Two years ago I was procrastinating (typical). It was 11pm and I was trying to pull together a last-minute session plan for my 6 preschool music classes the next day. The theme? HALLOWEEN. I was looking for something outside of the typical pumpkin, ghost, or skeleton theme.
After bouncing song ideas off of my husband, we agreed on monsters. But not scary monsters…. *cute* monsters. Monsters that dressed up in Halloween costumes!
And just like that, The Shy Little Monster was born. It’s a story-song about a shy little monster (dressed up like a lobster) who wants SO BADLY to be loud and brave… but he can only whisper. His adorable monster friends (also dressed in costumes) help him gain confidence, and over the course of the book, he finds his voice.
“ZIBBITY ZABBITY FLIBBITY FLABBITY BIPPITY BOPPITY BOO!”
When I release a new song, I typically buy a stock illustration to go with it for marketing purposes. But this character was so unusual that I knew I wasn’t going to find anything useful. So I asked my artist friend Sarah to bring him to life… and she NAILED IT. (Isn’t he the cutest??!)
I gave the song, guitar chords and image to the music therapists, educators, and parents who were in my free Song-of-the Month Club and word started to get out… kids LOVED this song. And music therapists and educators in particular were so excited to have something new for Halloween!
Halloween came and went, but The Shy Little Monster lived on. Kids asked me to sing them The Shy Little Monster EVERY. DAY. (Yes, one class even wore me down and managed to convince me to let them do it for their spring program!)
Teachers and music therapists kept telling me that it would be a perfect book. So we listened. Sarah, the illustrator, is a children’s book fanatic, so it didn’t take long for her to be on board.
How did we do it? We just DID IT. Good, bad, or ugly… we decided to self-publish and give it a go.
1. We spent a lot of time looking at other children’s books
How many pages does it need to be so there aren’t any awkward blank pages when printing? (We made some calls to printers and got some quick answers.)
How did successful children’s books format their words? What was the flow page-to-page?
When you open up the pages…. was there a separate image on each side of the page? Or was the image shared between the pages? If it switched between the two, did it flow well? (Look at some children’s books and see what you find… there’s often a pattern.)
2. We made a (very rough) draft
I cut out a little 16-page “book” and started playing with where the words would go (with good ol’ sticky notes). I made sure that the important lyrics corresponded with page turns and made sure you could SING it while reading it.
We imagined what kind of images might go on on each page and how we might match them to the lyrics.
3. Sarah hand-illustrated each page and image
We put the pages together as if they were a book, listened to the song, and flipped through the book together (all via video from across the country).
We showed the images to kids in order to see their reactions (lots of giggles!).
We started exploring different FONTS and how they might fit with our images and words.
We are super high-tech over here (NOT). There was literally ZERO self-publishing knowledge between us and we just figured it out.
4. We got expert help
When a book is hand-illustrated, the images need to be professionally scanned and color-corrected so that the colors are consistent through the book (including the white backgrounds). This was done at a professional printing shop and cost us about $200.
My cousin worked in publishing and was kind enough to format this for us. He put the scanned images together, helped us select the final font, put the words in with the images, finalized the cover, bio page, etc. This person typically charges $60-$80/hr and you can usually find them at a local print shop. Expect 3-4+ hours for a 16-page children’s book.
5. We registered for an ISBN code/ bar code
ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. All you have to do is buy one online and you’re able to sell your book with that internationally-recognized number and code. (It’s about $100.)
6. Ready, set…. PRINT!
When the book looks exactly how you like it, it’s ready to print!
We were fortunate enough to have our first 2 runs printed by my relatives who owned a small publishing company, so our printing costs started out quite low. These days, we’re printing at a larger volume and we are looking at about $6 a book for future printing. I recommend getting multiple bids, but we have found that local print shops are WAYYY more affordable than anything found online.
7. Give yourself plenty of time
I pre-sold our book the first year and we were right up to the wire with orders. Then, during our first shipment, our box of books got completely destroyed in the shipping process and about half of our books vanished into thin air (SO SAD!). So we had to scramble to get more before our Halloween deadline!
All in all, I’m amazed to say that we did this whole process in about 3 months. It definitely doesn’t NEED to take a really long time. Just build in a buffer for unexpected delays.
There you go! I hope this gives you the confidence to JUST DO IT. We kept taking small steps forward and each step took us a little closer to the final product. It’s a simple, sweet little book that we are SO proud of, and I’m grateful that we jumped right in instead of taking 2-3 years to try and get it published elsewhere.
As of today, we’ve sold nearly 400 Shy Little Monster books! All ourselves. I’m so glad we took the leap!