Self-Publishing a Children’s Book - 4 Realities

I self-published a children’s picture book back in 2008 when self-publishing wasn’t like it is today. And, as a newbie to self-publishing, I made a couple of mistakes. The first of which was that I didn’t hire an illustrator – I did the illustrations and cover for the book myself. 

I can hear all the gasps. It's okay though, I did correct this super-major error about four years later. 

But I didn’t self-publish to become rich or famous as some new authors aspire to. My book was created from a lullaby I wrote when my first child wouldn’t sleep. I’d walk the hallway every night with my daughter in my arms and sing the lullaby … and pray for her to go to sleep. 

 It became a family lullaby and my children thought it’d be a great idea to make it into a bedtime story. At the time, I thought self-publishing was the way to go. 

Back then, I used Booksurge which became CreateSpace which is now Amazon, and I was very pleased with the support and results. 

Then a few years ago, I self-published a nonfiction book on writing for children: Fiction Writing for Children. Although I knew a lot more than I did when I self-published my first book, but I still made a few of mistakes: 

1. I hired someone from to format and upload my book to Kindle and Createspace. And, I hit the ‘publish’ button without previewing the book first. The margins were off. 

 2. I wasn't crazy about the title I created, but used it anyway. 

 3. I wasn't crazy about the book cover, but used it anyway. I used someone on Fiverr for that also. 

 4. I didn’t give it to Beta readers or an editor before publishing. 

But, again, my purpose for the book wasn’t to make money. It was to provide answers to questions I keep getting about writing for children. It ended up being over 170 pages of all information – no illustrations – no fluff. 

This year, I took the time to revise, update, and add more content to the original book and titled it How to Write a Fiction Children's Book. I also made sure to avoid the same mistakes.

So, let’s go back to the title question: Is self-publishing a young children’s book the way to go? 

 Well, based on an information-packed article at Jane Friedman’s site, you should think twice and even three times before deciding to jump in. 

Why Self-Publishing a Children’s Book May Not Be Right For You

 It seems everyone is self-publishing today. And, there’s nothing wrong with that if your expectations are in check. 

Here are a 4 reality-check reasons you may want to stop and think before self-publishing: 

1. The stigma. 

While it’s better than before, there is still some stigma attached to self-published books. The reason for this is there are NO gatekeepers for self-publishing. If you have an idea, write it down, get a book cover, and get it formatted for publishing, you have a book.

- Don’t know how to write? Doesn’t matter.
- Didn’t bother with editing or proofing? Doesn’t matter.
- Didn’t bother with a professional cover? Doesn’t matter.
- Didn’t bother to hire a good illustrator? Doesn't matter.

Self-publishing does open the arena to everyone and makes the playing field more even, but it also allows for a lot of less than professional and less than quality books. This is why there’s still a stigma attached to self-published books.

2. You’ve got to do it right.

As mentioned in #1, anyone can self-publish a book.

But YOU don’t want to be anyone; you want to do it right and that takes work especially if you’re publishing a book for young children.

- Do you know that the story must be told from one point-of-view?    
- Do you know that there should be only one protagonist?
- Do you know the proper format and punctuation for dialogue?
- Do you know about present tense and past tense?
- Do you know about showing vs. telling?
- More and more and more.

If you don’t want to learn how to write for children, then you definitely shouldn’t be self-publishing a children’s book. Or, you should hire a children’s ghostwriter to do it for you.

In the article at Jane Friedman's site, Brent Hartinger noted that “the Gold Rush is definitely over. There is now an absolute deluge of content, and the market has become extremely competitive. Your idea needs to be really, really marketable, or your book needs to be really, really good, and preferably both.” 

3. It can be very expensive.

Illustrations - If you’re self-publishing a children’s picture book (or even a chapter book with illustrations), you’ll need to hire an illustrator. If you want a good one, s/he won’t come cheap.

One of my clients hired someone for over $12,000 USD a book. This included is the interior illustrations, design, text layout, front cover, and back cover. And, this client did a six-book series.

Another client hired a subsidiary self-publishing company of a major publishing house. He paid $10,000 for illustrations and to have it designed and formatted for published. AND, at least half the illustrations stunk! He had the service do them over and over.

Granted most authors can’t afford these kind of fees, but if you want someone who WON’T make your book look like a total amateur job, then you’re looking at spending around $100 to $200 per interior illustration.

And, you’ll need around 12-14 interior illustrations. The front cover is usually more money unless you use one of the interior illustrations for the cover. And, then there’s the backcover design.

Publishing service – Once you have your story complete, with illustrations and text layout, you’ll need a service to format it and upload it to distributors like BookBaby, 1106 Designs, Smashwords, etc. This is an additional fee.

Some of these companies can be worth their cost, but be super-careful. Most of them will try to sell you everything and anything: editing, rewriting, illustrations, design, layout, formatting, distribution, and marketing.

Keep in mind they make their money from you and only you.

4. You’re one author in an ocean teeming with authors.

The market is swamped. If you’re looking to reach lots of people, become famous, or make a boat load of money, don’t hold your breath.

Most self-published children’s authors don’t recoup their publishing investment.

While there are exceptions to the rule, they are far and few between.

5. You’re not willing to actively market your book.

Okay, even if you know how to write and have the money to hire a pretty good illustrator, if you don’t actively market your book, you most probably won’t sell any.

Before you even get to the publishing decision, create a marketing plan and include an author website in those plans.

With thousands and thousands of books vying for a reader’s attention, you’ll need all the help you can get.

One note here: Most self-publishing services offer marketing as part of a package deal or separately. Don’t waste your money. These companies don’t bother with effective, ongoing marketing.

I’ve seen the results of marketing from these services numerous times. Again, don’t waste your money.

Ask around. Do research. Ask exactly what you'll get for your money. Make sure you're working with a professional company. 

The original title to this article was: Is Self-Publishing a Children’s Book the Way to Go? 4 Realities

Karen Cioffi
is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

You can connect with Karen at:


Everyone Starts Small So Get Started

Getting Press

Writing Fiction for Children - 4 Simple Tips




Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for this reality check as people conidere self-publishing a children's book. Your personal stories combine with your practical experience to show writers some of the pitfalls.

With gratitude,


Karen Cioffi said...

Terry, it really is a reality check. I don't think new authors think twice about self-publishing as it's now so easy. Hopefully, they read this or other articles on the topic and realize it's important to do it right.

Dave Williams said...

As I'm working on a children's book, I was quite interested in reading your blog post. And you give very good points on self-publishing books in general. I agree that since the process is so easy, it's also easy to put together a book quickly. But I cringe when I see ads for people who claim to know how to make thousands of dollars a month by self-publishing, and they can teach you how. As I've learned through my job as a graphic designer, it takes awhile to put together a book. Planning goes into it, as well as lots of revisions. A rush job most likely will look and read like a rush job.

Karen Cioffi said...

Dave, thanks for stopping by! I agree. And what's a shame is that so many authors fall for these self-publishing ads. Thanks for sharing!

Your Children's Story and the Message

  By Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer I get a lot of clients who want to tell children something through a book. These people want to sen...