You may be thinking that my title for this article seems a bit...well, harsh. At the KDP forums, (where I've been donating time for the last 11-12 years, to help DIYers), I have in fact been called harsh, lately. Why? Because I'm losing my mind with the endless parade of would-be kids' book authors, that just can't seem to find anything better to do than to screw up their books, particularly in print. If you want to write a successful book for old Albert, over there, with his ice cream cone, let's talk about it, right?
Why does this occur, over and over and over? Let us count the ways in which those would-be publishers (yes, that's you, prospective kids' book author--now you're a publisher, not "only" a writer!) constantly screw up their books:
- They draw their illustrations, or have them drawn, on the paper that's available--so, we see book after book that's 11" x 8.5" or 11.27" x 8.64". Great, except, guess what? Those sizes are not printable with POD at Amazon. Not even close. The widest that the Amazon POD machines can print is 8.5" wide. So, if you draw your illustrations on 11" wide paper, you've wasted both your time and your paper. Sure, you can print it (11" x 8.5") at Ingram, but that entails upload fees and other challenges and it's only available with their high-end premium color printing. You can research your trim size options, for Amazon, by clicking here to go to their HELP pages--I've made a link that will take you right to the correct page.
- The publisher chooses a trim size--but doesn't bother to check on KDP to see if the size that they chose is eligible for Expanded Distribution in the paper of their choice. Don't know what "Expanded Distribution" is? Then get thee to KDP's Help pages and find out!
- They don't bother to figure out what else they need to know--like being aware of "live element margins." Live Element Margins (LEMs) are areas into which important elements, like text, dialogue, or even page numbers, are not allowed to go. We see book after book that shows up on our doorstep, that cannot pass intake at KDP or Ingram, why? Because the illustrator hired off of Upwork or Fiverr didn't know that; the publisher didn't bother to learn it, to tell the illustrator not to work in the LEM, and of course, she's hand-drawn page numbers there. That's not "fixable," either. Click here to go to the section at KDP for print books with BLEED and LIVE ELEMENT MARGINS. Scroll down, they even have images!
- The illustrator drew the illustrations to the size specified by the publisher--and left no room whatsoever for the narrative or dialogue, on the images. Surprise--the text has to actually go somewhere!
- The illustrator drew the images, as instructed by the publisher--but the publisher forgot to think about the binding, the "gutter" and all the character's faces are in the middle of the page--yup, right in the binding.
- The illustrator drew the illustrations precisely to the page size. In other words, didn't draw the illustrations slightly larger than the page, to account for BLEED, which is necessary on any and all printing jobs in which the images or illustrations go to the very edge of the paper, rather than inside white margins. (Reference what I said above about bleed, above and how there has to be some overlap, on the 3 outer edges of the layout, for printing purposes.)
- The illustrations were all delivered at 72DPI or 96DPI--not appropriate or suitable for print. Those illustration resolutions are only appropriate for on-screen viewing--not print.
- The illustrations are all rendered in RGB color (for digital use) not CMYK, so when printed, the publisher won't be happy with the printed colors--which won't look exactly the same as the on-screen images s/he approved.
- Or, the publisher decides to use images, instead--and simply goes out and downloads images "from the Internet" as if those are free to use. They're not. Worse, they'll download images from stock image sites and try to publish the book with the not-yet-paid watermark right on the pictures! Don't do this--you don't want people stealing from you, do you? Then don't steal from illustrators and photographers and artists.
- The publisher gets the illustrations--and then starts to try to figure out how to actually make the book itself, rather than thinking about this before s/he ordered the illustrations. If you're thinking that you'll just slap your illustrations into Word, and then use Word's built-in tools to put the text atop the pictures, you can try it--but woe be to you when you go to make your eBook version! Kids' illustrated books should be made in a proper layout program, like Microsoft Publisher, InDesign or Affinity Publisher. And no--Powerpoint is not a suitable print layout program, if for no other reason that it doesn't output high-resolution print PDFS for print.
- The publisher gets their book together--and it's 14 pages, total. KDP has a minimum of 24 pages, so you need to plan on not less than 10 illustrations, at the least and that's if you're doing illustration or image on one page and narrative on the opposite.
- Along that vein, make sure you budget for what illustrators actually cost. Plan on a budget amount of ~$150/illustration and more, so a 10-illustration book would cost you $1500 or more in illustrations alone. That mythical teenager or student that will illustrate your book for $10/picture doesn't exist and stop with the magical thinking.
- The publisher manages to stumble through all of the above, does a layout (or has it made), and then keeps outputting a PDF, on his/her computer, that keeps coming out at 8.5" x 11", or 11" x 8.5", even if the actual original trim size was meant to be, say, 8" x 10" or something else. This is because the publisher doesn't bother to learn his or her tools. Learn how to export PDFs in custom sizes!
- The publisher manages to finally get the interior laid out and exported, ready for upload--and only has a front cover. A print book requires a print wraparound cover--front, spine, and back, all in one piece, in PDF format. It needs to look like this, so make sure you figure out what you're doing before you find yourself with a publishing deadline that you've created, in two days and no cover.
- Learn about cadence--about rhythm and rhyme and beats (cadence) in kids' prose, that's meant to be similar to, day, Dr. Seuss. For example, "From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere." 5 syllables (sounds), then 4, then 6. It has a rhythm that is carried throughout the entire book. If you're going to write rhyme, make sure you read up on how to do that successfully. Sending someone like us, (or even if you're DIYing) and having a mishmash of beats or syllables, that change constantly from line to line, doesn't work. Rhyming couplets MATTER. You need practice and practice and practice and you should start that by reading rhyming books. If you don't want to do that and rhyming doesn't come naturally to you--then don't. Just write the story without using rhyme. This is a great article as a jumping-off spot: https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jul/01/how-to-write-rollicking-rhyming-stories-pip-jones-squishy-mcfluff (if the first link doesn't work, I've archived the webpage and article at The Internet Archive, so use this one instead: https://web.archive.org/web/20211022175133/https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jul/01/how-to-write-rollicking-rhyming-stories-pip-jones-squishy-mcfluff
- Lastly--try to have some fun. Yes, I know, after reading this, you feel that perhaps, you don't want to undertake it. I know, you thought, "writing kids' books, how hard can it be?" and now, it seems a lot harder than you wanted to tackle. If you don't rush, it can be a blast. If you do rush, you can find yourself in a corner, or with a book you can't publish. So...don't rush. Take your time, do it right and happy publishing!
I genuinely hope that helps somebody. No matter how cranky I may sound, honestly--I'm trying to save YOU time and money. Not me! You.