Interested in writing your own children’s books? Read below to learn about my process and recommendations.

My Origin Story

I started writing and illustrating when I was pregnant with my firstborn in the fall of 2018. Influenced by my work in tech and graduate studies, I wanted to ensure my daughter’s library included books about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

Our top 5 favorite (non-STEM) books that I highly recommend are:

  1. Here We Are, Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
  2. Love you Forever by Robert Munsch
  3. Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss
  4. I love Mommy by Laura Gates Galvin
  5. Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Estelle Corke

What I found at local bookstores surprised me. I didn’t find any books that talked about up-and-coming STEM topics I know are critical for our future generations. Now, there were wonderful books about basic science fundamentals, which made me very happy. 

The following are my daughters’ top 3 favorite basic STEM books and I highly recommend them.

  1. Baby Loves Gravity by Ruth Spiro
  2. Baby Loves Thermodynamics by Ruth Spiro
  3. Rocket Science by Alex Fabrizio

Note: I think Chris Ferrie’s Baby University Collection is great for older children (10 and up), adults, or as a gift for a scientist or engineer.

Although these books were wonderful, I felt there was a gap in the market for children’s books that talked about emerging and more complex STEM topics.

Dr. Dhoot’s Tinker Toddlers® was founded in 2018 in sunny California to inspire and to teach basics to the youngest learners (and adults) about emerging STEM topics. Machine Learning for Kids was our flagship book, and the first in the world to talk about machine learning for such a young age.

If you are thinking about writing/illustrating your own children’s books, I would recommend brainstorming an area where you could carve out your own niche (where you are especially suited to make a contribution). Think about your special skill set, your interests, where you spend much of your time, or a topic you know more about than others. Or, if there is simply a story you want to tell.  Today, there are children’s books that range all the way from life lessons Ray Dalio’s Principles of Success to mindfulness books like Breathe like a Bear by Kira Willey. There are many new genres that didn’t exist 10 years ago, and still room for growth.

Resources that Guide My Marketing & Business Decisions

1. Amazon’s KDP

When I published my first 3 books, I had no idea such a large indie (self-publishing) community existed both locally in my city (Sacramento) or online. I simply followed the instructions on KDP and published (and ended up winning KDP’s bestseller month award for my book Solar System for Kids the first month it was out!). That was an extra $500 bonus! Publishing on Amazon is free.

I recommend investing in your own ISBN numbers for paperback and hardcover books. One ISBN number will run you about $125. I purchased 100 ISBNs for $575 because I knew I was going to write several books.

Amazon flew us author’s out in 2020 (before the global shutdown) and interviewed us. Check it out:

2. Publisher Rocker Software

This easy-to-use software (which I purchased for about $100) is fantastic for metadata optimization, including what categories to slot your books into, what titles are selling, what keywords to use, etc. When Dave Chesson, founder of Kindleprenuer and this software, sends an email or puts up a YouTube video, I always read it immediately. He offers lots of value and this is the number 1 tool I recommend getting, even if you’re just thinking about writing/illustrating (in all genres, not just children’s books).

I can’t recommend this software enough. It’s fantastic and I couldn’t do what I do without it.

In addition to this software, he also offers free course on running ads for books on amazon, how to write a book description, and much much more!

3. Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula: Make a Living with your Writing

Also known as SPF, this is both a free podcast (I listen to on YouTube) and also a course. As a serious writer/illustrator, I did invest in the Self-Publishing 101 Formula (it was about $2,000 when I took it in 2019). Although it is geared for adult books (novels, non-fiction, etc) and not for children, I did pick up lots of information (tips and tricks) and how to up my own writing and advertising. It’s also great to be part of a private Facebook community that has lots of children’s authors and are extremely helpful. Mark Dawson himself is getting into writing children’s chapter books.

If the course is too expensive for you, I would recommend listening to their free weekly podcast on YouTube to get oriented or stay on top of the self-publishing community. If you are interested in taking the SPF course, sign-up on their waitlist ASAP. SPF only accepts a certain number of students at a time.

The Self-Publishing Formula 101 course is a great place for both beginners and advanced indie authors.

