Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 22: Contests and Awards

5star-shiny-webPotential buyers seem to give a book a second look when its author has won a contest or received an award, so we decided it would be worth our while to submit our book to contests and award programs. Most have a variety of categories, and we were looking for children’s picture books or holiday books. What did we have to lose? Well, besides money….

Most book award contests charge entry fees ranging from $20 to $100. If you meet the early bird deadline, you will usually pay a little less. There is a limited window of opportunity for entering contests, so books typically need to be submitted soon after they are published. Authors are asked to complete an entry form and submit one to three copies of the book. Additionally, although many award programs welcome self-published books, several cater strictly to traditionally-published books.

Although the possibilities appear to be endless, the following award programs were good fits for our children’s picture book, “The Great PJ Elf Chase.” Perhaps this list will save you time if you decide to enter your self-published book in a contest or two. You can find more information about each one online.

We’ve entered and already received results on the following:  

  • Readers’ Favorites Book Review and Awards Contest: What’s unique about this contest is they review the book for free and rate it up to five stars. We just received our completed review a few days ago and were pleased with our 5-star rating! We now have a sticker we can include on our book cover, website, etc. They advertise books on their website when they are 4- or 5-star recipients also, which gives us additional publicity. Readers’ Favorites is affiliated with Windstar Films, so we have big dreams of them choosing “The Great PJ Elf Chase” as the next best-loved children’s Christmas movie!

 

  • National Indie Excellence Book Awards: This contest is for self-published authors only. We were just named the finalist in the “holiday books” category. There is a winner and a finalist. The way they state it, they name a finalist if it’s a very close decision between two books, and the winner could’ve gone either way…so we’re pleased with our finalist status.

  We’ve entered, but haven’t yet heard results from the following:  

  • Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards: They award gold, silver and bronze winners in each category.
  • U.S.A. Best Book Award
  • Patterson Prize for Books for Young People
  • B.R.A.G. Medallion:There is no deadline for entering this award contest, and the fee is only $20. It is for self-published authors only. You must have an electronic version of your book to enter this contest. They say only 10% of the submissions receive a medallion.

We plan to enter these contests, but they have later deadlines:

  • Feathered Quill Book Award: (June 1st to November 15th)
  • Cybils Children’s and Young Adult Literary Blogger Awards: (October 1st to 15th)
  • Kids Kart: (They only take submissions at certain times, so you have to keep checking back with them.)

We missed the deadlines on these contests or decided not to enter, but they might work for you.

  • Parents’ Choice
  • Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Award
  • Purple Dragonfly Book Award
  • Mom’s Choice Awards: (This was the most expensive at $300, but they say to watch for specials on their website.)
  • The Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards
Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 21: Marketing Dos and Don’ts

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 21: Marketing Dos and Don’ts

Because “The Great PJ Elf Chase: A Christmas Eve Tradition” is obviously a holiday book, our window for selling is rather small. Nobody buys a Christmas book in July. On the flip-side, we can gear up each year and repeat our efforts. Here are some of the marketing tools we tried our first selling season. Some we considered time and money well spent. Others, not so much.

Establishing a Website

When you have your manuscript ready to go, or even before that, you will definitely want to establish a professional-looking website. Remember, so many people will click on your web address and, many times, it will be their “first impression” of you and your book. We first researched how to create a website on our own. We chose to use www.Bluehost.com which turned out to be a great decision. When we got hacked, largely due to our lack of knowledge, Blue Host came to the rescue at no charge. We also used WordPress and a company called “Elegant Themes” to keep the process simple. We even created a separate website that we thought would generate interest before our book was actually ready to go (see www.parentteachertalk.com).

After being hacked and experiencing some frustration on getting this website (www.thegreatpjelfchase.com) just the way we wanted it, we asked a friend who is in the business of website design to see what she could do. Wow! It was night and day between her magic and our fumbling through it. Well worth the money spent on getting the website to look great. Thank you, Jessica! ( www.storytots.com) So, while you are putting the finishing touches on your manuscript, get that website going. If we had to do a couple of things over, we probably would have hired Jessica right away. We also would have not named our website after our first book. Now that we are working on a second book, we realize we will have to do something about that issue very soon.

