Posted in Demystifying publishing

What Happens to Books that Don’t Sell? Demystifying Publishing Part 7 with @ReadwithRiver

“What Happens to Books that Don’t Sell? It’s Not Good.”
Books Shall Gather no Dust. A book launches. Retailers have ordered copies from publishers, the publishers are paid. But what happens if no one buys that book from the retailer? New books can be returned to publishers if they’re not purchased with approx 3-12 months after the launch (depending on the contract.) The window for success or fail is tiny!
The Death of a book, Destroyed. Unsold books that are returned to the publisher, are usually immediately sent to be destroyed, turned into a liquid pulp. That pulp is then reused to make other things, most notably pulp fiction books.
Alternatives to Destruction? The publisher can accept the return, check each book for damage, scan it back into the warehouse and it can sit in the publisher’s warehouse taking up space in hopes someone else may order it. But this is costly, and wasteful compared to pulping. Sometimes the unwanted stock is sold at a loss to places like BookOutlet (which is why their prices are so cheap!) There is a cost to cheap books, you the consumer however are just not the ones paying it. The publisher, author, and all of the people involved with the book are the ones to pay.
The History of Pulping: A long history of returns. As early as the 17th century book publishers were ripping apart pieces of unsold books to create new books. To this day the pulp from destroyed books is used to create paper to…MAKE MORE BOOKS!
All’s well that ends well? Recycling does not make this okay. Huge amounts of waste in creating millions of books a year, shipping them back and forth, just to be pulped to be turned into more books. Huge loss of profit for the publishers with real consequences for the employees who rely on them. Disaster for the author/illustrator who now have to carry around this commercial failure for the rest of their careers. Publishers see those sales records and are scared to reinvest.
5 Ways to Support a New Book! Visibility and word of mouth are the biggest factors to commercial success of a book. If a book isn’t visible no one is going to buy it. 1. Leave reviews on Good Reads, Amazon, Indigo, etc. 2. Request it at your local library and school libraries. 3. Talk about it with your personal friends and on Social Media. Word of mouth has power. 4. Purchase a copy for yourself if you can, Pre-order preferably. 5. Give books for gift giving occasions.

Further Articles/Sources about this topic:

Where Books Go To Die

Posted in Demystifying publishing

The Timeline of Making a Book in Traditional Publishing: Demystifying Publishing Part 6 with @ReadwithRiver

The amount of time it takes to put out a book can vary wildly in the traditional publishing industry. This is dependent on a number of factors, for example books without pictures do not require illustration and can be put out fairly quickly. Where as in some cases a book can take over two years between acquisition and actual publication.
The starting point here is the acquisition of the book, so when the publisher makes the decision to purchase a text. A meeting is held of all departments and if the okay is given, then negotiations begin between the author/agent and the publisher. Eventually contracts are signed (At this point the author/agent receive part of their Advance) and announcements are made.
Next comes first round of edits and design decisions. For picture books that means choosing an illustrator and them getting to work. For non picture books that means cover and text design.
The illustration process can take up to a year, and some illustrations require more time consuming labour than others.
MORE EDITING> While sales does the sell-in.
Printing and Binding, and Sales.
Delivery to warehouses, and then to retailers.
Promotion, marketing, publicity, and sales.
After debut season is over, the book no longer receives the same publicity and marketing push as it did in it’s debut. Unless it was highly successful
Posted in Author Resources

A Quick Guide to Instagram Etiquette For Authors: Particularly the bewildered, reluctant and, overwhelmed

A Quick Guide to Instagram Etiquette for Authors: Particularly the bewildered, reluctant and, overwhelmed. You don’t need to become an influencer but you really should exist.

Why Instagram?

You’re an author, you’ve spent your life writing and planning for the day when your books are available to the general public, you want to hear from your readers, you want to help your book sales move along. Social media is one of the few free tools you have at your disposal to connect with your readership and your target audience easily and globally. It’s also one of the ways that readers seek to connect to the authors of books that they enjoy, the hand mailed fan letter is sadly a dying art.

Okay, but why Instagram? Why not Twitter or, Tik Tok or, Facebook or, Pinterest? That’s a great question, and each of these platforms have different advantages and appeal to different demographics. Some people manage to juggle a presence on multiple platforms but it’s a lot of work, and it’s likely you will run out of steam. So picking one platform to start out with is more of a reasonable starting goal.

