Children’s Book Author Asks: What Am I Leaving Out?


1106 Design

January 15, 2011

I’ve been corresponding this week with a children’s book author on the SPAN website: (SPAN is an excellent resource for self-publishers.) The discussion started as a comment on my blog post there, “A Book Cover Is Everything” ( and it touched on several topics that every self-publisher must address. The conversation has become a prime example of where many self-publishers go horribly wrong. I don’t believe that any author sets out to fail when self-publishing a book, but it happens far too often because the author is working with incorrect or incomplete information, or because the author resists correct information when it is offered.

For the record, even though I haven’t seen the manuscript yet, I think this book could have “legs” in a variety of markets. I truly hope this author heeds reliable advice, whether from me or someone else, because he’s clearly heading in the wrong direction, and my heart already aches for him. Here’s our conversation:

Author: My problem I have is my title — I find it catchy, but it doesn’t convey well what the purpose of my non-fiction book is all about.  A dilemma!

Me: Catchy isn’t enough. A title must be specific…a promise to the reader, telling them what your book is about. It’s tough (maybe impossible) for an author to take a step back into the mind of someone who has never seen or heard of the book before. Why not post your title here and test it with me?

Author: Here’s the title: Jack’s Fish Bones. Of course, you can’t figure out from the title that it’s actually a book that teaches children how to read, and write in Chinese.  On my mock-up I follow that with ‘A fun step-by-step guide for writing and reading Chinese.’  But that will have to move to the back cover. See the dilemma?

Me: I think your subtitle must be on the front, in this case. Without it,  your book sounds like any other children’s story. Remember, not everyone will read the description online or turn the book over to find out otherwise.  You told me in your message that the book teaches children, but your title and subtitle don’t say that. I  recommend working with a professional title consultant for this book, so that every word on your front cover speaks directly to the folks most likely to buy your book, and tells them what it is about.

Author: I think you’re right. I might re-title it ‘Jack and Ivy and the Mysterious Chinese Code’ or something of that nature.But I like short and catchy titles.

Me: Just my opinion, but that may be too long, and it sounds more like a novel.

Author: I will just have to let the name issue percolate in my brain for a while. I still have to connect with someone to do the illustrations — maybe in the process of doing that part of the book something will leap out at me.

Me: Yes, there are so many decisions to be made to launch any book. I wrote a blog post about children’s book illustrations that may be helpful: Have a nice weekend! (In this post, I recommended a good site to find qualified children’s book illustrators, and explained why why a book designer should be hired BEFORE an illustrator is retained. I wrote this post because authors often bring terrible illustrations to designers, to the detriment of the final product. )

Author: Thanks for the tip — I had already checked Society of Children’s Book Illustrators, but got tired of searching through the gazillions of illustrators, ha!  (Will find time to look again).Since I’m a newbie, my book production idea is simple. I have made Word files which contain clip art. I convert these into PDFs, and voila! that’s my book! So my next step is, I find an illustrator with the right style, who creates and converts their original art work into ‘clip art’ which I can pull into my Word files. For me identifying exactly how many pieces and what to draw is no problem — it’s already by and large in the draft.  I negotiate on a price per piece, delivery dates, payment terms, etc.  Easy!Of course, this all may sound very naive to anyone with some real experience like yourself in the book publishing business.  Any comments?  What am I leaving out? Thanks, Michele.

So ended our conversation (at least as of this moment).

What is he leaving out? I’m not sure where to begin, but let’s start with this:

It’s amazing to me how many self-publishers judge their own work in isolation and not against the competition in the real world.  Even a casual trip to a bookstore will reveal that the  children’s book section is filled with top-quality books. If this author took his mockup to said bookstore, and objectively compared his efforts with any book on the shelf, I’m certain he would immediately see the difference.

It might be helpful to describe how a “real” publisher achieves this difference. First, they’ll research the market to determine if there is a demand for the book and how strong that demand might be. Part of this research involves a look at competitive titles and how well they are selling. If, and only if there is a demand, will a publisher move to the next step: determine the costs to professionally write, edit, illustrate, design, and market the book. Once these expenses are tallied, the question becomes, “can this book be sold at a price point that will attract consumers?” If not, the project ends right there. If so, the wheels are set in motion, and when the final product finally hits the store shelves, it is a masterpiece. More importantly, it is what buyers have come to expect when they shop for children’s books.

This process is far different than that taken by most self-publishers, as my conversation so far with this author reveals. Stay tuned.

What do you want to know? What topics should we explore together? How can we help you along your publishing journey? Everyone here at 1106 Design wants to help. Post your comment here or email us using the Contact Us page.

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