Updated: Aug 29
If you're an aspiring children's book author, then you're probably wondering whether it's better to self-publish or go with a traditional publishing house. The answer is...it depends on your goals and situation. But don't worry—in this post, we've broken down the pros and cons for both types of publishing so that you can make an informed decision that's right for your book!
8 Things to Consider About Self Publishing vs Traditional Publishing
The first factor to consider is what self publishing vs traditional publishing will actually cost you. There are a lot of misconceptions about this so here's the summary:
⭐️ Traditional publishing is 100% free to the author
⭐️ Self publishing is expensive (because you are the publisher!)
There are people out there who will read the second one and think "but KDP is free!" and while that's true, they are just a print-on-demand printer/distributor for self published authors. Before you get to the printing stage, you'd still need the book professionally edited (more than once!), illustrated, and formatted. Hiring a quality illustrator alone can cost thousands! And we haven't even touched on marketing yet. In short, the self published authors who see success produce high-quality books and that comes with a price tag.
So if cost is a concern, traditional publishing might be the best route for you. But there are still many other factors to consider.
#2 Financial Risk
With traditional publishing, the publisher is in charge of producing the book and all the expenses that go along with it. That's why traditional publishers have to be so picky - they need to feel confident that your children's book will sell and make them money because the investment risk is all on them.
When you self-publish, the financial risk is all yours. You'll have to pay for everything--editing, cover design, and formatting--and if your book doesn't sell well enough to recoup those costs (or at all), that's on you.
#3 Speed of Publication
Traditional publishing is slow and it's a process. It takes the average author about a year or more to get a literary agent and once they do, the agent submits the book to publishers. It takes weeks or even months for an agent to hear back from publishers with a response so this is an ongoing process until (hopefully!) a publisher says yes.
From there, contract negotiations begin (your agent handles this for you) until both parties - the author and publisher - come to an agreement and then finally, the production of the book begins. Typically, this is 1-2 years out from the date of the contract being signed but this will vary depending on the publishing house, genre, etc.
With self publishing, you work on your own timeline. But this can actually be a negative consideration if you don't know what you're doing.
Many self published authors get so excited about their children's book that they rush to release it without a solid strategy, which makes your book's success that much more difficult.
Make sure you start building and implementing your marketing plan at least 3-4 months prior to the release date you've chosen. For the best results, 6 months is preferred.
#4 Creative Control
This is a contributing factor that many authors worry about and often is the reason they choose self publishing because they assume an author gets no control with traditional publishing. The reality is that it's not quite that simple.
✨ Traditional Publishing
With traditional publishing, you start by querying agents (or submitting to publishers directly) and they want books that are as close to publication ready as possible - meaning they won’t ask for changes unless they feel it would increase the chances of the book selling and likely, those changes would be minor.
Once you have an agent, they'll start submitting your book to publishers. You are much more likely to hear "no" from a publisher than for them to ask for changes. That said, if they request edits and you don't agree to them, you are welcome to decline but then you risk jeopardizing the deal with that particular publisher.
Some real life examples of what publishers have asked authors I represent:
"Would you be open to changing the ending to be more optimistic?"
"We love this concept but we're looking for non-fiction with more of a story arc. Would you be open to tweaking this to be a narrative non-fiction picture book?"
"The book is lovely but the back matter isn't specific enough. Is that something you'd be willing to expand?"
In traditional publishing, they are the ones footing the bill and investing in you and your book. If they want something changed for marketability you are looking at making that change or potentially stepping away.
✨ Self Publishing
Self publishing offers you a lot more flexibility when it comes to your book's content. If you want to change something in your manuscript or add something new, there's no need for a lengthy email exchange with an editor or agent--you can just make the change yourself.
Now, some people choose self publishing because they don't want to change anything about their book. However, that attitude isn't a great one to have in the publishing world because editing and professional feedback are what take a children's book from "good" to "great."
It’s hard taking in this feedback and it’s hard changing your visions. But sometimes it is for the best. You really need to be honest with yourself and find ways to not be blinded by your love for your book so that you can make it the best it can be!
#5 Profit Potential
When you publish a children's book, no matter which publishing route you choose, you'll earn royalties. On average, a traditionally published author will make $1-$2 per book while a self published author will make $3-5+ per book.