When it comes to responding to a fan base and encouraging buzz and sales, the two platforms readers, reviewers and influencers will be actively looking to reach you the author of the books they’re discussing and showing off, are Twitter and Instagram. There is a healthy Book loving community on TikTok (see New York Times article about Booktok linked at the bottom) but getting on TikTok is more difficult, the demographic is exceedingly young, and the kinds of books people are discussing on TikTok tend to be romance/young adult fantasy specifically. So if you’re a picturebook writer, TikTok is not the right place for you.

It comes down to Twitter vs. Instagram

Twitter is a great place to connect with people within the publishing industry and join in the conversation. Twitter is where you’ll find editors, agents, writers, and everyone else with a stake in the game professionally. If you’ve had a book come out people may discuss it on Twitter and look for you, the author/illustrator, to tag in their tweets. So having a presence here gives you a voice in this discussion with your colleagues. But Twitter is not where you’re going to find your general target audience for the most part.

You will find far fewer publishing industry people publicly on Instagram, but what you will find are your book consumers. 1 billion people use Instagram every month (compared to Twitter’s 330 million) and 80% of those Instagram users will use the app to research products and services. Instagram is designed for showing off luxury goods, books being an enormous niche. If you actually want to help your book sales, Instagram is the app to jump on.

Instagram is a primarily visual platform, influencers/creators reach their audiences with photos and videos, text is secondary. The #Bookstagram world is where you will find the community of people devoted to spending all their time fawning over books. How do you engage with #Bookstagram in an appropriate way? Well, I’ve broken it down for you below step by step…

Set up an Instagram Account: Name clarity is the most important thing, so that you get tagged in reviews, if your name is common add “Author” to the user name. Being found easily is absolutely the most important thing. For your Bio, keep it simple. What did you write? Who published it? One personable statement.

When setting up your author account keep it simple, people need to be able to find you that’s the primary purpose here. If an influencer or reader is sharing your book, they’re going to try and tag you in that review, so when they type your name in it needs to pop up and be clearly you.

Profile photos: Professional headshot is excellent, if you’re a picture book author getting a portrait made of you by the illustrator of your book also works. If you want an interesting photo make sure it’s clear and you’re visible in it.

Some authors do not like to be in photos. I get it, it’s not what you’re here for. But think of this as your ID badge. It needs to look legitimate, and a picture of your garden or your dog just isn’t going to work.

What to post? Profile Grid aka Main feed: Bare minimum, you don’t need to post lots of content. Just put 6-9 photos up to show you’re a real person. You can’t leave it empty, empty is suspicious. Basic photo content: book launch photo, book signing photo, throw back photos, pleasant outdoor scene, surrounded by books, just keep it classy.

If you want to start creating content, posting photos of your life and your work regularly, by all means go for it. But if it’s not your bag, that’s okay. You just need a profile active and professional looking up to respond to your reviewers, to get that professional looking profile you do need to put up a few photos on the page. An empty profile page looks suspicious and people will think you’re a bot. So put a few photos up and call it a day.

Navigating the App: Icons

This is all pretty easy to navigate if you want to just try looking around but here is my break down if it helps you feel more comfortable:

Profile Grid: Main Feed: These are the photos/videos you see on a person’s profile screen.

Reels: Reels are short form videos, often set to music, currently very popular with Instagram.

IGTV: Instagram TV is where people put up videos longer than 1 minute.

Filters: this is if you have created a software filter program for people to edit their photos in stories, unless you’re a programmer this likely does not apply to you.

Photos you’re Tagged in: If someone puts a post up of you or your book and tags you in that photo, it will appear here. You can adjust your settings so that these require your approval, and if you don’t like the photo you can have it removed.

Home: Home takes you to your main feed screen where you’ll be shown posts by everyone you’re following, and also along the top of the screen you’ll see everyone’s daily “stories” see below for stories.

Explore: This is where you can search for people or subjects using hashtags, Instagram will also show you content it thinks you’re going to like here.

Likes, Comments, Tags: This is where you will have a log of all of the engagement on your posts, if someone likes your photo or left you a comment it will pop up here.

Profile: Back to your main page, this is where you can access logging in and out, switching accounts, and other settings.

Navigating the App: “Stories” top of home screen, stories expire after 24 hours, this is where you share posts, remember to tag the creator with @theirname. This is for more informal content, aesthetic coffee photo, selfie, funny duck.

