Updated: Sep 20, 2021
You have an idea of your first Picture Book, but don't know how exactly the way to do it? Here is a short guide that you can follow and bring your book to life.
1. Work on your Manuscript
Write your story quickly with the main ideas/lessons/characters inside that book. Then expand the ideas into the whole story.
Neglect of the grammar or spelling mistakes, firstly, you need to finish working on the manuscript. Don't give up in the middle of your work. I know this feeling - when we want to make everything perfect and then stop working on it because of the fear of making it wrong. It is alright, no problem if it's not correct on your first try.
Even when you decide to publish it in English, it's simpler and quicker to transfer your ideas into words when you write it in your own language, then work on the English version based on your first manuscript after that.
Tip: You can use Grammarly (free version) to check your manuscript for simple grammar and spelling mistakes when you work on the English version.
Read again and rewrite until you think it's perfect enough. Send the manuscript to your friends, the kids in your neighborhood or anyone you think can send you feedback on the manuscript.
2. Create a Moodboard
This step is to collect your favorite books, characters, illustration styles, color sets, fonts that you like to combine with your book content. During this step, you can also imagine how your book looks like, and write your story better. This step somehow brings your mind to your illustrator.
The easiest way to do it is to create a Pinterest board, collect everything and share it with your illustrator in the next step. Or if you can work on graphic design things, you can add all things into a Canva or Photoshop design.
This step can be done along with Step 1, not after. I trust you will have more inspirational ideas to make your manuscript better with a clearer vision on it.
Moodboard for "The Amazing Skin They're In Book"
Author: Scott Linney - Illustrator: Nikki Studio
3. Separate the manuscript content into Drawing Ideas
Keep in mind that the point here is: picture book has few words but rich content (some books even don't have any words!). This is even more important when you create books for early readers. We need to keep the text simple for young children to understand the story and read aloud again themselves if they want, and let the illustrations make their imaginations fly up.
So, think about how you want the detailed scenes and characters to be throughout your book. It's really helpful if your illustrator can get involved in this step, discuss and suggest ideas to you and make it right for you. If you are not good at drawings, some illustrators can help you to read your full story and suggest all drawing ideas for you based on their experience in the previous books that they worked on before.
Tip: illustrations can have more details than what is written in the texts, so we can have some extra things on each page. Sometimes, hidden items or characters (a small fish chasing his tail like a dog behind a coral - who is not relevant to the story - in a scene of 2 big octopus chatting for example) can surprise the kids and make them laugh. Think about it and make your book interesting.
Drawing Ideas for "Saving The Planet With My Poo"
Author: Shirley Johnson - Illustrator: Nikki Studio
4. Dummy Layout
A book dummy is the quickest way to see how your book looks like after publishing. You can do this step yourself, or ask your illustrator to create it after having the drawing ideas in Step 3. Then cut the paper and make it into a small book version, and flip the paper sheets yourself to check the overall looks.
Tip: The optimal book layout for Amazon Kindle and IngramSpark is 32 pages - if you have a different number, it should be a multiple of 8 - otherwise, we will have some extra blank pages at the end of the book which makes it look unprofessional. So keep in mind the proper number of pages when you create the book dummy. These 32 pages include some pages like title page, dedication page, copyright page, so we have about 30 pages of illustrations. Before working on the illustration, discuss with your illustrator about the paper size you want and the number of illustrations you need to avoid having fewer or more than the illustrations needed in the book, or incorrect sizes of the drawings.
Dummy Layout for "The Extraordinary Fairies: Turning Misfortune Into Blessings"
Author: Orchid Bloom - Illustrator: Nikki Studio
5. Final Illustrations
From the Book Dummy and the Moodboard, your illustrator now can work on your illustrations (or if you have drawing skill, you can make it yourself!). Here is the most popular process:
Create the Main Characters: the main characters will appear repeatedly in all scenes, so we need to decide on their appearance before working on the scenes and movement.
