Do you want to publish a book, but don’t know where to start? We were in the same boat!
After stumbling up Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), we realized that it was a possibility to self-publish a book in a matter of how long it took us to create one. This is a very loose guide of how we got to our goal of having a book for sale on Amazon.
There are many amazing resources out there for anyone to use in order to help them with their end-goal of self-publishing a book. The tips, tricks, resources and websites that we used are merely suggestions. We are writing this ‘How-to’ as first-time children’s book authors, illustrators and self-publishers…so things won’t get more basic than this. We are also writing this as frugal and resourceful women, so you won’t need to worry about us trying to making you spend money on expensive programs along the way (every resource we used was free!).
We will go into the steps of creating and publishing your book quickly first, then break down how we did each of these steps, what resources we used and any tips or tricks we learned along the way. This ‘how-to’ is specific to publishing an illustrated children’s picture book, but you should still find this information as a good resource if you are writing a novel or a no/low-content book.
What is Kindle Direct Publishing – KDP?
Kindle Direct Publishing is Amazon’s print-on-demand platform for anyone who wants to self-publish a book. This means that there is no back-stock of books sitting somewhere waiting to be purchased. Amazon only prints a book AFTER someone has purchased it. This is an extremely sweet program for us as people who wanted to try something new without a giant financial investment. Being able to do everything yourself is such a freeing feeling, albeit the learning curve felt STEEP. People on Youtube made the process look like cake, and hopefully the next time we do this, it will be…but as first timers, it was like learning a second language, incredibly frustrating and hard at times, but oh-so-satisfying we things started to click.
Let’s get into it:
How to Self-Publish Children’s Books on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing
Steps to Self-Publish Children’s Books on Amazon Kindle Direct (KDP)
- Write your story
- Create your story board layout
- Illustrate your book
- Create your PDF manuscript
- Sign-up for a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account & publish your book
- Print Options
- Creating your book cover
- Launch Previewer
- Pricing & Royalties
- Expanded Distribution
- Proof Copy
- Create the Kindle Version of your book
- Tell the world
1. Write your story
If you are reading this article, you probably already have a book idea written out that you need help coming to life. We had our story written out before realizing we wanted to take it a few steps further and self-publish.
Get your story written down, even if it isn’t perfect. You can always change and adjust along the way.
2. Create a storyboard layout
Did you know that the amount of pages in a children’s book should be divisible by 4? That means that your copyright page, dedication page, author page, story content and whatever other pages you want in your book all need to add up to a number that is divisible by 4. Our book, for example, is 32 pages long (including the white backside of the final page). This is for printing purposes. If your page numbers are not divisible by 4, you could end up with some random blank white pages at the end of your book, because that is how the book printer works. So do not overlook this very important detail when creating your storyboard for illustrations. Our book needed a couple extra pages to make its page numbers divisible by 4, so we added some bonus artwork of our backpacks from the story.
Something we found useful was creating a miniature book out of printer paper, writing the page numbers on each page and sketching or writing what would be on each page. This let us see what a spread could look like and how to fill up our pages.
Below is a video clip of our manuscript in Canva. This is what our ‘final’ storyboard looked like. You can see the spreads much easier here. We will get into creating your manuscript in detail later.
3. Now that you have your story and a layout for your pages, you can start illustrating!
How you create your artwork is completely up to you and your own creative process. You can paint, draw, sketch, use a computer program, create collages…whatever! We chose to use watercolor pencils and sharpie to create our illustrations. You can read about our process here: https://www.katieandkristen.com/outdoor-life/hiking/writing-and-self-publishing-a-childrens-book-using-kindle-direct-publishing/
Below are two pictures of the same drawing. The first is the original drawing that we scanned into the computer. The second version is the backpack cleaned up in a computer program and is the backpack you will see in our book.
How to Self-Publish Children’s Books on Amazon Kindle Direct
Now that you have your illustrations finished, you will need to get them into the computer. We used our at-home printer to scan the pictures. From here, we had MAJOR cleaning up to do. Above is a before and after of an image as an example.
