5 Frustrations to Watch Out For When Self Publishing Your First Book
Updated: Aug 10
When my friends and I first set off to write a children's book I had no clue what I was getting myself into. In years previous, I had downloaded several books and read a few articles on how to get started, but those were targeted towards YA fiction novels not children's picture books. I even went as far as to sign up for KDP(Kindle Direct Publishing) when it first came out in 2007 all because I had a simple goal to be published one day.
Giving ourselves one year to accomplish such a big task(you can read more on how my friends and I began this journey here), really hit home. I was determined to get it done. I even told myself I would get it done in half the time. Oops!
Below I have listed 5 frustrations to watch out for when self publishing along with tips on how to get past them.
The first step to writing a children's book or any book for that matter is not actually writing. It's reading.
Before I even thought of writing I read as much as possible. I asked myself questions such as, "How should I start? Where are the correct places to look for information? Is the information I'm reading up to date? Is this useful?"
Asking these questions narrowed down what I was reading, and how much I was consuming of certain topics. Hundreds of articles, and several books later, I felt I had an understanding of the basics.
Now what is so frustrating you may ask?
For me, reading felt like I was wasting time. Time I could have spent working on my book. Like I said before, I only had some understanding of the basics even after what felt like an eternity of reading.
Reading contradictory information was another frustration I often came across. I would find an article emphasizing the importance of one thing would then contradict the book I was reading permitting against it. This left me confused.
Eventually, I sat down to sort through the mess.
So going forward what should you do?
Read! It may not seem like it, but reading is a form of work necessary to accomplishing your book even if it doesn't feel like it. But don't get stuck reading until the end of time, because your book won't write itself. Once you feel like you have a good understanding move on to the next task.
Remember everyone has a different experience when it comes to publishing so take the information you learned and make it your own! Any overlapping information seen through several readings I took as legit advice and would use it going forward.
Using these tactics I found myself less frustrated overtime.
For most people writing comes easy to them. The words flow and they're able to do the impossible of 'show not tell'. I often see people knocking out whole chapters in less than a day when it takes me that plus more to just write an introduction with a thesaurus by my side.
Luckily for me, I already had a story written. The original, from 11 years earlier when my English teacher assigned us to write a retelling of a fairytale story.
So what was the problem since the story was already done?
I had to rewrite/edit the story and rewriting the story I already had was more difficult than expected. It was far from perfect especially since it was not structured appropriately for children. Trying to figure out the reading level I wanted to portray in my over-detailed writing was also challenging.
Then came the hard hitting questions like "Was the story even good enough? Would the humor come across in the tone I was writing? Did I even punctuate correctly?" Writing a children's book shouldn't be this difficult!
These thoughts would circle in my mind as I'd try to sleep at night.
So how do you get over these frustrating thoughts?
Starting from scratch can really help in the writing process. If you aren't happy with the style of writing but like the plot... start over. Take a few days off to get inspired before sitting down to write. This should clear your mind and the words should start flowing.
Know what type of book you want to write beforehand. If you know you want to write a children's picture book research the structure of writing style that is best fit including word count. If your writing style and story exceed those guidelines switch the story from a picture book to a chapter book instead.
Hire an editor or two! If you aren't the best writer, like myself, editors will help relieve the frustrating sentence structure, and word choices you keep coming across. They can even help enhance your tone of voice. I hired two editors and took what I liked from both to create my story.
Finding beta readers to critique your story will help decide if your story is even good enough in the first place. They will tell you like it is which sometimes means going back to the drawing board or in this case the key board. They can determine the level of reading your book falls into making it easy to sell to the perfect audience.
Once I figured out the writing process doesn't have to be a solo act the whole process became much smoother. I just had to remind myself to just start writing.
When I was younger I always found the illustrations in children's books to be quite strange. Certain artistic styles would sometimes frighten me to the point I didn't want to read the book(Where the Wild Things Are, anyone?). Then there were others so beautiful I kept going back to the story to read over and over again (The Trouble with Trolls, hello!).
So finding the perfect illustrator was very important to me. In so doing, came the frustrations.
First, it took months... and I mean months to find my illustrator. It was to the point I thought I would never find one making the project impossible to complete. Paying for illustrations isn't cheap either so finding an artist at a decent price was another challenge in itself.
After finding my illustrator, the hard task of describing to my illustrator what I was hoping to get out of each page took forever. Did I want a single page or a double spread? Colors, character descriptions, time period, point of view all had to be determined before hand. Somehow I had to describe all this to her through email. Ahhhhhh!
