How much does it cost to publish an illustrated children’s book? The answer to this question has been a moving target over the past four or five years. Technology has helped lower the entry level into the children’s book market but still not to the point where it makes financial sense to produce digitally other then for tests. In other words,. POD for Illustrated children’s books, is still not a viable option.
Parents have been telling children bedtime stories since the beginning of time. Many of these stories are passed down from generation to generation via word of mouth. Some of these stories find a publisher’s desk and become illustrated picture books which are printed in the hundreds of thousands so many more children can enjoy them. At this moment there are literally tens if not hundreds of thousands of different stories being told from memory while only hundreds of these stories ever make the printed page.
As with trade books, the cost of publishing an illustrated children’s book has dropped dramatically. It is dropped enough that the same Vanity Press’s who are sailing freely on the Internet picking trade book writers pockets have unfortunately, jumped on the children’s book band wagon as well. I won’t dwell on any of this in this article but let it suffice for me to say if you are dealing with one of these companies, you are wasting your time and money. It’s real simple. If there is any doubt in your mind, ask your prospective “publisher” is 8 ½ x 8 ½ is a standard illustrated children’s book size. If they say yes, stick your money back in your pocket and run the other way. Enough said on vanity presses and illustrated children’s books.
As with self-publishing a B&W trade book you need to seriously examine your motivation in publishing your story. If your intentions are to merely convert your oral story into a printed format for your family, there are many options. The easiest option is to have your son, daughter, grandson or granddaughter illustrate the story that you have either written by hand or typed in a word processing program. You can then scan the illustrations and type and combine them into single pages and either print them out on your printer, one sided, and staple them into a book. This can actually look pretty nice. A step up from that would be to take the same thing to Kinko’s where they could print on two sides and print a separate cover and comb bind the whole thing into a book. Producing your book in this manner would take a little time but would only cost $25, at the most.
If you want to step up the presentation but still have the same basic market, you can still use those pictures that were drawn by your grandchild and the type that you type in MS Word, only this time have your book professionally designed. This can be done for about $500 and you would have a PDF file you could give to Kinko’s or other printer to print up a few copies. The end product would be a nicer looking version of the first example and would be more than adequate for even the pickiest of family members.
The real fun, and money, comes in at the next level. This is the point where all of your friends and family have told you that you have a great story that should be shared with the general public. When I was writing about trade book self-publishing I referred to this level as the “Serious Hobbyist”. I’ll stick with that label in this article as well. Now that you have made the decision to take your story beyond your family and friends, you need to follow some basic publishing standards if you hope to succeed.
First you need to have your text edited. Editing a children’s story is a bit different than a normal trade book. First, you are only dealing with 500 or so words. How hard can it be, you ask yourself? I have seen children’s book edits take two and three times as long as a standard trade book edit. I have seen single phrases go back and forth between editor and author to the point I can’t watch anymore. Editing runs between $300 and $700 depending on how much back and forth with the editor. In addition to a regular edit, many authors choose to also have the same editor edit the artwork. This second edit insures that the illustrations work well with the words. This usually runs an additional $700. In figuring your budget, authors seem to fall in two categories. The first is happy to pay the $295 for the basic edit. The second jumps right to the $700 edit plus the art edit. There doesn’t seem to be much in between.
Next, and most important are the illustrations for your book. Those pictures your six year old daughter drew for you in the first example, will probably not be good enough, once you have decided to take the leap to “Serious Hobbyist or Pro”. It is at this point I have seen projects get completely out of hand. A couple of months ago I introduced a “Let us guide you” illustration program. The whole program costs around $1500 and includes layout and cover design. This program is perfect if you have an open mind. Unfortunately, I have seen an otherwise reasonable author, turn completely unreasonable when it came to illustrating their book. The closer you are to having a perfect image in your mind of what your illustrations should look like, the more expensive the illustrations will be and the least likely that you will ever be happy. This is not to say you can’t be happy. If you consider yourself a “perfectionist” or some variation of that word, you better have a boatload of money. Illustrations for a 32 page book can easily be driven north of $5000 – $10,000 and even more. If you are a perfectionist and on a tight budget, stick with your daughter’s drawings.
Once you have your text edited and your book illustrated, it’s time to put it all together into a book. For this you need a book designer. If you have a sharp illustrator, they can design and layout the book at the same time they are doing the illustrations. Our $1500 “Let us Guide Your” program includes layout and design. If your illustrator does not want to create the final layout, figure you will pay between $750 and $1000 to get that part done for you. Of course you can spend more, if you want but under $1000 should do it. Up to this point you have spent $1895 for the basic editing and our “Let Us Guide You” illustration package. Unlike any of the vanity presses out there that are pimping themselves off as children’s book publishers, you own the printing files to your book, free and clear. IE: No strings attached.
Now comes the fun part, turning your idea into a printed product. The technology is such that authors can buy small test runs of 25 books or so at a fairly reasonable price. Before I go further, remember when I mentioned running the other way if someone told you that 8 ½ x 8 ½ was a standard size? That size was pulled out of the air by someone with a digital press who knew nothing about children’s book publishing. It works fine for the digital press but you are never going to make any money with digitally printed children’s books so you need to think in terms of what fits the offset printing press. 8×8 fits perfectly. A single sheet of paper will yield a full 24 page book. As the quantity gets above 10,000 the size fits perfectly on a half web which runs 2/12 page signatures without waste. Digital copies of this 24 page product cost under $7.00ea and will never be any less. At 1000 copies, the price drops to $2.75ea. At 3000 copies the price drops to $1.29ea. If you have ever looked at this size in Target or Wal-Mart and wonder how they can sell it for $2? The publisher printed 50,000 to 100,000 at a time and bought them for less than 25 cents each. On the other hand, that 8 ½ X 8 ½ size works for nobody other than that digital printer. It’s Ok if you want to pay $6 + ea forever for a book that should never retail over $6 but if you want to be in the publishing business, it doesn’t work.
The good side of these $6 books is that it is a very good idea to run a few test runs prior to running the longer offset run. When my daughter first printed the Oliver the Clownfish book, which you see all over my website, she printed three different digital runs and found things she wanted to change after each one. The books in the test run have a high unit cost but a low overall cost, especially given the fact that mistakes were found at each printing Once she got everything perfect (as perfect as publishing gets) she ran 3000 copies at the $1.29 unit cost. My daughter has now sold over 1000 of the original 3000 copies and is working on the second book in the series. I have asked her to write an article about how she marketed her book. It’s a very interesting story.
In conclusion, how much does it cost to self publish a children’s book? Let’s look below. Good luck.
Editing – $295 – $695
Art Editing (optional) $695
Illustration – $1495 – $10,000 +
Printing (Test 25) – $175
Second test 25 ) – $175
3000 Main print run – $3,874 (1000 copies – $2.75/book, 2000 copies – $1.65/book, 5000 copies – $1/book, 10,000 copies – $.65/book
A final note: You can always continue to print test runs until you feel comfortable with an offset run.