If you put up a story of your self talking, remember to hit the captions button. There are a lot of possibilities for adding to your stories but one thing to remember is that most people view stories without sound. So make sure any messages appear in writing as well as with sound.

Reviewer Etiquette
Reviewer Etiquette
What’s the goal here? Be seen as responsive, polite & personable.

Being likeable may not seem like part of your job as an author. Traditionally, it doesn’t matter whether or not people like you as long as you can write. But in the world of Social Media, authors who spend time making connections with book influencers, are more likely to get talked about. Influencers are more likely to go out of their way to find your other books, more likely to go out of their way to film more content for your books. Think of book influencers as your champions, if you win them over, they will gladly scream your name from the rooftops until you’ve sold out your print run.

Explore first!

If you’ve never opened Instagram up before and have absolutely no idea what’s happening, it’s worthwhile to take a week to just look around anonymously. It will help you get adjusted before you make a professional appearance.


Twitter Vs. Instagram the stats:

Posted in Demystifying publishing

5 Factors that Influence the Decision to Publish & How to Address Them as a Writer: If you’re a writer you need to know this

5 Factors that Influence the Decision to Publish and how to address them as a writer.
  1. Suitability of Text
  2. Author Track Record
  3. Comparable Titles
  4. Author Platform
  5. Buzz
Profit Not Public Service: Publishers are surviving in a capitalist society, just like us.

Book Failure= Financial disaster, not just for publishing executives but everyone in the publishing industry chain.

Taking a chance on an author is a risk for the entire chain with very real consequences. So any reticence to taking on big risk should be seen as responsibility for employees, not just conservatism.

The 5 factors all contribute to creating a picture of risk vs. reward, profit vs. loss.

1. Suitability of text

this issue before in previous parts of this Demystifying publishing series, please refer to them for more details on suitability of text.

Text must be enjoyable and suits: the intended audience, publisher’s catalogue, direction of trends and, vision for future of publisher’s list.

2. Author Track Record

Author’s sales record is indicator of future success or future commercial failure.

“But what if I’ve never Published a Book?”

So, fortunately for you, this is actually a Schrodinger’s cat kind of situation and BETTER than having a bad sales record. There’s no record of failure yet, so there’s equal possibility of failure or success, the only way to know for sure is to see what happens next.

3. Comparable Titles

Comparable titles are used to build a case for the financial viability of your book (MSS) Mention them in any submission to either agent or editor.

So “You Matter” “All Because You Matter” and “I Believe I Can” are titles comparable to each other because they have similar themes.

Good comparable titles must be: recent, specific and, successful.

Bonus Points if it’s from the publisher or agent who you’re submitting to.

On Comparable titles

For the love of everything do not compare your story to HARRY POTTER or THE CAT IN THE HAT or, GOODNIGHT MOON, etc.

Don’t do this when querying an agent, or an editor, or an influencer reviewer, just don’t do it.

It tells everyone you don’t actually read children’s books because you don’t know the current market.

Also it kind of makes you sound like an ass.

4. AUthor Platform

Authority: Relevant credentials are key for Non-Fiction authors

Less important for fiction authors.

Relevancy is key here, if you have a PHD in Psychology, and you’re writing about Rocket Ship Engineering, that is not relevant. So, not really helpful.

Quantifiable visibility within target audience: aka do you have people who will buy your book?

“Influencers” & Author Platform

Unlike every other luxury consumer good industry (which is exactly what book publishing is,) publishers are slow to see Social Media Influence as genuine proof of money making platform.

This attitude is changing and some big publishers are now producing books by influencers.

This shift will partly be thanks to the NYT article from March of 2021 “How Crying on Tik Tok Sells Books”

Most publishers don’t know a lot about Social Media Influencing and change will continue to move slowly. But it’s happening.

5. Buzz

Are people actually in the industry talking about your work?

How can you get them talking about you? Twitter is actually a good place to start, a lot of publishing industry people are on Twitter. And if you follow me you know I’m abysmal at Twitter, I just don’t enjoy it, not enough pretty pictures, so this is a piece of advice I do not take for myself. I’d rather cry on Tik Tok.

Attending industry events, book launches, meeting people. Doing this in the pandemic might be harder but not impossible. Virtual events are hosted all the time and often you’ll find editors or other senior members of publishing houses showing up to them.

Having a well respected agent is also key for generating industry buzz, see my previous blog in this series on Literary Agents.

