Children’s Book Authors Guide to Getting Started

While it’s impossible to cover every single thing that a self-publishing author of children’s books needs to know, I’m going to hit the high points for you—and for our children.

Picture Book Authors Getting Started Guide To Publishing

I’ve designed hundreds of book in the last 12 years, and children’s picture books are hands down the most difficult type of project.

To clarify, a children’s picture book that puts the children first is the most difficult.

Creating a picture book (or any product) for children should not be taken lightly. I believe the children are our future and that we should indeed teach them WELL. We want to teach them art appreciation, storytelling principles, rhythm through rhyming, vocabulary, sentence structure, spelling, and punctuation.

Our children deserve our collective best, which is why publishing a quality children’s book is impossible to do all by yourself. Even the best editors know better than to be solely responsible for editing their own work—and that’s one reason why they are the best.

While it’s impossible to cover every single thing that a self-publishing author of children’s books needs to know, I’m going to hit the high points for you—and for our children.

Publishing Models


When an author chooses to self-publish, THEY ARE THE PUBLISHER. This does not mean they have to do everything all by themselves. Self-publishing is an author-subsidized model of publishing. This means the author as the publisher is funding all of the expenses and taking responsibility for all of the many, many aspects of publishing a book.

Authors who hire me are self-publishing. The author is the publisher, and I am a member of their publishing team. I own none of the content, and the author has the final decision-making power on all things. My goal is to present the author with her options and then accept the decisions she decides are best for her business goals.

The author owns their own ISBN and all accounts are setup in the author’s name with the author’s email address and password they opt for. All profits are the author’s.

Traditional Publishing

A traditional publisher invests their capital into producing your book, which means they are the owners of your content. They have purchased it from you via contract and by way of investing their capital into the project, then they pay you royalties on the sale of books. Some traditional publishers will pay the author upfront, as well as distribute royalties, and some will only work from a royalty distribution model.

Traditional publishing relies on agents to find authors with manuscripts worth investing in.

Hybrid Publishing

Hybrid publishing is also an author-subsidized model but the hybrid press often retains ownership and account control. The author is somewhat in the driver’s seat, which is great if your hybrid publisher isn’t afraid to speak up to prevent you from making bad decisions. Hybrid publishers who are only concerned with money have no problem letting an author to make bad decisions. Heck, they may not even know what good is themselves!

Like most popular business models, the owners of hybrid publishing companies often look for the cheapest labor in order to retain as much of the profit for themselves. This results in a hot mess. Buyer beware! Read up on the Independent Book Publisher’s Association (IBPA) Hybrid Publisher Criteria to make sure you have the data at-hand to help you select a quality hybrid publisher.

“Hybrid publishing companies behave just like traditional publishing companies in all respects, except that they publish books using an author-subsidized business model, as opposed to financing all costs themselves and, in exchange, return a higher-than-industry-standard share of sales proceeds to the author. A hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services and book sales.
“Although hybrid publishing companies are author-subsidized, they are different from other author-subsidized models (i.e., self-publishing service providers) in that hybrid publishers adhere—without exception—to IBPA’s Hybrid Publisher Criteria. Regardless of who pays for editorial, design, and production fees, it is always the publisher that bears responsibility for producing, distributing, and ultimately selling professional-quality books.” —IBPA

Vanity Press

If your hybrid publisher does not meet the hybrid publisher criteria, then they are likely a vanity press. Vanity presses exist because people are vain.

You know you’re a vanity children’s picture book author when…

  1. You only want to give the least amount of credit possible to your illustrator. For example: Asking “Can you make the illustrator’s name as small as possible on the front cover, take their name off of the spine, and remove their bio?” all while telling me how amazing your illustrator is and that you couldn’t have done it without them.
  2. You will spend thousands on printing but none on editing, none on educating yourself about the business, and only the bare minimum on illustrations and file preparation.
  3. You think your book is going to be picked up for mass distribution by Barnes and Noble because “it’s just that good.”
  4. You don’t respect anyone else’s time or experience. You know best, even though you’ve never published a children’s picture book before. You’re breaking all the rules and you think that’s a good thing.
  5. When you haven’t read a children’s book in decades but you think you can write an out-of-the-park book because “it’s just 500 words” (credit:

Books are a tactile experience. 

