Children’s Publishing: How to Make Money with Kids Books on Amazon

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Matthew Ralph

Royalties from book sales is one of the most passive of all my income streams.

After you create a book, with print or digital distribution handled by Amazon,  you can collect royalties for years.

And while I enjoy the writing process and have published several titles myself, I have yet to venture into the world of children’s books.

(Despite having the outlines of a couple kids books on my phone for the last two or three years!)

This week I connected with Matthew Ralph, a children’s book author from England, who recently quit his full-time marketing job to focus on his publishing and freelancing business.

His bestselling work to date is Sam the Speedy Sloth. The idea of which came to him while walking through an airport, and by the time his flight landed, the book was almost written.

Matt has since added more books to his portfolio, while freelancing to help other self-publishing authors.

Tune in to The Side Hustle Show interview to learn:

  • what the children’s book creation process is like
  • the most effective ways he’s found to market his books
  • how he’s expanding his portfolio and entering different markets

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How’d You Get the Idea for Your First Book?

“I’ve always been interested in writing. When I was little, I was always writing stories and things like that,” Matthew told me.

It was in 2017/18 when Matthew got the idea for his first book Sam The Speedy Sloth. He was in an airport, and he saw a poster with a picture of a sloth on it.

Matthew said that for some reason, at that moment he thought it would be funny to write a children’s book about a speedy sloth.

While on the plane, the idea for the first lines of the book flashed into Matthew’s mind:

In the rainforests of South America deep,

Lives a curious creature most often asleep.

Those are the opening lines of the finished book, and Matthew actually wrote 60-70% of the book on his phone during that flight.

He finished the book shortly after, but said he “had no idea what to do with it.”

So, he started looking into how to get a children’s book published. That’s when Matthew came across the idea of self-publishing.

Publishing Options

Matthew did go down the traditional publishing route first. He tried reaching out to publishers, as that’s the way most of the authors he’s aware of took their books to print.

But he didn’t get anywhere. However, as soon as he realized self-publishing was an option, he knew that was what he wanted to do.

Finding an Illustrator

Illustrations are important when creating a children’s book. Matthew admits he’s not “artistically inclined” and knew he would need to find an illustrator to bring his story to life with images.

He started looking on Fiverr, and with an idea of the style of illustrations he wanted Matthew browsed some profiles and portfolios for freelance illustrators.

When he found someone who was creating illustrations in the style he wanted, Matthew contacted the freelancer to produce a test illustration for him.

The freelancer was in Indonesia and didn’t speak perfect English. But Matthew said he sent her a very descriptive brief of what he wanted from each image, and she pretty much got it right every time.

How Much Does it Cost to Self-Publish a Children’s Book?

Matthew said to take his book from the notes he wrote on this phone during that flight to the finished product cost somewhere in the region of $200-$400.

The bulk of the cost was the illustrations which cost several hundred dollars. He also paid for Canva Pro to do the editing and add some images himself.

Market/Competition Validation

The idea to write Sam The Speedy Sloth came to Matthew randomly. “I didn’t expect to write a children’s book,” he explained.

So, it was only after he had written the book that he started looking if there was something similar already for sale.

Matthew said he saw a couple of books on Amazon that were similar. But his story was different enough, as he didn’t know those books existed when he wrote his.

He also looked in local bookstores to get an idea of what was out there. That was where Matthew got the idea for the interactive section at the back of his book.

He added a word search, spot the difference, and some facts on the animals featured in the book. Matthew said not many children’s book authors add this section to their books, but when they do it’s well-received.

How to Design and Layout a Children’s Book for Kindle

Matthew said some authors just hand over the file with the story to their illustrator and have them add their images and format the whole book.

To keep costs down, Matthew did all the formatting himself in Canva. He created a title page, added the illustrations, text, and created the interactive section himself.

For those thinking about their first book, Matthew said it’s relatively easy to create a format that works for Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

The tricky part for him was getting the dimensions of the book right. Matthew said he had to go back and forth a little tweaking the margins.

But once he had those right, all he had to do was export the file as a PDF and upload it to Amazon.

Matthew said the Kindle version is slightly more complicated. However, he used a free software Amazon provides called Amazon’s Kindle Kids’ Book Creator which made the process a lot easier.

This software enables you to upload JEPGs and some other file types, and it converts those images into the correct format for uploading.

Kindle Unlimited Bonuses

Matthew decided to sell both paperback and electronic copies of his book. Being a children’s book, the majority of the sales are actually paperback as kids like to handle and experience the book.

Something interesting Matthew explained is that as part of Amazon’s KDP Select program for the Kindle version of a book, your title will be part of the Kindle Unlimited program.

This is basically “Netflix but for books” as Matthew described it. It’s a monthly subscription-based service that someone can pay for to get access to all of the books in the Kindle Unlimited program.

As an author, you receive money based on the number of pages read and there are some other promotional benefits.

Amazon also hands out bonuses to the authors in the top 50 for the number of pages read in a month. Sam The Speedy Sloth has been in the top 10 on a number of occasions and Matthew has received bonuses in the region of thousands of dollars.

You do have to give Amazon exclusive distribution rights to the digital version of your book, but for Matthew, it’s been more than worth it.

