Lessons Learned From A Decade Of Self-Publishing And Marketing Children’s Books With Karen Inglis

Taking the long-term view plus taking advantage of new marketing tactics can help you sell more books, as Karen Inglis talks about in this interview.

In the intro, Pearson launches a subscription app [The Bookseller]; A+ content could help you sell more books [The Hotsheet]; Takeaways from Podcast Movement 2021 around the audio eco-system and Facebook for Podcasts. Plus, new free video series on book marketing from Nick Stephenson, and Ask an Adventurer by Alastair Humphreys.


Today’s show is sponsored by IngramSpark, which I use to print and distribute my print-on-demand books to 39,000 retailers including independent bookstores, schools and universities, libraries and more. It’s your content–do more with it through IngramSpark.com.

Karen Inglis is the best-selling author of books for children, including The Secret Lake, Eeek! The Runaway Alien and The Tell-Me Tree. Her book for authors, How to Self-Publish and Market a Children’s Book has recently been released as a second edition.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below.

Show Notes

  • Writing children’s books across different age groups
  • Sales split between print and ebook
  • Quality of picture books from POD suppliers and when it’s worth doing a print run
  • Selling local. Schools, bookstores, and libraries
  • How marketing children’s books has changed
  • Why experimenting with ads is key
  • Licensing foreign rights
  • The long-term view of success

You can find Karen Inglis at SelfPublishingAdventures.com and on Twitter @kareninglis

Transcript of Interview with Karen Inglis

Joanna: Karen Inglis is the best-selling author of books for children, including The Secret Lake, Eeek! The Runaway Alien and The Tell-Me Tree. Her book for authors, How to Self-Publish and Market a Children’s Book has recently been released as a second edition. Welcome back to the show, Karen.

Karen: Oh, thank you for having me again, Joanna. It’s lovely to be here.

Joanna: Now, you were last on the show in 2018. And since then, of course, you’ve written more books.

Give us an overview as to what books you have now and also what age groups because I know that’s always important for the children’s market.

Karen: In terms of new books beyond those I have already, of course, I’ve got my picture books, the original ones, Ferdinand Fox picture books. But I now have two new picture books since we last spoke.

I have The Christmas Tree Wish, which is for ages three to six, three to five, and The Tell-Me Tree. The Christmas Tree Wish came out in 2019, so probably a year or so after we spoke. And then The Tell-Me Tree came out last summer.

Beyond that, I have brought out German versions of The Secret Lake, French and German versions of The Christmas Tree Wish and The Tell-Me Tree. And then, of course, my big nonfiction book.

And then beyond that, of course, I’ve still got my chapter book, Eeek! The Runaway Alien for ages 7 to 10. I’ve got Henry Haynes and The Great Escape for ages six to eight, and The Secret Lake and Walter Brown. This is of ages 8 to 11.

Joanna: It’s a really interesting spread.

Karen: I know. I can say it’s by accident rather than design.

Joanna: It’s good you’re taking them through from 3 till 11. There are lots of options as the kids grow.

Karen: Exactly. And I always say that just comes because my stories come to me rather than me deciding I’m going to write a book for a certain age. It’s always something I hear or see that then triggers the book.

The Christmas Tree Wish, the one that came out the year after you last interviewed me, the idea, I’d seen a tree on valance green several years earlier and I knew I wanted to write a story about it, but I was waiting. And then suddenly I overheard a conversation that suddenly made me realize what the story would be. And likewise with The Tell-Me Tree a very similar story. So, I never know what’s coming next.

Joanna: What has changed for children’s authors in terms of publishing options since the last edition of your nonfiction book?

So, for example, is digital any bigger or is still print as dominant? And anything on audio as well because I think that might be something that might have changed.

Karen: I would say that in terms of publishing options, and what sells, print is still dominant. It still makes up 95% of my sales and of most middle-grade authors I know, but there’s one or two exceptions. And there was a slight increase in digital during the pandemic particularly the early part.

I certainly saw that, and again, other authors I know saw that, but it has dropped back again to the usual split, for the most part. I’d say the only exception to that might be if somebody is writing for sort of somewhere that’s middle grade, but slightly touching on young adult. So, maybe you might sell a little bit more digitally then.