4. Laurie Wright’s Publishing and Marketing Courses

Laurie’s courses are very affordable and she really helped me get a handle on optimizing my metadata. I also find lots of value being part of her Facebook community and when launching a new book and also when I run into any roadblocks. Both Laurie and the community she has formed is extremely responsive, and I sincerely feel Laurie cares about the students she works with.

Laurie’s is one of the few authors I know of that both writes children’s picture books and helps budding authors publish and advertise.

Laurie Wright is an indie author and consultant with expertise in children’s picture books.

Other software tools essential to my work include Adobe Creative Suite (Illustrator and Photoshop), PowerPoint, and ProCreate (available on an iPad Pro).

Overview of My Writing & Illustrating Process

I tend to be a pretty systematic individual and am always looking for ways to increase my productivity. I have a lot on my plate (and love it) and believe working diligently everyday yields great results. This process also allows for new ideas to be incorporated into your work and to easily cross that finish line.

My process involves 7 steps which I have been following for the last 3 years.

  1. Scheduling Time to Practice My Craft – When and Where
  2. Deciding What to Write
  3. Writing & Illustrating
  4. Book Reviews & Revising
  5. Formatting & Publishing
  6. Metadata Optimization
  7. Advertising

Below, I dive in a bit deeper into each of these steps. Note, some steps are missing and I’ll update at a later date. But here’s a 2021 video interview by Amazon’s KDP university right after I had my newborn (so I’m a bit tired).

Step 1: Scheduling Time to Practice My Craft

When I Write/Illustrate

With a fresh cup of chai in hand, I like to work in the mornings when my kids are asleep (mostly).

  • 6am to 10am is ideal when I have time off (holidays, on leave)
  • 7am to 12pm Saturday mornings regularly (as regular as I can)
  • Random 1-hour increments whenever I get a breather (kids napping)

I live a very busy (and extremely rewarding life). I’m an engineer at a tech company, have 2 young kids at home (a 2.5 year old and a newborn baby), and a children’s book author. I understand juggling priorities and how difficult it can be to find time to write.

If you’re just starting off, see where you can find 30 minutes of focused time to ideate, write, or illustrate. Come ready to work in these 30 minutes (i.e. have a plan on what you are going to work on, have your essentials in place, etc.).

Where I Write & Illustrate

My home office is the perfect place for me to get deep work done. I have an extra-large whiteboard on my wall scribbled with ideas and a roadmap, a large wide-monitor to illustrate spreads, a bookshelf filled with inspirational books, and plenty of space for snacks and a fresh cup of coffee.

Step 2: Deciding What to Write

I was interested in purchasing books about up-and-coming STEM topics for my daughter. To my surprise,  I found nothing about what I call ‘emerging STEM’ topics which I was surrounded by (and many that work in tech are). Examples of these topics include:

  • artificial intelligence
  • interplanetary travel
  • self-driving cars

Now, I know from research that

  • 90% of a child’s brain is developed by the age of 5
  • synaptic growth of a child’s brain doubles by the age of 3
  • it’s never too early to learn about science and technology

My husband and I wanted emerging STEM topics to be fun for our kids and for others, not be something that’s looked at as too complex, boring, or hard. So, my husband and I decided to do something about it. 

To get started in your writing journey, I recommend visiting your local bookstore and perusing on books to study categories, types of books that are popular, etc. Note anything that surprises you or topics you find are missing.  

Step 3: Writing & Illustrating

This is a hard topic for me to write about because it’s a rapidly evolving process.

When it comes to writing, there are all sorts of styles out there. For the Tinker Toddlers series, the writing style is pretty established. I look it as an educational STEM focused fact book much like board books. For a new series I’m working on (rhyming picture book series for ages 5-9). Rhyming is extremely challenging and it has to make sense why you want to write in rhyme. I’ve been working on my first rhyming book for over 1.5 years, and its still a work in progress.

When it comes to children’s book illustrations, there are all sorts of art work and I am still trying to find what my style is. Like the writing, the artistic style for Tinker Toddlers is pretty well established. But I do have a new series coming out in which I’m dabbling. Regardless of what style I choose, I highly recommend Adobe’s Creative Cloud for anyone that is serious about children’s books. Not only does it give you essentials like Photoshop and Illustrator, but also a great way to format your PDF file when you’re ready to upload onto the Amazon platform.