Profit & Loss Assessment

So when you put all of these things together, along with some other numbers for production, distribution, etc. They start to build a profit and loss statement, they will assess the commercial viability of your manuscript proposal, and from this statement they can decide whether or not to offer to acquire it and also, how much money they can offer you as an advance.

Posted in #Librarian Fight Club

Racism in Children’s Books is Still Racism: #LibrarianFightClub

Shit People Say to Keep Racism Misogyny &, Antisemitism Alive and Well in Picturebooks…
This mind bogglingly tone deaf article “The Dangers of being hyper-aware” by Claire Hennessy was released today in The Irish Times. Note the quotations around “problematic” and “insensitive.” The condescending & gaslighting implication that because it doesn’t bother this white author, whether or not it is a problem, is up for debate.
The author of this article, an established member of the publishing industry as both editor and author of 12 books, makes several points that we often see in defense of problematic children’s books. In fact, it makes the rounds so it’s a perfect case study! Let’s explore some of the main points shall we?
Argument 1: ‘Without Racism, books won’t be good.’ “Danger in this hyper-aware, hyper-critical culture: of literary culture becoming so anodyne and sanitised it dies out entirely”- C. Hennessy

Removing racism from children’s literature will kill of culture? …whose culture exactly are you worried won’t withstand being held accountable to any standards of common decency and respect for others?

Argument 2: ‘Just give your kids the Historical Context Disclaimer.” “Contextualizing the dodgy bits within Seuss’s overall body of work Developmentally ages-3-4 Time is a completely abstract concept. Ages 5-6 they begin to understand correlation between certain days in their daily life (holidays, birthdays, etc.) Concepts of historical time don’t develop until ages 9-11. History is valuable, discussion on literary theory is interesting but learning goals should be age appropriate. How do you teach a 5 year old historical context with any level of valuable understanding, when they do not know what Friday is?

Argument 3: ‘But I liked it and it’s inconvenient you’re ruining it for me.’ “The delicious insanity of Roald Dahl’s fiction is forever tainted by his anti-Semitic comments (his family apologized in late 2020)”-C. Hennessy. Oh, his family apologized so as not to jeopardize their cash cow? Well then, that changes everything!
Argument 4: “Your fave is almost certainly problematic.”- C. Hennessy. Gosh could that be because picture books are written almost exclusively by white people, to this day? Maybe the publishing industry allowed other people traditionally to write picturebooks, we wouldn’t have such a crap selection.
Argument 4: ‘Fine, let some people of colour publish a few books and stop bothering us with your whining.’ “Focusing on diversity of various sorts, and the need for more of it, allows one to side-step the knotty business of trying to distinguish between pearl-clutching and thoughtful concern,”-C. Hennessy. Whether or not the concerns of marginalized people about how they are represented seem trivial to you is irrelevant. Shockingly, this is not about you.
Argument 5: ‘Complaints on Social Media are Invalid.’ “tempting to wonder if people-particularly within social media bubbles…are taking it all a bit too seriously, reading too much into silly, entertaining kids’ books. How could anyone take offence to, say, Dr. Seuss,” -C. Hennessy. For the first time in history marginalized people have a voice that cannot be controlled by gatekeepers, Social media.; Dismissing the medium of expression because it lacks the gravitas of print media is just another way of maintaining the status quo and of systemic oppression.
Argument 6: ‘It’s too hard to fix we better do nothing about it.’ “Hard-and-fast rules to ensure inoffensive content are impossible” -C. Hennessy. Try not starting out with stereotypes? Try researching? Try editing? Try consulting with people you’re representing? Try harder.
Posted in Demystifying publishing