Audio uptake, I think, it’s the same for children’s books as it is across the board. It is on the increase. But in terms of publishing options, they are all the same as they have been up to now.

What has changed is that the tools to get books to market and promote them have evolved and improved, as we all know, generally for everybody, but since you and I spoke, certainly, for children’s authors because it’s a lot easier to now promote your book.

Joanna: We’ll come back to marketing. So, 95% of your sales are in print, which is fascinating.

Are you only using print-on-demand or are you also doing short runs and warehousing and that type of thing?

Karen: I’m doing short runs but only in a very limited fashion. And I would only recommend this personally in this sort of circumstance. I’m doing it for The Secret Lake. And the reason being The Secret Lake, as you probably know has sort of become a best-seller.

Back in 2018 when I saw how much it was selling on Amazon in the UK and as well as in other countries, I anticipated. I thought, ‘Well, hang on a minute. At some stage, word of mouth is going to really take over here.’ I can imagine people walking into bookshops in the UK asking for copies of it because they’re not buying from Amazon.

Then they would probably have this problem of the delivery time through IngramSpark, which we’re all aware of, which is not IngramSpark’s fault, it’s to do with the whole supply chain getting it to the bookshop.

So I’ve got an arrangement with Clays Publishers here in the UK where I do upfront printing, they store it for me, and they send it to Gardners Wholesalers. So, that’s how I work.

There are children’s authors and certainly, there are children’s authors over in the U.S. who do actually regularly do upfront print ones. They sometimes even shipping from China and they do Kickstarter and all that sort of thing to have big runs that they sell themselves.

But that’s a lot of work and it’s something I would only personally recommend once you know that you’ve got an established brand and you’re selling well if you know what I mean. I just think there’s too much risk involved, otherwise, in having basements full of books, if that makes sense.

Joanna: Absolutely. Certainly, it’s not something I personally do myself. And it’s interesting to hear that you only do it with that one book, The Secret Lake, which is your bestseller.

Karen: Absolutely.

Joanna: So you use print-on-demand for the other books, even those picture books.

I feel that some people still have doubts about the quality of picture books if they’re printing on demand. Any comment on that?

Karen: No, I think they’re absolutely fine. I blogged about this way back in the early days. If you’re doing print-on-demand, you will not get the silk finished pages. And that is disappointing. I love the moment that that becomes available.

In the early days, I did with Ferdinand Fox’s Big Sleep, I was so worried about that. I did pay upfront to have 500 printed. The parents really didn’t notice the difference. I think the time it does make a difference is possibly if you’re standing in a bookshop. But even then I’ve noticed picture books in bookshops now aren’t all that silk finish paper either.

Maybe that’s for environmental reasons. I’m not sure the sorts of papers that are being used. I’ve been very happy on the whole with the quality, but we all hear stories, sometimes KDP their color is coming out better than IngramSpark, and sometimes it’s vice versa.

At the moment, I would say my KDP color picture books look better on paper than the Ingram ones from time to time. I think Ingram’s changed one of their printers at some stage. So, I wouldn’t say there’s a quality problem. It’s just that you’re not going to get like-for-like if you’re thinking that you want to have silk-finish pages.

Joanna: And important to say there that the variability with print-on-demand having visited, like, the Ingram site and, of course, Amazon in some territories use Ingram to print, anyway.

Karen: Exactly.

Joanna: And it might depend on the machine, the batch run, the plants you’re getting it from. So, people listening, you can order an author copy and someone in Australia, for example, might get something that looks completely different. Well, not completely different, but the colors might be a bit different or the paper might be a bit different.

I think that is important is when you do one, say, 500 print run, then all the copies should be the same, but we all have to be a bit more confident with variability.

Karen: Exactly. And as you say, they get printed in different places. And where your author copies come from isn’t necessarily where the copy’s going to come from to somebody who orders online. And it really just varies.

I think the trade-off is it’s just a slight compromise you have to have with having that access to not having to fill your house up with thousands of books and then find a way to sell them. On the whole, I’m very happy.

On the few occasions where there has been an issue, Amazon has immediately replaced without any questions, from that perspective.

