produce that book as inexpensively as possible.
- Resellers will be more likely to sell your book if you add a barcode with the ISBN to the back cover, and may refuse it outright if you don't.
To get your book printed you have a couple of routes: your local copy shop, POD (Print on Demand), or traditional printing.
A traditional printer prints with ink on paper. You'll want to contact a few to discuss the best sizes for their press (This translates into cost savings). Get at least 3 estimates to compare. The more books you print the better your price-per-book will be. Look for printers that specialize in printing books. Some of the best prices are ones that are located overseas, but have sales-people in the U.S. If you plan on selling your books you'll need a barcode.
POD is printing a book one-at-a-time though a place specifically set up for that. Barnes and Noble, Lulu, and Amazon all have POD programs. As a bonus you can also sell your books on their platform. Whenever someone purchases a book they print one and mail it to them. You are able to mark up the sales price of the book to any rate you like. The downside is you won't be able to mark up the book very much to be sellable, and these services can penalize extreme prices, high or low. While POD can be a good business model, it takes years of dedication to promotion and publishing books several times a year to build your market.
One thing that is important to note is that traditional publishers are not really any better about selling your books than any other avenue is. They operate on a "throw everything at the wall and we'll see what sticks" model, and the marketing is typically on the writer. It is not unusual for traditional publishers to require certain numbers of social media followers, and to demand contracts stipulating that the writer pay back any portion of their advance that doesn't earn out in a year… something which is unfortunately very common.
Your local copy shop can offer a number of solutions that will get books in your hands. These options are good if you do not require many copies and are not too particular about appearance. If you need more than a dozen or so books, the prices quickly become uncompetitive.
Advertisement is "getting the word out" to drum up business. This will cost you time and money (to varying degrees, more money can buy you less time) by way of working your social media accounts or paying for advertisements online or publications.
- Social Media: A quick google search will reveal lots of articles or courses on how to set up your pages on the various platforms, as well as which sites will work best for you.
- Website: You may decide to have a dedicated website to sell your books and provide information to potential readers.
- In-Person Events: Possible examples could include selling at a tradeshow, or speaking at a local venue.
- Online Advertisement: Ads on relevant websites, Facebook Ads or Google Ads.
- Print Advertisement: Print ads in relevant publications.
TIP: Advertising is a numbers game. You will only get action from 2% of the people who actually see your ad on average. This means if you buy a Facebook ad and 100 people see it, only 2 of those people will stop to read or click on it. If they do click through, count on 2-5% of those individuals to take the secondary action (i.e. buy your book).