How to indie publish a children's book
When I first began my writing journey, I had no idea where to start. I never knew any writers growing up, and though I was always a lover of stories and books, I hadn’t a clue on how to get my foot in the publishing world. My only example of professional writers were from movies, and they were either struggling or they lived in a fancy apartment in New York City. I didn’t want to be a starving artist, but I didn’t want to go to New York City, either. How was I ever to become a writer?
Going to my first writers conference changed that, and it was there that I met good friend and mentor Kathy Boyd Fellure. Kathy is 2/8 sisters (the second daughter of eights girls), a “mum” since she raised her two youngest in England when her husband was stationed there, a grandmother, and a hula-hooper. She is a bookie (but not the gambling kind; she’d rather go shopping!). She is also a writer. She is represented by Books and Such Literary Agency for about six to seven years. Her debut novel, The Language of the Lake, the first of her On the Water’s Edge Trilogy, hit bookshelves in January of 2018 and can be found online or at a bookstore along Lake Tahoe’s azure shores.
Before her first novel recently released however, she had self-published (now known as indie publishing) four children’s illustrated story books.
I got a chance to chat with her about her children’s books—When the Birdies Came to Tea, Mr. Snowman Ate Our Picnic Lunch, Nana’s Tin of Buttons, and Bear Cub Adventure—all of which she had illustrated by artists and self-published herself through Lulu Press. As such, she has a wealth of knowledge and experience for those who are seeking to publish their children’s books and are considering indie publishing, rather than going with a traditional publisher.
Her journey into the publishing began when she was a little girl.
“I came from a reading family, and therefore became a reader,” she said. Her parents read to her and her sisters, and they soon began to read to each other. They even had their own bookshelf. “It was a special time for us, so I read to my children.”
As her kids grew older and began school, she worked as a parent volunteer to help kids who were struggling with their reading skills. Reading to them and helping them to discover a love for reader really inspired her, so she began to write her own children’s books.
She based her four children’s books on her childhood growing up in Lake Tahoe, in the decade between 1959 and 1969. Each book is set in one of the four seasons. She made sure to only write fictional stories, because if she wrote true stories about her sisters and herself, she says her sisters wouldn’t allow her to attend “sister night”, a monthly gathering to play board games, share snacks, and gab.
After her books were written, Kathy set out to find a publisher for them, originally wanting to go the traditional route. However, while at the 2008 Mount Herman Writers Christian Conference in the Santa Cruz Mountains, she learned that the bottom fell out of the children’s book market. Unless the writer was famous, it was nearly impossible to find an agent for them, because publishers were simply not taking new children’s book authors.
“It was life-changing,” she said. “It was like an earthquake that left a huge crack. Many children’s writers at the time were struggling.”
It was then she began to research into self-publishing. After careful research, she decided to go with Lulu. She chose them because she could have unlimited full color artwork, they took care of distribution, including international distribution, and she didn’t have to pay up front for their services if she didn’t want to use them. If a company wanted her to pay up front, she was cautious of “vanity presses.” She always tried to find other books published by these companies because, as she said, “It was a good way to do a quality check.”
She also found that through traditional publishing, she wouldn’t be able to pick her own illustrator. In fact, she wouldn’t have any control over her books at all, and she wasn’t really pleased with that.
“I like to have the final say in my books. That’s huge,” she said.
Her only complaint was that Lulu set the price for her books higher than she would have wanted. However, she has found that over the years, no one has complained about the price, and when she orders her books to sell at book signings and conferences, she is able to not only buy them at a discount but sell them at a discount as well. Kathy also offers discounts to schools who buy her books for their students.
Once she decided to go the self-publishing route with Lulu, she assembled a four-person team to complete her children’s books—an editor, a typographer, an illustrator, and herself, the writer. When assembling together a team of people to prepare your book for self-publishing, Kathy said, “It’s critical to be sure you are each a good match.”
The first illustrator she worked with was Kathleen Flanagan Kresa for When the Birdies Came to Tea. Kathleen was actually her high school classmate, and they reconnected at their high school reunion. At that time, Kathy had contacted other illustrators, but none of them were the right fit. When Kathleen heard that Kathy was trying to find an illustrator, she offered to paint some illustrations for her. When Kathy saw them, she knew they were a good match, and they agreed to work together. Kathleen offered four illustrations for free, but then Kathy later asked for more, offering to pay her, and she agreed. After the first book was published, she and Kathleen discussed whether they wanted to continue as business partners or friends, and they chose friendship. They remained close friends until Kathleen’s death from breast cancer a year ago. Before she died, Kathleen illustrated one more children’s book and Kathy is glad her friend’s art legacy lives on in those children’s books.