Main Characters - from sketch to final version for "Chomp Chomp Dinnertime"
Author: Natasha Taylor - Illustrator: Nikki Studio
Detailed Sketching from Dummy Layout: from the rough version of the overall layout on the Book Dummy, you can now create a more detailed sketch version for the whole book. Don't remember to add texts in this space - to make sure the illustrations will have a colored space for to add texts on later (we don't need to focus on the text fonts on this step).
Moodboard for "The Amazing Animals Book"
Author: Scott Linney - Illustrator: Nikki Studio
Play with the Color Scheme: You can try some different color schemes on 1 illustration and choose the one that you like. Then apply it to the whole book.
Revisions: Though you give detailed ideas before the illustrator works, you may want to add more details to your illustration to make the content more interesting. Tip: Discuss with them to have a good price for each illustration included unlimited revision before the project to avoid additional and unexpected budget on this step.
Revisions for "Cowrie the Cowgirl - Episode 2" book cover (work still on progress)
Author: Wednesday Boatneg, Crystal Orr and Dawn King - Illustrator: Nikki Studio
Finalize the Illustrations: We are now having all the final illustrations. You can ask your illustrator to create some mockup pages to see how the illustrations look like after being printed. Some illustrators will send you low-resolution images with their watermark on them in the revision step before completing the project. So remember to ask them to send you all proper files with high resolution to make sure your book will have high quality when printing.
The final version of Book cover design for "When Milo Gets Jealous"
Author: D.T.Firmin - Illustrator: Nikki Studio
The final version of illustration on book mockup image for "Pup Pup"
Author: Taylor A. Feldman - Illustrator: Nikki Studio
Tip: Please keep in touch with the illustrator during the whole process and send timely feedback so they can work well on your illustrations and complete them fast with high-quality designs.
6. Proofread your Book
After the 4 steps above, I believe you have the almost completed version of your manuscript. This step is really important to make the book professional: use proper words, soften your paragraph with a natural voice, and avoid spelling or grammar mistakes (especially when you are not from a native English-speaking country). At this step, you can ask your friends who have English as a mother tongue and you can trust on, or hire a professional proofreader.
7. Book Formatting
After getting the illustrations and proofreading the manuscript, you can put everything together yourself using free tools from Amazon, such as Kindle Create, Kindle Kid's Book Creator. Some book authors I know even created their children's books using Microsoft Powerpoint or Canva.
Note: please make sure you provide proper printing files (interior pages and book cover) with the standard that your platform (Amazon or IngramSpark for example) requests. You can check Amazon KDP's instructions on Paperback and Kindle eBook here (to make sure the bleed, trim size, file resolution etc are correct).
If you hire a professional formatter for your book, all the steps will be much easier since you don't have to pay attention to technical things like this. But you will have to check out the types of papers, types of covers, paper size, and send them this information to make sure they can create correct files. This is to avoid your later troubles when you upload files on Amazon or IngramSpark.
Interior page file formatting guideline from Amazon KDP website
8. Upload to Amazon KDP or IngramSpark
Yayy! This is almost 90% of the publishing process. You will need to create or sign in to your account, get your ISBN barcode and follow their steps to upload your files there. After it is ready, you will get an email of approval.
Tip: Each platform has its own process so it will be really helpful if you find an instruction video on YouTube and follow it when you uploading your files.
In the case that there is any problem with your file, you will receive an email from Amazon or Ingram with the reason for rejection. You can adjust the files and upload the proper file again until it is approved.
"ABC's Of Kindness" - one of our previous projects published on Amazon
Author: Thuy Petersen & House of Playful Soul - Illustrator: Nikki Studio
9. Spread the Word - Make It Sell!
Congratulations on your First Book! Now it's time to promote your book via social media, get some of your books printed (Amazon allows you to print some books as an author at a lower cost than the quoted price), and share them with your family and friends (I trust they won't hesitate to share the books on their social media if you ask). If you have an extra budget, you can create some events of book signing at schools, or hire KOL influencers or reviewers to read and help you spread the word about your book.
Some photos from our client's websites and social media with them and their printed book:
So in love with the kids smile when they read books!
Your first picture book can be good to read or not. But if you don't start working on it, it won't happen. Wish you all the best in your first book & let the kids smile with it!
KimZ from Nikki Studio