Answering Indie Kids Questions: March 2020

Reader questions answered.

I asked you—my readers—if you had questions I could answer. Here’s the March questions/answers.


MIKE: I'm getting ready to set the RRP on my 32 page children's picture book. Prices of comparable books are all over the map. Higher seems like it positions it as a higher quality product and provides room to discount. Lower is always attractive. Does $3 - $5 dollars make a difference if you are reaching your target?

ANSWER: Setting the Recommended Retail Price (RRP) is tricky, but I think one questions helps you find an answer. Where do you expect to sell books? If you want to sell in bookstores, you must price 32-page full-color hardcovers under $20 and the closer to $15, the better. This is impossible with print-on-demand pricing (with one exception that I’ll get to in a minute). The print cost plus required distribution costs are too high. Instead, you need offset printing costs, which comes with its own problems of distribution.

However, if you decide that your main sales will be schools and libraries, then your pricing can be more realistic for POD pricing. Small educational publishers regularly publish and sell books with prices up to $25. You won’t attract bookstores, but you can get sales from the educational market.

For my POD picture books, I price at $23.99 so I can make a profit. They sell because I focus on meeting the needs of the educators. As you mention, it also gives room for discounts. I don’t think it says it’s a higher quality, though. People expect the $15 books to be high quality, and since the bar is already high, adding more to the price doesn’t change their expectations.

So, yes, if you price too high, you cut yourself out of the marketplace and sales will suffer. But which marketplace are you talking about?

The exception is if you use Shopify combined with the Lulu Xpress app. For this POD option, Lulu doesn’t charge distribution fees! That’s a game changer and changes the parameters around setting pricing. I’ve written about setting up an online bookstore with the Lulu Xpress option here.

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ANNA: What are some worthwhile picture book awards for fiction writers that are available to indies?

ANSWER: This is a great question because it recognizes that there are many picture book awards that mean nothing. ALLI has a great post on evaluating book awards in general. They include a long list of awards and rate their suitability.

For children’s books, awards administered by the Children’s Book Council includes the NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, NCSS Notable Social Studies award, STEM Book award, Mathical Awad, and other awards. These are open, though some of them require an entry fee. The American Library Association administers the Newbery, Caldecott, Sibert and other awards, all open to any book published in the U.S. The Bank Street College administers the Irma Black award, the Cook award and others, all open.

Basically, I enter whatever is appropriate. The problem that I often see is authors being hesitant to enter an award because “I’m just self-published.” If you disqualify yourself up front, though, you’re in trouble! Did you disqualify yourself because you doubt your book’s quality. Then, why did you publish an inferior book? Publish quality and enter appropriate awards! So far, my books have garnered four NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book, NCTE Notable Book in Language Arts, NCSS Notable Social Studies book, Eureka! NonFiction Honor from the California Reading Association, and three starred reviews.

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ANNA: Can you share your tips for making the covers look good but still have small file sizes? It looks to me like covers do change the overall file size so I do want them as small as I can, but with decent quality. Do you look at dpi or ppi and how many pixels do you do for double spread inside e-book? I have one book out as a test - it is adult non-fiction and 625 x 1000 pixels works perfect (at 40% quality 70 dpi) but the rest I will be putting out are picture books so I was wondering which size the double spread it should be. All my books are 8 x 10 in trim size. Thanks!

ANSWER: I’m not sure I’m following your question. But I think you’re talking about ebook files, instead of print files. If that’s so, then I’d recommend you read this article about how to format children’s picture books for Kindles. It goes into detail on why you want small file sizes and how to achieve it without sacrificing quality.

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NADINE: Do you have any tips on how to enter the market as a newbie indie author for Upper Middle Grade fiction (reader age 11 to 13 years)? What are the particular effective steps required to get through the gate keepers (parents, teachers, librarians, others?) to ultimately reach the target audience? Thanks!

ANSWER: This is one of the hardest age ranges to reach! The preteen and early teen are driven by trends, very peer-oriented. The biggest thing in marketing to middle grade and upper middle grade is to come in with flexibility and a willingness to experiment. You didn’t say what genre, and clean romance will vary wildly from mystery. The key will be to find what works for your books and that will likely take experimentation.

The best hope is to reach out to bloggers, teachers, and parents of the age group. Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading report says that 41% of kids say they have trouble finding a good book to read. They want adults to step in and recommend great books. It’s a great report to read with this age group in mind, as the survey goes deep into their reading habits. In general, if you reach the adults surrounding the kids, you have a chance of reaching your preteen/teen audience.

You asked how to be “particularly effective” in reaching the gatekeepers. I think this is a case when the story itself matters deeply. Hitting the right tone, tropes, balance of humor and thrills, etc. will make a huge difference. Your craft matters deeply at all levels, but taking the time to understand the kinds of books this audience reads is especially important.

While I rarely use services such as NetGalley or Edelweiss, I might try putting review copies there for easy access by interested adults. Give away a short story so they can get a taste of your writing style. A free first-in-series book, supported by newsletter promos, has potential.

On Amazon, try different categories to see if one does better than another. Also, try Amazon advertising, which has a chance of putting the books in front of the right people.

Good luck with it!

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PATDANA: I bought your book & took your course. My self-published picture book is now with the graphic designer. My question is about getting reviews. With a limited budget, what would be 3 good book reviewers to submit my book? Thanks.

ANSWER: PatDana, congratulations on your first book! You’re right that reviews are important. There are two types of reviews, either from readers or from review journals.

For review journals, it’s very hard for indie books to get reviews from the journals. I’d suggest that you try two of them and just take what you can get. First, Publisher’s Weekly has a portal for indies called Book Life. You can set up your book there and wait to see if it’s chosen. Seems like random choices to me, but sometimes I’ll get a review there.

The second is to submit a digital review copy to School Library Journal. Because of COVID, these are all digital submissions now. See more information here. Good luck!

Reviews from readers on Amazon, Apple, GoodReads, Kobo, Google Play, etc. are also important. There are so many articles on how to do this, that I’ll link to a couple here for you. Good luck!

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TIFFANY: I write for multiple age groups, from picture books to adults. I'd appreciate your thoughts on building a brand with multiple spinning plates .

ANSWER: Tiffany, you know the problems! Essentially, you have to find ways to market to each audience. Some strategies include different pen names for each audience, social media accounts for each, and cloning yourself. If you can afford a virtual assistant for each audience, that would help.

In other words, don’t do this unless you simply must. Each new audience means you double the work.

I’d also suggest establishing one audience track for a couple years before you add another. That way, you’ve got the first plate spinning and it’s easier to keep spinning while your attention is split.

Sorry that I’m not much help on this one!

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