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

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

Potential 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’ Favorite 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.
  • 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.  We’re happy to report that our book was given the B.R.A.G. Medallion honor!

    There is an initial screening to ensure the author’s work meets minimum standards of quality and content. On average, 50% of submissions fail this screening. If the book passes this preliminary screening, it’s then read by members drawn from a global readers group. 40% of the books are typically rejected by these readers.  They judge writing style, characters, copy editing, dialogue and cover/interior layout. One final factor readers use to judge a book is whether or not they would recommend it to their best friend.  Only 10% of the books considered are awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion and are presented on their website. Conversely, they do not make public the titles of any books that were not selected to receive a Medallion, or the names of their authors.

  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

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 Do’s and Don’ts

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 21: Marketing Do’s 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.”

 

 

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 17: Our First Book Show

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 17: Our First Book Show

We decided to participate in the “Colorado Country Christmas Gift Show” in Denver. Although the cost of renting a space was high, we were told that thousands of people visit the venue each year, so it seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. We hoped many of the customers would want to buy our book, “The Great PJ Elf Chase.”

Once again, we entered into a world of learning the do’s and don’ts of publishing and marketing. As my husband always says, “Keep it simple.” Wish I had put that into practice. Thinking back on how we decorated our space at first, we must’ve pictured ourselves in one of Macy’s store windows! We had a corner booth flanked by two tables. We put three risers on one table and two risers on the other. We bought the cutest elves we could find at Hobby Lobby. We brought a little lighted Christmas tree from home and had plenty of netting and décor to make our tables more attractive. We didn’t realize that all those adorable accoutrements would sabotage our purpose.

Our first clue that we had overdone the décor was when a lady walked up and asked how much the elves were. She didn’t realize we were selling books. Okay, then…the books have obviously gotten lost in the shuffle. Not good. Off came 75% of the decorations. A pair of elves and the Christmas tree – which we could actually have done without – were the only surviving decorations. We have a large banner on a stand that depicts the cover of our book. We displayed it behind the booth. In retrospect, this – and some sturdy books stands – was really all we needed.

We also quickly realized that we had boxed ourselves in – people couldn’t see us over the risers…and we couldn’t see them, so that was a definite detriment when trying to engage patrons. So, right in the middle of the show, we pulled off the top layer of risers. At least people could see us now. Or could they? We stood back to evaluate and realized that there was no need for any risers at all….so, you guessed it….off with the second layer. We were down to tables only, and it was much more inviting. They did look nice with the green table coverings and white skirts. All the netting was tossed as well. Clean and simple became our new mantra.

The exciting part of the event was witnessing the reaction of the children to our book. They delighted in trying to find the hidden elves. Not a child went by who didn’t want to stop and take a look. We sold lots of books, but we didn’t feel it justified or paid for the booth costs or the long days (10 hours on Friday and Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday).

It was also nice to interact with the customers and hear about their family traditions. They enjoyed the fact that two sisters had written about their own family tradition. We also had a book giveaway, so we were able to collect email addresses for our contact list.

Lessons learned: For future shows, we’ll choose ones that are one-to-two days in length – and don’t have an expensive booth charge. We will skip the cute decorations and concentrate on displaying books and doing author signings. We always told our students that you never stop learning….I guess we were right.

 

 

 

Self-Publishing a Children’s Book 16: Marketing

Self-Publishing a Children’s Book 16: Marketing

Now the hard work begins. Writing the book, designing the interior and cover…all of that was so much fun. But Marketing? If we don’t get ourselves up-to-date with the best practices, all of this has really been nothing more than a cute little project.

Our first step is to get our social media outlets onboard. You can now visit us at Facebook.com/TheGreatPJElfChase; Twitter.com/GreatPJElfChase; Pinterest.com/GreatPJElfChase; and Google+. Phew! This is a lot to keep up with and it’s tough to get the hang of what is too much or too little in the world of social media.

Our next step is to blanket our local areas. We’ve approached bookstores, toy stores, clothing stores, Christmas stores…you get the picture! We’ve had good luck getting our book into several stores already. We have decided not to worry about the percentage of profit we give up to have our book in those stores. The main thing is that this book is getting into the hands of readers.

The time, effort, and money we’ve given to our website has been completely worth it in our minds. This website really is our first point of contact for so many potential buyers of our story. If our website did not look professional, we probably would not get that initial meeting with the store owner. Thank you, Jessica Zeigler!

We’ve used the services of Vistaprint for business cards, large signs for shows, flyers, book bags, and stickers. They are reasonable and do really great work. They even sent us 100 free flyers when there was an error in something we purchased. We ordered bookmarks and Santa hats for all of our personal appearances and for our pre-orders. But not from Vistaprint. They do not sell bookmarks. We had to find a place online to order those.

We are scheduled to a be a vendor at the Colorado Country Christmas Gift Show. This is a huge event with an expected 25,000 attendees. You know we will blog about this in the very near future! If you are in Denver, come and see us at the Denver Mart, November 8-10th.

We have an exciting day planned on November 19th at a local school in Littleton, CO. We can’t wait to see all of the kids reading our new book!

We are off and running!

