Updated: Oct 6, 2021
I’ve worked with hundreds of self-published authors and while I’ve seen some that achieve great success, I mostly see the same mistakes over and over.
Firstly, get your book professionally edited. Many new authors try to save money by skipping this part or falsely assume that it’s not important in picture books. Not the case. Editing is so much more than correcting grammar and punctuation—it’s a crucial process and will make a difference in your story’s success and marketability.
Not only that, but editing comes before illustrations. This one is an expensive mistake but it happens all the time: a new author will finish their first draft and go hire an illustrator. I can’t emphasize this enough: a first draft is NOT ready for illustrations, no matter who you are. Even the most famous picture book authors on your bookshelf use professional editors and have an editing process. So you should too. If you get the book illustrated first, the changes made in the editing phase could cause the illustrations to no longer match, meaning you’d have to spend thousands to get it re-illustrated. Not fun.
Speaking of illustrations, don‘t cut corners on cost because quality costs money. Self-publishing is expensive so if finances are a concern, pursue traditional publishing instead. In picture books, the illustrations make up half the story so they need to be captivating! Plus, illustrators deserve fair pay. One illustration can take 12-35+ hours (depending on the style and the illustrator) which means that if they charge $100 per illustration, they’re only making $2-8+ per hour. Imagine being in their shoes and be respectful of their rates. And if you really can’t afford them, stop for a while to save up or run a Kickstarter. Self-publishing is expensive so if that doesn’t work for you, look into traditional publishing.
Be honest with yourself. If you were in a bookstore and a cheaply made book sat beside professional quality ones, you’d have one of several reactions. Perhaps you’d make a joke about how the book was low budget and move on, or not notice it at all. Or maybe you’d buy it as a gag gift. My point is that you need to think like a buyer. If your book looks cheap, it will get ignored or criticized.
If you need recommendations for vetted professional editors and illustrators, check out our list.
Another mistake I see all the time is waiting to market until after publication. But to be successful, marketing needs to start BEFORE publishing your book. I have this interaction on a weekly basis:
Author: “I need marketing help!”
Me: ”Sure thing! What does your current marketing plan look like? Let’s start by figuring out what’s working and what’s not so we can optimize and expand your strategies.”
Me: “So that’s something you’ll need. We’ll get to that in a bit. What marketing strategies have you tried?”
Author: “I’ve posted on social media.”
Me: “Great! What kinds of groups have you posted in?”
Author: “…author groups…”
***insert conversation about how authors are not your target audience***
Author: “Wow, I had no idea about any of this…”
Here’s the thing: it’s okay to not know what you’re doing. That’s where we all start out! But it’s not okay to never learn and expect amazing results. If you want to make money as an author, you need to treat this like a business.
Don’t release your book the moment you have the files. Everything you do needs a strategy, especially a book release. Give yourself a minimum of 6-8 weeks to market like crazy before your book is published. Trust me, you will see the difference.
Which leads me to THE BIGGEST mistake: using a “self-publisher.” When you choose to self-publish, YOU are the publisher. There are two main ways: you can print your book in bulk (offset printing) and then get a Seller Central account to sell them on Amazon. You can also sell them on your own website. The second way is by using a print-on-demand company like KDP or IngramSpark. These companies act as a printer and distributor, making your book available on sites like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. When a customer orders your book from one of those sites, the POD company prints it, ships it to them, and sends you money. But whatever you do, don’t pay a “self-publisher” because they’ll just self-publish YOUR book under THEIR name—which isn’t a good thing for you.
Publishing isn’t an industry where you can learn as you go. Often, that’s how new authors get in trouble, make expensive mistakes, and fail to themselves up for success. The good news is that you can do this! Take it one step at a time and learn everything you can upfront.