The Cute Moose: Lessons Learned

I’m so excited to announce the release of my first children’s picture book, The Cute Moose. It has been well-received, both by my lightning-fast beta readers, and the people who have read it as an ebook, and I heard yesterday from the first person to have a paper copy in hand that it looks good. So!

That’s not what this post is about. I wrote up some of the story over on my blog, why I wrote this book, and how both my sisters were a huge influence on it. This post is where I lean my elbows on the table, drop my chin into my hands, and admit that Oh there were a lot of mistakes made on the road to greatness with this book. In case anyone else is planning on making this crazy trip, I thought I’d document them. May your journey be smoother than mine! And may you end up in the same place, with a #1 best selling new release in your category.

The first big mistake I made – and it’s a doozy – was as an artist. See, I started work on the art for this book almost before I knew what the story was going to be. I wanted to play on my sister’s favorite joke about being a cute moose. And I was doing a daily art challenge, which gave even more interesting structure to the art. I knew, from experience as a mother and a librarian, that picture books are commonly landscape oriented. What I did not do, and I should have done immediately, was look to see what print sizes were supported by KDP print. With the Inktail books, I’d been making them portrait, and as large as possible for max coloring space. So my mind assumed that I could flip that, and have a book 10″ wide, by 8″ high. Standard print size, and on my digital painting app, a good sized file for printing. Well. I got all the way through laying the book out and getting read to upload it when I discovered that KDP print only supports printing at 8.5″ wide. No more. Also, in order to keep my layout proportional, I had to create a custom size, which lost me the ability to sell through expanded distribution (ie libraries and schools, daggone it!).

Sizing art down is, at least, easier and less likely to lead to print quality issues than the other way around. First lesson: check available print sizes. I’m planning at looking into Lightning Source for sizes, and hardbacks, for future uses. This time, I was in a hurry.

The preferred format, people told me, was text on on page of the spread, art on the other. I filled in the text pages with some cute line art that wasn’t necessarily story-related (as you see, Inktail made an appearance!)

Which was my second challenge. I’m not sure I’d call it a mistake. I decided I wanted to give my sister this book for Christmas in the first week or so of November. The print version came out December 8, to give you the scope of the project. I did the whole thing in a month: 28 pieces of full-color art, well over a dozen pieces of line-art, text, layout, multiple reformatting, and uploads. Originally when I decided I was going to make this book for my sister’s Christmas present, I was thinking I might print it up at home, put it in a cover folder… and then I realized the simplest, and probably cheapest, was just to go ahead and publish the thing.

Second lesson, then, was to do a whole lot more planning ahead. Like a year. LOL! I crunched through that book so fast, and some of the mistakes could have been avoided with more time to think and research.

I did much of the art with text in mind, leaving space for it.

Another lesson was a good one. I was posting the art as my daily art, most days. As such, I was getting feedback while I went. Plus, I was talking with my mother and my sister Manya about the project. Making sure I got Juniper’s favorite things into the book was some of it: Highland Cattle, pink, horses. But we also talked about font, and what would be a good, readable font (serif) while still being a little playful to suit the book. We wound up picking Cheboygan because the name amused us. I also crowd-sourced the moose rhymes. Sure, I could have just used a rhyme dictionary to come up with words that rhyme with moose, but having live people toss out ideas gave me ideas of what might be offbeat and quirky to throw in there (like pamplemousse, and Scaramoose which is, no, not a real word. But fun to say!). Also, as I was formatting I was putting images in my art group and getting feedback (like: don’t put text and art on the same page, unless the art has a good deal of open space for it). Also! Make your text large enough for easy reading, which in this book was no less than 20 pt font.

The book came in at 59 pages, with front and end matter. My friend who is a librarian and beta read it for me pointed out that it is long for a picture book. Also, there were words in it small children will not understand. Heck, I told him, I suspect some parents might not be familiar with some of those words. In context I’m sure they will figure them out… and I didn’t write it for small children, although I do believe it will appeal to them. My sister is forty, with the innocent mind of a child. With the next book (and yes, there will be a next one. I’m already working on it with a collaborator) we will do a few things differently. Make it shorter, for one.

And the color interior. This wasn’t, really, a mistake. I knew what I was getting into when I designed the thing, because a while back I had helped my grandmother with her memoir (Alaska Bush Mother) and saw what a full color interior cost to print. I’ll put it this way. When I set the pricing for The Cute Moose, I wanted to keep it as low as I could. Which means that at the 9.99 price point, I make a dollar in royalties. Eh. This project was for my sister, and learning, and I accomplished both. However, a black and white interior would be a whole lot cheaper to do!

