We all have a picture book in us, but how do we let it out? It’s not as hard as you might think. All you need is an idea, a computer and an Internet connection. If you can’t illustrate the book yourself you might need an illustrator. Or, you can use a free graphic design program like my personal favorite, Canva.
Who will print your book? Amazon. Distribution? Amazon again. Storage? Don’t need it, not with Amazon’s print-on-demand model. When a reader orders your book, Amazon prints it. The downside is Amazon only prints paperbacks, and hardcover printing is still very expensive.
There’s always ebooks, but at this time most young children (and parents) prefer physical books. I used to think I couldn’t snuggle up with my kids and read an ebook. That was before we started snuggling up to watch You tube videos on laptops and ipads. Now I don’t see a difference. The key elements are the snuggling and storytelling. The method delivery is secondary. Plus devices travel a lot easier.
As for a story, I can’t help you much other than to say it is in there if you look for it! When you find it, write it down (or if you see in pictures, sketch it out). Then get comfortable with your times table. Yes, good old multiplication! Picture books come in multiples of four, usually 28, 32, 36 or 40. So that’s how much space you have to say what you want to say.
Next, you need a dummy. A “dummy” is a term of art in the picture book world. It is a handwritten visual layout of the book. Each square is a page in your book. Remember, this is a draft – the point is to move things around, play with transitions and placement. What makes picture books fun is the number of elements you have to play around with. You can use as much or as little of the page as you need. You are not limited to a line by line format. Words can be anywhere, as can illustrations. You can change the color palette, the size of the font, the interplay of facing pages. When it works, it all comes together seamlessly, but it takes a lot of trial and error to get there!
Once you have your words and dummy you can go digital. I use Pages (Mac), but most of this advice works for Word and Google docs as well. You must be able to convert to a high-quality PDF in the end because that is what Amazon requires for upload.
Time to set up your document. You need a document roughly the same size as your trim size (you can usually do this in the Customize settings). “Trim size” is another publishing word – it means the dimensions of your book. My last book was 8×10, so I set my document up for that size. To do this in Pages, go to Page Setup, then enter your custom size. You also want facing pages, and the ability to move text and image boxes around. The boxes are your friend. Do not type directly into the document – even the page number needs a a magic box. I say magic because that is what makes everything else possible – resizing, placement, movement. This should all be available in your Settings, but below is a picture of how it appears on Pages.
Now…the art. The interplay between the art and words in a picture book is what elevates the story to another level. One of the reasons I prefer independent publishing is that I get to be involved in the illustration process. I’ve heard stories of picture book authors who submit their words and don’t see the art until the book is published. They are missing out on half the fun!
You will bring your art into your document through another magic box. You can use photos, watercolors, sketches, oil painting – whatever works with your book. You probably have a “feel” for the type of art that works with your book. Start with that. I knew my first two picture books needed watercolor illustrations. I found an illustrator on Fiverr. It helped to have images to give him. Since my books are non-fiction, historic images are available. It is harder when you are trying to convey your image without a reference point, so try to give your illustrator as much as you can. When I didn’t have an image to guide him, I offered suggestions.
I also create some of my own art using newspaper clippings, graphic design programs and photographs. Just make sure you have the rights to use them.
Play around with sizing and placement. Your images must be sharp. The grid is your friend. You need it to line up your magic boxes. If your art doesn’t bleed (meaning it goes all the way to the edge), it should stop at the same place consistently. Same distance from top, bottom and edges.
Don’t forget a page for your title, copyright and dedication (maybe two), as well as page(s) for back matter like your bio, illustrator bio, other books you have written, sources (for non-fiction).
Now it’s time for your cover! This is easier than the inside of the book. The main issue to be aware of is not to put your text too close to the edge. Amazon will send you back to the editing table if you try to upload it. Your cover is a separate document because it is uploaded separately. Remember, you need a front and back cover, and the back cover must leave sufficient empty space at the bottom for Amazon’s bar code.
Then nitpick, nitpick, nitpick until it is as perfect as it can be. This is the time to send it around to trusted first readers or copyeditors you hired.
Once you are done with the layout you are ready for Amazon. You can use your regular Amazon account (the one you use to buy books and pretty much anything else) to log into Kindle Direct Publishing, also known as KDP. That will be your command center for any books you sell on Amazon. It is not just for Kindle, although it sounds that way. This is the link: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/.
After you’ve uploaded a PDF of the inside material and cover, Amazon prepares a proof of the book, complete with red flags. It is an incredibly valuable service. You can download the proof, print and review it. This is how I catch errors that I would not see on the screen – not so much editorial as “this just doesn’t look right” type of errors. Then I make changes in the Pages document, export to PDF and upload to Amazon again. I do this over and over until I catch everything.
There is a learning curve to all of this, but that’s what Youtube is for. Helpful search terms are “how to self-publish a picture book on Amazon” or “picture book layout/formatting/uploading.” I like the video tutorials by Emma Rosen Books, but she is one of many helpful resources.
So is it really free? There is no up-front cost, but Amazon does take a royalty percentage – usually 40%, leaving the author with 60% of the list price. For print books, Amazon deducts the printing cost after the royalty calculation. The standard royalty from non-Amazon publishers is 3-5%, a paltry sum compared to the 60% you get self publishing through Amazon.
There you have it. The nuts and bolts publishing your own picture book using Amazon. Now go do it!