5 Surprising Things About Publishing A Children’s Book

5 Surprising things about publishing a children's book

In two months, my second book for children, I PRAY TODAY, will be published by Ancient Faith Press. When I did this the first time with GOODNIGHT JESUS, there were things that surprised me about the process.

How many of these did you know?

 

1. BOOK PUBLISHING TAKES A LONG TIME

FLORIS BOOKS - Inforgraphic flowchart of the publishing process

 

I wrote the first draft of GOODNIGHT JESUS when my oldest daughter was a year old. By the time it was published, she was six. That’s not uncommon.

I wasn’t totally unprepared for this. Before I started writing for children, I was an PhD student. Academic publishing is notoriously slow. When I submitted research papers for review, I had to wait 6 to 9 months for a response.

Then I was a freelance writer working with textbook publishers. Even though I wasn’t writing the textbook, I got an idea of how involved the process is. I dealt with editors, copyeditors, the person who checks copyrights, the contractors drawing the diagrams, the fact checkers, the authors, … The lists goes on.

Floris books put together an infographic flowchart above to show just how involved the publishing process is. And this isn’t even for an illustrated children’s book. My editor Jane Meyer who also authors her own children’s books shared a blog post showing the process for a children’s book. Because the artwork is so important to illustrated children’s books, the process is more involved and more expensive than for an adult book.

In the children’s book market, two years from acceptance to published book is a good turn around. GOODNIGHT JESUS was around 2.5 years from acceptance to publication. I PRAY TODAY will be 1.5 years. Understand that it takes time for everyone to do their jobs at every step of the process. No, that doesn’t make it any easier to be patient.

Also, if you ask me how the book is going, don’t be surprised if I have no idea.

 

2. YOU DON’T GET TO PICK THE ILLUSTRATOR – AND THAT’S OK

Goodnight Jesus interior pages

One thing that consistently surprises people is that children’s book author’s don’t pick their illustrator. Not every publishing house or every editor does things the same, but this is consistent. Someone at the publishing house – an editor or art director usually – picks the illustrator.

The author also doesn’t get a lot of say over what the images will look like. So if the editor thinks your story is best told with space aliens instead of the bunnies you envisioned, then you get aliens. Maybe you had pictured your story taking place in a big house in the country, but the illustrator draws it as a big city apartment.

Editors also get cranky if you include too many art notes (notes specify what the illustration should look like on a page). So unless you need a specific image for the text to make sense, leave out the art notes. In GOODNIGHT JESUS there was just one art note. The line “A kiss for George – reach higher!” doesn’t make much sense without the art note: “Child is too short to reach the icon.” That’s it. The only art note in the whole thing. Yes really.

Most writers cringe at the thought of losing control of their story like this. And most readers are flabbergasted as to how you get a coherent story that way. But believe me when I say that 999 times out of 1000, it works out.

Here’s the thing: editors, art directors, and illustrators are really good at their jobs. They can envision artwork that will not just compliment your story but actually make it better. When I envisioned GOODNIGHT JESUS, I imagined a child interacting with static icons. One of the other brilliant people came up with the idea to put the baby right there in Jesus’s arms. It makes these people alive and engaging. It’s also a powerful statement of faith and child-like perception. And it’s something I never would have thought of.

As hard as it is for authors to give up the control, it frees the illustrator and art director to come up with their own vision. Would they have thought of this if I had laid out my vision in explicit detail? Probably not.

So I’ve learned to sit back and watch in awe as these people work their magic. And I feel super appreciative that they are making my work look so good.

 

3. HOW MUCH WORK I HAD AFTER THE MANUSCRIPT WAS ACCEPTED

My manuscript was accepted! Time to sip wine and wait for the checks to roll in, right?

No.

Not at all.

No matter how perfectly polished you think your story is, something will need to change. 

Look back at the inforgraphic in #1. See how many times it says that the author is doing something. Yeah.

For awhile your manuscript will disappear into the publishing black hole as it works it’s way through the invisible stages of publishing. But soon enough, they’ll be putting you to work. First comes the editor’s take: a marked-up version of your manuscript with notes about unclear passages, weak words, and bumpy meter, for instance. Even in my super sort manuscripts, there were changes to be made. Once I finished the edits, it went back into the black hole for a bit longer.

Because GOODNIGHT JESUS and I PRAY TODAY are both board books, they’re very short and had few edits to make. (I still find it weird to submit a “book” that’s shorter than some of my grocery lists. But I digress.)

Eventually, it lands on the desk of the copyeditor who inevitably finds a whole pile of missed commas, punctuation errors, and other silly mistakes. They send me a corrected version and ask me to look over it. I cringe at my mistakes and thank all of creation that someone caught them before I got to look like a fool in print. And I work as an editor – it happens to the best of us.

And then the early illustrations are done and they ask for feedback. And then the proofs need to be looked over (digital copies of the pages as they will appear in print). And then… you get the idea.

The exact amount of back and forth depends on the publishing house, but there are always edits to be made and things to do. Instead of feeling defensive when other’s find errors, I think about how awesome it is to have so many people working so hard to make my work the best it can be.

 

4. HOW HARD IT IS TO NOT SHARE THE EARLY ARTWORK

 

This may just be me, but every sneak peek at the artwork makes me super excited. I just want to shout out to the rooftops “I WROTE A THING AND SOMEONE MADE REALLY PRETTY PICTURES FOR IT!” And then I would hold them hostage while I make them look at all the pretty pictures. It’s a little like having a new baby – you have to show everyone just how darn cute it is.

But there’s also this thing called copyright. And marketing plans. And other adult things I’m forgetting that also mean it’s a bad idea for me to post everything on the internet.

So instead I post when I can and save my intense enthusiasm and forced photo appreciation for my immediate family. You’re welcome.

 

5. HOW MUCH WORK THERE IS AFTER THE BOOK IS PUBLISHED

Ok, so my two-ish years are nearly up! The illustrator and all the people at the publishing house have done their magic to make my book as wonderful as possible. It’s being printed out and will soon be a real book!

So now can I sip wine and wait for the checks to roll in?

Uhm, no.

Once upon a few decades ago, a publisher could put out a book and people would just buy it. There are a lot more books being published these days (yay!) which means that there is a lot more competition (boo!). So unless you’re already a household name, expect to spend some time on marketing your new book – a website so your readers can find you, social media so you can keep in touch, connecting with readers through school visits and speaking engagements, … None of these things are strictly required, but they do help potential readers connect with your work. I happen to enjoy such work, so expect to see website changes and social media posts about I PRAY TODAY in the near future.

But hey, soon I can go full fan-girl over this fabulous thing I made. (Or is that just me?)

With two months left before I PRAY TODAY is fully birthed into the world, I’m still having to keep my enthusiasm to myself. But expect to hear a lot more soon.

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