10 Pieces of Advice for a Wanna-Be Kids' Book Author

One of the things that is driving me nuts, of late, are the plethora of "kids' books" that we are seeing, in various stages of completion, and the utter lack of readiness, and lack of information, that their authors, creators, and publishers have exhibited, in preparing--or not--those books.  Here is a list of things to know, to do, not to do, etc.

Warning--I'm not pulling a lot of punches here. If you are easily upset, or as they say today, "triggered," you may want to not read this article.  After dozens--scores--of messed-up illustrated kids' books, my sense of humor is a bit diminished, about these things going bad.

  1. Page 1, on every book in the known universe, is a right-hand page. Page 1 is never--never--a left-hand page.  
    1. That means that when you come to me, with your book, and tell me that you have the text on the left-hand page, and the images on the right, as pages "1 (left) and 2 (right)," that's wrong. Yeah, I know, it seems petty--but do you want to look like an idiot, to anyone that buys the book, who knows how books are numbered? 
    2. And stop putting the page numbers over your illustrations.  Do you think little kids want that giant "2." in there, on Deeno the Dino's nose? They don't.  
  2. Little kids do not want to rotate the book, to see drawings that you crammed in there, drawn in landscape, turned on their sides.  
    1. If you have landscape drawings or plan to make them, for the love of heaven, make it a spread--in other words, make it two pages together, across the bind. Don't make it the same size as your portrait pages, and rotate it, as though the little kid wants to have to keep turning the book to see your drawings!  Do not assume that some magic layout person can take your 8.5" x 11" landscape drawing and make it perfectly fit what will be 17" x 11" spreads.  8.5" x 11" paper is 1.29 longer than it is wide, as will be your drawing, right?  Well, guess what?  17" x 11" spreads are 1:1.54 aspect ratios--the width of the spread is 1.54x the height of the book.  So...where will you get that extra .25 of a page, to fill in the "missing" part?  See my images, below, to explain what I mean.  
  3. Stop drawing illustrations for your kids' book on typing/copy paper. It's the wrong size for absolutely everything.  Even if you decide to do a book with an 8.5" x 11" trim size, surprise!, a sheet of 8.5" x 11" paper does not have bleed allowance, and like many clients that I've seen lately, you won't be able to get your book printed. You'll then have to hrie someone like us, to fix it--and many times, it cannot be fixed.  Go to Amazon and get a proper sketch pad.  Before you do that, make sure that you know, in advance, what size book you're going to make, including bleed, margins, etc.
  4. Images and illustrations are NOT Gumby!   If an illustration is drawn for an 8" x 10" piece of paper, it's not going to magically fit another sheet or layout that's 5" x 8" or 5.25" x 8", as examples.  Please stop expecting us to somehow make your error look good.  A 7" x 10" illustration has an aspect ratio of 1:1.42. That means that the length of the longer side is 1.42x the width. For an 8x10, it's 1:1.25.  For 5.25" x 8", it's 1:1.52.  These are all obviously not the same. Stop behaving as though they are.  
  5. Stop thinking that little kids have absolutely no discretion and taste. If you wouldn't give your crappy drawings to an adult, don't think that little kids are going to love them.  They won't.  
  6. Stop thinking that little kids don't know or understand proper iambic or rhyming.  They do.  If your lines of rhythmic text aren't, they won't love it.  
  7. Stop ignoring things like BLEED and margins.  Want to be like the last 10 "kids' book authors" that came into my shop?  With drawings that they can't use, to make the book that they thought that they wanted to?  Create pages with borders and dialogue, that can't be made larger or smaller, and then find out that Amazon won't allow you to print it that way.  Then come see us, expecting us to miraculously fix your mistakes. Lots of times, it can't be done.
    1. Go to Amazon or Ingram, download their publishing and book creation guidelines, and READ THEM. Shocking, I know.  Find out what page size your drawings and pages will have to be, so that you can print your desired book size.  Then draw your drawings to that size, or a little larger. Want to do a book at 6" x 9", in full bleed?  That means that your page size has to be 6.125" wide and 9.25" tall.  It also means that your live elements--dialogue, etc., cannot come within 0.375" of the outside edge of the page.  Stop laying out dialogue bubbles, etc., right to the edge of the page--nobody can "fix" that for you.
    2. Amazon's KDP Print guidelines don't even make you do the math--they have a sheet in their PG that tells you the final size for full-bleed.  They've already done all the heavy lifting--all you have to do is read it.  
  8.  Stop "laying out" your kids' book in Word.  Or any other word-processor or presentations software like PowerPoint.  99x out of 100 times, you're not going to get the result that you expect, and if you upload it in Word, the "automagic sausage-making machine" at the KDP will change the file, and your result will be wholly unexpected.
  9.  Don't assume that whatever you write is "enough."  Do you know how many pages an illustrated kids' book is supposed to be?  No? Why not?  
  10. Lastly--don't just write a story, hire some illustrator, tell her/him to draw X drawings, and think "oh, boy, that's it, I'm done!"  You're not.  Please see this article in our blog:  The Dangers of Self-Publishing with Zero Research about what can happen when you've paid no attention to how print books are laid out, bleed, margins, etc.  Remember, when you are instructing your illustrator, the illustrated page needs to make allowance for the storyline to be added to that page, someplace in the image, typically.  If your illustrator fills every corner of the image with important content, where will the story go?  In many publishing houses, the illustrator is also tasked with the work of setting the story--putting the story text on each of the pages. This ensures that s/he's thoroughly familiar with the story; that she storyboards it out, so that every aspect gets told, with the right imagery, and that the story's illustrations don't overwhelm the story, or squeeze it out.  
    1. While a lot of authors shrug, thinking, "oh, well, I can always put the story on the opposite page," that doesn't always work well in ebooks, as it happens.  Storyboard out your story. Make sure you know what size font, how many letters, spaces, etc., you need for the text on each page.  Quit thinking that it's someone else's job, that someone else will somehow, magically, make it work.  They won't.

There are literally hundreds of things that can go wrong, horribly wrong, with a kids' book. You don't need to have many go wrong with yours, for it to turn into a total disaster.  See the linked article, above, for one story where someone threw thousands of dollars away--literally--because she never bothered to research what she was doing.  

I know--this all sounds mean. You just want to write a wonderful kids' book, right? You don't want to have to learn all this! You're just a kids' book writer, not a layout person! But the moment that you choose to be self-published--that excuse disappears. You either hire a full-fledged design firm, for example, something like Outskirts Press, or Fiona Raven--both of which start at about $3500.00 (Thirty-Five Hundred US Dollars) to layout a children's illustarted book and--pay attention--that figure does not include the illustrations or the illustrator's fees!!--or you need to learn a lot of this yourself, whether you are going to try to create the layout yourself, or whether you plan to hire some Fiverr illustrator to do the illustrations--and often, the layout--as well. 

I won't lecture here, as I've already been tough enough on you, about why expecting your illustrator to also be a successful book designer--often backfires in your face; that's a conversation for another day.

Remember--research is your friend. Don't waste your time and money creating an illustrated kids' book that you cannot publish!  

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