The second illustrator she worked with was Donna Plant, who actually lives in the same town as Kathy. They connected through a mutual friend from a writer’s critique group Kathy started eleven years ago, and timing just happened to be right.
“It’s so important to pick the right illustrator,” Kathy said. “I waited 5 years for Kathleen. And God brought Donna along at the right time. Both of them are amazing women and artists, and I’m blessed to work with them.”
Before she published the books, Kathy set up a system with both Kathleen and Donna that they called “AA” & “AA” which stands for “Author Approval, Artist Approval.” Once both she and the artists were happy with the layout and artwork of the book, only then did Kathy work with Lulu to publish.
Over the years, Kathy has witnessed a change in the self-publishing industry. “With self-publishing, it’s more advantageous, because you can actually have a job writing. It helps when there’s a regular royalty pay check. Back in the day, you had to keep your day job.” She has found that there are now more choices for indie authors or publishers, and many authors are happy with that route, but it all depends on the author. And now, bookstores are starting to be more open to accepting indie published books to sell, whereas before it was just an impenetrable brick wall.
Although indie publishing opens doors for authors by giving them a job, it becomes just that: a job. And Kathy knows, like any author, traditional, hybrid, or indie, the job isn’t over once the book is published. Now comes the time for the book to be marketed.
Kathy is firm a believer in premarketing, as well, so before her books were even published, she set out to read her work to children at schools and libraries. She’d also take samples of her illustrator’s work, with their permission. One of her first clients was the school district where her father was a teacher. She was invited for an author day.
“Kids will tell you if your book is good,” she said.
She also added, “You have to think outside the box. I researched my area, like Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, and I did the footwork.” She realized she had a niche market in Lake Tahoe, since her book is set there. “I went around the lake, talking to bookstore and giftshop owners. You have to ask yourself, ‘Where will my book sell?’” she said. She also sells to the Gatekeeper Museum Historical Society Gift Shop in Tahoe, since her books are set in a historical time period there.
“People know their stores, and you have to look for someone who will be your champion,” Kathy said. “They will sell your book when you’re not there. It’s so important to treat your clients with courtesy and respect.” If you don’t establish a good working relationship with store owners and librarians, it will affect the sales of your book. “Many of my clients are the reason I’m still in business,” she added.
When discussing terms with the store owners, she recommended to pick a reasonable minimum order size, depending on the time of year. The store owners will know when those times are, as well. During a busy time of year, like holidays when business is high, have a higher minimum of orders for books. During the slow season, lower the minimum. Be willing to fluctuate with the store owner in an individual and personal way.
Kathy encourages writers to be creative with marketing. “One of my book signings was in an exotic bird store!” She said with a laugh.
Kathy recommends that authors take risks, but do their research first. “Choose wisely after research. Walk away from anything that doesn’t feel right.”
Keeping an eye on the book market is vital, as well. It’s constantly changing, and an author has to be willing to deal with the unexpected and move forward. “Some authors publish their books a year apart. I did 6 months, because when kids like your book, they want the next one. If you wait too long, they will lose interest and move on to another next book.”
She also says with each royalty check, reinvest in your books continually, and be sure to publish legally and legitimately. A wise choice is to have a one page contract with illustrators. “Keep good records and be sure to pay your taxes! Hire a bookkeeper if you have to.”
Ultimately, self-publishing comes with a lot of responsibility, and it’s a job like any job, and should be treated like one. Kathy added, “Don’t forget it’s supposed to be a joy. If nothing else, enjoy it. Enjoy reading to kids and enjoy when they are excited. The kids make it fun!”
If you’re an author of a children’s book, or just an author considering publishing your book independently, hopefully Kathy’s advice helps you get an idea of where to start your self-publishing journey. She’s certainly helped me through my writing journey, and I have asked her advice on many occasions. So, thank you, Kathy, for taking the time to be interviewed!
If you would like to find out more about Kathy Boyd Fellure and her books, you can visit her website at www.kathyboydfellure.com.