Publishing an Illustrated Middle Grade Book

by Adam Lesh

Wonderland, first book in the Storyworlds series

Wonderland, first book in the Storyworlds series

A Trip Down The Rabbit Hole – Self-publishing my illustrated middle grade book

Thanks, Steve, for the opportunity to share a bit of my journey on your site.

I started down this road several years ago by submitting my middle grade book to a ton of literary agents, but was unanimously rejected. The most common feedback I received, on the rare occasion there was feedback at all, was that my concept did not fit any of the current children’s book categories (picture book, chapter book, novel, etc.).

This was, in fact, good news because I thought I had found an underserved niche in the market (a gap between chapter books and novels).

Unfortunately, that translated into a belief on the agents’ part that they couldn’t sell my illustrated middle grade novel.

I had considered self-publishing, but at the time print was too expensive and the eBook market was far too small. The concept of self-publishing reared its (as it turned out) not-so-ugly head again last year, when I noticed an explosion of available, easy-to-find, self-published novels for the Kindle.

It seems that at least 30-40% of Amazon’s suggestions were self-published. (Webmaster's note: i.e. the books Amazon lists on another book's page, under headings like Frequently Bought Together and Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.) Admittedly, these were not kids' books, but the idea of self-publishing now seemed more promising nonetheless.

I’m a researcher by nature. When I buy something new, I read many reviews - often contradictory - trying to distill the best from them and make an informed choice.

I approached self-publishing my book the same way and found many more articles, blog entries and books on the subject than I expected. It seemed a whole cottage industry had popped up while my book had been sitting in a (virtual) drawer.

I started to get excited.

Self-publishing my illustrated middle grades book

I dove in. I found lots of advice - some good, some not-so-much, a bunch of success stories and plenty of less-than-success stories - but the common theme seemed to be that self-publishing wasn’t that expensive, and it can be fun, so why not? There was so little to lose.

I decided to take the plunge, and it has turned out to be a wonderful (pun-intended – my first book is called Wonderland) journey.

Check out Adam's illustrated middle grade novel, "Wonderland".

It’s been a blast working with my artist, Colleen Madden (which does make it a bit more expensive for me than the average self-published eBook author, since I am shelling out for about 30 black-and-white interior illustrations along with the usual color cover), creating my website, blogging, nurturing my tiny online fan base (currently consisting mostly of a few of my good friends, but growing slowly), participating on Goodreads and learning all about formatting eBooks, especially with those pesky illustrations.

You can read more details about all these steps of the process in my blog on my site.

The biggest challenge, as was clear from the beginning and what I am just working on now, is marketing.

With rare exception, books do not market themselves. Since many of the traditional print marketing avenues (book signings, promotional giveaways at bookstores, etc.) don’t work for eBook-only authors, you have to be aggressive about advertising online, joining online book communities, working your Facebook page and Twitter feeds, and more.

So, what’s the worst case scenario? I’m out a few bucks and I’ve had a tremendous learning experience. No regrets.

As of this writing, I’ve posted the first chapter of Wonderland, the first book in The Storyworlds series, in both .mobi and .epub formats on my site, and I finally have the entire novel available for the Kindle on Amazon.

I love feedback, so feel free to criticize, praise or ask questions to your heart’s content, and, since I assume you’re reading this with the thought of publishing your own children’s book, best of luck to you!

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Sep 17, 2013
Thanks for the tip!
by: Adam

Hey Steve,

Thanks for the great tip! I tried it out and did come up with some names.

I'm going to add it to my blog as well.


Sep 17, 2013
finding those Amazon reviewers
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Adam, I've got a little trick you might not know about. You can use Google to search Amazon in ways that Amazon won't accommodate.

Go to Google. Copy-paste this search string:

Make sure there's a space after the .com.

Now do your search. You're using Google as an Amazon search engine!

Also remember you can use quotation marks to find a phrase, rather than a word. For instance, if you type "children's book reviewer," you might just come up with some of the names you're looking for.

Sep 08, 2013
Answering Steve's Questions
by: Adam

Hey Steve,

Thanks for posting my article and for the great questions.

I feel there's an opportunity in the gap between chapter books and full length novels because I experienced it. When my kids worked their way through chapter book series like “The Magic Tree House,” they were not ready for novels. I searched for books to bridge that gap, but the only series that came close was the five-book “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” which was very popular (a second five-book series was released a few years later). The biggest difference between “Spiderwick” and “The Storyworlds” is that each of my books is/will be self-contained while the five books of "Spiderwick" really constitute one novel. I’m convinced from the popularity of “Spiderwick,” some more books that have appeared in the niche like “Barnstormers,” and speaking to other parents that there is a market for shorter novels or advanced chapter books.

I chose to start with eBook because of cost and its growing popularity (“Spiderwick,” for example, was just released in eBook form). According to my research, eBook is growing rapidly even in the children’s market. If I get lucky and “The Storyworlds” gains popularity, I will definitely look at releasing in print.

I have been compiling a list of Amazon children’s books reviewers. It is a labor intensive task because Amazon does not have a search function which breaks down reviews by category. I have begun reaching out to them and asking them to review Wonderland. Hopefully, with persistence I’ll find some kindly reviewers and start climbing the lists.

Public domain means that copyrights on part or all of a work (books, TV, films, etc.) have expired. That’s why, for example, there are dozens of derivative works of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” ranging recently from Disney’s movie with Johnny Depp to several comic books or television shows like “Elementary” about a modern-day Sherlock Holmes can exist at the same time as the movie series starring Robert Downey Jr. Many great works of literature are required reading in high school and college, but challenging to get through at any age. Public domain allows me to immerse my readers in some of these novels in an accessible way which I hope will make reading the original works a little easier and enjoyable.

Sep 07, 2013
Middle Grade Illustrated Ebook
by: Steve B. (webmaster)

Adam, thanks for your post.

I love how you think about the marketing aspects - "underserved niche" and the like - and I'm wondering if you can go a bit deeper for me...

Could you say a bit more about how you know this niche exists? Are there other books in it?

I'm also curious about your choice - at least so far - to go ebook only. I've always thought illustrated books merit a hard copy version to do them justice. Of course, I also understand keeping costs down! Could you explain how you're thinking?

Finally, are you showing up on those Amazon "recommended" lists? Do you have a strategy for working that?

Oops, I lied. One more request!...

I know from your site that you're working with public domain material and making it your own. Could you say a little something about that?

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