The other thing I would say about picture books with KDP print is you can get a very good unit price with your author books. A 32-page color picture book here in the UK is something like two pounds and five pence for an author copy, which is pretty damn good, actually, however few or many you order. That’s pretty good.

Joanna: Definitely. And then you mentioned bookstores briefly because, of course, bookstores can order and the copies might come from Ingram or from Gardeners, as you say but is there a difficulty? Many indie authors struggle to get their books into bookstores and libraries even.

What are your tips, or how have you achieved getting into bookstores and libraries?

Karen: In terms of bookstores, I’ve only ever tried to get into local bookshops. And that’s what I would always say to children’s authors is market yourself locally, to begin with. Get to know your local bookshops.

Because beyond that it’s not really worth the effort because the likelihood of somebody going into a bookshop and asking for your book is fairly low. And so it’s going to be a lot of effort for you to try and spend all that time marketing to bookshops around the country, a huge amount of time. So, just focus locally where you can have a relationship and you can take in consignment copies to them and signed copies or whatever.

And even now, The Secret Lake, I wouldn’t say… Although it’s a best-seller, there is huge demand for it. I wouldn’t say you’re going to walk into many bookshops on the high street and find it sitting there. It tends to be when people are asking for it, particularly because it’s not a new book either. So, just focus your effort locally in terms of that.

In terms of libraries, I would say contact your local library hub and see if you can persuade them to take your book. And the way that you can persuade them to do that will be through giving them evidence of the fact you’re selling locally. And again, that comes around to your local marketing during your school visits and so on and building up from there because then if the library likes it, then they may talk to other librarians.

I have to say, I’m guilty I haven’t done. I’ve listened to over the years and kept notes on, but never at the moment found time to strategically market myself to the whole of the UK library system, for example.

Joanna: That’s a big call.

Karen: Well, precisely. As we know, we’re always very busy.

Again, it’s one of those things that’s on the list, as it were, or perhaps if I hired myself an assistant or something.

What you want to do is write a really good book, start to market it locally in that word of mouth spread, and then you go out from there.

And then I’m sure we’ll be coming on to talk about advertising and online sales, which is where I think…whereas a while ago, I would have said, ‘Well, most of your books you’re going to sell are going to be at face-to-face events.’

A lot has changed since you and I last spoke on that front. So, I will be putting my effort into understanding how that side of things works rather than getting obsessed with thinking that you’re going to get your book into every bookshop because it’s not going to happen.

You would have to allow returns, which will carry too much risk. And so you’re not going to allow the returns and therefore the chances of bookshops ordering them in is pretty low. But it’s not going to prevent somebody walking into a shop anywhere in the country or indeed around the world and saying they would like your book. They can still order it provided you bought it with Ingram Spark.

Joanna: Let’s talk about marketing then, because you’ve done super well. And I remember when I first met you, I think it’s probably coming up for, like, a decade or something.

Karen: I think we probably met face to face at the ALLi Opening in London.

Joanna: 2012 London Book Fair.

Karen: Yes.

Joanna: I remember back then and you only had a couple of books then or maybe even one book and you were like, ‘Children’s books just don’t sell as many copies as other ones.’ And look at you now. A lot of that has to do with the advent of Amazon ads and online marketing.

Tell us how things have changed, and what you’re doing as your main marketing sources.

Karen: What I would say just to start off is that never mind the fact we’ve now got all the online advertising. Still really important not to underestimate that power of that local marketing. Still do all of that.

I had sold 7000 copies, I think, of The Secret Lake and 10,000 books in all, by the end of 2017 before the online marketing thing really started to take off. And that by its own standards was pretty good compared with what a lot of traditionally published mid-list authors sell. So, don’t underestimate that.

What has really changed is, since we last spoke is the fact that Amazon ads have opened up and put us all on a level playing field. And so that discoverability thing has come about which for children’s authors was so much harder because we’ve got the gatekeeper.

Our audience is not online at the end of the day. And so not only they were not seeing the books because they weren’t there, even if they happen to see them as a barrier because they’re not the reader so they’re not going to make spur of the moment purchases as it were and on top of that, of course, they’re all in print.