Clearly, our original is washed out, you can see the wrinkled paper from using watercolors, you can see ugly scan lines and it just looks pretty terrible.
Neither of us have Adobe Photoshop. If you have Adobe Photoshop, you can probably do what we did in less time and a lot easier. But, if you don’t, and don’t want to drop the dough, you can do what we did by using free resources.
We used the free version of PIXLR, https://pixlr.com/x/ to remove backgrounds of our images, enhance the colors, erase any mistakes we made and smooth out some of our blending. Youtube is packed with helpful videos if you are new to using PIXLR.
Once we had our images all cleaned up, we could place them into our book. Below is a video of cleaning up the image above:
4. Create your manuscript
To create a manuscript in Canva:
- Go to Canva.com and sign up for a free account, if you don’t have on already
- Decide on your book’s trim size first. You will need to decide what size you want your final book to be, before illustrating, so that you can draw to scale of your page sizes. Here is KDP’s list of trim sizes offered: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201834180
- Create a Canva document in the trim size of your choosing AND add 0.125″ (3 mm) to your book’s page width and 0.25″ (6 mm) to the page height to ensure that the images in your manuscript extend beyond the edge of the page. For example, we wanted our book’s trim size to be 8.5”X8.5”, so we needed to make our book’s manuscript to measure at 8.625” X 8.75”. This is to account for bleed. When you are creating a picture book with images that extend to the edge (even if it’s on just one page!) You MUST add bleed.
- Once you have your template in that size, you can go ahead and add however many blank pages you need to it for your book in your Canva document (in our case, we needed 32 pages) OR you can do add pages as you go.
Something we learned: For spreads (where one image takes up 2 pages), you MUST align the two images perfectly for them to line up in your book when it prints. A trick we learned to get them aligned in Canva was to place both halves of the image onto one page, line them up and group them together, expand the photo to fill up half the page, duplicate the image and drag the other half of the image over to fill up that page. Check out this screen grab below of me doing this:
How to Self-Publish Children’s Books on Amazon Kindle Direct
- Once you have your images into place on your pages in Canva, you can go through and add the text
- If you are in Canva, download your manuscript as a Print PDF (do NOT click the ‘crop marks and bleed’ box)
Now you should have your manuscript ready to go for an initial upload into KDP.
5: Sign-up for a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account & publish your book
Amazon walks you through this and KDP is very intuitive (you can learn more about opening an account here: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200620010), but I will get into some nitty gritty things we had to learn through trial and error.
When you are ready to publish your book, login to your KDP account and you will see this page:
How to Self-Publish Children’s Books on Amazon Kindle Direct
Click the +Paperback button and go through the fields filling them out, as shown in the video below:
When it comes to keywords, this is very important and I do not think by any means we have mastered this. Amazon lets you have up to 7 keywords, USE THEM ALL. This is how people find your book when they are browsing on Amazon. And use long-tail keywords (a specific, often 3+ word search query), not just a single word. Here is a great Youtube resource on finding the right keywords https://youtu.be/5TNDUJ_tfVo . This part takes time, but no worries if you want to change the keywords later, because Amazon lets you edit them, even after your book is published and live for sale!
When it comes to your categories, also choose wisely. You can only have 2 categories, however, if you want your book to show up in more categories, you can email KDP and ask them to add an additional category, and they should do this. Here is more on categories: https://youtu.be/Oe1shRiUMZc
Amazon also will let you edit your categories later, so you aren’t married to your initial decisions, just like your keywords.
When you get to the print options, this is a personal choice. In the picture above, I have the print options filled out to what we used when making ‘The Adventure Twins Take a Hike’. For picture books, you will most likely want colored interior and if you have images that go to the edge of the page, you will need to choose Bleed. The trim size is up to you, but remember you must add 0.125″ (3 mm) to your book’s page width and 0.25″ (6 mm) to the page height to ensure that the images in your manuscript extend beyond the edge of the page. The cover finish is up to you.
Once you publish your book, none of these options can be changed, so choose carefully.