The worst part... the waiting. I usually sent out for three pages at a time which I would receive usually ten days after. When your story is a standard 32 pages getting all the illustrations needed to complete the book took much longer then I originally planned. Even worse was getting back a page and immediately sending it back out for rework because it was nothing like I had hoped.
So how do you avoid these things?
Come up with a budget. Setting a budget prior can help you decide if you want to work with a certain illustrator. I used Fivver.com and while searching for an illustrator set a filter for my price range. This narrowed down who I wanted to work with in the end.
Send the artist a message prior to hiring to ensure they see your vision and can do what is asked of them. Ask for a sample if they are willing to give you one. If you are wondering who to hire, I suggest an digital illustrator as they are much faster in getting your pictures back to you on time, and can include more detail and color. If you don't like something they can simply fix it with a click of a button.
Know your book layout. This will help you decide how many illustrations you need along with if they need to be a single or double spread.
Finally, let the illustrator do their thing. They are experienced enough to know what sells. Most of the time, I would let my illustrator do what she thought best and those illustrations are some of my favorite pages. I always kept in communication with her and, in the end, we are able to accomplish great things.
Even though frustrating at times the illustrations were my favorite part of the whole process.
I knew nothing of formatting and still know very little. I blame myself for reading so much about everything else except this topic- which come to find out is very important.
So, to me, the whole process was frustrating.
I hurried and jumped into hiring someone who had formatted novels, but not children's books. The process was taking weeks when it should've taken a few days. Then they decided they no longer wanted the job and dipped out. Ugh...
Cursing until the end of time, I eventually found someone who formatted hundreds of children's books and within a few days he had the entire book formatted in both eBook and paperback. Phew!
What would I change about the process?
Like I have mentioned before read! Do your research. I could have saved so much time if I would have read more and looked further into people's formatting abilities.
Once again, message the person before hand and see a sample. This should help eliminate people who aren't the best fit.
Lastly, send very detailed notes of where you want the text in the very first email. It takes a long time to type up but in the end it will help you out. Most formatters do know what they are doing but sometimes need help getting pushed in the right direction.
I'm glad I finally found someone who could see my vision and within a few days accomplish the task.
5. Editorial Reviews
When self publishing, having editorial reviews listed at the top of your Author Central page on Amazon is important. These reviews give credit to your story and shows potential buyers your product is actually something they want to buy.
Editorial reviews can come from any reputable third party source including bloggers, authors, journalists, publishing sites, etc. You can buy them or ask people to read it for free. At the end of the day, as long as your friends and family aren't writing them then you should be good to go.
Want to hear the most frustrating part?
Getting a free review will take hours upon hours of your time. Why? Because you have to search through hundreds of websites to see what the review policy states. That is, if they are even reviewing books at all.
Once you find a site you also have to see if it is updated for the current year. If not, they probably won't get back to you. From there, if the site has a review policy page you have to read through the entire text to see what standards you must follow to be considered for a potential review. Most times I would get down to the bottom of the page just for it to say "I'm not taking self published books at this time." A statement I read too often.
You can pay to get a review but they can cost up to hundreds of dollars for a mediocre statement. At one time I saw someone charging $700!
Ultimately money does buy reviews, but if you don't have that kind of cash floating around get ready to spend some long nights doing emails.
How about the good stuff?
At the end of the day it is very exciting to have someone say they will review your story. The best tip is to start off the email cordially using their name. If you write a generic email it is less likely they will review your book. So add in those personal touches.
Use Editorial Review Request in the subject line along with the title of your book. It will be easier for them to locate and will most likely will get back to you sooner.
Write in the body of the email you're self publishing. Sometimes in the review policy they forget to state they aren't taking self-published reviews. This will eliminate wasting time of going back and forth between emails.
Most of the time, a person or company will only review hard copies. Printing hard copies and shipping them cost tons of money so don't waste your time emailing them if you only plan to have your book in PDF or eBook format. If you do send hard copies make sure they agree to reviewing the book beforehand(look out for "potential reviews").
Create an excel sheet to who you emailed, when, where they are from, and if they get back to you. It will help you keep track of how many books you have sent out.
Lastly, if you do get an email back send out another right away so they know you are serious. This is for yes and no emails. This way if someone who said no before gets spare time to read your book it could potentially turn into a yes.
Updated August 2021: See my updated take on Editorial reviews here.
In the end, even though frustrating at times, the journey to self publishing was a blast. Going forward, I now know what to look for and the reality of how long creating a book from start to finish can actually take.
I feel like I learned so much in the process and love sharing it with others on their journey to self publishing. I can't wait to start my second book using the knowledge I gained.