The fact that the advertising on Amazon came along meant that you could now target and could get your book on the virtual bookshelf next to books like yours that were selling on Amazon already. If you’ve got a good title, now it can be seen and you’ve got as good chances as anybody else of being able to just sell your books.

Joanna: Give us a bit more specifics on that. You mentioned targeting. So, was that your main Amazon advertising?

Were you picking a list of the top-selling children’s books and bidding on those?

Karen: Yes. The principles are the same really as for adults. You’ve just got to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. So, on the one hand, I would be targeting books similar in theme to The Secret Lake. Traditional classic children’s books like The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland, all those sorts of things. Whereas with Eeek I might be targeting books from Jeff Kinney, Tom Gates, chapter-type books.

And as you know and everybody listening will know is the tools to help us do all that targeting. Again, when I first started, it was all very manual. You had to go on and really do it by hand.

Now, there’s a lot of things that can help you with that now to scrape or to take some of those details more quickly than we used to be able to. But it is that principle of going in and looking at books like yours in categories like yours, provided they’re relevant. So, that’s the one way of doing it.

And then the other way is, obviously, using generic keywords like, you know, if it’s Runaway Alien, it might be chapter book for boys, book for boys age seven. Again, thinking in terms of your target audience, what are they likely to be pushing into, putting into Amazon when they’re searching, and then grouping advertising accordingly?

Having said that we have all these wonderful tools, I do have to say, because a lot of you have said to me, ‘Well, how is it you’ve done so well, for example, with The Secret Lake advertising?’ Because Amazon is very tricky and difficult to understand.

I think some of that is just the fact that I was in there early, and so I have the benefit of the history of the algorithms sitting there behind a lot of my ads. And because in the early days, it was all manual.

When I did try to use tools, I found that they were returning keywords and books that just weren’t relevant or they were adult books mixed in with them. So, I actually spent quite a long time hand-harvesting my search terms and keywords. I think maybe that does pay off.

I do even say that now is, yes, you can use some of these tools to help you see what categories exist, but I would still probably manually go through when it comes to it, don’t just harvest things blanket and just say, ‘Oh, that category is the chapter book, so I’m going to target the whole of that category.’

I probably wouldn’t do that because the evidence I can give over the years it’s the ads where you have really hand-selected. And it’s a lot of work to begin with, but there’s a long tail on it.

Joanna: I think when you got into Amazon ads, there weren’t many children’s authors potentially advertising in that area. And traditional publishing doesn’t really need to because they have the front table at Waterstones or whatever and that’s where they make most of their sales. So, I believe you had quite cheap ads at the beginning.

During the pandemic, because we’re still in a pandemic, the cost per click I found in many of my areas is very, very expensive. Traditional publishers and other marketers have come into our area.

Have you found the cost per click has changed, and have you changed your strategy at all?

Karen: I’m not paying high cost per click and I won’t do that. I don’t know what you would classify as high, but I would think they probably average about 20p, 20 cents, 25 cents, that sort of thing or lower and often a lot lower.

I think a lot of that, again, has to do with the history of ads, which have just been running a long time and a lot of my auto ads seem to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting for me. They’ve just learned over the years and they’re just sort of keeping going and they’re quite low maintenance in that sense, but a few times.

And by the way, children’s publishers were advertising when we were first let in. They were all doing it. And I remember looking at it and, ‘Why can’t I get onto this?’ if you know what I mean.

So, there was that competition there and it was hard to begin with. But over time, yes, it seems to work out. But what happened was at one point something happened. I don’t know what it was. I think we started off getting in through Amazon advantage through the back door in the very early days.

Then when KDP advertising was open to everybody, which, absolutely, we all wanted, the prices didn’t go up at that point. I found the American market just became too expensive with The Secret Lake and I actually paused a lot of my advertising. It just wasn’t doable, but I never ever archived anything.

It was because the rates were starting to go up to sort of 45 cents and I just thought, ‘I’m not making money.’ And I wouldn’t advocate doing that. So, I left that and concentrated on the UK.

And my other problem was, I had something like 14 or 15 reviews in the U.S. So, I needed time for those reviews to organically build up, which takes forever with children’s publishing.

