To publish your children’s book, you need first to write a great book, then…
- Know your target audience
- Refine your manuscript
- Find an agent
- Submit your manuscript to publishers
This is generally how you publish your kid’s book, but you can change it up depending on your unique situation.
For instance, you don’t need a literary agent if you’re self-publishing.
This handy article talks about self-publishing as well as traditional publishing. Although traditional publishing is getting less and less popular, many still see it as the only legitimate option.
I disagree, but you can hold your own opinion.
Table of contents
- 3 Ways to Publish a Children’s Book
- Traditional Publishing
- Independent “Indie” Publishing
- Should you professionally publish or self-publish?
- Step-by-Step Guide to Publish a Children’s Book
- 1. Know Your Target Audience
- 2. Refine Your Manuscript
- 3. Find an Agent (for Traditional or Indie Publishing)
- 4. Submit Your Manuscript to Publishers
- List of Children’s Book Publishers
- 3 Tips on Self-Publishing a Children’s Book
- 4 Ways to Market a Children’s Book
- Self-publishing, traditional publishing, or independent publishing?
- How to publish your children’s book
- List of children’s book publishers
- Tips on marketing your children’s book
3 Ways to Publish a Children’s Book
There are 3 ways to publish a children’s book:
- Traditional publishing
- Independent “Indie” publishing
Do your research on all 3 before you decide which way to become a published author.
1. Traditional Publishing
Traditional publishing means that a publishing house will publish your book online and in brick and mortar retailers.
They pay for your editor, book cover artist, back cover synopsis, ISBN number, printing costs, and more. But they also take a chunk out of your royalties.
The big 5 traditional publishing houses are:
- Penguin Random House
- Simon & Schuster
However, most traditional publishers require literary agents to submit manuscripts. Many never accept unsolicited manuscripts from unagented authors. If you want to traditionally publish, you will need to add a step to your publishing process: finding an agent.
Traditional publishers offer their authors the bare minimum amount of marketing. They reserve their marketing budgets for their bestsellers. You may get mentioned in a long list or sent to book reviewers with many other new authors.
For traditional publishing, I also recommend the resource Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. It’s affordable and full of information on traditional publishing houses, literary agents, and how to write a query letter.
If you’re traditionally publishing your children’s book, you still have to do your own marketing. This may include:
- Social media
- Outreach to mothers in your community
- Book signings
- Readings at schools
- Promotional giveaways
- Age-appropriate book reviewers
2. Independent “Indie” Publishing
Indie publishing is similar to traditional publishing, but without a lot of the stingy traditions and pointless roadblocks slowing down the publishing process.
Independent publishers usually don’t require literary agents. They accept unsolicited queries directly from authors.
These publishing houses may prefer to work with brand new authors or specific demographics of authors, offsetting the traditional publishing world’s status quo trends that many find unhelpful.
Check out these 30 Publishers that Accept Unagented Submissions.
Self-publishing is when you publish your own book. Whether it’s your first time writing or you're a perpetual self-publisher, this route is a legitimate business decision that many have made.
In many cases, self-publishing is more lucrative than traditional publishing.
Many people think that to be a real children’s book author, you have to go through the traditional publishing route. This is an outdated, offensive prejudice. It’s one of those insensitive comments your aunt will joke about.
The biggest ebook marketplace for self-publishing is Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). They make it simpler to self-publish. Although they do take a portion of your profits, they take the hard work out of self-publishing.
Although traditional publishers save you money concerning editors, proofreaders, and book cover artists, they also take a massive chunk of your royalties.
Self-publishing lets you keep all the profits (after printing costs).
Don’t be fooled. Traditional publishers will only do a tiny bit of marketing for you. You would still need to market yourself at signings, on social media, and by getting high-profile book reviews.
If you’re scared of self-publishing because you have to do your own marketing, then don’t be. You’d have to do your own marketing with a traditional publisher.
Look into the Best Self Publishing Companies (retailers and aggregators).
You can also Start Your Own Publishing Company. It’s easier than you think.
With Amazon and other ebook marketplaces booming, self-publishing is easier than ever. I’ve written some great resources on getting the most out of Amazon’s self-publishing marketplace:
- Find Profitable Amazon Ad Keywords
- The Art and Science to Amazon Editorial Reviews
- Amazon International Markets Explained
- Amazon Super URLs: They Might be Killing Your Reviews
Should you professionally publish or self-publish?
You should self-publish if you can afford an editor and a cover artist and are willing to do a lot of market research. You should professionally publish (traditionally publish) if that is your preference and you’d prefer partners on your publishing journey.
You can make more money in self-publishing. It takes more time, more luck, but less money to traditionally publish.
