Self Publish (KDP) or Traditional?

  • Hi there! I am working on writing and illustrating my first picture book and am thinking through if I'd like to go the self publishing route via Amazons KDP or reach out to publishers or literary agents (a different dilemma on its own)

    Anyone have personal experience with publishing via Amazon KDP?

    Leaning towards getting a literary agent because I think it'd help me learn a lot about the industry, build a name and brand for myself, meet other authors and illustrators, build community, etc.

  • @Morgan-Wallace hi! I think it depends on what you want from the experience.

    Traditional: you get more guidance, but less control of your vision. You'll make less per book but will likely reach a larger audience. Takes longer. You get paid an advance on royalties. You get professional designers and editors for your book.

    Self publish: more control, faster, larger net profit. More work on your end to promote, run the account handle shipping orders etc. You'll have to pay upfront costs.

    There is actually a third option I recently learned about which are hybrid publishers but there are a lot of companies who say they are "hybrid publishers" that don't actually do anything for you but take your money, so I'm hesitant to mention in it. But a proper hybrid you pay upfront costs for professional editing and design as well as printing publishing shipping services etc. But is faster and you retain more than 50% of the net

    If you'd like to publish it and make a little money and move on to the next book and be an entrepreneur then do it yourself. Otherwise make a book dummy and send it to publishers AND reach out to agents ☺

  • @Morgan-Wallace it is relatively easy to publish using Amazon's KDP, and free. It's print-on-demand (POD), meaning that a book is only printed when it's ordered and Amazon handles all the printing,distribution, & shipping so that's something you don't have to worry about. If you'd like a small inventory of books, you can order author copies at cost, which is something like $4 a book plus shipping.

    There are some things to be aware of about KDP, though:

    1. They only print in paperback. It sounds like they are beta testing hardcovers, but that option isn't available yet.
    2. The quality control is at times lacking, which could irritate your readers. A few times I've gotten KDP-printed books with entirely different books printed in the middle (2-for-1, I guess, but it's still annoying). The printing quality could differ depending on where the book is printed (KDP has several printing locations in the US and overseas).
    3. The printing quality is just okay. It's not as good as a book printed on an offset printer (printing in bulk, how books are traditionally printed) - the paper is thinner and the printing is not as vibrant. It has to do with the paper, inks, and the type of printer that these books are printed on.
    4. KDP requires that the last page of a book be reserved for their use. Which is fine in a novel. But for a picture book, if you're printing 32 pages, you design and plan for only 31 pages of content, page 32 being reserved for KDP's use. It leaves an extra "blank" page at the end because KDP's print date and location notice is really small and nothing else goes on that page.
    5. The printing is automated. You don't have a lot of options to choose from and if you need to troubleshoot and contact customer support, they often are not very knowledgeable. (This is my experience. Perhaps things have changed in the past year or so and KDP has given their customer service reps more training.) On the plus side, if you need to make changes or correct something on the fly, it's free and easy to do and your book remains available for purchase.

    If you would like a hardcover picture book, as most readers prefer hardcover nowadays, there is the option of printing through Ingram Spark, Ingram's POD. They offer a few more printing options to choose from and 3 levels of printing quality (hint: because it's a picture book, you want to choose the premium color option, which is of course the most expensive). Like KDP and other PODs, Ingram Spark is relatively easy to use (though more complicated than KDP), the printing quality is okay (the quality of Ingram's premium color is better than KDP, but still not as good as offset printing), and you need to leave the last page for their use. Ingram Spark does have a setup fee and does charge for revisions made to an uploaded file.

    Note: you will want to purchase your own ISBN. (KDP offers a free ISBN option, but it's advisable to purchase your own so that you are registered as the publisher of your book.) In the US, an ISBN can only be purchased from one place, Bowker. One ISBN costs $125; 10 cost $295. If you live in Canada, you get them from ISBN Canada and they are free. In the UK, you'd get an ISBN through Nielsen UK ISBN Agency. (Obtaining an ISBN is different for each country.) If you print a hardcover and paperback version of your book, you will need an ISBN for both. At this time, KDP doesn't require ISBNs for ebooks.