Then in 2018, the UK market opened up and The Secret Lake started to sell very quickly. It was very noticeable how quickly it went up. And then the reviews organically started to appear. I then went back to the U.S., I said, ‘Wait. It’s been off for about six months or longer.’ And switched back on some of those ads that I turned off.

But I didn’t change any of the bids so it was still low. And somehow it just remembered everything. And by then I think slowly The Secret Lake was making its name in America and people started gradually to leave reviews, and then it just carried on from there.

I have been lucky in that sense. But equally when I’ve released new books like The Christmas Tree Wish and The Tell-Me Tree I’ve had to go in with slightly higher bids, maybe 35 cents or something to feel the market and see what’s working and what isn’t, and then sort of stop things that aren’t working, carry on with what is for a while, and then try lowering the price a bit.

You’re feeling your way, it’s quite difficult. I think I’m down to running maybe just one ad on Amazon in the UK for The Tell-Me Tree, which is making me an okay return. I switched off the others.

In the States, I can’t make it work. So, it is very difficult. But equally, I have discovered I’ve got one Facebook ad running, which is doing extremely well for The Tell-Me Tree. And that’s the only Facebook ad I’ve ever made work.

Joanna: The tip for people listening is you have to experiment and try things and see what works for your books, for your genre.

We’ve had so many tales in the community and, me, for my own books, ads work for some books, not for others, and ads don’t really work for my personality.

Karen: Likewise. It was so weird doing the Facebook ad because I dabbled with that years ago and I just decided not to. But I suddenly realized with The Tell-Me Tree that actually I had an audience that wasn’t just parents, it was specifically teachers and specifically people who work in children’s mental health. And I suddenly go, ‘Oh, there, I can actually from recollection go into Facebook and find people who identify with those cohorts.’ That’s actually done very well.

I think the main thing is if you’re advertising with Amazon is if things aren’t working, or they start not to work, don’t archive, don’t archive stuff. Pause it because you can always go back in and look at the stats there and set it going again. And in fact, if I had just turned on an ad that’s been off for a while because I just changed the cover because that’s sold pretty well but not as well as it should.

I’ve changed the description and I don’t think it’s the description and that. Actually, maybe it’s the cover. The cover isn’t telling enough of the story of what’s going on in the book because it’s just a popular at my school events as The Secret Lake and it’s well-reviewed, but getting it to take off online is difficult.

So, I’m still experimenting in the same way that everybody else is. And then what I’ve done is I’ve switched on an ad that hadn’t been on for a while, but when I looked at the lifetime ACOS for that ad, it was actually pretty decent, if you see what I mean. It was only in the more recent period that you did, I guess, with all the competition going on, it had started to creep up and not become viable but I’m trying now. We’ll see what happens.

Joanna: You mentioned before and, obviously, if you don’t want to share, no worries, but you mentioned you sold 10,000 copies up to around 2017 before the ads kicked in. Are you happy to share where you are now?

Karen: Yes. And in fact, my self-publishing books that’s just come out, the second edition, I do share that, really.

The Secret Lake has now sold over 300,000 print copies in the English language.

Joanna: That’s just crazy.

Karen: It quite astonishing. And actually, we’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary. And I’m guessing by the time this goes out, we’ll pretty much be at the 10-year anniversary.

Joanna: Okay. Just stop there a minute, because this is so important.

You said this earlier; The Secret Lake is not a new book.

Karen: No.

Joanna: And you’d sold 10,000 in the first, what, seven years or whatever.

Karen: I said 7000 because 10,000 books overall.

Joanna: So, 7000. And now you’ve sold 300,000.

Karen: I know. It’s bonkers. And in addition, I’ve sold foreign rights to seven countries. And I’ve also managed the translation into German where it’s doing very well.

Someone said to me, ‘What’s the trick there?’ I think it’s the story. The story captures people’s imaginations and that’s definitely part of it.

Joanna: The story was the same, Karen. The story is the same at the beginning and you haven’t changed the story. In fact, I don’t believe you’ve even changed the cover because you don’t want to break what’s working. Right?