How much money can you make from a children's book? The top 1% of authors make over $200,000 a year from bestselling children’s books. You can expect to make $5,000-$10,000 on your first book.
Most authors who make more than $20,000 a year have published more than one story. It takes several books to establish a following and significant sales.
Step-by-Step Guide to Publish a Children’s Book
Yes, you can publish your own children’s story. I’m here to answer your questions about traditional publishing, self-publishing, marketing, literary agents, and how to become a published children’s book writer.
Check out this article on the Best Book Writing Software, with a bonus discount code!
How much does it cost to publish a children's book? If you’re traditionally publishing, it costs very little to publish a children’s book, but the publishing house takes a chunk of your royalties since they put the money in. If you’re self-publishing, you need to pay for the proofreader ($100), editor ($600), illustrators ($1800), and more. It can cost an estimated $3000 — often more.
1. Know Your Target Audience
You have to know your target audience to publish your children’s book.
If your picture book best suits 2-5-year-olds, but you market it towards infants, you’ve got a problem. If you market your YA novel as middle grade fiction, you’ve got a problem.
Kids like to read about main characters who are their age or a few years older.
Research what different target audiences expect. Find out:
- What themes and keywords are trending
- Who is publishing these sorts of books
- Which authors are most popular with your target audience
When looking for an editor or an agent, demonstrate that you understand your book’s target audience. This reflects your understanding of the biz — something editors and literary agents want in an author.
What are the age ranges of children’s books? Generally speaking, children’s books are divided into 5 categories (age ranges):
- Board Books — 0-3 years old, few words, pictures on every page
- Picture Books — 2-5 years old, fewer than 1,000 words, pictures on every page
- Chapter Books — 6-10 years old, 2,000 to 30,000 words
- Middle Grade (MG) — 8-12 years old, 30,000 to 50,000 words
- Young Adult (YA) — 12-18 years old, 40,000 to 100,00 words
Note: Over half of the readers of YA books are adults over the age of 18. Although YA is meant for 12- to 18-year-olds, they often have a broad appeal to adults.
2. Refine Your Manuscript
Refining your manuscript is a critical step to prepare your children’s book for publishing. Improve your book until you can’t think of any other way to improve it.
Read this article about How to Write a Children’s Book, including essential story elements, formatting, and illustrations.
When you refine your manuscript, this makes an editor’s job more effective. If an editor is editing your best possible product, it will be even better than your best. (Say that 5 times fast!)
Spelling and grammatical errors will lead to unhappy readers and negative reviews. Or it may lead to underwhelmed editors who need to focus on simple mistakes instead of style and word choice.
Refining your manuscript also means improving your story. You might realize that it takes 6 pages to get interesting, then move the “hook” to the first 2 pages.
Proofread & Edit Your Book
You can’t get past it. You have to proofread and edit your book, even if you think it’s perfect. Every professional author has to do this.
If you’re traditionally publishing, the publishing house will probably provide all those services for free in exchange for a chunk of your later profits. If you’re self-publishing, you will have to pay for proofreading and editing services.
Once you finish your final draft, proofread it. Have your significant other proofread it. Have a close friend, or family member proofread it.
Only after someone in your personal circle has read your book should you pay a professional proofreader and editor.
Before you send your manuscript to a professional, run it through the best proofreading software.
Since most editors and proofreaders charge by word count, editing picture books and short chapter books can be pleasantly affordable.
A professional editor can:
- Fix your grammar (yes, even you don’t always use perfect grammar!)
- Correct spelling mistakes
- Improve your storytelling
- Make sure you’re writing for the right target audience
- Offer guidance on submitting your refined manuscript
Get Feedback from Readers
Even if your target audience is children, you should still get feedback from readers — just like with a novel for adults. You might ask children in their family or neighborhood to read your manuscript.
Kids can be useful beta readers because they’re so honest.
Their parents also offer great feedback. Remember, they are who actually buys your book. Parents’ reactions tell you if your children’s book is appropriate for the market and attractive to other parents.
There are also online children’s book communities, from which you can get feedback from parents, young readers (with parents’ permission, of course), and other authors.
Check out the following online children’s writing communities:
- Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Facebook group
- Children’s Book Authors Facebook group
- Children's Literature Association website
- Children’s Writer’s Guild (become a CWG contributor)
- Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ($80/year membership)
No Illustrations If You Want an Agent
You don’t want to work on or pay for illustrations if you’re querying literary agents. Most of the time, if you get an agent, they will find an editor who will find a preferred illustrator.
Submitting illustrations or guidelines for images along with your manuscript may work to your disadvantage. Literary agents and editors may not want to tell you that you wasted your time on them before hiring a professional they prefer to work with.