    There are other costs involved in self-publishing. (Even though as an author-illustrator, you are cutting those costs way down.) You'll want to hire a professional editor. If you don't know how to format a book or if book design isn't in your wheelhouse, you'll need to hire a book designer to design your cover and the interior of the book. If you start your own publishing company, there are going to be DBA fees and other setup fees. There are marketing costs. And there is also the cost of time -- the time you spend on making your book, you can't spend making money some other way.

    Self-publishing can be rewarding and a really good experience. But it's a lot of work. It will take a lot of time, money, and energy. Are you someone who has the time and is willing to put the effort into selling your book? For a book to be successful, it needs to be marketed. There are so many books out there right now that uploading your book to KDP and expecting people to find it amid the 250,000+ of children's books already listed on Amazon ... yeah, that probably won't happen. People have to know it's there, which means you have to market, market, market!

    It's good to sit down and consider why you may want to self-publish and what you want to get out of it. Is this a passion project, a book that you've dreamed of making, and you don't really care how much money it makes (or if you lose money on it), as long as it's out in the world? Is it a book that a traditional publisher probably wouldn't pick up, for whatever reason? Or, on the other hand, is this a project that you want or need to make money for you?

    If it's the latter, my recommendation would be to take an honest look at self-publishing, what you can realistically expect, and what it will take for your book reach its goals. Do you have the resources to do that?

    If, after you evaluate, it seems like it will take too much time and effort, or if it's something you can't afford to do, then perhaps traditional publishing is the way to go.

    One more note: you said that you're leaning towards getting a literary agent to build your brand and network -- it may be worth considering if self-publishing will help you in that goal or not. While it is gaining ground in being considered a legitimate form of publishing (cuz it is), there still is a stigma surrounding self-publishing. It's something to be aware of. However, if you put out a self-published book that is just as high-quality as a traditionally published book, that could go a long way in counteracting that stigma in building your brand. If you're a member of SCBWI, The Book (updated every year and available to all members) has a self-publishing section that has a ton of information that may help you in weighing that option. It also has an agents directory and tips on submitting to an agent. I've personally found SCBWI extremely helpful in learning about the industry, in networking, and building my career (such as it is).

    Did it again -- got really long-winded! Hope you found this info dump helpful. If there's anything you have questions about, feel free to ask!

  • @carlianne thank you so much for such a thoughtful response! I think what you said at the end about if I "want to make a little money and move on to the next book" is something I definitely need to consider and a great lense to look at the situation through.

    Thank you again!

    Also I checked out your insta and your work is BEAUTIFUL! Going to have to check out your YouTube this evening ❤

  • 100% spot-on @Melissa-Bailey-0!

  • Moderator

    @Melissa-Bailey-0 Thanks so much for taking the time to share! Your post is really informative! Very helpful (for me, anyway...)! Thank-you!!!

  • @Morgan-Wallace you're so sweet thank you so much!! ❤

  • @Coreyartus thanks so much! Just sharing what I've learned ... so far, anyway! 😊

  • @Jeremy-Ross thank you! (You're not speaking from experience or anything, are you?) 😂

  • @Melissa-Bailey-0 wowwowowow! Thank you for such an in-depth and thorough response! So much helpful information- and much for me to consider!

    Do you happen to know if there’s anything that would stop me from using the Amazon ISBN and if I decide to print via Ingram spark or other POD just purchasing one at that point for the same book? Or if even the booo could be picked up by a publisher after I’ve published it originally (or Amazon via KDP) ?

    I can certainly research those but thought I’d ask in case you have experience!

    Thank you again for such helpful information!!

    Also your precious Naomi drawing with the giraffe behind her head is ABSOLUTELY to die for 😍

    I’m obsessed!

  • @Morgan-Wallace You would need to remove the Amazon ISBN from your copyright page and cover if you had it printed anywhere else, but Ingram Spark can give you a new free one. If you want to buy your own ISBN so that it is the same wherever you have your edition printed, you can purchase them through

    Statistically, it's exceedingly rare for a traditional publisher to purchase rights to a book that's previously been published by its creator. The publisher would doubtless make some changes which would mean the book would need a new ISBN anyway. And the publisher would be fine with that, because they purchase oodles of ISBNs, business as usual.

