Hugh Howey
Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Forecast for Tomorrow: Partly Cloudy

She’s here! She’s almost here!

Misty copy

Sometime tomorrow, swirling winds and UPS drivers will blow MISTY onto a front porch near you. Tuesday is release day, and I haven’t been this excited since my very first novel came out. A picture book is just a completely different animal. For me, it meant collaborating with an artist who has skills I’ll never possess. It meant being creative together. And it means coming up with a story that is as much visual as textual. Plus, this is a story for an audience I’ve never been able to reach before.

All-in-all, a completely different experience. One I’ve learned a lot from.

Before I get into how it came together, I should mention that there are a limited number of the signed hardbacks still available. These will be gone soon, so if you want one, now is the time. These are signed by me, and they are reasonably priced. Amazon has them discounted to $13.49 as of this writing.

With both the purchase of the hardback and the paperback, you can download the ebook for free. The paperback is only $6.99. Fancy coffees cost more than this. The ebook for your tablet or computer is just $3.99. I promise you, we priced these as cheaply as humanly possible. Why? We want as many people as possible to meet Misty. I think you’re going to really like her.

Beta readers of all ages have enjoyed their chance to read the story early. Jasinda Wilder says her youngest is infatuated with Misty and can’t stop reading the book. The first reader I put on my lap and read the story to spent the rest of the day carrying the book around and talking about Misty. It was everything I dreamed of when I considered doing this. It all started with a story I told to my nieces about a young cloud who couldn’t take on different shapes like her friends. And it grew from there.

Earlier this year, I spoke with my agent Kristin Nelson about really putting a children’s book together. Earlier, I had called out for artists on Facebook and had a lot of interested parties. But picking an artist and figuring out how to arrange it all felt daunting. Even Kristin wasn’t sure how to go about this. Neither of us had done a picture book before.

So Kristin reached out to someone with experience. This agent sent me links to artists she liked. My first choice was Nidhi Chanani, whose artwork is simply breathtaking. Seriously. These are prints you want hanging in your home. Luckily, Nidhi had been interested in doing a children’s book, and she had some free space on her calendar coming up. She also loved the text of the story and thought she could really bring it to life. So we began discussing how to work this out.

At this point, I assumed I’d be self-publishing an ebook and a print-on-demand paperback. So that part was handled. For paying Nidhi for her services, I looked to Audible’s ACX audiobook platform for guidance. I could split royalties with Nidhi or pay her a standard professional fee. I was really torn on which would be better for her. My natural pessimism when it comes to my books selling had me thinking I’d be taking advantage of Nidhi if she went for a royalty split. But the sliver of a chance that the story did really well would leave her out of any windfalls, however unlikely that might be. (Picture books are brutally hard to break into. Far more so than fiction and non-fiction).

We decided on a neat solution. I would pay Nidhi the going rate for a professional children’s book illustrator, and I would also cut her in on royalties if the book earned out and hit certain milestones. For those interested in doing a children’s book, know that the going rate for illustrations is quite high. I went into this assuming I’d never earn back a fraction of what I paid. I saw it as a learning opportunity, a chance to collaborate with an artist like Nidhi, and a chance to create something I’d be proud of for a long time.

The creation process was new to me. First, I sent the text to a children’s book editor, who helped me refine it a bit with some excellent input. Nidhi then did sketches based on the final text. After a round of feedback between myself, our editor, and both sets of agents, Nidhi completed the artwork. We sent off for proofs.

At this point, things got a little crazy. What started as a little project that probably wouldn’t amount to much got a little bigger. A publisher I never considered going with showed interest and offered to pay back the entire sum (a pretty big sum) that I’d put into the production (which included paying the editor). They also offered some other perks. At the same time, I was comfortable with and had already planned to go through CreateSpace and KDP. A common publishing decision these days, right? We decided to stick with our original plan, but the excitement about the book had us looking at the proof and seeing where we could make the book even better.

Which meant another round of revisions. Which is a lot more time-consuming, difficult, and costly than revising a novel. Here, we pulled in a children’s book designer, who took over the text layout, working from Nidhi’s layered files. Nidhi also came up with brand new spreads (her art in the book is just jaw-dropping). A new cover was made, and what started out great ended up absolutely beyond my wildest dreams. It was a massive team effort, a lot of work all around, and truly something I’ll always be proud of having played a small part in.

