If You’re Looking for Easy Side Income, Writing a Children’s Book Isn’t the Answer

A look inside the publishing process

I am publishing a children’s book. It’s a story about a little girl who learns about values through the arrival of different animals to her family’s hobby farm.

When I wrote the first draft, I didn’t intend to publish it. But then I realized the story materialized out of a passion I didn’t even know I had: to promote kindness amongst children. It has been my dream to publish a book and so I decided one day, after printing four copies of my story and distributing them onto my colleagues’ desks, that I was going to pursue publication.

When I tell people I’m working on a children’s book, I often hear what a great idea it is, and that they, too, have considered writing a children’s book as a way of bringing in some extra income.

I so badly wish it worked that way. But it doesn’t. Or not for most people, anyway.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site is a classic bedtime story with a great backstory: author Sherri Rinker sent her unsolicited manuscript to Chronicle Books — and they published it. It topped the New York Times bestselling list. This book is a hit. It is also an anomaly.

With the odds against me, I polished up and submitted my manuscript to Chronicle Books. This publisher happens to produce some of my favorite children’s books, most notably This Bridge Will Not Be Gray and Her Right Foot, both by Dave Eggers. I’d be in such good company there, I thought.

It should come as a surprise to no one that Chronicle Books did not pick up my book.

After six months passed with no word from the publisher, I began thinking about my next plan. As I saw it, I had two options:

  1. Find an agent and have him or her sell my book to a publisher

  2. Indie publish

I chose option number two. There are a lot of different ways to indie publish a book, but I chose to go with a publishing agency that works with authors through the entire process, from writing to editing, illustrating to printing. I wanted to give my book the best chance at success so I decided to work with people who know what they’re doing (because I don’t), which means I am paying a company to publish my book.

This is good news. I’m actually making progress toward my dreams.

I am early in the publication process, currently in the editing phase, but the difficulty of publishing a children’s book has already become clear to me.

Writing a children’s book is not easy

This famous quote, attributed to Mark Twain and Woodrow Wilson and many others, says it well: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.”

Being concise with words requires a lot of thought, oftentimes more thought than a longer piece. Right now as you’re reading this, you would have already finished my children’s book — that’s how little space you have to tell a compelling story for kids.

With so little space, each word needs to serve a purpose. Add to that the need for your character to change (otherwise it’s not a story), plus instill some good learnings and simultaneously make the book interesting to children and the adults reading it alike, and you’ve got yourself multiple to-dos and very little room.

Publishing a children’s book requires time

Not only does the process from writing to hitting shelves take awhile (nine to 12 months seems like a fair amount of time if you keep momentum up), but pursuing publication requires a lot of the writer’s time.

So far I have had two in-person meetings and one phone meeting, with another coming up next week. I’m on draft 16 and have spent many, many hours thinking about, re-reading, and revising my manuscript. It’s not a write-and-send-it-to-the-printers kind of an arrangement. Not if you want to produce a good book.



You must relinquish control

One of the perks of indie publishing is that you get the last say in everything. Your publisher doesn’t get a cut and you don’t have to listen to them when they tell you the title needs to change or you have to remove a scene.

That said, unless you’re brilliant like Emily Winfield Martin and can both write and illustrate beautiful stories, you will need to have someone illustrate your book for you. This requires a certain level of trust, which is difficult when you’re in the revision phase and don’t yet have an illustrator.

While revising I have cut many superfluous descriptions from my manuscript, knowing that the illustrations should be able to carry this weight. While I can direct and guide, I have no guarantee that the illustrator will be able to do with the pictures what I did with the now-absent words. I have to simply trust.

Indie publishing is expensive

If you choose to indie publish with an agency, know that it will require some money up front. I have spent $2,400 so far — and this is just the beginning. I have not yet paid for the editing, illustrating, book design, or printing.

Given that time is money, plus indie publishing requires multiple transactions, this isn’t exactly the route to take if easy cash is the goal.

Book publishing isn’t lucrative

Anybody can write a children’s book. Not everybody will write a good one. And it takes a good book to make sales. I don’t claim to know what makes a children’s book good, but I’ve learned it takes a heck of a lot of effort to create one and there is no guarantee it will sell. This is just the reality of publishing.

Prolific authors like Nora Roberts and Stephen King have made millions on their books. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise made her a billionaire. Others, like Sherri Rinker, land on the New York Times bestselling list right off the bat. This is inspiring! But it’s not real life. It takes a lot of work to get there and you’re better off understanding this before starting the publishing process so you don’t face disappointment.

Publishing my children’s book has not come easily to me. I have been stymied and unsure if I can get my story out of its sinkhole. I have devoted many hours to writing and rewriting, researching and studying. I’ve questioned not only the story (is it even good enough to put all of this time, money, and effort into?) but myself (am I even a good writer?).

It would be very easy to stop right now, in between finishing my final draft and paying for the next substantial step: illustration. But I haven’t and I won’t. Instead of discouraging me, the winding pathway to publication has validated the very reason I am pursuing publication in the first place — for the love of writing.

Publishing a children’s book requires commitment and dedication to the process, not just the outcome. Money can certainly be an added benefit, but if you’re looking for a way to bring in a side income, you’d be better off doing something else.


This post originally appeared on Medium.com