My sister tells me she’s pregnant! As a first-time aunt, I want my gift to my first nephew to be the coolest gift ever. But what would be a cool present? At this point, I have no clue. I give it a rest and stay in shock for a couple of weeks about the fact that my sister is really pregnant and that I’m really becoming an aunt.
The solution: a kids book
April – June 2019
I keep wondering what this gift should look like, it could really be anything. My sister tells me the theme of the baby room is ‘forest friends’. Apparently that’s a common baby room theme, I can imagine a thing or two. At least this is a direction.
During the summer I visit a friend who has two adorable girls. During bedtime, I read them a self-made book that one of her friends had gifted explaining why he owns a cat. This is such a creative and unique gift, wow! My mind is blown, it inspires me enormously. All of a sudden it’s perfectly clear what I will make: a self-made book, ofcourse!
August 2019 – September 2019
I finally know what I want to create but don’t know yet what kind of story to write. It could be about anything as long as it has to do with forest friends, so what would I most enjoy writing about? So far, nothing in particular comes to mind. I ask one of my close friends and mom of a one-year-old for advice on the type of books she likes to read to her son. She gives me two good tips. First, she likes reading stories that have some kind of lesson, such as Nijntje learning that it’s bad to steal. Second, she tells me that young kids only see basic bright colors, and can’t distinguish pastel or light shades. That’s apparently why Nijntje’s books are made with primary colors. These are two things I didn’t know before!
For a couple of weeks I brainstorm further on the story and how I could write it. One day it occurs to me that in the past, I’ve had a talent for rhyming. For the sake of narrowing my scope, I figure I might as well create a rhyme.
I ask a mom-colleague of mine whether rhyming makes sense, and she says it absolutely does. Apparently kids will try to pronounce the rhyme words of the sentence. Now I have quite a list of requirements that should give me some boundaries:
- The book theme is forest friends
- I should include a moral
- The book should have bright colors
- The story should rhyme
- I figure myself the drawings should be quite simple, and the story should be pretty simple too, as I’m gifting this to a new born
I come up with a great idea: why don’t I write a story about two animals becoming friends, as the theme is forest friends anyway? I brainstorm about what it entails to become friends and think back of the numerous times I started over in a new city abroad. I usually started out alone, not knowing anyone, and then all of a sudden finding someone who I had something in common with. Great! The idea for the story is born, but what animals should I include? I google ‘forest friends’ for some inspiration, this is what I get:
I notice the drawings are quite simple, which is good to realize: I have to draw 12 images (minimum number of pages to print an Albelli book is 24), so let’s choose animals that are easy to draw. After some more brainstorming I figure the main character should be an owl: they are different from other animals because they are up at night, so it’s hard for them to make friends.
In the middle of my rhyming experience I get a new idea: a lesson about getting enough exercise to stay healthy. Even though this is a nice lesson, I conclude it’s too heavy as a first-time book gift, and drop it again. I focus on my friends-making story.
Rhyming websites for the story
I remember some great rhyming websites of the times when I was writing a poem for Sinterklaas. Sinterklaasgedichten.com turns out to be the best rhyming tool. During a week or two I rhyme during breakfast, after work and in the evenings until the story is finished.
Paint Brush (Mac) for the drawings
I always keep a notebook and sketch some of my ideas for each small rhyme. Then I wonder what would be the best way to create the drawings as ‘final version’. If I sketch them and take a photo, they won’t appear nicely if I try to put them in a book. So, I should do something digital. I figure Paint might do the trick, as it’s easy. I google for a Mac version of Paint, and voila, I find Paint Brush. It’s pretty much the same thing. Off I go.
Albelli for printing the book
Some of my friends are keen photo album creators, so it doesn’t take me long to turn to Albelli. Apparently they have discount codes all the time, so I google until I find a good code. Without discount, I think the book is on the expensive side: 34 euro including delivery costs.