Self-Publishing a Children’s Book 15: The Final Proof Arrives

Self-Publishing a Children’s Book 15: The Final Proof Arrives

The final proof of a picture book looks like the “real thing.” So, when “The Great PJ Elf Chase” arrived in the mail, it was our first glance at what the paperback version of our children’s picture book would look like. When I opened the package, a flood of emotions immediately rushed through me. Of course, Judy and I were on the phone in the next 5 minutes, sharing our sentiments and reactions. It was certainly a good feeling to be listed as authors on the cover of a book — a dream we’ve had for a long time.

First of all, we thought of our parents — they would be so happy to see this tradition that they created so many years ago come to life as a book. There was an overwhelming feeling of joy… yet there was also sadness at the same time, since they aren’t here to read the book. My guess is they’re smiling down from HeavenJ

Secondly, we felt a sense of pride that we had actually followed through and brought this project to fruition.

Of course, our worry-wart sides surfaced quickly also. “I wonder if our friends and family will like the book — or will they be disappointed?” “Will anyone want to buy this book?” “Is it big enough, or bright enough?”

Next, we scanned the book to see if there were errors or changes that we’d need to make. We found one grammatical error that we’d previously overlooked, even after scanning it many times. Believe it or not, it was on our “Dedication” page. I think we probably didn’t focus on editing that as much as the manuscript itself. We also thought that the white text in one stanza of the book was getting lost in the scenery. Honestly, we were so anxious to push the “approve this proof” button and get our book off to press, that we almost let those changes go! But we thought better of it because we knew it would bug us forever if the errors weren’t fixed. Anna and her team at CreateSpace made the modifications very quickly, as usual.

Our books should be arriving in the mail any day now. We’re anxious to send them to reviewers and to get our marketing campaign in full swing.

Yep, we’re authors.

 

 

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 14: More About Interior Pages

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 14: More About Interior Pages

Just when we thought we were so close to the end, so begins a new phase of this project! After making our final approval of the beautiful illustrations, we were handed-off to a new team: Interior Design. Anna contacted us right away and said she was looking forward to working with us. I  was wondering if the whole project could potentially fall apart at this point…ever the optimist! One thing we have realized is that a book is only as good as the team working on it. I’m so happy to report that Anna is outstanding and has elevated our book to a whole new level. Thank you, Anna and Team 3 at Createspace!

On the initial phone conference with Anna, we discussed all of the many aspects of designing the interior of a picture book — particularly, our picture book! I might note that Anna has a background in graphic design so she was incredibly helpful when we threw ideas to her. She was able to say, “Yeah, that’s possible…let’s try it” or “Maybe not.” Karen and I prepared for the conversation by scrambling through the many Christmas books I had on hand from reading to Nick and Matt. There were a couple that really caught our eyes…you can’t go wrong with Dr. Seuss! We noticed that “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” used a red letter to start many of its pages. We really liked that look. Anna thought that idea was a good one so we decided to send the concept on to her graphic designer. We also liked how Dr. Seuss placed little wreaths on the end pages of the book instead of just having the blank white ones. We decided to put red end pages with some of our little elves on there. Start the book off right and get kids intrigued from the turn of the first page! That initial conversation with Anna also went into a discussion about font size, text placement, front matter, back matter, and on and on. Read more about this in our post – Self Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 11: Front Matter, Back Matter, Does It Really Matter?

As I said, the Interior Design Team really can make you or break you. We realized at the end of the illustration phase as we read through our final color proof that we probably would have benefited from one more illustration. Well, considering the fact that it was already September and we’d like to have the book done before Christmas, not to mention the cost, having Lorena create another illustration was pretty much out of the question. We went out on a limb and spoke to Anna about having our graphic artist put together an illustration based on one picture of the two main characters (Jack and Ben) that we received way back in the days of the sketches. We set forth a vision for this page as detailed as we could. Honestly, we weren’t really sure what to do with that page. Anna said they would be happy to play with it a little and see what happens. She said they’d design the first few pages of the book, and be sure to include that page so we could see what they had in mind.

We were really excited to see the interior come to life. We had about 5 business days to wait for those first few pages. Step by step…we’re getting there!

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 13: Approving the Interior Pages

Self-Publishing a Children’s Picture Book 13: Approving the Interior Pages

Today there are big smiles on the faces of two grown women — Karen and Judy.  It’s been a long time coming, but we finally approved the inside pages of our children’s picture book, “The Great PJ Elf Chase: A Christmas Eve Tradition.” What was it James Brown said?…”I feel good!”

We were involved in each phase of our book’s design, and that involvement was instrumental in us being very pleased with the end result. The graphic designers at CreateSpace have worked closely with us, implementing all the changes we’ve requested in a timely manner. Their promptness and professionalism sure helped keep our frustration at bay.

One of the stumbling blocks we had with laying out the interior design was trying to develop consistency between the left-hand and right-hand pages. In some instances the pages seemed disjointed; we wanted the scene on one page to flow to the page beside it. Since the illustrations on many of the pages weren’t two-page spreads, it was tricky to make them look like they were. We were pleased when the graphic designers accommodated our vision.

It’s getting close to publication time now. Our final files will be ready in a few days, and then we’re hoping to have the final proof of our book in our hands the following week. It’s been a long time coming.