Of course, this is another matter if you are a professional illustrator, and that’s part of your marketability.
3. Find an Agent (for Traditional or Indie Publishing)
If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, you probably need to find a literary agent. Traditional publishers seldom accept unsolicited manuscripts from unagented authors.
You’ll want to seek a literary agent specializing in children’s literature if you’re looking to publish a children’s book. Do not waste your time and theirs by querying an agent who doesn’t represent children’s books.
Most independent publishers don’t require an agent to submit a manuscript. However, a few might. And having an agent can improve your submissions and inform which indie publishers you should submit your manuscript to.
If you’re self-publishing, you don’t need an agent.
What does a literary agent do? A literary agent negotiates the best publishing deal possible for the author. They may also manage film and merchandising rights. Literary agents don’t make money until you do. Don’t pay an upfront fee for an agent.
How to Find an Agent (Querying an Agent)
To find an agent, you must query an agent. With few exceptions, you need to submit your manuscript and query letter (like a cover letter) to agents accepting unsolicited submissions in your genre and age category.
A query letter “queries” whether a literary agent is interested in representing your work. It should be a one-page “elevator pitch” that explains how your book is unique and why you are marketable as an author.
Only submit your children’s book to literary agents who handle children’s book authors.
4. Submit Your Manuscript to Publishers
How do you submit a children's book to a publisher? You submit your manuscript to a publisher by querying a literary agent who negotiates the best deal for you or submitting your manuscript to publishers who accept unsolicited submissions from unagented authors.
Is it better to self-publish a children's book? For many authors, it is better to self-publish their children’s books for both the level of work required and the income potential.
In 2021, eBook self-publishing is a larger market than ever before — primarily on Amazon. As long as you’re willing to pay for an editor and an illustrator, self-publishing is often more lucrative in the long run.
Whereas large publishing houses don’t usually consider unagented authors, small independent publishers are more likely to accept and respond to unsolicited submissions.
Can I protect my work when submitting a manuscript? Yes, you can protect your work when submitting the manuscript of your children’s book. Even though your text is copyrighted as soon as you write it, you can further protect your work by registering it with the US Copyright Office.
This helpful article was written by a lawyer: How to Copyright a Book in the US.
Find Niche Imprints of Large Publishers
You can find niche imprints of larger publishers who may accept unsolicited submissions. This can offer you the benefits of traditional publishing without querying a literary agent.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has an imprint called Clarion Books. It accepts submissions from unagented authors.
Penguin has a niche imprint called Dial Books for Young Readers. Authors may submit to this imprint directly.
Beware of Vanity Presses
Similar to agents, no publisher should ask you to pay money to publish your book. They make money when you do.
Vanity presses are looking to prey on inexperienced authors with lots of aspirations. Don’t fall victim to vanity presses who ask you to pay before you publish.
List of Children’s Book Publishers
Below is a list of children’s publishers accepting unsolicited submissions (at the time of writing) and links to their submission guidelines:
- Albert Whitman & Co.
- Arbordale Publishing
- Flashlight Press
- Flying Eye Books
- Free Spirit Publishing
- Gibbs Smith
- Kane Miller Press
- Kids Can Press
- Holiday House
- MB Publishing
- Page Street Publishing Co.
- Pelican Publishing Company
- Penny Candy Books
- Sleeping Bear Press
3 Tips on Self-Publishing a Children’s Book
Here are some must-do steps to take when self-publishing your children’s book:
- Purchase an ISBN number + barcode
- Scan illustrations on a high resolution
- Copyright your book
CreateSpace, an Amazon company for authors, is dead. You may see this mentioned in other articles on self-publishing, but it’s no longer an active company. (More on that below these 3 tips.)
1. Purchase an ISBN number + Barcode
When self-publishing, you need to purchase an ISBN number and barcode.
(When traditionally publishing, they will obtain the ISBN and barcode for you.)
An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a 13-digit code used to identify your unique book. In many countries, it is free — but not in the US or UK.
To get an ISBN + barcode in the United States, visit myidentifiers.com, run by Bowker, the only company allowed to give out ISBN numbers in the US.
Outside the US, visit isbn-international.org to find your country’s agency.
2. Scan Illustrations at a High Resolution
If you self-publish your children’s book and do illustrations by hand, you need to scan your illustrations at a high resolution.
You will need access to a large format printer. Call around to different places and see who can print high-resolution images off of a thumb drive.
3. Copyright Your Book
You should copyright your children’s book to protect your intellectual property.
Under U.S. copyright law, you own your work as soon as you write it down (or type it). However, you may want to further protect your copyright by registering it with the US Copyright Office.
Check out this article written by a lawyer: How to Copyright a Book in the US.
