Selling your children's book as a self-publisher

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My first self-published picture book, Making Mindful Magic was released about two months ago now. It offers mindful experiences for children and adults to share, written in verse with full colour pastel illustrations (you can purchase it here!).

I’m pleased with what’s happened with Making Mindful Magic so far. I’ve sold over 200 copies through my website, a national magazine has picked it up for review, my city’s online children’s magazine ran a review, an early childhood consultancy has picked it up to sell at its workshops, a professional education journal has picked it up for review as have a number of reviewers and bloggers (see a selection of our reviews here). This has happened by many emails, by giving away many books and through much social media interaction and we're still tweaking and trying new things; I imagine we will be for a while! But here are some things I’ve learnt so far:
 

  • Choose a topic that sells itself | I think my timing was important – mindfulness for adults is a very hot topic worldwide but mindfulness for children is really an undeveloped although very deserving theme, it's the next natural step for a lot of people I think! I have had comments from reviewers who rarely accept ‘cold-call’ emails saying they paid attention when the word ‘mindful’ was mentioned so I guess we can all learn that choosing your topic is important!
     
  • Quality product | My first priority when self-publishing was always the quality of the finished product. No matter how good the text is, if it isn’t something that will capture the imagination then it’s unlikely to pass the muster with a reviewer or anyone else if it’s a picture book! The POD options I saw were not to my liking. I went down many paths to discover what I didn’t want before I realised I needed a traditional printer who already printed for large publishing companies – I found what I was looking for with Tien Wah Press.
     
  • Patience wins | I needed to find my patience reserves. It took almost 3 months between when the final files were sent to the printer and when the copies were in my hands! I knew who I wanted to do my book design for me but she was extremely busy so I had to wait until she could do it but as a first time publisher I needed someone I could trust – you need a good relationship with that designer and preferably look for someone who will go the extra mile for you!
     
  • Order advance copies & use them | Get at least 20 advanced copies! When you self-publish with a traditional printer you need to pay up-front and the temptation is there to try and save wherever you can. I was offered 2 free advanced copies or pay extra for 20 and that was well worth it. When you send your book out it takes a long time for people to get back to you – to put it in perspective your book is a lot more important to you than it is to anyone else so getting copies out early to reviewers, magazines etc is a good investment.
     
  • Be prepared to give away a lot of books | ‘Word of mouth’ is your friend and generosity will breed generosity of spirit and recipients will happily share your news with others.
     
  • Find your community | You need to find your tribe and to develop a social media presence. For me it was obvious that people interested in mindfulness, authentic living, early childhood, education, spirituality, yoga and health were those I needed to interact with. It was an interest area of mine so I knew where to start but really Google is your best friend here and you will be amazed if you put in the time and effort what connections you will discover. Just a point here a well-known reviewer I contacted congratulated me on using her name – she told me she received so many emails from people who hadn’t even bothered to find out her name! I always think finding out a bit about the person you are asking for help in promoting your book is also a given – we all like to be praised so find out what they have recently reviewed and comment on it at the very least or congratulate them on an achievement.
     
  • Online presence | You absolutely have to have a website of course – make sure it’s well-designed and usable because no one is going to bother navigating around a sub-standard site these days! You’ll also need at the very least a Facebook page and preferably an Instagram account. You’ll then need to engage with people who find you on those sites and be proactive in finding followers by following them! There are google searches that will provide wonderful advice on making the most of social media so invest some research time into establishing your presence.  You may for a while have to become a bit of a social media addict yourself because if someone is bothering to comment on something on your site then the least you can do is acknowledge it!
     
  • Find your brave self | I’m closer to the introvert end than I am to the extrovert end of the spectrum so walking into a bookstore to flog my book is sort of my worst nightmare! But that’s what I did! I chose some local ones only and they all took it but the jury is still out on whether I will see my book there. I went prepared with a letter as well and I was glad I did. Like most things – here again patience is the virtue needed – of course the person who makes the decision will not be in the store when you visit but that’s okay if you are prepared to leave it with your letter and wait patiently for the verdict!
     
  • Self promotion | Your brave self will also be needed when you need to do some self promotion – be prepared to send out an email to everyone you know telling them of the arrival of your book and ask if anyone has any avenues they might know of to help sell your book – I was pleasantly surprised by what information came out of the woodwork!
     
  • Always say ‘yes’ | By that I mean if you are invited to present somewhere or to write something as a guest blogger just say you’ll do it and get some help doing it if you need to but the opportunities must be taken when they are presented!
     
  • Produce & give away 'leave behinds' | I’ve had some postcards printed that I send with book purchases from my website asking if they enjoy the book then to  please post a review on Goodreads, my Facebook or Instagram accounts or my website. I’ve also had some business cards printed because in general conversation you will find people genuinely interested in your project but will soon forget about it if you don’t give them something concrete – hence the business cards! You don’t need amazing quality – I used an online printer and chose the budget option which meant they took longer to arrive – patience again!
     
  • Try everything | For the launch which was an online launch rather than a physical event – I did a Goodreads giveaway but I’m  not sure if that was really worth it! We later discovered Goodreads don’t allow a link to your website so if that is where you primarily sell your book, it may not convert to book sales. I’ve also listed the book with Amazon but I haven’t seriously gone down that avenue yet with any promotion. We offered a 10% discount for a couple of days and have continued with a buy 5 and get 1 free offer which has also worked well.

It is hard work promoting your book – I’m always looking for new reviewers, for newspaper, magazine or web articles that relate to my theme so I can contact the journalist and I know eventually I’ll get all those emails sent! What is worthwhile is getting the news that something has worked and another of your precious books has found a happy home!

Making Mindful Magic written and illustrated by Lea McKnoulty is the first in the Making Mindful Children series supporting her website www.makingmindfulchildren.com