Peek Inside: Self-Publishing Your Children’s Book Successfully

We all remember the magic of those first childhood picture books. The illustrations, the clever story, all managing to captivate us with so few words and very few pages. Those childhood memories are why so many people want to publish a kids’ book of their own. The economy of words, the interplay with the artist, and the specificity of the genre are what make that so tricky to do successfully, especially without a traditional publisher. Kristin caught up with Canadian self-publishing client and children’s author Heather Gordon (Does the Queen Fart?) to get her take on the keys to success. 

Where did the idea for your book come from and what motivated your characters? 
For many years, I have wanted to write a children’s book. I could never land on the right idea until the day that the title Does the Queen Fart? came to me, and from that moment on I knew it was the book I had to write.

I’ve always found farts amusing, and then having kids thrust farting into my life in a big way. Valentine’s “look” of a sweet boy with a mop of blond curls was loosely based on my son, who is a few years younger than the character. I think we all know mothers who are a little more conservative in the bum department and see farting and burping as extremely rude. Valentine’s mum wasn’t a hard character to bring to life.

What about self-publishing was more appealing to you than going with a traditional publisher? 
My husband is a published author, so I watched that process intently. I saw the obvious benefits and challenges in pursuing the traditional route. Early on, I had a few discussions with industry folks and realized “farts” were a polarizing subject. I decided to self-publish so I could create the exact book I wanted. The book I envisioned promoted farts as a good thing and something to be celebrated. Not all mums agree with that last statement. 

This is really interesting to me! Did you get the sense that a publisher would make you change the book to be more acceptable or less controversial?

I got the sense that the topic of farting was a nonstarter for some publishers. So there was really no way to change the book to make it more acceptable, given the whole book is centered around gas. I knew of examples of successful fart books (such as Walter the Farting Dog), but I think they are rare. Perhaps if I had hunted longer, I would have found a home at a publisher. However, I hadn’t sourced an agent and I was eager to publish my book.

You worked with an illustrator on your book. What was it like to see your characters and story come to life in this way? 
It was amazing! Marko Rop gave my characters the look and soul they deserved and really brought out the fun and playfulness I was after. In my case, Marko was fantastic and very willing to collaborate to create the vision. I do recall being unsure at first about the design of the mother, but she grew on me and now she feels perfect.

Print-on-demand illustrated children’s books are less common than other genres. Did you find print on demand limited any aspects of your book project—or did it provide any particular positives? 
Print on demand limits your ability to sell hardcover books, so that was disappointing. But, in my case, I had several hundred printed myself and sold them through various outlets.

You used IngramSpark to produce hardcover books, a choice many people avoid due to price. Did you make money on those? How did you sell them—through consignment at bookstores? Was it hard to get them on the shelves?

Yes, they were sold for a great profit. Based on the title alone, they sell well in “English” stores that carry London/monarchy-based merchandise, and there are small gift stores in Toronto that agreed to carry it. I honestly didn’t focus much time in this area, which in retrospect perhaps I should have. Good example of the hustle required to get the self-publishing game right.

What worked (and didn’t) in promoting your book? Was your marketing background a help to you when promoting? Was social media important? 
I have used social media widely, mostly Facebook and Instagram. I also set up a launch event at the Soho House in Toronto. It was a fun tea party with English toffee, biscuits, sandwiches, customized Queen cupcakes, and cookies. Every child left with a Queen Loot Bag with a whoopee cushion and candy beans. Oh, and the parents could sip bubbly too.

I do think social media helped! It’s hard to tie sales back to social directly, but if you look at metrics like followers/shares/likes, I can assume it’s had a positive impact. Also, there were some negative comments as well, but honestly, I welcome those too. It is good to create some controversy, as it gets people talking! 

What made successful self-publishing possible for you?

Well, self-publishing books in general requires a lot of hustle and can be very time-consuming. Given that I have a full-time job in television that I love, as well as two small children, there is a lot of work involved even before the book. Fortunately, I am married to a novelist, who provided endless support and reinforcement. My husband told me not to give up, and he would constantly remind me that my book was quality. Publishing can be a discouraging venture and a support system is key. Oh, and he’s English, so it was natural to write about the Queen!