Illustration tools used for Tinker Toddlers series:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud‘s Photoshop and Illustrator – for drawing, inking, lighting, and transformation of real images
  • Microsoft PowerPoint – for drawing basic illustrations

Illustration tools I’m dabbling in for new series:

  • Adobe Creative Cloud‘s Photoshop and Illustrator – for drawing, inking, lighting, and transformation of real images
  • Microsoft PowerPoint – for drawing basic illustrations
  • Procreate (iPad Pro) – for texture and detail and/or Adobe Illustrator (on iPad Pro) – for texture and detail
  • Adobe Illustrator (desktop) – for additional texture and detail not available on the iPad Pro

My illustration process involves:

  1. Writing the book
  2. Searching online for what already exists on the topic – this is a fairly broad search where I am just trying to get an idea of what I find attractive. The search involves looking at similar children’s books, and looking at real life images, looking at presentations (i.e. how this topic is taught).
  3. Collecting what I like in PowerPoint – I take snippets of what I like and start organizing it into PowerPoint. I’ll crop up images and create a slide for what will turn into 1 spread. I’ll also figure out what colors I want to use (i.e. what color pallet is good for this book).
  4. Start illustrating – I like to illustrate using basic shapes in Illustrator or PowerPoint to help me formulate my thoughts, figure out what will go where, and what story will the illustrations be telling to help complement the text
  5. Repeat all the steps – My art informs my writing, and my writing informs my art and both start evolving as the process develops. By the time I get to this step, I’m deeply involved with the book. This can be a time of solitude because it requires a great deal of focus on my part. Its also very frustrating when the illustrations aren’t coming through the way you would like them to.
  6. Once all the writing and illustrations are done, the next step is the review process.

Illustrating can become a very lonely time for me, so I set timers reminding myself to take a break. I also try to schedule in activities and even force myself to disconnect. Many times I’m amazed that a week has already gone by, and I’ve only completed 1 or 2 drawings. The best advice I have is try to put a process and schedule in place so you can enjoy the solitude and not miss out on your life (if your illustration experience is like mine that is). Also, practice practice practice!

Step 5: Formatting & Publishing

I am an indie author, through and through. This means I self-publish my own books and don’t go through a traditional publisher like Penguin House. I strongly believe in not having any gatekeepers between me and my readers, a slogan I first heard from the Self-Publishing Show. This also allows me to move faster, and be 100% in charge of every aspect of my publishing business. For me, I enjoy learning and executing on the different aspects of this business, from being creative to being an advertiser.

Amazon and Ingramspark are my distribution partners, and I have formed an LLC around my business.

If you are thinking of being an indie author, I recommend doing as much as you can in-house. You may not like some aspects of the self-publishing business, but having a deep understanding of it will help you optimize your sales and business in the long run.

I format using the guidelines provided on Amazon KDP. I’ll dive more into formatting tricks at a later date.

Step 7: Advertising & Getting Sales

I focus my advertising efforts on a single platform (i.e., I don’t go ‘wide’ as they say in the self-publishing community). Most of my customers are on Amazon, and because I am limited on time, I stick with the Amazon platform as my primary distributor (paperback and eBooks). My secondary distributor (paperback and hardcover) is IngramSpark. Perhaps one day I will sell books from my own website and order in bulk from overseas.

Until you know if your book sells well, I recommend publishing on Amazon’s KDP instead of trying to do too much, too soon. There is lots to learn and it takes time. Be sure to pace yourself so you don’t get burned out.

That’s all for now! I’ll be diving more into details of my process in the future. And remember, keep practicing your craft! I wish you all the best and am excited to see your books on the bookshelf!

Thank you to family, friends, and other budding authors for your interest in learning about my writing journey. My hope on creating this page is to encourage you to write that story that’s been on your mind. The Why, What, How, When, Where, and Process I’ve described is my own and yours may differ. The resources I have provided are ones I use heavily and may include affiliate links.