Okay, so you have done all the steps up to the point of uploading your actual book manuscript! Now is the time to upload that Print PDF you created in Canva (or wherever) into KDP. Find the file and upload it. This takes some serious time, especially if you have slow internet. Once that uploads, KDP will have you upload your cover separately.
Create your book cover
To create our book cover, we created a new Canva document that was double the width of our book, but the same height (our book trim size is 8.5 inches X 8.5 inches, so the cover document needed to measure 17 inches X 8.5 inches). This is because your cover is one piece that wraps around the book. Here is what our cover looks like in its original electronic form:
Once we had the cover how we liked it, I downloaded it as a PNG and finished editing the cover in KDP’s Cover designer.
Some things I learned:
- My original cover was not high enough quality for printing. I wasn’t sure how to fix this, but found a work around: I changed the size of my cover to make it a massive document. I changed its template size from 17.5”X8.5” to 60”X30”. This made the PNG much larger so when I uploaded it into the cover creator, the quality was much better and made a perfectly crisp image.
- KDP will let you upload your own cover or use their cover creator. Initially, I tried to upload my cover as a PDF, but the system was shooting back too many errors. Next, I tried using their cover creator. I didn’t want to use their creator at first, because I wanted our original artwork. But, the tool lets you upload your own image to use as a background for your cover. So, I took the PNG of our cover artwork, uploaded it into their tool and erased any text that KDP provided as a template (because it was covering my text that was already on my PNG). It was easier to simply upload our cover as an image and place it into their already made templates vs. uploading a PDF of our cover.
- Something to note is that KDP will have placeholders for text and images that you will need to make sure to erase in their cover creator. And they will place the barcode with your ISBN on the back lower right side, so make sure to not put anything important there or it will get covered up.
Now that you have your cover and your manuscript uploaded, you can hit the ‘Launch Previewer’ button! This is the fun part, because you can see what your book will look like in its finished state. When you hit this button, it takes FOREVER to load (and I have FAST internet).
The preview is so important! This is your chance to make sure you text is all inside the safe-zones, that your pages are in the correct order, that your spreads match up in the middle and more. Take your time going through each page and making note of any edits you want to make to your manuscript.
If you see something you want to edit, you must go make the changes in your original document in Canva (or wherever you made it), redownload it, then reupload it into KDP and relaunch the previewer. (We made SO many edits to our initial manuscript. If I were to guess, we went through the process at least 25 times. Hopefully that is a newbie thing and next time we will get things correct faster.)
Let’s take a look at a couple of our pages below and I will show you some things that you should look for before approving your document. Here is a quick video clip of what the launcher will look like. On the left you will notice things that KDP wants you to ‘Please Check’. If you have blaring errors (like your text is not inside the grey dashed lines or your images don’t fill they page), the notices will be in red. If the notices are in black ink, KDP simply wants you to verify that what you’re seeing looks correct to you.
This page above looks exactly how we wanted it to look. We wanted the girls’ faces to go all the way to the edge of the paper, as well at the tree trunks and the tops of the trees. If there is any white along these edges, either Amazon will deny your submission until you fix it, or it could print with ugly harsh print lines instead of the image butting up to the edge of the paper.
But, when we look at a spread like this, the images are SUPPOSED to stand alone and have white around them. So this spread also looks great!
Your text MUST be inside the grey dashed lines. There is no if/ands/buts on this rule. Make sure that there is no question about any of your text being inside these lines.
When you have carefully reviewed your book, hit approve. You will be able to ‘save and continue’ once you have approved your print preview and move onto pricing.
You can come back to this part as many times as you need as long as you haven’t hit the final submit button. And even AFTER you have submitted your book, Amazon has approved it and it is live for sale, you can still go upload a new version into KDP if you decide to change something later. Amazon will still need to review and approve it, but the old version of your book will remain live for sale as you wait for approval.
After approving your book in the previewer, you will see a summary of your book and the printing cost, as pictured below.
We didn’t look into much into territories, but went with the default of ‘All territories’. KDP provides some information for you to click on and learn more if you would like to do so.