Karen: I changed the cover once in 2018 just after I started advertising. I think I was advertising with the old cover between February and May of 2018 and the sales were already going up. And that was the point at which I thought, ‘I’ve got to change the cover.’ Dare I do that? Now the sales are taking off, but I did do it, and it was fine, and it carried on.

Joanna: So, it really was the stories.

The story was amazing, but, clearly, it’s the marketing giving it that push so that people actually notice the story.

Karen: Exactly. A hundred percent. And then what’s happened is because now that’s so high volume, I suppose what’s happening is that foreign publishers have seen how well it’s doing and, therefore, they must be scouring the selling stats because those deals have all come as a result of people writing and contacting me and going from there.

Where with the journal model lot of other people we know, the adult books, I could see the English language version of the book that was already selling quite well. And I do have an O-level in German and I would never even deem to even try… Languages I read, so French and German.

My next thing is to actually project manage the French translation. But that’s gone very well. I’ve worked with a professional German translator, professional German editor, professional German proofreader, and the first two are experienced in children’s books. You have to do it properly if you’re going to do it.

Joanna: In fact, we’ve seen this in the ALLi forum even in the last few days, I see people saying, ‘I’ve had a foreign publisher approach me. Should I now get an agent or what should I do?’ And, of course, I’ve had them too and signed some deals.

If people get that email from a foreign publisher, what should they do? What have you done?

Karen: I basically followed my own instinct. I didn’t start looking for an agent, but, one of my deals has been via an agent, the Turkish one, and it was an established agent.

So, my tips would be whoever contacts you check their credentials, go and look at them online, look at their website. Are they publishing other children’s books that you know of?

I had one in the early days, a couple of Turkish companies I looked at them and I realized, in fact, I ended up talking with Victoria Strauss Writer Beware right away because I just thought this looks dodgy to me. They looked as though they were just chancing it looking for things to probably put through an AI translation or something.

So, look at the websites. And it will be very obvious. You’ll start to see other UK books there, titles that you recognize, and then you can feel confident that it’s genuine. And if it’s an agent, look at who they’re representing. And then look at what sales they’re making. And that’s your starting point.

I didn’t go for an agent. I just started reading up as much as I could on what sorts of things to look out for in contracts and took it from there. It was a learning thing. And then the point at which you get so far down the line. I think maybe with the Russian one it might have been I was talking to ALLi, I was talking with Alliance of Independent Authors about the key offer and the Albanian one.

I’m also a member of the Society of Authors. So, they also offer a sort of contract advice service. So, I tend to use those. And then the more you do, the more you learn.

Where I was quite lucky as well in that one of the early ones, I think it was the Russian one. They sent me a template contract, which clearly had been used by one of the big traditional publishing houses. So, I had quite a good starting point without, if you see what I mean.

And then over time, I’ve plain English, with my business writing hat on, a lot of them. So, I just like to lay it out my way as it were. But the initial contact you get is usually in advance, a royalty rate, an initial print run, and an expected RRP or wholesale price because that’s one of the tips I would say is, especially in Eastern Bloc countries, a lot of the royalty rate is based on the wholesale price and not the retail prices. So, sort of ask those questions.

The other tip I give is if you’ve got a good cover, be ready to let them use it. I’ve read everything saying that they won’t want to use your own cover because everything is different. And obviously, you will know, not really. From my perspective, that’s a sort of brand marketing tool your cover.

So, if you’re already selling well, I would recommend that. And that’s what’s happened with The Secret Lake. Everybody, so far, is using the cover. And then it’s a question of the usual things, make sure you’ve got a time limit of the contract. Make sure that they must publish it within a certain time period, and if not, you get the rights back.

And separate royalty rates or audio and all that kind of thing. And then one of the most interesting things that’s come up recently, and I’m sure you’ve read about it, is this whole Disney… Is it called Disney gate? I’m trying to remember.

Joanna: Yeah. DisneyMustPay, where basically some people are claiming, alleging that some people aren’t paying contracts saying that they have the asset, but they don’t have the liability to pay the contract

Karen: That was it. They take over. They said we’re inheriting the…

Joanna: The IP.

Karen: Yes. But we’re not inheriting any debts.

Joanna: Yeah, we’re not going to pay anyone.