Final lesson? Kindle Create does a great looking picture ebook. That was a delightful surprise. It was easy to make, too. You download the program, feed it your formatted pdf you created for the print edition, and it spits out a very nice ebook that is responsive to screen size. I do not recommend trying to read The Cute Moose on a phone screen. However, on a tablet or the computer it looks good, and the page-turning animation is smooth.

Ebooks all have a download fee. With a novel you’re not going to notice it, it’s a few cents. The Cute Moose? That costs me $1.83 of my list price when it’s downloaded. The interesting thing here: you don’t get charged the download fee if your book is in the 35% royalty range. I put Cute Moose in at 70%, at 3.99, but I suspect I would get the same royalties (maybe more) at the lower range. I did put it in Kindle Unlimited, despite the short length, because why not? With future books, I’m going to play with the pricing structure more. But if you ever wondered why children’s picture books were expensive, boy howdy. I know why now.

I’d do it all over again! I had a blast with this, my sister is going to love it, and I learned so much. I hope this helps someone!

9 comments

  1. Yeah! Congrats on a great looking book, and thanks for the “lessons learned.”

    The one about page size . . . I wouldn’t have thought of that as not being a standard option. I mean, you just rotate the paper 90 degrees and you’re good, yes? Obviously it’s a wee bit more complicated than that.

    1. Thanks!

      I had the same thought, only I didn’t check it. Sigh. I’ve learned! I know that children’s books are printed at that size and orientation, so I’m hopeful that another POD might offer it. I’ve been tempted to try getting hardbacks done, anyway, but that $50 entry fee on a type of book I don’t sell much of has been a deterrent.

      I’ll be doing another picture book early in 2021, and one later in 2021, so I will continue to compile lessons, I’m sure.

  2. I’ve been following KU payouts for several years now, from before very many authors were putting their work on that platform. I’d be really interested in seeing how the picture book pays out for you in KU, compared with Kindle purchases and hard-copy purchases.
    I didn’t address it directly in my review, but I was very happy with the way the art displayed on my iPad 6. I was able to use the iPad to read it to Alicia Ann. my teen-age test bed, and to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. I used the time-honored read-and-show-the-pictures technique.
    I hadn’t viewed it on my iPhone 7 until right now and the results are: if I hold my phone horizontally, the bottom of the page is cut off, both on the text pages and on the art pages. If I hold the phone vertically, it displays just great for reading, but would be too small for sharing with my grandkids.

    1. I’ll have to look at the numbers in a few months, and then I’ll share the results. I have a novel release coming up, which I can compare it to.

      And good to hear. I tested it on my iPad (which is also where I created the art) and my phone. The phone is not a good way to look at it, but then, I didn’t expect it to be.

  3. Congratulations!

    My brain went to Beatrix Potter books when you quoted your librarian contact. Those don’t use words kids would know, but are still sold for children. They aren’t super short, either. Kids need a mix of vocabulary, or how will they learn more words?

    1. Precisely my thought. I refused to ‘dumb down’ my YA novel although I was criticized for not following an arbitrary reading level. Now, this is long because of art – there’s only 400 words in the whole story! – but the next one I’m contemplating would be a chapter book.

  4. Thanks for not dumbing it down! How else can you learn new words if not through a story? “Simplifying” books makes for an insipid story.

    Your size discussion was interesting and similar to our experiences. We published A Dictionary of Flowers and Gems, choosing the largest paper size to fit everything in (8 and 1/2 by 11). To our surprise, we got a much better royalty on this book because Amazon doesn’t have to trim the paper when they print the books! Sew Cloth Grocery Bags got the same paper size for that reason (and because we needed the room for diagrams, pattern layouts, and pictures).

    You can bet that whenever a new title can use the 8 and 1/2 by 11 format, we’ll be using it.

    It never occurred to us that royalties would change depending on how much Amazon had to trim the paper: not at all, one side, or both. That seems to be our experience, however.

    Congratulations again. Kid’s books are hard to do well.

      1. Yeah, the trim size really makes a difference, yet Amazon didn’t make it clear to us (it’s quite possible we missed the flashing neon signs) how much of a difference it would make. We make the most profit per title on the 8 and 1/2 by 11 size trade paperback, hands down.

        Unfortunately, sometimes the comps to a title of ours aren’t that size so using 8 and 1/2 by 11 makes our finished book look wrong and weird.

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