CreateSpace Is Dead
You may see outdated articles mentioning CreateSpace, alongside Amazon, templates, and printing services for self-publishers. However, CreateSpace is dead. Don’t waste your time with research on CreateSpace.
CreateSpace was a print-on-demand (POD) service, mainly for self-publishers.
Amazon acquired CreateSpace in 2005 and merged it with Amazon’s KDP service in 2018.
4 Ways to Market a Children’s Book
Whether you’re self-publishing or traditionally publishing, you need to do your own marketing. But don’t worry — I’m coming in clutch with the handy writing tips.
Here are 4 ways to market a children’s book:
- Choose keywords carefully
- Get reviews for your book
- Build an audience on social platforms
- Plan school visits
1. Choose Keywords Carefully
When choosing a title (and subtitle), you need to select your keywords carefully. If you pick certain keywords, parents are more likely to find your children’s book.
For example, “dragon,” “superhero,” and “ninja” are popular keywords for boys’ books. “Princess,” “unicorn,” and “kitten” are popular keywords for girls’ books.
This is a valuable marketing tool. You should compile a list of words associated with your book and check how often parents use those associated words to buy children’s books.
Keywords can also help potential buyers know if a book is age-appropriate, interests their child, or has a specific story type.
2. Get Reviews for Your Book
Book reviewers can get the word out about your book to untapped potential readers. You need to get reviews for your children’s book from high-quality reviewers.
Check out this Ultimate List of the Best Book Review Blogs.
Note: Traditional publishers often send your book to a list of reviewers. This is super helpful. But you should still send your book off to other reviewers.
Make sure you’re not sending a children’s book to be reviewed by someone who doesn’t accept children’s books. Some reviewers only accept specific categories of children’s books.
Who can review my children’s book? Here are 8 children’s book reviewers you can submit your work to:
- Kids Lit Review reviews children’s books for ages 0 to 14.
- Kirkus Reviews accepts thousands of books each year, including children’s books.
- Publishers Weekly reviews children’s books every issue.
- YA Books Central accepts all sorts of categories, though it focuses on Young Adult books.
- Booklist reviews “books for youths” in a PDF format.
- Littlest Bookshelf accepts “picture books, graphic novels, and chapter books for review.”
- Old Mate Media tries to “review every request [they] get” for children’s picture books.
- Midwest Book Review prioritizes “small publishers, self-published authors, academic presses, and specialty publishers whenever possible.”
Remember to always follow submission guidelines (linked above). Never submit a book for review without permission.
Also, submit books for review 2-3 months before your release date. It takes most of these reviewers that long to get to your book.
3. Build an Audience on Social Platforms
Social media isn’t just suitable for connecting with other authors, illustrators, and book reviewers. You can use Facebook, YouTube, Quora, etc., to connect directly with potential readers.
To build an audience on social platforms, you need to start long before you publish your book. It takes time to get a following — whatever social media platform you use.
6 ways to build an audience on social media:
- Write a blog about your writing process.
- Start a YouTube channel talking about handy writing tips.
- Post to Instagram about parenting guidance, your personal experience as a parent, and other topics relevant to moms and dads.
- Use Facebook ads to garner email subscriptions.
- Stay active on applicable subreddits to get your name out there.
- Post cute pet pics to Twitter that inspire your children’s book illustrations
These are particular examples. You can tailor your social media presence to your preferences, target audience, and personal skill set.
You could also work with social media influencers who get paid to promote your book. Promotion may not directly recoup your investment. But an influencer can get your name out there for long-term sales and get you in touch with other authors and readers with similar interests.
Today, parents of young kids are millennials. They’re looking to the internet and social media for children’s book recommendations, parenting tips, and ways to relieve stress.
Take advantage of this and make your presence known to build an audience of potential readers on social media sites.
4. Plan School Visits
It might sound hard, but planning school visits to market your book can be simple and very rewarding. Not only do many schools welcome author visits, but they also set aside an annual budget for them.
Get in touch with a school administrator or a librarian. Some visits are for free, but some may pay.
Even if you don’t get any money for visiting a school, you can read your book to get feedback from children, you can get your book’s name out there, and you could even offer signed copies with a take-home slip.
Are you ready to publish your children’s book?
This handy article has prepared you to publish your children’s book. Bookmark this page so you can reference it in the future!
Personally, I self-publish my books. I knew I could afford to pay for an editor and cover design artist, and I knew I’d have to do my own marketing either way. I wanted to be able to keep all my royalties, so I went the self-publishing route.
However, if you prefer traditional publishing or indie publishers, no shame! You do what’s right for you.
Please, comment below on what you learned from this blog post or what else you want to know. I keep up to date with my comments.