New Market Planning: Children’s Books

Those of you watching Twitter over the weekend know that I returned to work on my little dragon book, and having put in a concerted effort I’d say I’m about 75% done with the artwork for it. My goal is to have it ready this year, so I’m excited that I’m so close! If successful—and I’m going to set things up with the assumption that it will be, if only because it’s a pain to go about it backwards—I hope to put out two lines of simple, brightly colored children’s books. This dragon book will be the first in the line of books for parents to read to kids; I’d also like to do a line of books for kids to read to parents, involving simple sentences and lists of sight words in the back for reference.

My plan at this point is to write under the name “Maggie Hogarth.” Obviously my intention isn’t to fool people into thinking I’m a totally different person: I want people to say, “Oh, Maggie Hogarth! She writes adult books under her initials.” The reason I’m going with my full name is because I want the children’s books to come up together in a search/be organized together on a separate author page. The market for children’s picture books is a very different market from the adult fiction market, or even the young adult fiction market; while there’s substantial crossover between YA and adult, you do not want to see picture books for kids when you’re shopping for military science fiction for yourself. Same way if you’re shopping for picture books: it’s going to irritate you to have to page through lists of adult novels to get to Patio Dragons Like to Help Out!

I’m still working out a lot of the logistics here. Planning children’s books for young/emergent readers is a very different exercise than writing for adults. Each line of books needs its own name (I will probably go with something jaguar themed) and logo (ditto: maybe a baby jaguar paw and a parental jaguar paw side-by-side). I’m debating whether I need an imprint name also; I already have two “imprints” that publish under my business, Stardancer Studios: Studio MCAH does my fiction, and Three Jaguars Books does my business nonfiction. So the structure looks like this:

Stardancer Studios
    •Studio MCAH
    •Three Jaguars Books
    •Children’s Book Imprint
        •Parents Read to Cubs Line
        •Cubs Read to Parents Line

I’m also taking notes on things that I really like about children’s books, or that I find helpful, or that Child really likes. So far that list looks like this:

    • Books that rhyme.
    • Books where the illustrations reflect the words EXACTLY.
    • Books with illustrated continuity (if you have six little dragons, they should be the SAME six little dragons).
    • Books with the same characters, but short enough for young readers.
    • Books with lists of words in the back for Mommy to consult on what Child will be learning.
    • Books about unusual but useful topics (like manners).
    • Books with unexpected or silly endings/stories.
    • Books that have repeating motifs.
    • Books with exclamations.

I’m often surprised by what Child likes…and what I like to share with her. Some of the most gorgeously illustrated books that I like for myself are a snoozefest when I share them with her. And then I have unexpected favorites that I think she’ll find boring but that we both enjoy a great deal. For instance, I was surprised that she was fond of Captain Raptor and the Moon Mystery, which is a comic-book style story full of science fiction technobabble and subdued gouache paintings. But it’s also full of interjections (panels where things explode or go GLUG or BLAM) and it has a repeating motif (“Will THIS be the end of Captain Raptor and his brave crew?”) which she loves to chant along with me. The Elephant and Piggie books, which break the fourth wall, use simple sentences, and are also full of exclamations, are another huge favorite (have a look at one of them: We Are in a Book! (An Elephant and Piggie Book)). So the market research has been both fun and instructive, and I’m not done yet; I expect it to be an ongoing process.

I ask myself why I do this when I already have a terminally full schedule, and the answer is partially that I love reading with my daughter, and I’ve seen how important it is to her development as a reader. But I’m also aware that the genre I’m writing in is not one that most people (traditionally published or indie) make big bucks in. While I enjoy reading it, I’ll never be a good writer of category romance, which is the money-maker in the fiction arena. But I feel strongly about children’s picture books, and I can see myself enjoying making the investment in them. They’re short, they’re easy to write, they’re a lot of fun to come up with. And children’s books are a good market. Maybe tough to crack, but I haven’t tried yet. So why not?

***

While looking over my twitter-shoulder, Neogeen asked me this weekend if I was planning to Kickstart this book. I hadn’t planned on it, though of course I’m going to pay to get the print layout done and I’m still puzzling out the issues with the e-book versions (this will be the first time I’ll be doing something that I really wish I could test on a color Kindle). But crowdfunding something like this would be a joy because it’s so accessible. Not everyone wants to read Alysha’s Fall, but almost everyone has a child in their life they might want to buy a book about tiny dragons sleeping in socks. But that runs into a couple of problems:

Scheduling. To meet my fiction obligations, I need to run two other Kickstarters this year in order to pay for cover art. While working my day job. It’s clear to me that doing both at the same time is a serious strain, so I don’t want to overdo it. It’s already August, so it’s debatable whether I’ll be able to get the other two in before the holiday season.

Sales Hits. Because Kickstarters involve giving your product to backers, you take a sales hit when your book reaches the marketplace because some number of people who were interested have already received the book. This matters because sales velocity—the number of books that are bought within a certain period—is what drives the bestseller, “top ten in this category,” and “if you like this, try this popular book” lists on big websites. In other words, it’s better to sell a hundred books in an hour than it is to sell a thousand in a month. The latter will get you pushed to the top of a lot of lists, while the former gets you… well, a thousand sales. Nothing to sniff at, but you get my point. :)

So if I Kickstart the book and give away a hundred copies, that’s a hundred copies that won’t be bought—maybe all at once—the moment the book becomes available. It may be better to eat the cost of the first book and see how it does. Maybe I can use Kickstarter for the next one.

***

This was a long post! And crunchy! But I hope you enjoyed seeing the mechanics of my planning explicated. I welcome questions, suggestions and of course, comments about children’s books you love (and why you love them)!

  1. Captain Raptor looks awesome! I think I’ll have to, um, get it as a present for some child. Yes. *shifty eyes*

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