Writing and Illustrating Picture Books: Part 5 - Choosing a Publisher
Once you've written your picture book and created captivating illustrations to bring the story to life, it's time to move on to the next step - publishing. Ideally, you'll be thinking about publishing long before you're actually ready to do it because, as I talked about in an earlier post in this series, it can have an impact on the way you create your illustrations and write your story.
I'm not going to break down the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of traditional vs self publishing here. That's already been covered by people who are far more experienced than I am. Both options are equally valid, but depending on what your goals are and the story you've created, you might be better off going one route over the other. Do your research and decide what's going to work best for you. And whatever you do, DO NOT go to one of those vanity presses that charge you a bunch of up-front fees to publish your book.
Because I self-published Courageous Cody, I'm going to focus on independent publishing options and print on demand (POD) services for this blog post. There are several options you can go with. For picture books, the most popular ones seem to be CreateSpace (Amazon), IngramSpark, Lulu, and Book Baby. I looked into the last two a little bit, but ruled them out early on because they didn't quite have the options I was looking for and the printing costs were higher than I was comfortable with. I debated between CreateSpace and IngramSpark for a long time and ultimately went with both for different things. Here's what I liked and disliked about each one, things I learned, and things I might do differently the next time around.
CreateSpace is Amazon's POD service and seems to be the most frequently used by independent authors. It's completely free to publish through CreateSpace (unless you add extras like cover design, interior formatting, etc.) and they will provide you with a free ISBN. I had already used CreateSpace to publish two novels prior to publishing Courageous Cody, so I was familiar with the process and figured it would at least be worth setting up the book and ordering a proof copy even if I ultimately decided not to use them.
I was a little nervous about the color quality, but it's better than I expected. It's definitely not perfect, though. Even after adjusting my colors several times, they didn't print out the same as the colors on my computer monitor. Dark colors especially seemed to vary and printed out darker than I wanted. I ended up having to print 3 proof copies to get everything looking satisfactory. Any differences that remain between the original illustrations and the printed book probably aren't going to be noticeable to anyone but me. Considering that there are no setup costs involved and I didn't have to buy an ISBN, I'm happy with how the book turned out and will probably use CreateSpace again for paperback versions of my picture books. I think some of the color issues I had could have been solved if I had known about color modes and printing and started off using the right settings to begin with. CreateSpace also makes the self-publishing process simple and straightforward, and I think that's important, especially if you're new to this.
IngramSpark is a POD service that is part of the Ingram Content Group, which has provided services to the book publishing industry for years. The initial draw for me was that IngramSpark offers hardcovers. Their setup process is a little more complicated than CreateSpace's, which I had heard from multiple sources and expected going in. I actually didn't find it to be prohibitively frustrating, though. They provide a handy dandy guide to help you properly setup both your interior file and your cover, and as long as you know your way around a computer, it's not too difficult to understand. I learned a lot from the guide and will probably refer to it when formatting my books in the future, regardless of which POD service I use. There is a setup fee ($49 for a print book), but I searched for a coupon code online and was able to have that entire fee waived, so that was nice. There's also a fee for updating your cover or interior files, so you'll want to make sure you have everything perfect before you upload. I actually ended up having an issue with my cover and had to change it out, but the fee was somehow covered by the coupon code I had originally used to waive the setup fee, so I fortunately didn't have to pay for that.
One of the major downsides to IngramSpark is that you have to buy your own ISBN if you want to participate in expanded distribution to make your book available at outside retailers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. You get it at a slight discount if you buy it through IngramSpark when you're in the setup process for your book, or you can buy them directly from Bowker. If you buy 10 all at once, you get them at a pretty significant discount, but's it's still a big investment up-front, so you'll have to decide what works best for you. Alternatively, you can forgo the ISBN altogether and IngramSpark will assign the book an SKU code instead, which is free. This means your book won't be eligible for expanded distribution, however. Because Courageous Cody was my first picture book and I wanted to experiment with everything, I decided to go ahead and purchase the ISBN to get the book listed with Amazon and other retailers. However, I don't think I'll be doing that for future picture books. My reasoning behind that is tied to pricing, so let's get into that.
In order to participate in expanded distribution, IngramSpark requires you to offer a wholesale discount to retailers, which you can set between 30-55%. The 55% is considered industry standard (part of that goes to IngramSpark). Whatever you choose is going to affect the price you can set for your book. I selected the 55% option as part of my experiment. I then had to price the hardback version of my book at $19.99 to avoid earning a negative publisher compensation balance (royalties). That was as high as I felt comfortable pricing the book at, but it means I make less than $0.50 on each hardcover book that's sold through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or other retailers. I haven't sold many books through those retailers though, and I'm not too concerned about "industry standard" right now, so I'll probably be changing my wholesale discount rate in the next couple of months. It's actually a lot cheaper to order copies of my own books and then just sell them directly to whoever wants one, so I've just been offering them here on my website at a discounted rate. Even after paying for shipping, I get to keep an amount that's comparable to what I make from each copy of the paperback version, so it's a win for both me and the buyer. If you're thinking of publishing with IngramSpark and want to get an idea of what your royalties might be, check out their publisher compensation calculator. Alternatively, you can find out how much you would pay to have your own books printed and shipped directly to you with the print and ship calculator.
Despite the drawbacks of publishing with IngramSpark, I still plan to use them for my future hardcover picture books. The print quality is excellent - noticeably superior to that of CreateSpace. I honestly couldn't have been happier with it. All of my colors came out exactly as they appeared on my screen, and the hardbound cover and heavier-weight paper inside make the book feel like a truly professional product. It's exactly how I always envisioned the book looking, if not better.
Still, I'll probably go about the whole process a little differently next time. Since I can offer my books at a better price on my website and seem to sell more of them that way than I do through Amazon or other retailers, I don't think I'll even purchase an ISBN for the next book or put it into expanded distribution. I'll still have my paperbacks through CreateSpace and eBooks through KDP, and it just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me to spend that much money on something I may not get a reasonable return on. At least not yet. Maybe someday, when I'm famous and selling hundreds of copies of my books each week. A girl can dream, right? The free SKU will serve my needs just fine for now, and I can add a version of the book with an ISBN in the future if I ever need to.
Be sure to check out the earlier posts in this series for more information about writing, illustrating, and publishing children's picture books. If you have any questions, I'd love to try to answer them, so feel free to send me a message or leave a comment below.