Literary Agents: The Fairy Godparents of Publishing

Demystifying Publishing Part 4 with @readwithriver

Demystifying Publishing Part 4 with @readwithriver  
Literary Agents:The Fairy Godparents of Publishing
A very practical Cinderella story.
What does an agent do?  Why do you want one? How do you choose one?
Saves and Shares are appreciated!
Fairy Literary Agents 
A very practical Cinderella story.
Once upon a time there was a writer who could not get to the publisher’s ball to have her manuscript read. “Oh how I wish I could go to the ball.” Then one night after many years of wishing one of her queries* was answered! An agent appeared.  
*See part three on How to Query.
Fairy Literary Agents
Pumpkins and Glass Slippers
Her Fairy Literary Agent used her editing magic to dress up her manuscript and get the writer past the gates into the publisher’s ball to dance with the editor.  Most editors especially at big houses will only look at manuscripts brought to them by agents.  These editor-agent relationships are cultivated over many years.  Even for publishers that accept open submissions (see part 3) manuscripts submitted by agents are seen faster and are given a response even if it is a reject.  Instead of six months, you can expect half of that time frame or less for a response.
Fairy Literary Agents At the Ball
Once the writer’s work was past the gates, it was up to the writer to make the editor fall in love with her work.  A Fairy Literary Agent can help you streamline your work, they can get you an audience with the best editors but, they can’t force an editor to love it or to like you.  That’s your job.  Editors call a meeting with the author before an offer is made to see if they will be easy to work with.  You CAN talk yourself out of a book deal. 
Fairy Literary Agents Finding you the right prince!
Not every publisher is one you want to work with.  Agents look for skeletons in editors’ & publishers’ closets and steer their clients away from sketchy partnerships.  They have a history of working with various editors and teams and they will know who will be the best fit for you and your work.  Traditional publishing is a team sport.
Fairy Literary Agents Contracts
Standard contracts are NEVER in the author’s best interests. Your agent negotiates for you until it is. Beforehand: financial matters like royalty percentage &, production matters like cover approval. During: intervening in decisions that negatively affect the integrity of your work.  After: making sure your work continues to be in print and if it is not, fighting to revert rights back to you to resell.  This is just a fraction of what they negotiate.
Fairy Literary Agents, agents succeed if you succeed. 
Agents usually make 15% of the author’s cut, from advance and royalties.  They only get paid if you do.
This is NOT lucrative. Agents sometimes have second jobs, or take on more clients than they can reasonably handle to make a living wage.  This is a career people choose because they love doing it, not because they’re trying to make a mint.  A good question to ask an agent before working with them is how many clients they have and how much time they will have to work with you personally.  No one is more personally invested in your success than your agent, their livelihood depends on it.
Fairy Literary Agents: Finding the right agent for you
Having an agent is a relationship that ideally will last many years.  It’s important you get along well.  Often agents will take a client on for only one manuscript as a trial period.  It is vital you have an agent who you trust & who shares the same editorial vision you do. Head to for resources in finding an agent & querying.

Resources to help you find Literary Agents:

US Literary Agent Listings

Posted in Demystifying publishing

Demystifying Publishing Part 2 with @readwithriver: Which is better for Authors Traditional or Self Publishing? A Cakefographic

So you’ve invented a great cake recipe (story) and you want to share it with the world and ideally make a little coin too. You have two major options, sell your recipe to a Bakery (a traditional publishing house) or sell it yourself, homemade (self-publishing.) Your friends and family all love your recipes (writing) and are encouraging you to make the leap and get yourself out there. Which option is best for you? Well, that really depends to be totally honest on what it is you want to get out of it.

Production! The baking and decorating of the actual cake!

BAKERY (Traditional Publishing)Homemade (Self-Publishing)
Whole team of editors that specialize in each step of the editing process to refine your manuscript! They may have ideas you don’t like and compromises are made.
There are several types of editors that work in a house, structural, line, copy, proof and, production editors.
You are your own editor, or you hire a freelance editor,
ideally multiple editors to ensure the best quality.
There are a number of companies that offer freelance editing services.
Contracts and works with professional illustratorYou contract and work with illustrator at your own expense. You may want to hire an illustrator to do a small commission first of one page, before committing to the whole book, to ensure quality, but also that they can deliver on time.
Team for lay out, cover design and, printing. Cover design is separate from the illustrator.If you are printing a whole run yourself (as opposed to print on demand services like Amazon where they take a cut of the profit) then the printer often offers lay out design services for a fee (expect that fee to be over $1,000) If you wish to order a sample of your book before committing to a print run, a sample single copy will probably cost about $300. And then people order print runs in numbers of about 500, 1,000, or 2,000 copies at a time. Which you’ll have to store somewhere.
Will meet house standards and conform to house brand on every level. A traditionally published book is a team effort and a team product. The standards of your book will be whatever you set them at, but every single choice, from the binding to the paper type to the set of the font is going to be your choice.

Marketing and Distribution: Awareness of product, and where/how it is sold.