The book finally arrives, and it actually looks super neat! It’s great to see the physical version in real life. Damn, the book has turned out even more nicely than I expected! I decide to translate the book to English as well and send my friend from Germany a copy because she and her daughters inspire me so much!
4 November 2019
My nephew Alex is born, he is the cutest and I’m the proudest aunt ever???. My sister and her boyfriend tell me my book is the coolest gift Alex received, what a great compliment! I’m happy, mission accomplished! Some friends and family members tell me it’s a great gift and that I should publish it. Never received such positive feedback on any of the business ideas I’ve tested so far.
November 2019 – January 2020
I gift a small version of the book to a couple of friends who either just became mom or are celebrating the first birthday of their son/daughter. Their reactions are positive and they also tell me I should publish it.
I decide to create a test version of the book to see reactions of people who are more objective. I ask various printing companies for a quote of a softcover. One printing company is by far the cheapest, about 2,5 times as cheap as the rest, so I decide to place an order for 25 softcover books. I distribute them right before COVID-19 hits, but forget about having distributed a bunch of them. In the end, I might have gathered feedback from around 6 people.
Feedback from parents with kids 0-7 years old
- ‘We’re very excited about your book, we’re truly impressed!’
- ‘This book is funnier than some other kids books’
- ‘Kids are loving the book!’
- ‘It’s special because it rhymes from start to finish’
- ‘I like the choice of words, it’s atypical’
- ‘I like the synonyms, in this way my kid expands her vocabulary’
- ‘It’s not only nice for the kid, but also for the parent.’ This is an interesting comment because I already wondered whether the book should be entirely targeted to the kid. Apparently not necessarily.
- ‘Some concepts were too difficult to grasp. Like owls being able to turn their neck 280 degrees’
- ‘My 7-year old could read along with the text balloons in the drawings.’
- ‘Very funny, I had to laugh myself’
- ‘My 4-year old didn’t really understand the story but she understood that it was about friends’
- Drawings / design
- ‘The drawings are amazing. My kids and I really liked them’ (3x)
- ‘Impressive that you’ve created it with Paint’
- ‘We can use the drawings to point to some animals on the page’
- ‘We like the colors’
- ‘My 4-year old daughter understood the book was for her and not for me’
- ‘The drawings are interesting, we can point’
- ‘It reminds me of Dick Bruna books’. While Nijntje definitely served as inspiration, I wasn’t out to copy them. I’ll change this for my next book.
- ‘My kids and I didn’t like that the word clouds were cut off on the sides’. Making a mental note to also change this.
- ‘Doesn’t look entirely professional with the thick black contours. Try to reduce the pixels’. Will try to change this as well.
- ‘I’ve learned things myself as well. For example that a hedgehog rolls up.’
- ‘I like the name Ibrahima, it suggests diversity.’
- ‘The next day my kid asked me for Ibrahima, so the name stuck.’
March / April 2020
My favourite printing partner Printing Partners tells me that they could print hardcovers of books starting from 40 pages and up. I realize I would never make a story covering 40 pages, so for a while I leave it as is.
Then someone tells me I could make two books in one, which is a great idea! I decide to take my spare time during COVID-19 to create a second book. During the process I notice that while I enjoy creating the book, I miss the intellectual challenge. Nevertheless, it’s nice to create the book entirely myself.
I email the print and fulfillment company again. They give me a quote for an order of 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 2000 hardcovers 21 x 21 cm. I reckon that only for 2000 hardcovers I could make a reasonable profit, but I wouldn’t pay for that amount up front. Hence, I decide to let it rest for now.