You can provide a cheap experience or a quality experience.

The physical components (paper quality, paper coating, ink saturation, binding options, trim size) of the book are all a part of the experience.

Publishing books is a product-based business.

In order to get the best product at the best price per unit, the business owner has to work with a manufacturer of books (a printer and bindery).

Types of Printing

There are two core ways to get a book printed: offset printing or print-on-demand.

Offset printing allows the author to customize their book’s tactile experience. However, books have to be ordered in bulk and shipped over from China (in most cases). This is the only model that allows you to charge a competitive retail price while still making enough profit to operate a publishing company that sells quality physical books.

Print-on-demand allows the author to print one book at a time (no inventory) and utilize the POD’s built-in marketing platform to get to market in a super short amount of time. The whole reason POD exists is to be a convenience model for the author. As such, it’s not the best quality—and they aren’t changing it any time soon. They rely on the author’s vanity and impatience, which put millions of dollars into their pocket’s each year.

Print-on-demand companies like KDP and IngramSpark charge you the highest rate for a not-the-highest-quality book. Your options are extremely limited when compared to offset printing. Print-on-demand is more like “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit,” whereas offset printing is there to tickle your every book-printing fancy.

Print-on-demand is the chilled single-serving cold coffee from the gas station.

Offset printing is the barista-made espresso at your favorite coffee shop made just the way you like it. Yes, it’s more expensive. No, it’s not as convenient. But, man, is it worth the wait!

Costs of Printing


There are many, many offset printers to choose from. I recommend the Indie Author’s Publishing Collecting (IAPC) owned by Jay Miletsky, author of the Patrick Picklebottom children’s book series, as well as other stand-alone titles. Email for a quote.

As of today (June 23, 2023), a 32-page hardcover 8.5 x 8.5 full-color picture book on 105# (thick!) paper is:

  • $4.32 per book for 1000 quantity
  • $3.55 per book for 2000 quantity
  • $2.14 per book for 3000 quantity

These numbers include printing and shipping from China to IAPC’s warehouse in New Jersey.


You have two core print-on-demand options: Amazon KDP and IngramSpark.

Amazon KDP

Amazon KDP only offers hardbacks in four trim sizes AND for books with a minimum page count of 76 pages. None of those four trim sizes are square. Your color options are standard or premium, although you have to dig really deep to even find out what that even means. You don’t get a paper option. You don’t get a coating option. Because they don’t offer hardbacks in this trim size or for page counts less than 76, I can’t give you an apples-to-apples comparison. You can run your own numbers with KDP’s online cost and royalty calculator.

Even though KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing, Amazon is not the publisher. If you are self-publishing, YOU are the publisher. Amazon KDP is nothing more than a book printer with access to Amazon’s larger warehousing, distribution, and marketing platforms.


IngramSpark is a branch of the larger company, Ingram. IngramSpark is Ingram’s print-on-demand platform. It is the same model as Amazon’s POD platform.

IngramSpark does print hardbacks with page counts as low as 24, and they also offer the 8.5 x 8.5 trim size. However, they also offer limited color and paper options: standard color on 50# paper, standard color on 70# paper, or premium color on 70# paper. All paper options are the same as KDP’s—as thin as truck stop toilet paper.

A 32-page hardcover 8.5 x 8.5 full-color picture book printed with premium color on 70# paper in 1000 quantity at IngramSpark is $8.75 per book.

A single book is $9.41 before the handling and shipping fee.

Use IngramSpark’s printing and shipping calculator to run your own figures.

This is the cost if you want the books shipped straight to you and sell them all on your own, without using IngramSpark’s online distribution program. Read on.