Bakery (Traditional Publishing House)Homemade (self-Publishing)
After printing and binding your book, publishers have warehouses where they store your books before shipping them off to retailers.Either you find a place to store your books (I hope you have a big cellar) or you do Print on Demand services where the profit margin is much lower, and you have less control over the quality of the final product.
If you only sell E-copies of your book then it’s much easier you can avoid a lot of this. But if it’s a picture book, you’re going to have a limited audience, people generally do not buy E-Books for children.
Your new book will be sold and marketed in all of the major stores that sell books, Costco, pharmacies, airports, grocery stores, major bookstore chains, independent bookstores, library wholesalers, and online retailers like Amazon.
Publishers also arrange for marketing within these stores for your book.
You will need to find accounts (stores) to take your book stock and sell your books. Call up libraries, library wholesalers, go to indie bookstores and talk to the owner, book fairs, craft fairs.
The internet is your friend here, there are many options for selling your book online.
Marketing includes online paid advertisement as well as in store co-op placement for visibility. Some things you might not realize are paid marketing in fact are, those tables in the bookstore with the “picks” are not genuine recommendations usually, they’re in-store co-op placement. They have been pre-arranged with the publisher for discounts.
Online marketing can look like featured books on the homepage of Amazon or Indigo.
Marketing is paid advertisement and paid placement. Awareness is key, if people aren’t aware of your book no one is going to buy it.

Money Money Money: Making a book costs a lot of money

Bakery (Traditionally Published)Home Made (Self-Published)
Pays author an advance on sales. After that advance is earned out the author receives royalties that can vary between 7-15%. If the author has an agent then that agent usually takes 15% commission on their royalties and advance. Author retains 100% profit or up to 75% when using services like Amazon.
E-royalties for digital sales are a standard 25% this is a very good deal for publishers over time because they only pay for the base costs of creating the book, editing, lay out etc. Eventually those costs are covered and they don’t have to worry about PBB costs (paper, binding, printing,) shipping costs, the e-copies just continue to rake in revenue. A lot of authors do not like this!Successful Self-Published authors of adult novels (and there are many authors who are very successful selling e-books on Amazon) will try to retain their electronic rights when publishers try to buy their books. So that means they will sell the publisher only the print rights or co-edition rights (translations) but keep their full rights to their e-copies which continue to exist on Amazon.
Publisher takes on all the financial risks. If the book fails, the publisher suffers, the author walks away with their advance (but their sales history in tatters, recovering from a flop of a book is even harder than getting a first book published.)Author takes on the complete financial risk for everything, and you’re looking at total investment of $10-15,000 to do book that is comparable to a trade published book.
Kick Starter and other crowd funding options are also possible, anyway you slice this cake, you’re going to be doing a lot of jobs you’ve never considered.

Publicity: Publicity is Buzz created around a book that is FREE (not a paid ad)

Bakery (Traditionally Published)Homemade (Self-Published)
Have connections to traditional media, Industry magazines, Newspapers, TV shows. Cold call traditional media, local newspapers, etc.
Have a network of reviewers and influencers.You need to develop a relationship with reviewers and influencers (a professional one.) Publicists at traditional houses have databases of influencers who they have cultivated a working relationship with overtime. When looking for influencers you may want to send your book to, check their highlights for their policies around accepting self-published submissions, it’s usually laid out clearly for you, and if you don’t follow them, you won’t get a response.
Make sure you have set aside a budget for physical review copies, influencers will not feature self published e-books.
set up tours for authors.You can arrange your own tours! Libraries, independent bookstores, local fairs or events, schools. There’s even a website where authors who are available for school visits can put their information in.
They have a professional reputation which gives them authority in finding publicity opportunities. Build an engaged social media following. No short cuts. It’s not about the number up top but the number who care enough to actually buy your book and leave reviews on places like Amazon and Good reads. Fake followers will not buy real books.
launch party set uplaunch party!

Quality Control: Standards are key

Bakery (Traditional Publishing House)Homemade (Self-Publishing)
Standards vary from house to house, but there is a house style, there are expectations.
Remember that not all publishers are the same, some are tiny operations and some are gigantic worldwide corporations, so expectations will vary.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better, in fact some of the smaller publishers are known for taking the time out to produce much higher quality work, for example Enchanted Lion, Flying Eye, are both smaller publishers who produce top notch work.
You’re setting the standards of quality here. However at the end of the day quality may come down to how much you’re willing to spend, and a little bit of luck in choosing the right thing if this is totally new to you.
the first time you bake a cake, it’s not always a great cake. There’s a learning curve here.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, just to be kind to yourself if it’s not what you imagined.
Mistakes can still be made.
I’ve seen plenty of boring crappy books made by traditional publishers.
Mistakes can be made, however self-published authors can be fastidious and take proofing very seriously. If anything they have an emotional connection to the work that will drive them to check five hundred times, that you may not always have with a traditional team.
Entire teams of people checking it at every step of the way to ensure that it meets the standards of quality of the publisher. You’re responsible for checking every step of the way, from little things like margins, to space between the lines. It helps to find multiple opinions and when possible print samples BEFORE committing to anything.

