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Are Children's Books Profitable?
If you self-publish a kids' book will you make money or lose money?
There’s one burning question when you start the journey toward indie-publishing children’s books: will it be profitable?
Yes. I am earning a six-figure income with my children’s publishing program and after eight years, I have published 60+ books. It’s my career and passion.
No. If you only want to publish one book, um, it’s hard, if not impossible to be profitable.
A One-Off Children’s Book is Difficult
Some people approach this question casually, coming to the genre of children’s books thinking it’s easy because, after all, it’s only for kids. Oh, you won’t be profitable.
A one-off book is incredibly hard to pull off because there are so many ways it can go wrong: poorly written story, poor illustrations, poor layout and design, poor launch strategy, poor understanding of your audience of teachers, parents, and kids. Did you notice the repetition of the word, “poor”? It is used deliberately to emphasize that children’s books aren’t going to earn a profit unless it’s approached respectfully and with great thought and effort.
Let’s go through some elements of a successful children’s picture book to see what’s needed.
WRITING. Children’s picture books are usually 32-pages and can be written for ages 0-12. It’s important to know the target age range so the writing will be appropriate. One important consideration is word count.
Preschool, ages 0-5. Word count is zero to 500 words, and shorter is better.
K-2nd, ages 5-8. Word count is zero to 600 words, and shorter is better.
3rd - 5th, ages 7-12. Word count is zero to 1000 words, and shorter is better.
In those few words you must tell a compelling story with a beginning, middle, and end which introduces a larger-than-life character. Seldom will a beloved pet—no matter how wonderful they are/were—become a good picture book character.
The story must read aloud easily. One mistake is to think that a children’s book must be poetry, because seldom does the poetry work. If you don’t know what “an iambic pentameter line” means, you shouldn’t be writing poetry. Instead, the story must contain language appropriate to the story that is easy or even fun for adults to read and reread. Learn more about writing a children’s picture book here.
ART. Children’s picture books are illustrated, which means there’s an image or piece of art on every page. If you aren’t an artist, don’t even attempt it! Don’t ask your neighbor or your niece or any family member to attempt it, because they aren’t professional artists either. Don’t shortcut this and grab art from an online market such as Fiverr.com, because the art is mediocre, at best.
The bane of self-published children’s books—and this directly affects profitability—is mediocre digital art.
If you attempt publishing a children’s books, you need an appreciation for great art and the ability to recognize art that tells a story well. While digital art is often cheaper to acquire, in the hands of a mediocre artist, it has a distinctive look that cheapens a children’s book. Look for great art, whether it’s digital or not. Be prepared to pay a reasonable fee (there’s a balance between paying too little and too much!) for art, and you’ll increase your chances of profitability. Read this for more on contacting an illustrator.
How to Become Profitable With a Children’s Book
There are clear paths to profitability for children’s books, and the Indie Kids Books blog is devoted to discussing options for becoming profitable with children’s books.
Here’s some posts to get you started. For each, there’s a short synopsis and a link to Read More.
What will you publish?
8 Types of Indie-Publishers
Respecting Your Copyright
Building a Lucrative Career
A 5-Year Publishing Plan
Printing Overseas v POD
Marketing to Schools
Marketing Self Published Children’s Books
Do Children’s Books License Rights?
Questions or Comments? Glad to discuss!