  • @Morgan-Wallace aww, thanks so much! Glad you found it helpful!

    Since @RachelArmington already replied with some good answers, I'm just going to add to what she said.

    1. While KDP's offer of the free "use one of our ISBNs!" is tempting -- it's really not something I'd recommend. This is what KDP says about their free ISBN: "The free ISBN from KDP can only be used on KDP for distribution to Amazon and its distributors. It cannot be used with another publisher or self-publishing service." (Direct quote taken from the KDP website.) So if you use a KDP ISBN, you're agreeing only to print and distribute your book exclusively through KDP, for the entirety of the time you use that ISBN. Amazon owns that ISBN, meaning that while you own the copyright to the book, Amazon owns the distribution rights to that ISBN. Using the free ISBN would work for you only if you expect that this book will be the only book you ever publish, that you don't anticipate ever wanting to print or distribute it elsewhere, and if you don't expect the book will sell well. That includes bookstores, libraries, or other brick-and-mortar stores, most of whom will not put an Amazon-printed book on their shelves.

    2. (This might really be 1b.) Another reason not to use the free KDP-provided ISBN comes from the Nonfiction Author's Association: "Some of the print-on-demand services offer free ISBNs, which sounds easy and appealing if you’re trying to keep costs down. However, when you register your book under a free ISBN, it then puts your book on record as being published by the entity that provided the ISBN. This is a common rookie mistake." In other words, KDP would list itself as the publisher of your book, since they provided the ISBN -- but YOU are the publisher of your book, since you're self-publishing. You want to make sure that you are clearly listed as the publisher of record.

    3. Yes, as Rachel said, IngramSpark has recently begun offering free ISBNs to US-based self-publishers. But here's an interesting tidbit direct from IngramSpark: they don't recommend it. Here's what they have to say on their FAQ: "An ISBN is an expense many self-published authors are confused about. If you use a free ISBN with IngramSpark, your publisher imprint will not be associated with your book—it will hold IngramSpark’s imprint, Indy Pub. It may also limit where you can print and distribute your own title. At IngramSpark, we believe it's in your best interest to be recognized as the owner of your work and a publisher in your own right, which is why we encourage publishers to purchase their own ISBNs. You can read more about ISBNs and the benefits of purchasing your own here."

    4. Your book could be picked up by a publisher after it's been self-published. But as Rachel said, it's rare. Don't expect this to happen, even if your book is great. Why? First and foremost, a traditional publisher is a business. They make decisions on which book to publish based on how well they think it will sell. Most self-published books don't sell well. So in the traditional publisher's eyes, if a book has a proven track record of not selling, why would they take that gamble? On the flip side, if a self-published book does sell well, the traditional publisher may be concerned that the author has done such a good job of marketing, they have already saturated the market so the publisher may not be able to expect strong sales if they decide to pick up the book.

    But like they said on Reading Rainbow: don't just take my word for it. You should definitely research all of this yourself and learn all you can about self-publishing before jumping in and publishing your own book. It might be a good fit for you, it might not -- and only you will be able to determine that.

    If you're overwhelmed with all there is to learn, here are a few places to start:

    1. SCBWI -- mentioned them before and will mention again because they're a wealth of information. Membership is around $80 or so a year and with that comes access to webinars, networking with peers (especially within your region), and The Book. The Book alone is, to me, worth the price of membership. This fall, there is also going to be a special edition of The Book just for self-publishers (I'm really looking forward to that!).
    2. The Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market -- this book is updated every year and contains articles about writing for children and the children's book industry. You can preorder the newest edition, which comes out in October.
    3. ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) -- Note: if you're a member of SCBWI, they have teamed with ALLi to provide self-publishing information and advice for the children's book market, so you may not need to join ALLi. ALLi does have great articles and has researched reputable services to help serve and protect the independent author community.

    Hope this helps! And if you have any questions, please ask. ❤