One year later, I go to Scheltema and talk to the buyer for the kids department. She gives me lots of tips:
- “Choose to either write or illustrate. Doing both will never work”
- “If you’d like to make a book for small kids, stuff needs to happen. In your book, nothing happens besides becoming friends”
- “Don’t use hard words, kids will zone out immediately”
- “Send a sample to a couple of publishers. Make sure your package stands out among the other packages”
- “The font is different from what we’re used to for kids books”
- “Publishing yourself will never work”
I decide it’s time to let this idea ago. If curious on printing costs for kids books, read more below. It belongs to the research I did when I was still fully into the idea of publishing my book ;- )
Exploring the publisher route and other options
By now I’ve created 3 Ibrahima books and various friends and family have bought my first book as a present (I might have sold 20 copies). Spurred with new energy, I decide I should have another look into potentially publishing it.
I randomly google ‘royalties kids book’ and land on prentenboek.nl. The site explains it’s very costly to print a prentenboek due to the material of the paper and the color used compared to a ‘normal’ book. If a publisher even accepts your book, they state, you might end up with 1 euro of royalty per book. I had a hunch royalties per book wouldn’t be high, so it’s at least good to have a reality check.
So what other options are still out there if I wouldn’t try going via publishers?
Hardcover printing via non-publishers
I end up with platform publishers, companies who take care of the printing and all the rest, or sourcing from China and potentially linking it to a fulfilment center (if I don’t want to do marketing etc myself).
Option A: Platform publishers
I land on sites like Pumbo.nl, bravenewbooks.nl and mijnbestseller.nl. Within minutes, I find out that printing hardcover for the 24 pages that my books have, would never be profitable via this route. Here’s a price overview:
Bravenewbooks doesn’t offer hardcover printing for 24 pages. Softcover printing (15x15cm, mat finish, cream paper in color) is 6,87 euro for 250 – 499 pieces.
With a sales price of 12,23 euro (which is already high, and taking into account that this is a paperback, not really suited as kids book anyhow) my profit margin would be 3 euro if I sell it via the Bravenewbooks platform. If they offer it to resellers like Bol.com, then my margin goes to 0.
It’s the same story for mijnbestseller.nl: they don’t do hardcover printing for books with 24 pages either. For 250-499 pieces, the cost price goes down to 5,72 euro. However, final profits aren’t much better:
Pumbo offers hardcover printing for 24 pages but costs end up higher than the potential sales price:
For 200+ pieces, I’d end with up a 14 euro cost price. Selling via this route would never be viable to start with.
Option B: Outsourcing printing to China
I email a couple of printing factories in China that I find on Alibaba. I’m surprised to find out that the China option doesn’t seem attractive after all:
- 500 pieces (minimum order quantity)
- Full color
- Size 15x20cm
Costs per book if delivered to my home:
- Printing EUR 2,20
- Shipping to home EUR 0,77
- Import EUR 0 (because it’s a book)
- Taxes EUR 0,31
- TOTAL = EUR 3,28
This seems promising at first. However, if we then think about the risks like valuta changes, delays with shipment, insurance and needing a separate fulfillment company to deliver the goods to people’s home, this route doesn’t seem too bright anymore. My last resort is to go back to the printing and fulfillment partner that I was in touch with last year: maybe something has changed and they do actually print hardcovers with only 24 pages.
Option C: Using a Printing and fullfillment partner
I get in touch with the printing company from last year. They now offer hardcovers for 24 pages. I ask for the same type of quote as the Chinese printing parties I talked to.
Costs per book for 500 piece order
Printing EUR 4,30
– Warehousing EUR 1,25
– Handling EUR 0,28
– Picking EUR 1,85
– Wrapping EUR 0,20
– TOTAL = EUR 3,58
So total costs of printing and fulfillment are EUR 7,88. If we then add marketing costs (guesstimate of EUR 2), Mollie payment transaction EUR 0,29, and maybe some hosting costs if I maintain the website myself (guesstimate of EUR 0,30), that brings total costs of one book to: EUR 10,47. That means that in the end, this route would cut costs by maybe EUR 3,50 compared to Pumbo.nl.
However, having to compete with e.g. Miffie who sells its books for 7 euro, this is a major reality check. I decide that for now, I will drop this business idea. I have more ideas to test!