I have wanted for some time now to write and illustrate a children's book. How realistic is it to self publish? I have no business background in this at all, and would expect to make a loss initially. What options are available to the individual in terms of marketing & selling these books (of course, I realise it depends on quality, but that aside).

Is it advisable to approach prospective publishers, or to build a portfolio first? Is it possible to self-publish and then approach a company that markets these things, or is it at all advisable to attempt the whole thing single handed?

My first degree (many years ago now) was in sculpture, and I have a good working knowledge of the publishing process, having worked as a graphic designer for a few years (albeit limited to the publishing of pamphlets, posters and the like), so feel quite comfortable with both the hand-drawn illustration part, and the production side of things.

I know that a few authors/illustrators have done just this (Lauren Child, Tommie dePaula, etc.), but I don't know what route they took in terms of the business side of things.

Please excuse the naive nature of this question, but I was rather hoping someone could shed some light / offer advice on the matter.

Many thanks in advance.

  • What makes you think those authors are self-published? I haven't found any evidence of that. Commented May 23, 2019 at 20:14

2 Answers 2


To respond to your question "How realistic it is to self-publish", I will answer "very realistic".

If you see some many authors who self- publish it's because publishing is in a major transition, to the same level it was when Gutenberg created the first press. The process of publishing has been liberated from the publishers who were very selective, having huge demands and were even at some point enslaving some authors.

With self-publishing, you can use print-on-demand services, digital media and since you are a designer yourself, you can do a lot of the layout/web work yourself. You don't even need to have an inventory of book anymore, or you can choose to keep little inventory if you want. That's a major change in the investment required. For your marketing, you can use the same strategies the publishers uses, you can get into libraries and you can use your own ways (eg. social media.)

To get to know how to start, you can find an agent, you can read online, you can pay for seminars (although I don't recommend this way.) I'd to tell you all the detailed steps and the exact how-to but that's my job actually to get authors started and I can't share everything here as you guess! I can only tell you to find good referrals if you need people to help you and that it's possible for you to accomplish a lot on your own if you want to. I can also warn you about "mini publishers" who charge excessive amount of money for inventories that are useless, and webinars and "coaches" that won't teach you much more than what you can read online. Usually, that's where self-publish authors get caught.

Your success will depend a lot on how much energy and time you're willing to spend yourself in your book's marketing. One big benefit for you as an illustrator is that you will get some kind of protection on your intellectual property once you publish your illustrations.

  • thanks for your reply, it is really useful :) Yes, I have a friend in publishing, and he echoes what you are saying - things aren't going so well for him unfortunately at the turn of the tide. You have listed loads of great tips - I may get back to you on one or two once I have had time to digest (no time for the next couple of days unfortunately) - hope that is ok with you? I will leave the question open for another 24hrs or so before I accept. Thanks again for your feedback :)
    – martin
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 20:00
  • 1
    Sure! Leave the question opened longer, you might get more feedback from other authors too!
    – go-junta
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 21:52
  • From my own experience, this paints a far too rosy picture of self-publishing, and doesn't touch on the considerable challenges and risks. Commented May 23, 2019 at 17:57

Anyone can self-publish, but it's not a great route for everyone. From experience, successful self-publishers are always great salespeople. If you are willing to do non-stop school visits, readings at libraries, book-signings, book tours, speaking engagements and interviews, you can do very well as a self-publisher. As a self-publisher you can sell exactly as many copies as you are willing to hand-sell personally yourself. You have to be willing to think of your book as a product.

The additional task is that you have to be able to do all the many tasks that go into publishing on your own (or outsource them at a steep rate that will make it hard for you to ever turn a profit). That means you have to be great at editing, layout, design and marketing, in addition to writing and illustrating. Personally, I would never recommend self-publishing for children's books for two reasons:

  • People tend to still want print books for children, which cuts off one of the most lucrative paths for self-publishers, e-books.
  • Putting together a children's book is particularly complex in terms of layout and design.

Going through a traditional publisher is a low-risk route with almost no up-front costs for you. If you have strong illustration skills, I'd suggest putting together an illustrator's portfolio and approaching publishers that way. Once you have a book or two under your belt as an illustrator, you'll have the inside track towards selling a self-illustrated manuscript. Many well-known author-illustrators got their start that way. Breaking into the field as a writer is also possible (I did it) but it's very difficult. Picture books is a genre that really belongs to the superstar illustrators.

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