Margins (The Money Kind)

For now, let’s set aside all of the other expenses publishing a book requires and just focus on the print costs only.

Most authors have a not-so-secret goal of selling their books in a bookstore. There are lots of indie bookstores who would love to have your quality, self-published children’s picture book!

But they are in business to make money, and you have to have a product that allows them to do so. Ideally, if you are treating publishing as a for-profit business, you will also want to make money from your book.

Just like if you were selling candles, T-shirts, or pot holders, you will also have to provide wholesale pricing on your books if you want them carried in someone else’s business. Each store is different, but a 50% wholesale model is not uncommon. We’ll use 50% as a worst-case scenario.

If the retail price of your book is $20, then a bookstore wants to buy that book for $10 (which is 50% of the $20).

That means that for you to make money selling your book to the bookstore, you have to get the print cost of your book down as low as possible.

Recalling our numbers from above, an offset printed book from a 1,000-quantity order is $4.32 landed (that means printed and shipped). This puts $5.68 in your pocket when selling 50% wholesale to the bookstore.

A single print-on-demand book from IngramSpark with the as-close-as-we-can-get parameters as the IAPC book costs the author $9.41. If they ordered a 1000 from IngramSpark, then their price per unit (PPU) is $8.75. Both of these figures are BEFORE SHIPPING. At best, this puts $1.25 in your pocket when selling 50% wholesale to the bookstore.

The Publishing Process

Now that we’ve got that squared away, let’s move on to how a book moves from manuscript to printed book. While I am a publishing consultant, I am not a writing coach, so I’m going to stick to what I know and that is the publishing process. Everything from this point forward is based on the fact that you have done separate research on how to write a children’s picture book.

At minimum, picture books utilize editors, illustrators, and a production artist (book designer). Some of these steps will run concurrently. For example, you can start vetting an illustrator while the editing is happening. However, you shouldn’t hire an illustrator without first hiring a production artist, because the production artist is going to help you arrive at the punch list your illustrator needs to provide an accurate quote.

I serve as both a publishing consultant and production artist. Learn more about how I work with children’s picture book authors.


Step 1: Professional Peer Review ($250ish per round)

Get your manuscript to the point where you have gone as far as you can go on your own without professional input. Utilize your friends, family, beta readers, FB groups, etc. to get you to this point. Then hire a professional in the publishing space to provide a review. This person is not a formal editor, but may be a fellow established author of children’s books, an elementary school teacher who is passionate about quality resources for her classroom, etc.

I have my own secret weapon for my clients that no one else has access to: an elementary school librarian of a top-performing STEM school who loves children, is a published author, and has a very high standard for any books she selects for her library. At this time, she is only providing peer reviews for my clients. Hire me as your publishing consultant to get access to her.

Step 2: Developmental Edit ($250ish per round)

Now we are ready to hire a professional editor who is dedicated to her pursuing craft as a business.

“This consists of notes throughout your manuscript to focus on “big picture” issues like plot, pacing, characterization, etc. This also includes a separate editorial letter outlining general strengths and areas for improvement, as well as recommendations for next steps in the editing process. This does not include line-level edits.”—Laura Bontje

Step 3: Stylistic/Copy Edit ($250ish per round)

“This edit focuses on line-level language (sentence structure, word choice, clarity, and flow), correctness (spelling, grammar, and mechanics), and, if used, poetic style (rhyme and meter).”—Laura Bontje

A real copy editor uses a professional style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS). In America, English teachers are not taught about CMOS, which immediately disqualifies them from being a copy editor or proofreader.

Step 4: Proofreading ($250ish per round)

In book publishing, the true act of proofreading can not happen until the book has been all the way through layout and is ready for printing. Sometimes the copy editor you hired will also do the proofreading, but most prefer you hire a new set of eyes. Make sure to get a referral from your copy editor, because the proofreader and copy editor should be sympatico with their decisions.

Read Intro to the Editing Process by Laura Bontje.