Karen: So, my lesson is next time I’ll say, ‘I want a clause saying you get your rights back if the publishing company is sold, the royalty payments are not honored.’ Have something in there that it’s an automatic reversion or something like that.

My book, How to Self-Publish and Market a Children’s Book Second Edition goes into all that and gives more practical details and all that side of things.

Joanna: I did also just want to emphasize. You do have a background in business writing, finance writing. It’s interesting because you’ve got this very creative side, obviously, of your fiction side for children, but your nonfiction is very well structured. I definitely recommend people look at that. And you’re super organized.

Karen: It’s much easier for me. When you look at my output compared with everyone else on all their fiction, I manage one book a year, and sometimes that’s 500 words. But this one has come in a third as long.

So, I would highly recommend if somebody’s got the first edition, it’s definitely worth getting the second edition, but yet, it’s very clearly structured. And that was my whole background for over 30 years is putting stuff into plain English and never assume that a reader knows something, but it’s structured in a way that if you do know stuff, you can jump forward.

I’ve even gone so far as to create a separate edition called ‘How To Market a Children’s Book’ for people who just know the self-publishing thing back to front then you can go through the other one. But yes. So, having that background, I enjoy it, I enjoy it, but it’s a big job putting that book out, I’d have to say.

Joanna: You say know the self-publishing market back to front. I’ve been doing this a long time as well. And I’m still learning things all the time because we’re such a broad church and people do things differently.

Even if you think you know an area or a platform or something, you can still learn things from what other people are doing.

Karen: Oh, 100%, which is why I would actually say to anyone, ‘Get the big book.’ As I said, there’s this whole community mostly in the States doing Kickstarter campaigns and ordering their books up-front. And some of them are doing very well.

Again, I treat it with caution. You’ve just got to be a bit careful, but if you’ve got a real business mind and you’ve got a proven product and you’ve got guts and you’ve got a garage, that can work for some people. I do cover that at a high level, but then sort of signpost to groups and authors to look at to get more information.

But equally, when I’m in those groups, I’m sometimes surprised when I hear somebody saying, ‘Oh, what’s IngramSpark?’ They don’t know that there’s this thing that you don’t use of opting out of expanded distribution. Some of them don’t know what KDP is. And I’m definitely not being critical in any way. It is exactly what we’re saying.

There’s so much to know. And if you’re in one area, you might not necessarily know everything.

And again, what I’m very conscious of is because, like a lot of children’s authors, I’m not wide with my e-books, not with my e-books because so few e-books are read and sold. And the advantage of keeping them in Amazon is that it does give you marketing opportunities where, particularly, with picture books because if you have your five free days, you can use those five free days to try to get some early reviews.

Now, you couldn’t be doing all that, if you were wide, for example, and it just helps kick things off. And because picture books are short to read and there are many, many children’s authors who are also parents who might be in a group, there are groups where people will just say that if it’s available for five days, my new book if you’ve got little ones, lovely if you take the copy and if done properly very much, ‘Please leave a review if you enjoy. No obligation.’

I think what I was coming around to say is I’m not as well versed in all the possibilities as wide as I might be.

Joanna: Actually, I’ll come back and challenge that on because if 95% of your sales are print book, then what’s the harm in having a permafree e-book and it actually acts as marketing across a whole network of other platforms and is actually much easier to get reviews on because free e-books get a lot more reviews?

That would be a source of another angle for wide e-books is make it permafree.

Karen: Yes. It could be if only the kids would read e-books, but they’re not reading them.

I have had The Secret Lake wide on two occasions. And I think now it probably would sell a lot more. So, we are talking in the days when it wasn’t so well known. It sold a bit but not a huge amount. And the reviews don’t get written because the children aren’t reading the e-book if you follow me. They need to be reading the print books.

So, I suppose what you’re saying is the parent might see the e-book for free and, therefore, might buy the print book. Yes, I could see that would be an argument.

But I think I slightly come back to it and I have no evidence for this, but if you’re advertising on Amazon, having the e-book available on Kindle, KDP, I just sense all my gut instinct is that it somehow gives some advantage to your print book advertising, your overall advertising visibility. And because it’s so difficult anyway with children’s book advertising, that’s the sort of space I’m in.