Creating Marketing Materials

There are so many aspects to marketing, but if you want to keep it simple, one thing you need to have is a business card. We were able to find fantastic deals at Vista Print. (www.vistaprint.com) They have excellent customer service and user-friendly templates so that you can use your book cover as the art for the business cards. When we re-order, we will consider getting an “800″ number so that our personal cell phone numbers are not floating around, along with a post office box. While we were on the Vista Print website, the temptation was there to go on a shopping spree. Keep your bottom line in mind. However, one good purchase we made was a medium vertical banner and stand which is of excellent quality. This makes a great backdrop for public appearances. We also purchased flyers, stickers, and even a canvas tote, all personalized with information about our book. Vista Print does not have bookmarks available so we had to use a different company for those. One thing we probably would not have purchased again were car magnets with the book cover on them. They did get some attention, but they also flew off of my car as I was riding down the street. Thankfully it was a side street near my house so nobody was hurt.
School Visits

One of the best evenings of our entire sales season was spent at a local elementary school. Their book fair was in full swing and the school had an evening set aside for parents to come and shop at the book fair. They invited me to come and read the book to any students who attended. Books were pre-ordered but also sold in person. First of all, it was fantastic to see the faces of kids listening intently to the story and wanting an autograph at the end of the presentation. Honestly, it brought a tear to my eye. Thrilling! Secondly, because we were selling the books in person, we were able to offer them at a discounted price. Even with the discount, it was possible to donate a couple of dollars back to the school for each book sold. We also donated a hardcover to the school library. Our intention for the next school year is to put much of our efforts into school visits, offering writing classes along with a book reading. Many authors charge for this service, but for right now, we are offering this for free. As former teachers, it is great fun to be back with the students.

Selling to Local Bookstores

We’ve had some of you ask about the profit margin when selling to the local bookstores and toy stores. Let’s just say that we won’t be doing that again next year. While we appreciated the concept of product “branding”, we felt that we just couldn’t compete with the prices on books traditionally published. By the time the stores got their cut, we typically made almost nothing. However, we can say that the book was well-received enough to be chosen by some fabulous stores and that was a feather in our cap. We will continue to do business with those stores that already have our book on their shelves.

Expos

If you hear that 20,000 people will be walking by a table with your book displayed and you just have to pay $700 for the table, would you take that risk? Well, we couldn’t resist trying it. Would we do it again? No, we would not. We sold about 50 books over a weekend at a Christmas Expo in Denver, but because the booth charge was so high, we lost money in the end. We lost time and we lost money but we learned a valuable lesson. Expos are not for single book sales.

Online Advertisements

We put a small amount of money into Facebook ads and Adwords. We did not see that paying for ads was beneficial. We did feel that the Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest accounts are something we will continue to use. Also, we believe that one of best ways to reach a larger audience is through our website, including this blog. Thanks for reading!

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 20: Hardcovers and CreateSpace Publishers

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 20: Hardcovers and CreateSpace Publishers

People who purchase children’s picture books often want hardcover editions because they make nice gifts and keepsakes. And, let’s face it — kids don’t always handle books with care, so a hardcover book holds up better than a paperback.  We kept that fact in mind as we searched for a publishing company for our children’s picture book, “The Great PJ Elf Chase.” We decided not to choose a publishing company unless they offered a hardcover option.

CreateSpace is the publishing company we selected, and although they do offer a hardcover edition, it seems to be their best-kept secret. We found out through phone calls and a thorough investigation. The drawback is that only the author can order hardcover copies from CreateSpace. They don’t put the hardcover option on Amazon or in expanded distribution, as they do with paperbacks and kindle versions. Rumor has it that might change — I sure hope it does, because it would be much easier to have other sales options with our hardcover books. We’re holding out hope.

Since we have our own website, we were able to work around the issue. We just sell our hardcover books on our website. We also take them, along with paperbacks, to venues, such as school visits and trade shows.

We are happy with the quality of the hardcover book from CreateSpace. We put it up against several other traditionally-published children’s books, and it fares well. The book title and author’s name typically have to be printed on the binding of a book before it’s placed in a bookstore. CreateSpace does that for hardcover books, as you can see in this image.  They also issue an ISBN number.

Hardcover books are considerably expensive at CreateSpace compared to paperbacks. We had to pay a one-time setup fee of approximately $100 to have our book printed in hardcover version. We have a 40-page full color 8 x 10 inch book with 18 full illustrations and artwork on every page. Our paperback is shipped to our door for about $4.50, including shipping, but the hardcover version is about $13.50 with shipping.

All in all, we’re excited to see our book in print in hardcover!