Marketing Strategies to Promote Kindle Books

Some of the marketing strategies Matthew uses to drum up initial and ongoing interest in his books are:

Free Promotions

One of the perks of being in the Unlimited program is that you can run free promotions of your books. You get 5 days each quarter in which you can offer your book for free to attract new readers.

Kindle Countdown Deals

Using Kindle Unlimited you can also discount your books and set a time limit on the discount. So, you can do something like “24 hours left to get this book at 50% off”.

Facebook Groups

Matthew also spent some time posting about his book in relevant Facebook groups. He also reached out to friends and family and asked them to mention it on Facebook and anywhere else they could.

Book Promotional Sites

There are some promotional sites Matthew uses that have a huge reach in terms of audience and mailing lists.

BookBub is one he uses. They have millions of subscribers and it costs between $100-200 to be featured. You can only promote your book when it’s free though, so it’s good for promotion and reviews, but not sales.

Launch Team

Matthew didn’t have a launch team in place for his first book, but he has one now. This is a list of people who have an input into the creative process of his books, and in return, they receive the first copies.

Social Media Influencers

Matthew sends a free copy of his new books to social media influencers with a large following and who share his target audience.

He aims for what he calls “mid-tier” influencers as they’re less likely to charge him and he feels like they’re more engaged with their audiences.

These influencers typically have a follower based in the 10,000-1,000,000 range. In return for receiving a free copy of his book, they review it and tell their audience where they can buy a copy.

Email Capture/Newsletter

Matthew also collects emails and sends out a newsletter promoting his books. He has a lead magnet for this in the form of a sloth-based activity book he gives away for free when people sign up.

He used Wix to build his website, and uses the email capture widget Wix makes available when you use their site builder.

Making Hardback Versions Available

Amazon has only recently started doing hardback print on demand, and it’s not available to all authors Matthew explained.

Matthew uses a different company to produce the hardback version of his book called IngramSpark. IngramSpark is one of the largest global book distributors with a reach of more than 40,000+ retailers.

The process for selling a hardback copy through them is very similar to Amazon. You upload your PDF, then IngramSpark makes your book available with various online retailers – one of which is Amazon.

You can then link the hardback copy of your book to your listing page on Amazon making this version of your book available to shoppers.

Producing an Audiobook Version

Matthew has also had an audio version of Sam The Speedy Sloth produced. To do this he used a company called ACX, which is the platform used by Amazon and Audible.

This platform connects authors with narrators, producers, and recording studios to help you find someone to narrate your book.

The cool part is that when you’ve found someone you want to work with, you can either pay them a flat fee or in some cases agree to give them a share of the royalties from your book sales.

Another benefit of turning your book into an audiobook is that you can use short sound clips for marketing and promotion.

Matthew uses samples from his audiobook on his YouTube channel and for short social media sound bites. With children’s books typically being short, you just have to be careful not to share too much of the book.

Target Royalty Amounts

When you price a book in your KDP dashboard you can set your own royalty amount per sale.

“I usually try as a minimum to get at least $1 [per sale],” Matthew told me.

Matthew said the price he sells his books for is largely determined by what his competitors are doing. He checks out similar books, and tries to price his books within the same range.

Making the Leap From Full-Time Job to Children’s Author

Matthew had been publishing books for about a year and selling some services on Fiverr while working his day job in marketing when he knew he wanted to take the leap.

He said the pandemic forced his hand, giving him the opportunity to work from home for his day job and have more time to work on his books.

Matthew made some budget cuts to be able to survive on his then income from the sales of his books and made the decision to quit his day job.

Expanding the Portfolio and Branching Into Other Languages

Sam The Speedy Sloth is Matthew’s best-selling book, but he has a number of other titles and has published his books in various languages.

Matthew studied languages at university and speaks several different languages himself. So, reprinting his books in other languages is something that came naturally to him.

He started with German versions of his books, as he noticed that the German Amazon store is the second most popular in terms of revenue after the U.S. store.

Even though he speaks German, Matthew hired a native speaker to be sure the text was 100% fluent. All he had to do was swap the text and upload his file, and he said he’s been making a good amount of sales.

What Time Investment Is Needed?

Freelancing is actually Matthew’s main revenue stream. He said he rarely takes a day off and currently spends about 60% of his time freelancing and 40% on the publishing side of his business.

Obviously, this changes when he’s launching and promoting a new book.

What’s Next?

“With anything, you’ve got to be interested in what you’re doing,” Matthew said.

Matthew wrote Sam The Speedy Sloth because he was interested in the idea of that book, and he loved creating it.

He’s continued to create books around topics he’s interested in. Not just fictional children’s books, Matthew has also written some books around other topics.

In fact, he’s working on a “feel good” novel right now about a woman who discovers she’s inherited a hotel in Florida. So, keep an eye out for that one in the future.

Matthew also has more children’s books planned, along with more in the series for Sam The Speedy Sloth.

His goal is to become a full-time book author and not have to do any freelancing, so that’s where his focus is right now.

Matthew’s #1 Tip for Side Hustle Nation

“Get advice from people who know what they’re doing.”

Links and Resources from this Episode

Download the Self-Publishing Checklist

There's a LOT that goes into turning a book idea into a successful product. Don't go into it blind.

Grab the free best-selling book project checklist:

You'll also receive my best side hustle tips and weekly-ish newsletter. Opt-out anytime.


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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Financial Times, Bankrate, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, Bigger Pockets, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

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