Why I Self-Published My First Book and Three Tips to Get You Started

The WHY

I have been talking about writing a book for as long as I can remember. Since I was a girl, I would handwrite little stories and my parents would read and edit them for me. As I got older I would type mini chapter books on our first computer. Words and writing will always be my first loves and my favourite books are my most cherished old friends and teachers. 

When we had our first child, our daughter Blair, my husband and I spent hours reading to her. And as any new parent knows, occupying your time with a baby is challenging, but she took to books right away. So we read. A lot. And the more we read, the more I thought, I could do this. But it wasn't until after we had our second, our son Beau, that I finally found the time and the motivation to do it. Maybe it was that my family felt complete, or maybe it was the extra time cooped up at home that the COVID-19 pandemic provided, or maybe it was watching others use their pandemic time to invest in side hustles and passion projects that inspired me. It likely was a combination of all of those things. Nonetheless, I started to finally work toward this bucket list item. 

The HOW

I began researching both traditional and self-publishing. I am not going to sit here and tell you which one is better - I have only written and self-published one book. But I will tell you which one is easier, and that's self-publishing. Getting published is hard; there are a lot of great stories out there. And mine, while I believed in it, is probably too regionally-focused for a traditional publisher. Nonetheless, I submitted my story to some traditional Canadian publishers. It seemed like the safest option, I wouldn't have to invest very much of my own money. To this date, I haven't heard back. But that's okay. I still believe in my book. I know it's good. And self-publishing is a great way to get a story YOU believe in out there. 

While I was doing all this research, I wrote my book. And I will be honest with you - that was the easiest part. I did a bunch of rewrites and changes and edits, but the first draft took me one night to put together. And while it's come a long way since that day, that first draft wasn't terrible. A lot of people asked - where do I start? That's easy. Write your story.  It was the thing I delayed the longest, but the easiest part of the process. If you have an idea, write it out, type it up - just bring it to life. You owe it to yourself and your story to see if you have something. Otherwise, it will always be living in your head and you'll always wonder 'what if?'. 

I researched self-publishers, met with different companies, and decided to go with Tellwell Talent. This isn't a review of Tellwell (I can write that if there's interest, let me know), but I can issue a note of caution. When working with a self-publisher, know the strengths you bring to the table, and be cautious of "all-inclusive packages". Being a Marketing professional, I added some elements to my package that I probably could have done without. Next time, I will know better how to structure a package that makes sense for me, without paying for extra features I could easily tackle myself. I am not sure if I will use Tellwell again. I may look for a more à la carte option where I can take on most of the work myself and have someone do the publishing part. However, I have no regrets about this choice. I was completely new to this and it was nice to have someone who knew what they were doing walk me through it. Now that I know, I am sure I would be able to shoulder more responsibility myself. And if I do write and publish another book, I am happy to let you know how I do it. 

The PICTURES

Arguably, the most important part of a children's book is the illustrations. And it was the main thing holding me back from starting this project. I have no artistic talent, and had no idea how to find someone who did. I plan on writing a more in-depth blog about the illustration process, but the short version is - I posted on Freelancer and Upwork what I was looking for and my budget, reviewed proposals, and selected Rebecca Thompson from Bowmanville, Ontario. Not only did I like her style, but she was a young Ontarian woman, just like me, and the idea of producing my first book with another young Canadian woman was exciting to me. And as for notes on the rest of that process, click here for my blog on working with an illustrator.

The COST

A lot of people have asked me how much this whole process cost, and I will be honest, it hasn't been cheap. But as the old saying goes, it takes money to make money. As of today, I haven't made any money yet. But in a year, I will be happy to blog about the financial impacts of this project. For now, I can provide some concept of the start-up costs. If anything, this will help you determine if this is a reasonable project for you to get started on. You can pick and choose items from this list you'd want to go with. I made the decision to order books in bulk and create a little shop. You could easily sell your book on the larger distributors (Amazon, Indigo, Barnes & Noble, etc.) and not create your own storefront. This would save you a lot of costs and risk, the most notable being book printing. My goal was to build a brand around the book and sell it that way, but your goals could be very different from mine, and that's okay! 

Item  Cost
Publishing Fees $3500
Illustrator $3000
Website Costs (Domain registration, monthly fees) $500
Marketing (Logos, giveaways, handouts, order cards) $500
Packaging $500
Inventory (Books) $7500
TOTAL $15,500


If you elected to go with the more traditional self-publishing route - pay publisher, illustrator, domain, and marketing, that is closer to the $7000-$7500 mark. I am not sure how my shop will work out. If it becomes too much work, or not fun anymore, my plan is to stick with wholesale and the larger retailers. However, my hope is that I can continue to write more books and offer them on my website with locally-made and complimentary merchandise. We'll see!

The RESULT

I could say a lot more, and probably will, about this whole process. But I will end this blog by saying - I could not be happier about my decision to finally write and publish a book. Looking at it makes me so proud and happy. I heard on a podcast once not to tell your children "I'm so proud of you" but rather, "You should be so proud of yourself" so they learn to seek validation from themselves rather than others. I can actually say, I am so proud of myself and this accomplishment, and I love sharing it with my children. I am excited for them to know I was able to work hard to make one of my lifelong dreams come true.

Has it been a lot of work? Yes. More than I anticipated. Probably not unlike starting a small business. But it's also been a lot of fun and a great creative outlet. And I will be happy to update you on whether or not I make any money on it in a year. 

If this is a desire of yours, I encourage you to just do it. You may be surprised how naturally it comes. And if you need any help, please don't hesitate to ask. I will leave you with three simple tips to get started. 

1. Write your story. Get it out of your head and into the world. You'll motivate yourself to move through the next steps. 

2. Research self-publishing and traditional publishing and determine what the right option is for you. Google "publishing houses accepting submissions" and see if any align with your book. If you find a fit, you can submit and see what happens. Or, you can start the self-publishing journey. These two roads are very different, neither is right or wrong, and it's a personal choice which one you want to pursue. 

3. Decide on the style of illustrations that you want. Don't hire someone yet - if you get picked up by a traditional publisher, they will pay to have it illustrated. If you self-publish, you'll need to hire an illustrator. So while you're making your decision, find the style you would want and go through your story and put an illustration guide together. Find inspiration on Google, Pinterest, and with children's books you have. Once you have decided the route you're going to take, you'll have your manuscript and your illustration guide ready for your illustrator. 


Share this post


Leave a comment

Note, comments must be approved before they are published

2 comments

  • Thankyou for the information.

    • Tammy McGonegal
  • I picked up 2 copies of your delightful book June 27 2021 – while staying at the Voyageur Lodge Batchawanna Bay – coming back from our camp at Rossport, Ontario. I finally had time to read it this evening and was just delighted! Our two granddaughters ( 4 – 6) who live in Toronto had just been to our camp for 5 days and loved it AND did so many of the things you mention in the book! They are coming to our home in rural Aberfoyle on Saturday and I give them the book. The 6 year old is reading well and the 4 year is also able to write and has started reading so we will have fun!! I have a number of friends in SWO and NWO with little grandkids and will be sending them the link to your website and suggest the place orders! Well done Kirstin!!! Best regards. Maria Phipps

    • Maria Phipps