I go into this in detail, because several people have emailed me asking how I put the book together. What follows is my advice for anyone thinking of creating a children’s book with the hopes of breaking even or even turning a profit:

  • Understand that children’s books are still dominated by print sales.
  • Every bookstore owner I have spoken with about children’s books says that they are their best selling category by far.
  • The problem is that the bestsellers have been around for a long time, so it’s hard to make inroads.
  • The artwork has to be great, which puts many of us at a disadvantage. I think it would be easier for an artist to write their own story or hire a writer than it is the other way around.
  • A self-publishing partnership with a royalty split would be a great way for a new artist and new writer to try to break in. Just like with novels, I would plan on creating at least five works before gauging success.
  • The creation tools have gotten better. Amazon even has a tool that helps with the final file creation, complete with text pop-ups for reading on tablets.
  • Even more than novel writing, creating a children’s book should be thought of as a labor of love.
  • Finally, the quality I’ve seen from print-on-demand children’s books has been impressive. I ordered a few before starting this project, and getting 24-page full-color books for under $7 seems magical to me.

Even as self-publishing makes inroads, there are still unknowns and challenges ahead. Many people seem to think that certain books can’t work if they’re self-published. I disagree. I believe we’ll see literary works, seriously researched non-fiction, and children’s picture books all enjoy the same benefits that genre fiction is enjoying: The freedom to express ourselves, to reach readers directly, to price reasonably, and to pass along more earnings to the artists.

MISTY: THE PROUD CLOUD is one little experiment at seeing if this hunch of mine is true. If you want to help make that a reality, or see our finished product, order a copy today. Order some for Christmas presents! I think you’ll be impressed, and I think the doubters will be surprised.

20 replies to “Forecast for Tomorrow: Partly Cloudy”

I know nothing about your book, and I already want to buy it! It looks so cute!

But your advice is spot on about illustrators. I’ve got several children’s books out, and the biggest expense is the artwork. Before I can even think about publishing my next middle grade, I’ve got to figure out a way to pay for the cover and interior illustrations. A friend of mine is currently doing research for a project she intends to self-publish and the average price for picture book illustrations is around $3,000 to 5,000. If she makes this money back, it will take her quite some time.

However, speaking fess paid by elementary schools can more than cover these costs. This is usually where the “real” money is earned, not from book sales.

Awesome job!

Can’t wait to get my signed copy in the mail…I’m fascinated to hear about the process. Years ago I tried my hand at a couple of children’s books when my kids were little, and never got much traction.

The good ones are great, and really make an impact on the reader. I wouldn’t be surprised if this little book turns out to be one of them.

Good luck!

Wish I could pick up a couple copies, anybody out there interested in proxying a few copies up to the great white north?

Aaron,
I can help, barring any problems with getting the books myself. I can send you two. If you go to Amazon, you can look me up under VeggieLover and see my contact information under my public profile.

Why did you forgo the look inside feature? I love children’s books but the deciding factor for me is always the illustrations. This way, I have no way of knowing what to expect.

Received it today – my 5 year old daughter gives it a thumbs up! I read it to her once, then she read it back to me, then she took it to bed with her. And she loved looking for Misty in the blue pages in the front and back. it’s a hit!

I ordered a signed one when it first went up for pre-order and it shipped yesterday. Will be reading it to my 4 month old once it comes in. If he ends up drooleating the book like my other kids used to do even if I was careful, I hope your signature tastes good. ;)

What a fun little book. We received our signed copy a few days ago (in a giant box from Amazon). My six-year-old daughter and I have read it together several times already! Great job on your first children’s book! I’m very anxiously awaiting the sequel to Sand! You’re the best, Hugh Howey! ❤️

Ah, the world of self publishing children’s books! Misty looks super cute, and this is a very informative blog post–but one I’m probably happy I didn’t read back in 2011 when I started Xist Publishing. Children’s ebooks are very, very difficult to make any money on, particularly through the traditional indie channels.

Fast forward two years and 200 children’s picture books later and I’m glad to see the market growing, but you’re absolutely right that print is the place to be for children’s books. I read somewhere that ebooks are only 5% of the kids (not including YA) market, and I believe it. My company is primarily digital, with POD editions from Createspace and Lightning Source, but we’ve had to look far beyond the typical indie ebook distribution channels. In fact, Amazon only accounts about 10% of our digital business.

The things we’ve seen as absolutely essential for children’s ebook sales:
1) Artwork has to be great
2) Topic has to be right
3) Series are king
4) Customers are more price conscious than they would be with longer books

Best of luck to you and other indies creating books for the “touchscreen generation!”

We got our signed copy last week and I can’t wait for Santa to bring it to my boys so we can read it.

Hi Hugh – long time reader of your blog, first time commenter :-)

On that note, thank you for your openness about your experiences in self-publishing. They’ve helped me make a decision about the indie / trad / hybrid route, and also reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing (and it’s not because I’m completely insane lol).

I write children’s books. My first will be out this December (a picture book), and just yesterday I was enquiring about the quality of print on demand. You wrote you were impressed with the quality. Is this from Createspace? I had read advice that as the paper is not silk-finished, it doesn’t stand up against traditionally published books.

Also, congratulations on your children’s book! It really is a whole ‘nother ball game :-)

Zee x

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