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 19: Reflecting on Our First Christmas Selling Season

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 19: Reflecting on Our First Christmas Selling Season

Ahhhh….Christmas is over. We’ve taken a break from marketing our book, and it’s time to sit back and reflect on what we accomplished during the past couple months.

I’ll start by saying that our book wasn’t in print until the end of October, which resulted in a  late start for the 2013 Christmas selling season. This did limit our options. Nonetheless, we sold hundreds of books in that short time period — not bad for a couple of novices!

We started by going to a book show in Colorado. You can read about our experience in this blog post.

It is very exciting to walk into a bookstore and see The Great PJ Elf Chase on the shelf, as it is in this picture taken at “The Tattered Cover” bookstore in Denver.

cropped pj elf book on shelf at tattered cover (2)

Having our own website set up ahead of time was definitely a plus for sales. Not only could interested persons go to the website to buy the book, but they could also find more information about the authors and the process of self-publishing a children’s picture book. Many of the sales on our website came from family, friends and word of mouth. The support was overwhelming, and we are thankful. Our publisher, CreateSpace (CS), also sets up a web page for its authors, but since they don’t sell hardcover versions of books, we needed to focus our energy on our own website. TheGreatPJEfChase.com is the only place online where customers can buy a hardcover version of the book. We do all the packing, shipping and invoicing.

We sold a respectable amount of paperbacks on Amazon as well. It was exciting to see books being sold every day on Amazon; however, it was frustrating not knowing who bought them! The only information we received is whether the purchaser lived in the U.S., England or another country. Yes, we did get a handful of orders from other countries. The major advantage to selling on Amazon is that they do all the work — packing, mailing, receipts, and so on. We just go to our CS link to see how many books we’ve sold each day. The royalties are paid on a monthly basis.

We contacted book stores in Colorado, Utah and Nevada, and were pleased that our book landed on the shelves of ten stores. We are in the process of following up to see how well they fared. In some cases, we sold the books to the store owners outright. In others instances, we placed the books in the store on a consignment basis. Each venue had its own preference and guidelines. Although this wasn’t as profitable as other methods, we felt the bookstore exposure was an asset.

Our book was reviewed online a few times. You can read some of those reviews here. We also purchased a promotional spot on the LeRue Press radio show, “Book Hound,” in Reno, NV. For $35, we received 6 book “mentions” on air. Additionally, articles about our book appeared in a nationally-syndicated column and in two newspapers. The Great PJ Elf Chase will also be mentioned in our universities’ correspondence to their alumni members. We plan to expand our reach next season, as it’s great to get cheap or free advertisements!

The recurring theme of this self-publishing journey is that we learn something new every step of the way. Writing the book is only half the battle. Marketing is the other half. We are pleased with our results this year, but we’re going to use the knowledge we’ve gained to make bigger, better strides for Christmas, 2014.

If you are someone who now has The Great PJ Elf Chase: A Christmas Eve Tradition on your bookshelf, we appreciate your support.

 

 

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 18: Designing a Companion Coloring and Activity Book

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 18: Designing a Companion Coloring and Activity Book

Since we had a book show scheduled right after we received our paperback books – and our hardcovers weren’t yet ready – we decided that it would be smart to have a second product to sell. We thought “The Great PJ Elf Chase Coloring and Activity Book” might fit the bill, so we set out to design it.

Since they had published our picture book, CreateSpace was who we first approached to produce our coloring and activity book. They quoted us a price of thousands of dollars to produce the book; this was cost prohibitive for the amount of money we would be able to recoup.

We enlisted the help of a friend and talented graphic designer, Jessica Zeigler. She was able to take the black and white sketches of our illustrations and translate them into coloring pages. She also pulled out portions of certain illustrations and enlarged them. Using a local printer, we were able to get our coloring book production cost down to $1,000, from the initial concept to 250 books-in-hand.

When we designed our book cover, we were presented with two options. To save money, we decided to use the “discarded” option as the cover for our coloring book. We wanted it to be similar to the book, but distinguishable in some way.

We perused other coloring and activity books and most seemed to include activities such as word searches, mazes and word scrambles, so we took our cue from that. In addition to our 19 coloring pages, we designed 16 activities to include in our book. Pages such as “Help the Elf Escape the Maze,” “Draw a Picture of Your Favorite Christmas Decoration” and “Finish the Picture of Santa” added another dimension to our companion book.

If we print more coloring and activity books, we will make some adjustments, but all-in-all, we are happy with this addition to our products for “The Great PJ Elf Chase.”