Illustrating ($3000+)

Secretly, illustrators do not want to work directly with the author because most inexperienced authors do not know how to respect the boundaries of the author-illustrator relationship and a majority of illustrators also suck at setting these boundaries. Most of the illustrators that are in FB groups are freelance illustrators who are looking for their next gig—and secret preferences be damned. They got bills to pay, and they’re not about to turn you away.

As a continuation of that, they agree to do it all. “Format your book, you say? Yes, I can do that too!”

And this is how we end up with illustrators who illustrate and format books for $7000, even though they are only qualified to illustrate. For $7000, you should be able to hire a quality illustrator AND a real production artist, which is the missing link to your success

Illustrators work in ProCreate, Illustrator, or Photoshop. None of those are professional book layout software. Adobe InDesign is the industry standard for book layout and design, and it is nothing like those other three. It is, however, designed to work with Illustrator and Photoshop, since they are all a part of the Adobe family.

Now, I do want to go on record and say that, just like I am both a publishing consultant and a production artist, illustrators can also be both an illustrator and a production artist. However, most of them are not! I explain later what a production artist is, what skills they must have, and what their responsibilities are.

As a production artist, I make sure the illustrator follows the professional process outlined below.

  1. Before the illustrator is hired, we commission him to provide a character sketch. Some offer this for free. Some charge $100 or so.
  2. If we like what we see, I submit a punch list of everything we need from the illustrator (how many spot illustrations, full spread, single page, types of cover art). This gives the illustrator what he needs to prepare an accurate and formal quote with a contract for review.
  3. After we hire the illustrator, we move on to finalizing all main characters, their expressions, core body poses/actions, color palette, and art style.
  4. Then the artist is cleared for storyboarding using the paginated manuscript I’ve prepared with art notes. Lots of room is given to the artist to implement his own creative energy. The illustrator is responsible for the majority of the concepting of the art. Concepting is a skill. The author and the production artist work together to pass along any of the author’s priorities and preferences to the illustrator and then we get out of the way. Storyboarding can be as rudimentary as stick figures, as we’re just looking to sign-off on the concept.
  5. After the storyboarding is approved, the illustrator is cleared for line art.
  6. After the line art is approved, the illustrator is cleared for coloring. Once line art is approved, unless the author wants to pay for additional changes, no more changes are made unless they are actually necessary and not just a whim of the author.
  7. Somewhere in between the line art and the coloring, the production artist and the illustrator are working in tandem to develop the cover concept for author approval. Most of the time, the cover of a picture book does not take shape until the artist has had a chance to work on the interior.

Typesetting and Final File Production ($1500+)

Typesetting is the correct word for what most people call formatting. While you can hire a typesetter separate from the production artist, the production artist usually provides typesetting as one of their core services.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s look at what all a production artist is, what skills are required, and what she is responsible for.

What is a Production Artist? (source)

Put simply, production artists are the creative professionals responsible for carrying out the execution of a design concept. These essential members of a creative team are the “doers” who

  1. run with design vision and
  2. ensure all creative deliverables are produced on time.

They are the experts in creative execution.

What skills do production artists need to be successful? (source)

  • Adobe Creative Suite™
  • Customer service
  • Packaging
  • Print production
  • Typesetting
  • Project management
  • Quality assurance and control
  • Printers
  • Color editing
  • Photo editing

I use all of the above to work in tandem with the author and the illustrator to deliver a print-ready file that protects the author’s investment and create a book that any child-loving, quality-obsessed librarian would be proud to display in her library.


Most authors who treat publishing as a business will invest $10K+ on their quality physical product by the time it’s all said and done.

Authors who only publish one book will rarely see a return on their investment (ROI).

There is a common saying about owning a business, and I found it to be true in my own business ventures as well:

The first year, you feed the business. The second year, the business feeds itself. The third year, the business pays you.

If you want to enhance your publishing education, schedule an hourly consultation call with me.

If you think you want to hire me to be your publishing consultant and production artist for your children’s picture book, book a free 30-minute fit call with me.

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