Sales of our first children's book -what we learned
We love receiving questions about our book business. We've had questions about illustrators, production, formatting, and the like, but the most frequent question we receive is, “How’s the business?”
That's a tricky one to answer with only a few months of sales. With our first quarter and first book launch behind us, we thought we would share some insight into the sales of, There’s an Elephant in My Room! which is available in our store and on Amazon and can be requested through your library or bookstore (ISBN: 9781955972024).
For our author and aspiring author friends, these numbers may be useful in making decisions for your book, but please keep in mind that they are limited to our unique experience and are very biased toward children’s picture books. In other words, this isn't advice but rather insight into another author’s experience.
We have split this into sections so you can skip to what interests you most. Here are the questions we seek to answer with this little study on our first quarter of sales:
1. What is the most popular (and most profitable) format for our children’s book?
2. How important are friends and family to the success of our first book?
3. Where/how did we sell the most books (author site, Amazon, in-person, etc.)?
4. And the ever-debated question - To pre-sell or not to pre-sell?
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Most popular format
Paperbacks are the most popular format for self-published children’s authors to produce because of their lower production cost and availability. Amazon's variety of paperback size and color selections are diverse; however, they currently offer limited hardcover options (available only in standard novel sizes for books with more than 76 pages).
Since most children's picture books are wider than a novel and usually 36 pages at most, the hardover option at Amazon isn't applicable for most children's book authors. The only alternative is to use another vendor to produce these, either via bulk orders (often from an overseas vendor with freight and order minimums that no first-time author can afford) or print-on-demand (e.g., IngramSpark, Barnes & Noble).
That being the case, is it worth it to produce a hardcover or eBook? This question depends a lot on the cost of production, but with the availability of other print-on-demand options outside of Amazon, the numbers below might surprise you.
Profit/ea. (USD, approx.)
Total Profit (USD, approx.)
*eBook sales were intended for promo, not for profit. More details below.
As you can see in the table above, we sold less than half as many paperbacks as we did hardcover, and eBook sales were about half as many as the paperback. The disparity in the profit from each format is much more than that, though, when you consider the amount of money that we kept from each sale.
Money isn't everything in children's book publishing. There are a lot of non-monetary, rewarding aspects, but when it comes to paying off our current project and funding future endeavors, we have to look at the dollar signs.
Based on our experience alone, hardcovers are a must for most children's picure books.
hardcovers are a must for most children's picture books
Why Hardcover? Most of our sales were being given as gifts, and when people buy a book as a gift, they want quality. Hardcovers - especially autographed ones - look and feel like a premium gift giving option.
Paperbacks are important, too. They offer an economical alternative for parents, teachers, and those who want to support you.
Kids eBooks are a matter of much heartburn, and most children's books we've seen do not have an eBook version due to their large file sizes which often render them unprofitable.
So why would a children’s book author bother with an eBook?
A few reasons an eBook might be a good idea:
We created an eBook so that we could easily send a free copy to beta readers, book reviewers, and to enter contests.
We use our eBook for promotional purposes, too. Discount book sites like BookBub, BookGorilla, and Discount Book Man provide daily promo emails straight to people's inboxes, and it is one marketing option that many children's book authors miss when they don't offer an eBook.
Offering a free or low-cost eBook might mean the difference between an interested window-shopper and an actual purchase.
We make minimal income from our eBook sales because we frequently price it at around $1.99. Doing this counts as sales toward Amazon's algorithm, plus, we saw potential 50% conversion rate of eBook to paperback sales during our first quarter. Long term, that is a number that can't be ignored.
A note on the overall total profit from sales. This number is an approximation for what we keep after paying for printing, fees, shipping, taxes, etc. It is the amount that goes back into paying off what we originally spent to produce and publish the book, and it (eventually) funds our future projects. Take a look at that total carefully, though. We've seen people spend $5000 producing a children's book, and it might be a shock to learn how long it could take to earn back what you invested.
It might be a shock to learn how long it could take to earn back what you invested.
Friends and Family Sales
I've heard a ton of first-time authors say they aren't going to tell their friends and loved ones about their book. Others are hesitant because they don’t want to sound like a salesman (we are definitely in that camp). There may be individual reasons why some anonymity may be a good choice for a particular author, but we wanted to highlight this category because, for most new authors, friends and family are your only support.
Let's talk about the social aspect that plagues many new authors. You have no following. You have no leads. You have no customers.
Now, most people will tell you (and they are right!) that you should start building your network and promoting your book BEFORE release day. If you are just getting started, then RIGHT NOW is absolutely the time to start building that network of people who support you and who you can support in return.
Many new authors don’t have the luxury of time to devote to building a social media presence. By the time you figure out the social media part of authorship, you’re a few days away from clicking the “publish” button. When we announced presales on our first children's book, we had no connections outside of our friends and family.
We were thrilled, though. We had 36 friends and family members who cared about us and our book enough to join our Facebook community. They supported us with likes, follows, supportive words, and so, so much more. For that reason, we want to highlight the percent of books purchased by our wonderful friends and family, based on number of books sold during our first three months of publishing our first book, There’s an Elephant in My Room!
Percent of Presales (%)
Percent of First Month Sales (%)
Percent of Overall Q1 Sales (%)
Friends & Family
So, should you tell your friends and family about your book?
In our experience - Absolutely!
Many of your loved ones would want to support you, and you may be surprised by the amazing ways they show their support.