Homemade Options: If you’re going to do it yourself, do you have to do it all by yourself?

Type of Self-PublishingDescription
Fly SoloFrom editing, to lay out, to printing, to storing, shipping, marketing, publicity, you are responsible for all of it. It’s entirely yours.
AmazonYou do all of the editing, lay out, illustrations etc. When you are done you upload a PDF to Amazon and sell through their service. You will receive between 35% to 70% royalties depending on the price of your book and which of their programs you use.
For adult E-Books this can be very successful.
Their print books are absolutely awful quality however so it’s much harder to do this with print picture books and have them look half decent. I have seen a couple that were so good in content that they overcame the terrible quality but they’re incredibly rare.
This is the best option if you don’t want to spend any money at all, if you just want to put a story out there, and have it out there, you can do this for free, and if any of them sell, you will get a cut.
Pay to Play (sometimes called “Vanity Press.”)Companies that print your book for a price (you pay them.)
They vary in price, quality and services provided.
Some offer full services that a traditional publisher provides, they hook you up with an illustrator (often not a very good one) and they do lay out, get it printed, some of these services even take on the marketing for you and approach influencers on behalf of their clients for reviews.
CAUTION: There is a huge variety of reliability with these companies, they can be incredibly predatory, some will take your money, then print your book on Amazon. I’ve heard of people who got their books missing pages. DO NOT jump into the kitchen with the first company advertised to you on Google. You might be swindled.
Check for reviews, check for product quality (order other books they’ve produced), find authors who’ve worked with them and reach out to ask about their experiences. It’s a lot of money to flush down the toilet.

Other Considerations: Errant thoughts

On Hiring Illustrators

If you’re going to do a picture book, the illustrations are almost more important than the actual words. People can forgive meh writing in a picture book, but they absolutely cannot forgive bad pictures. So be wary of hiring random people on Craig’s list that promise to illustrate your book for a thousand dollars. There are a few artists out there who churn out self-pub books like a factory, they take the money, give what’s basically clip art, then move on to the next one. The result is not professional quality by any stretch of the imagination.

A really excellent illustrator might charge about $10K, if it’s a full 32 page picture book, and then after you’ve sold that amount they will likely require that you split royalties with them going forward. Unless you negotiate to pay them outright.

You might be able to find promising illustrators who will work for less, consider college art students who are new to the game.

Making the leap from Self-Pub to Traditional

There are many authors who are unable to find traditional publishers to take their Mansucripts, so they self-publish it. If it does really well, then publishers buy the rights and re-release it. A few examples of picture books and authors that started out self published and were then picked up are:

“Race Cars” by Jenny Devenny which was picked up by Quarto and further edited by Charnaie Gordon.

Dr. Cara Florance whose self-published Biology picture book was discovered by Chris Ferrie of the Baby University book series, after a social media post. She now writes for the “Baby University” book series, and has her own book series called “Baby Medical School.”

“Hey, Boy” by Benjamin Strouse and Jennifer Phelan was also self-published, then picked up by Simon & Schuster.

So if you want to be traditionally published, it’s not impossible to start your path with self-publishing and then make that leap.

Where do you make more money?

So if you’re only selling e-books, then conceivably you could make a lot more money. However, it’s more complex than just the percentage of the money you make per book. It’s about how many books you’ll be able to sell overall, that requires marketing, publicity, etc. A traditional publisher has the means and connections to distribute widely for you, world wide even.

Additionally if you’re selling print copies, traditional publishers have the ability and the set up to keep production costs down, print larger print runs, and have the distribution network to sell at every store. You may only make 7% royalties on one book, but if you’re printing your own books by yourself in a run of only say a thousand books, then you’re only going to make a your larger percentage of profit on a very small number of books. If your Publisher can sell fifty thousand copies, and you can only sell maybe five thousand, where is the better deal for you?

At the end of the day, do what feels right for you. It just matters how the cake turns out.