Monday, May 2, 2016

Picture Books in the Digital Age: A Guide to Self-Publishing

Technology has made self-pubbing children's books possible . . . now we weigh the pros and cons. ♦
One of the benefits of the e-book revolution has been the ability of authors to publish their work, and find an audience, without going through a big publisher. Traditionally one of the most difficult book markets to break into has been children’s picture books, given the collaborative nature of the genre, for one—requiring both writer and artist, working in tandem, to tell a story—but also because of the physical and visual nature of the final product, which seemed to all but require a publisher with the means to see the book through production and out into the world.
    Now, though, with the growing opportunities in e-book publishing, as well as newer technologies such as the iPad and other tablets which allow for the full visual experience of picture books, the electronic market is finally opening up to both the children’s genre and to self-published authors. So, what are the benefits of self-publishing a children’s picture book in e-book format? What are the downsides? And what are some variances from traditional publishing one has to consider when self-publishing a picture book as an eBook? Let us explore.


Accessibility. The picture book market, as already noted, can be one of the hardest markets to break into; in Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s article on the subject, she even compares breaking into the market to playing slot machines in Las Vegas. There are also many unwritten rules to follow, from the maximum amount of words (many articles will say 500 to 1000 words, but in actuality 500 to 600 should be the maximum goal according to Writers Digest) to the easy trap of sending illustrations with your work (unless you are an illustrator yourself, this is a big no-no). Even when following these unwritten rules, few publishers will generally take the chance on unknown or unproven authors. With e-books, you can skip the publisher and go directly to the consumer with your book . . . and with the rise of high-resolution tablets and e-readers, the consumer can purchase and begin reading the book with their child with just a few quick clicks, and with the same quality of text and image as with print. The increased use of tablets and e-readers has lowered the age of when a child begins reading e-books to five years old and has also contributed to the slow but steady increase in children’s e-books purchased. In 2015 e-books counted for twenty-one percent of all children’s books purchased in the United States.

Unlimited pages. In traditional publishing of children picture books, the book is limited to thirty-two pages (including title page and copyright). This limit is related to cost and may fluctuate but generally sticks to multiples of eight because of how the pages can smoothly fold into what is called a signature. Thirty-two pages in an illustrated children’s book translates roughly to five pages or less of total manuscript text, so the printed form has very specific limits on the type of story you can tell. However, with e-books the author is not constrained by the number of pages. This does not mean you should write a 500-page text for a children’s picture book, of course—always keep your audience in mind—but it means that the format opens up new possibilities for the kind of story you can tell, one that’s not bound, no pun, by the physical and economic concerns of print publishing.

Ease of creative collaboration. Just as there have been exciting developments in the streamlined tools and procedures that allow for better cohesion across devices for the consumer, there have also been technological advancements in terms of collaboration between creators. Technology now brings writers and artists together in a way that was not always feasible before, allowing collaborators to meet up and work together, stage-by-stage, in the creation of the project. For example, the platform known as Storybird provides artwork to writers, artists, and readers for the creation of visual stories.

Enhanced e-books. The electronic form also brings with it the possibility of multimedia enhancements to the picture book, including audio narration and animations. These exciting developments serve as tools which allow the creator to produce a more enriched and engaging experience for the reader. Not only can the proper application of the available enhancements add a unique and personal flair to a creator's work, these enhancements can create a unique reading experience every time the reader returns to the book.


Limited screen size. Because of the range of the devices on which your book will be read, and the limitations thereof, you must keep the platform always in mind. Size of the screen means that the book needs to have smaller illustrations and will have limited room for text . . . thus, a book that’s perfectly suited for a reader on the iPad, for example, might prove a less-engaging read on another device.

Distortion. Authors must take into consideration the nature of e-books and the various features most consumers will attempt to use when reading a story. One such example could be that, on devices such as the Kindle Fire, it is recommended that producing files be double the size of the device screen in order to support 2x zoom. While Amazon recommends double the size of the Kindle Fire screen, Apple recommends that content is at least 1.5 times the screen size. Improper resolution is an annoyance when web browsing; in a picture book, it would prove absolutely fatal.

Lack of support traditionally fulfilled by publishing companies. As with any type of self-publishing, there is a large amount of work an author must put into their picture book in order to successfully publish. Self-publishing means the author is responsible for not only editing, marketing, and advertising, but also any technical challenges that might arise. Amazon has recently streamlined their picture book publishing tool for easier use and better cohesion across devices, but there are still many technical decisions and issues each author must consider when self-publishing their book. You may not wish to be the coder, usability tester, and tech support department . . . but if you’re going the self-publishing route, you should be aware that you might be.


Overall, self-publishing a children's picture book as an e-book has many aspects in common with self-publishing any other book electronically, from the freedom that comes from leaving traditional publishing constraints behind to the added responsibilities that come from taking on developing, editing, and marketing oneself. Even the need to take into account the features consumers may use when reading the book are similar. The market for children’s picture e-books, though, offers some unique opportunities for authors wanting to break into the market. With a young generation of readers who view this technology as convenient and commonplace, and with various studies into the benefits and advantages of e-books in regards to skills such as early literacy development, it’s no surprise that the market for children’s picture e-books is rapidly growing and expanding.
  • About the Author
    Ashlee Center is a senior in the Professional Writing program at Miami University. She enjoys creating imagined backgrounds for the various characters she has met throughout her life. She loves to help other writers capture and develop their ideas.

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