Obviously, though, friends and family sales hit a peak, and they likely won't continue to purchase your book in large number. The percentage of friends and family sales will continue to decline after release day. But especially for a first-time self-published book, these sales can mean the difference between a successful launch and a giant flop. For us, these people continue to be the most amazing supporters of our book and our business. We couldn’t – nor would we want to – do this without them.
(Amazon/KDP vs. author website vs. book/vendor fairs)
There’s an Elephant in My Room! is available in our store (hardcover exclusive and paperback), at in-person events like craft and vendor fairs, and through print-on-demand and distribution companies. As of January 2022, these companies include Amazon (paperback and eBook), IngramSpark (paperback), and Draft2Digital (eBook)
Our first three months yielded zero sales on Draft2Digital, which isn't a surprise since we haven't advertised for that platform at all.
While we do have our book available for wide-distribution for bookstores and libraries through Ingram’s distribution channel, by January 2022 we had not yet started the legwork to let bookstores and libraries know our book is available.
Note, however, we can tell you how many times our kids have brought home an illness and how many times our dog has been sprayed by a skunk. Life, you know?
One great way to support an author is by requesting their book at your library or bookstore.
By the way, if you are reading this and want to support us, we'd be so grateful if you told your local library or bookstore about There's an Elephant in My Room! (ISBN: 9781955972024).
The table below compares the number of books sold through our effective sales avenues during our first three months of sales for our first children's book.
A few observations about the above results:
Sales on our author website boomed during presales but have tapered off. The site is expensive and may not pay for itself the first year or two, but we love it, and we get the biggest return on sales with it, so we're going to stick with it a while longer.
Amazon/KDP is so easy and so cost-effective. It’s a no-brainer to sell on Amazon/KDP. Plus, we made about as many Amazon sales in three months of zero effort as we did in 15 hours of craft fairs. In the future, we plan to nurture our print-on-demand sales avenues with more advertising and social media outreach!
We anticipate our future local sales to be primarily from events like craft/vendor events, and these take a ton of time often for very little profit. You have to love these events to invest the time it takes to make these sales, but local sales are so important for children's authors. Our readers aren’t old enough to purchase the book for themselves, and our customers are often those looking for a unique and special gift. These events are where children’s book authors can connect most readily with both their readers and their customers. We're always looking for well-attended events, especially in East TN, so please let us know if you hear of any!
Our "other sales" were mostly word-of mouth sales that usually resulted from bumping into someone we knew who said, "Can I buy a copy of your book?" In fact, that was how we made our first sale to a library. We suggest keeping a few copies of your book with you whenever you can.
It’s a no-brainer to sell on Amazon/KDP.
Another quick fact - 62% of our Q1 sales, including both online and in-person sales, were from people who live in our area. This shows the importance of having a friends and family network and a community presence when you are starting out.
To Pre-sell or Not to Pre-sell
There is this huge debate amongst indie/self-published authors as to whether pre-sales are worth it.
The biggest argument against pre-selling your book before your publish date has to do with Amazon's algorithms for determining your book's new release success rate and thus recommending it to more (or fewer) potential buyers. These algorithms have been said to ignore books sold during your Amazon pre-order period.
We DID NOT do an Amazon presale for our book, so we cannot comment on the success of that feature for a children's book. However, in the nay-sayers line of thinking, we probably did injure our Amazon new release sales since most of our pre-orders and post-release sales were autographed copies of our book that were sold outside of Amazon.
We offer this challenge to the nay-sayers, though: a sale is a sale. If you are able to make amazing sales numbers on your first book selling only on Amazon and with no social media following, then you are a superhero, and we must be educated in your ways!
For the rest of us, we need sales to keep following our kidlit dreams and producing more delightful books, and profits are hard to come by on Amazon for first-time, self-published authors.
As you can see in the table below, preorders through our own website (mostly from our friends and family) were OUTSTANDING. If for this reason only, we will continue to do external presales for our kidlit new releases for as long as we see this same trend.
Percent of Q1 Sales (by quantity)
Percent of Q1 Sales (by profit)
Sales after release day
*These pre-orders were sold only on our goodkittypublications.com website and through in-person requests. We did not use Amazon’s preorder option.
Over a third of our first quarter sales were from pre-sales of our book.
While one might argue that these same sales would have been made after the release date, we aren't convinced and we also don't see that as a huge reason to move away from pre-sales, either. Here are a few reasons why we plan to continue to host pre-sales of new children’s titles through our website instead of Amazon:
Our pre-sale gave us time to get the word out and build a bigger audience.
Our pre-sale was hosted on our site or in-person, so we didn’t have to pay a middleman.
Our pre-sales mostly consisted of gift versions of our autographed hardcover, which isn't even an option through Amazon.
Our pre-sale gave us the opportunity to ask for honest reviews, which meant more reviews on Amazon during release week. We are convinced that this is what bumped There’s an Elephant in My Room! to #11 on Amazon’s Children’s Books about Elephants chart during its first week.
The people who order from our site are typically signed up for our newsletter, so we can keep them informed of our special events, offers, and upcoming new titles. We have few connections - if any - to the people who purchased our book from Amazon.
And there you have it!
All the deets for our first quarter of self-publishing our very first children’s book.
We learned a lot by crunching the numbers, and we hope you got something out of this, too. Our biggest takeaways were:
The importance of offering different formats for children's picture books, with hardcovers being the most popular,
The incredible support provided by our friends and family, and
The importance of pre-sales and having a diverse set of sales avenues.
Moving forward, we want to focus on Amazon sales and getting our book into bookstores and libraries.
Did any of this surprise you? What other questions or suggestions do you have about self-publishing a children’s book?
Comment below and let us know!
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