But before you get too excited about self publishing, there are a few more layers you need to take into consideration:
The first is that traditional publishing is FREE to the author so while the profit potential is lower, so is the financial risk - the publisher is the one paying to produce the book instead of yourself. With self publishing, the profit potential is higher but only because you are the author AND the publisher so you absorb both cuts. That also means you have all the expenses of producing the book which can be thousands of dollars and there's no guarantee that you'll see that money back.
Let's look at an example, assuming 100 books are sold.
Cost to produce
And now let's look at what the difference would be if 5,000 books were sold:
Cost to Produce
But what if your self published book ends up costing you $6,000+ to create? What happens if you make closer to $3 rather than $5? The fact is that when you're deciding between self publishing vs traditional publishing, you need to take all factors into account, not just the profit potential.
#6 Credibility & Reputation
Credibility is a major factor when it comes to self publishing vs traditional publishing but it's slowly starting to change.
Generally speaking, getting traditionally published is more prestigious to the public because it's the more difficult of the two to break into. Self publishing still tends to get a bad reputation because anyone can self publish.
Just for example, if you go to your local bookstore, find the ordering manager, and start the conversation with "I'm a self published author" there are many managers that will make excuses to not carry your title without even looking at it. This is simply because they've seen lots of poorly done children's books that are unedited, use clip art instead of illustrations, aren't formatted well, etc so they may make assumptions about your own book before they've even seen it!
That's why I always recommend that you instead lead with "I'm a local author" because that opens the door for them to actually consider your title without bias.
While there are still stereotypes about self published authors, that is slowly starting to shift because some of the biggest bestselling authors are choosing to self-publish. Take all this with a grain of salt - just focus on creating a high quality book and choosing the best publishing route for you.
The next factor to consider is expertise. What I mean by that is traditional publishers do this for a living. They are professionals. They do this again and again and again. They have a method that works. They have it down to a science.
When you self-publish, you don’t have it down to a science, at least, not at first. For some people, becoming an industry expert is exciting and motivating. For other people, not so much. So it’s up to you to weigh if that’s a pro or con for you.
Traditional publishing can be difficult to break into and takes time and patience. Literary agents only represent books that they're confident they can sell to a publisher and publishers only want manuscripts that they feel will sell well to make the business money. They rarely take risks.
On the other hand, anyone can self publish. That's can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.
While self publishing is definitely the easier of the two to break into, the question you have to ask yourself is "Is ease-of-access important to me?"
💥 Myth Busted - Marketing your children's book 💥
Lots of aspiring children's book authors choose traditional publishing because they assume a publisher will handle marketing for them. But here's the truth: if you want to be a children's book author, you will have to market your book.
Let me elaborate.
10+ years ago, traditional publishers would do a lot more marketing than they do now. There are several reasons for this - mostly that marketing is more effective coming from the author themselves and that cutting back on marketing expenses saves a publisher money. The bigger publishers (ones that you'd need a literary agent to submit to) may still schedule a book tour, run paid ads, ultilize email marketing, etc. But the smaller presses...not always the case.
Whether or not a traditional publisher will market your children's book entirely depends on which publisher it is.
When you self publish, you are the publisher and therefore, it's your responsibility to market the book or hire a publicist to do it for you.
So in summation, no matter what publishing route you choose, you are responsible for marketing your children's book in some capacity. The good news is that there are lots of resources out there that will help you do it successfully!
There are pros and cons to both self publishing and traditional publishing
When considering self publishing vs traditional publishing, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of each option. There are a lot of people out there who will say that one publishing route is better than the other but the truth is, it's about what's best for YOU.
What might be a concern with self publishing for one person may not be a concern for another person. We all have different goals, financial situations, time constraints, and skill sets so you can't base your publishing decisions on what works well for someone else.
Both routes are quite different so I hope this post helps you make an informed choice about which option is best for you and your book.
Need more guidance to publish your children's book?
If you want to become a children's book author but find yourself overwhelmed or wondering how to get started...
Today is your lucky day! I’m spilling my secrets 🤫 in a FREE video training: Steal My Picture Book Publishing Strategy
Register now to get the exact playbook I used to publish over 19 well-loved children's books — and help hundreds of others publish their children's books too!
So if you don’t have a children's book yet (but want to write one) OR you have one published but haven't seen the results you want, this is your chance to steal my strategy!
Disclaimer: This blog post may contain affiliate links to products we enjoy using ourselves. Should you choose to use these links, At Home Author may earn affiliate commissions at no additional cost to you.