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Children’s books businesses publish children’s books, bringing illustrated stories to print. For businesses that have captivating books, the industry offers plenty of opportunity. Children’s book sales surpassed those of adult books in 2014, selling more than 2.7 billion books that year.
Additionally, business owners who start this type of business are in good company. Not only do many people have successful children’s book businesses today, but one of the most successful children’s authors in modern history began by self-publishing her work. Beatrix Potter funded the first runs of both Peter Rabbit and The Tailor of Gloucester. The two stories are popular even to this day.
Who is this business right for?
Most people who start a children’s book business have either already written or plan to write their own children’s book(s). Some business owners first try to publish their stories through traditional publishers, and others go directly into self-publishing.
What happens during a typical day at a children's book business?
Publishing a children’s book involves several distinct phases:
- Writing the story
- Creating illustrations to accompany the story
- Designing the book’s layout
- Printing the book
- Marketing and selling the printed book
Printing is usually outsourced to a company that has specialized equipment for printing runs of books. The other steps may be done by the business owner or outsourced to professionals. (Writing is almost always done by the business owner at first.)
What is the target market?
Counterintuitively, kids are not the target market for children’s books. Instead, it’s parents, schools, and libraries -- as they’re who actually purchase books. Children’s author Kate Klise says that schools and libraries are especially profitable customers as they purchase in bulk.
How does a children's book business make money?
A children’s book business makes money by selling copies of books. Books may be sold individually at retail prices or in bulk at wholesale prices.
What is the growth potential for a children's book business?
A children’s book business may be a small operation that has just a few titles, or it can grow into a major publishing house that has many works in print. Oliver the Clownfish is an example of a small business that has three titles. Scholastic, Inc. is one of the largest children’s-specific publishing houses. The company puts out more than 750 new titles annually.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful children's book business?
Most business owners that get into children’s publishing already know how to write books for kids. Those that don’t have writing experience can learn by taking classes at a local community college or online. Institute for Writers and Gotham Writers both offer online courses. There are also universities that offer M.F.A. programs in children's writing.
In addition to knowing how to write, business owners also need to know how to produce and sell children’s books. The best resource for this information is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which has online resources, local chapters and annual events available to associate members. (Self-published and aspiring children’s authors can sign up as associate members.)
Two other resources that discuss the business side of children’s publishing are a book titled The Business of Writing for Children and a class called The Craft & Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books.
What are the costs involved in opening a children's book business?
The costs involved with publishing a children’s book are significant yet manageable. According to Lee Johnson, business owners on a budget can go from a story to having 3,000 copies of a finished book for $5,400. Hiring a more skilled illustrator or incorporating more edits may bring that total up to $8,000 or $10,000.
Ron Pramschufer of Self Publishing, Inc. breaks down the costs a little more:
- Illustrations often cost $2,200 for a 24-page book and $2,700 for a 3-page book
- Text editing costs between $500 and $1,000
- Text and artwork editing costs between $3,000 and $4,000
- Designing the layout costs between $1,000 and $1,500
- Printing 3,000 copies with offset printing costs $1.43 per copy ($4,290 total)
Of these, illustration costs can vary the most. Some illustrators may charge anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, or even more. Higher-priced illustrators may include layout designing in their services.
Any of these steps that business owners can do themselves greatly reduces the total cost of publishing a children’s book. For this reason, many business owners do their own illustrations and layout design. They may also rely on school teachers or librarians, who are familiar with curriculum requirements and grade reading levels, for assistance with certain steps.
Business owners should only do these steps if they’re truly capable of producing professional quality work. Sacrificing the quality of a book’s text, illustrations or layout will greatly hinder sales in the future.
Additionally, business owners should avoid using digital printing. This printing method may be fine for test runs, but offset printing should be used when a book is printed to be sold. At volume, offset printing costs a fraction of what digital printing does.
What are the steps to start a children's book business?
Once you're ready to start your children's book business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your children's book business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your children's book business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for free.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a children's book business?
To help with startup costs and see whether there’s a demand for a particular book, business owners can crowdfund the printing of a book. Many children’s books have successfully been funded through Kickstarter and other platforms. Some of the most successful titles on Kickstarter have been Augie and the Green Knight, Science Wide Open, The Mines of Light and My First Science Textbook.
How to promote & market a children's book business
The best way to promote a children’s book is by getting reviews and awards. Reviews can send a book to the top of a best-seller list and give a book authenticity. Winning awards (especially the Newbury or Caldecott) and being mentioned on recommended reading lists will help increase school and library sales.
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How to keep customers coming back
To keep customers purchasing books, businesses need to consistently publish children’s books that engage kids and that adults don’t mind reading multiple times. Books that appease both kids and adults will have grown-ups coming back for more titles.
How and when to build a team
Many children’s book businesses are run by a single person or a small team. Once a business grows, most business owners outsource the work they can’t do rather than hire lots of employees.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a children's book business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
How much can you charge customers?
The School Library Journal reports that children’s books usually retail for between $6.49 and $17.85 per copy. Hardcovers command the highest prices, with mass-market paperbacks getting the lowest prices. Trade paperbacks are in the middle.
What are the ongoing expenses for a children's book business?
After a book is published, the ongoing expenses associated with the title include any marketing costs and storage costs. Of course, businesses must also fund the publication of additional titles.
How much profit can a children's book business make?
With a successful title, a children's book business can bring in six-figure revenues. For example, Augie and the Green Knight raised $384,410 on Kickstarter before publication.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Business owners have multiple ways to earn additional revenue. Selling ebooks is becoming increasingly common. Alternatively, business owners can speak at schools and businesses, and offer teaching workshops to other aspiring business owners.