Pricing & Royalty
KDP lets you price your book, but gives you a min-max amount you can charge. The reason for this is that they take out the printing cost (the cost depends on all the print options you chose earlier and how many pages you have) and they take their cut. The royalty is what is left that you get per sale of the book. So, we are making $2.34 on every book we sell when charging $9.99.
What does expanded distribution mean? “Reach more readers by distributing your paperback through bookstores, online retailers, libraries, and academic institutions.” – KDP
We chose to check this box. We would make way less on royalties if a bookstore or library did pick-up our book (only $0.34/book) but we aren’t publishing our book to get rich, we are in it to share our book for the joy of it. So by checking this box, you leave the door open for wider audiences seeing your book.
Optional: Proof Copy
KDP will let you order proof copies of your book for you to, well, proof. We did do this option and I highly recommend you do too. It took a full 10 days for our proof to come in the mail, which was torture, but having it in print, we were able to see things we wanted to change that that we missed while looking at our computer screens. Proof copies cost the price of printing + shipping (even if you have Prime, you still pay shipping on this).
Something we learned: A proof copy can take 10 days or longer to get to you. If you don’t want to wait, and have Amazon Prime, you can publish your book (you will need to wait up to 72 hours for KDP to approve yours submission), and then simply buy it on Prime. To get it in about 4 days (it usually takes Amazon 2 days to print, then you’re normal 2 day shipping). If you do it this way, your book is live and someone could potentially buy it, but the likelihood of that happening, if you aren’t marketing your book, is pretty low. And again, if you see any changes or edits you want to make, you can upload an edited version of your manuscript into KDP and after 24-72 hours, the latest version will be live.
Once you feel good about everything and looked at your proof, you can hit that big, yellow ‘Publish Your Paperback Book’ button! And then…you wait! For up to 72 hours (and even longer sometimes based on weekends). KDP goes through and does a detailed look through to make sure the quality is up to their standards for printing. They may approve it on your first submission or they may email you with things you need to fix and you will need to resubmit for approval.
If you have items to fix, the folks are super helpful and you can talk with a real human via email or phone to help you solve issues. Every time you make an edit, you will have to resubmit to Amazon for approval.
Something we learned: The first submission we did took almost 5 days (we had a weekend in there), but when we made an edit and resubmitted our book, our approvals happened in about 14 hours. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to how long it actually takes though, because one of our journals took 5 days to get reapproved when we edited something.
6. Create the Kindle version of your book
Uploading the Kindle version will be cake once you have your paperback submitted. You will need to download their ‘Kindle Kid’s Book Creator’ tool if you are uploading a picture book.
You can download that here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?docId=1002979921
Using the Kindle Kid’s Book Creator is pretty intuitive. Once you download the tool and open it, the program walks you through getting your book uploaded.
After you choose your layout, the tool will prompt you to upload your manuscript. If you have already finished your manuscript for your paperback, you can use that same PDF to upload here.
A previewer will appear once your manuscript is uploaded ( and same as the paperback Print Previewer, if you have an edit, you will need to change the original PDF and reupload the document).
After your manuscript loads, You will need to go in and add all the pop-ups once your book uploads. The pop-ups are important for Kindle picture books, because people will probably be reading your book on a smaller screen. The pop-ups allow them to see the text easier. You can also use pop-ups to make a book interactive!
Below is a video clip of me starting to add pop-ups into our book:
Once you finish your pop-ups, go into ‘File’ and hit ‘Download for Publishing’. Once you download for publishing, you will use that MOBI file to upload into KDP. You will do all the steps above, filling in the fields and simply upload that MOBI file when it comes to the manuscript. You can also link a Kindle book and a paperback book, so that when someone goes to buy your book, they are offered both options.
7. Tell the world
You did it! You have a book like on Amazon! Now you know How to Self-Publish a Children’s Book on Amazon KDP. Go tell the world now. We are still figuring out the best way to get the word out, but our friends and family on social media have been very supportive and been purchasing our book upon its release.
You can read more about our book here… https://www.katieandkristen.com/outdoor-life/hiking/writing-and-self-publishing-a-childrens-book-using-kindle-direct-publishing/
…and purchase it on Amazon below (or purchase one of the accompanying hiking logs)!