Joanna: Absolutely.

Karen: It is on my radar to go back out and try again a bit more as and if more children stick or move towards e-books post-pandemic. I was waiting when I wrote the nonfiction book for new statistics to come out and they hadn’t quite come out in terms of longitudinal statistics on reading of e-books a good year on, if you follow me.

If those statistics go up, then I think there’s more of a case. And there’s always a case if you’ve got a book which is for slightly older middle grade, then I would say going wide is possibly more of a strategic good decision to make.

Joanna: Obviously, it’s people’s personal choice and more things to experiment with.

Coming back to the 10-year thing and in the book, you basically say that you’re now making a good living from your books and after a lot of hard work and learning which you’ve been talking about.

Reflecting on the 10 years, how have you changed in your author business, how has that changed in terms of self-development and any key lessons learned?

Karen: Gosh. Obviously, I’ve got a lot more self-confidence and self-belief, particularly, with things like The Secret Lake taking off the way it has. I’m a lot more busy.

Karen: First of all, I would come back to saying don’t underestimate the power of local as a children’s author. Use all that to establish your brand because, eventually, it’s going to lead to bigger things.

And take advantage of all these wonderful tools that are around now that weren’t when we all started out, so, things like Canva and Book Brush to help with your marketing support material for flyers, for libraries, and all that stuff. And use all that to build your brand locally as well as doing your online stuff.

Keep learning. I listen to loads of podcasts when I’m doing exercise so I’ve tried to kill two birds with one stone. There’s always something new to learn. And it doesn’t have to be necessarily just listening to children’s podcasts. And most of the ones I listen to aren’t. But take advantage of all those.

Again, there are more places out there now that you can find children’s book reviews, for example. So, I’ve been asked a lot about, ‘Where do I get reviews from?’ Well, mine are also happening organically now, but, certainly, things like StoryOrigins and BookSirens, they all have now places where you can actually actively find people who are looking to review children’s books as it were.

Start local, do all that. Make sure you keep learning and look at all the sort of sites that are around there. Make use of your KDP Select free days for marketing, if you are a KDP Select, which on balance, I would probably say when starting out that’s what you need to be to use e-books for your marketing, to support your marketing.

Joanna: I think that’s right. And also, I guess, as a reflection of time, because if you had said, ‘Oh, I’ve been doing this for six years and it just hasn’t happened for me. I’m just not successful enough. I’m going to give up.’ And then it was kind of that seventh year when your numbers started to go up and the tools emerged.

That long-term mindset has helped as well.

Karen: Oh, yeah. And I think that the thing about that, what you’ve just described is I knew that the book, I could tell from all the hard local work, it’s a good barometer, actually, of was it a good book? And it was a good barometer of that.

Now we have all these other fantastic tools to help, taken a lot wider, so you have to embrace it. But it is a lot of hard work still. I think it’s just the thing is you can’t put a book up, throw up some ads, and then expect that you’re going to do well.

Coming back to The Tell-Me Tree my latest book, which is a picture book. It came out this time last year. When I did my figures a couple of weeks ago, it sold over 4000 copies now in print, which for a children’s picture book is pretty good. But it’s taken a lot of hard work tweaking around with the ads and trying to work out what didn’t work and didn’t work, did work, and then trying with Facebook ads, which I hadn’t used for ages and then stumbling around in those and getting things wrong and right.

So, you do have to have that business mind that you’re going to learn, you’re going to fail. But as long as you’re getting decent reviews and from the feedback that the book is good, then you’ve just got to keep at it.

Joanna: Where can people find you and your books and everything you do online?

Karen: For advice on self-publishing, I would recommend going to selfpublishingadventures.com. And there you can find everything you need to know including the second edition of How to Self-Publish and Market a Children’s Book.

And then if you want to see my titles, then it’s kareninglisauthor.com. Those are the two best, simplest ways, I think, to find me.

Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Karen. That was great.

Karen: All right. Thanks for having me.

The post Lessons Learned From A Decade Of Self-Publishing And Marketing Children’s Books With Karen Inglis first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • August 8, 2021