Category: Marketing

Children’s Books Sell Online: Data Guy on Juvenile Sales

Data Guy is a statistician who has taken on the role of analyzing book sales and comparing traditional v. indie publishing in many ways. He presented his latest report at Digital Book World in January, 2107. Slides from his presentation are available at

The results have been discussed and analyzed in many ways. One of the most startling findings is that for traditional publishers, 48% of their sales are online in the form of either audiobooks or ebooks. And overall, about 70% of US fiction sales are online as either audiobooks or ebooks.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch makes the starting conclusion that these statistics means there is no compelling reason to look for a traditional publisher. If your goal has been to be in a brick and mortar store, then traditional publisher can only deliver that half the time. In other words, with books sales moving online, they are selling on venues where indie authors can compete effectively. That includes upselling in digital formats, control over pricing and having a great reach than traditional publishers.

Is that true of children’s books, too? Or is that only adult fiction? Fortunately, Data Guy gives genre breakdowns in many of his slides. Let’s look at what it says about children’s fiction and non-fiction.

Raw Numbers

First, I love the raw numbers. In 2016, there were 35 million print sales of juvenile non-fiction at tradition brick & mortar stores. Wow! That’s a lot of books. The National Center for Education Statistics says that in Fall, 2016, there were 35.4 million students in K-8 public schools. That means about one non-fiction book per child. There are an additional 26 million books from combined online print, ebooks and audio sales. That puts it at about 1.6 books per student.

For juvenile fiction, there are 117 million print books sold at brick and mortar stores, or about 3.3 books per student. Online there were 77.2 million sold (print, ebook and audio) or about 2 per student. Totaling up all of that, 7.9 or about 8 children’s books published each year for every student. Of course, if you include private schools, that number will go down some. Still, there are a lot of new books to go around each year.

Online v Brick & Mortar – Children’s Books

Data Guy asserts that the real question for the coming years is the difference in online sales versus offline sales in a real store. For adult books the shift is clear. But it’s not quite as clear for juvenile fiction. One reason for this is that Data Guy is looking mostly at Amazon’s data obtained by spidering the site with a bot. He doesn’t look at sales from educational distributors like Follett, Mackin, Permabound and so on. That’s a huge market just by itself, and isn’t counted in the data here. However, going just with Data Guy’s data, we’ll look at trends.

For the data below, ONLINE means online print sales, audiobooks and ebooks.
Indie means self-published.

For traditionally published books only:
41% of children’s non-fiction book sales are online
40% of children’s fiction books are online.

You can almost ignore these figures because it ignores the impact of indie sales. Instead, look at the combined sales below.

For traditional, Indie, and Amazon-imprint:
5% juvenile non-fiction are Indie.
14% juvenile fiction are Indie.

For traditional, Indie, and Amazon-imprint:
45% juvenile non-fiction are bought online
48% juvenile fiction are bought online

In other words, indie publishers of juvenile materials have an incredible opportunity right now. Just under half the books are sold online, where indies can compete easier. With only 5% and 14% of juvenile non-fiction and fiction sales, respectively, coming from Indies, there’s tremendous possibility for growth.

For example, in adult fiction 42% are from indie publishers and 77% are bought online, compared to 14% of juvenile fiction from indie publisher and 48% bought online. If juvenile books can bring the numbers closer to the adult fiction market, indie juvenile sales will boom. In other words, juvenile books (fiction and non-fiction) are an area under-served by indie publishers.

Category of sales

Data Guy has one fascinating chart that breaks down the categories of books for juvenile non-fiction online sales from Indies or Amazon imprints. He charts the percentage of US online book purchases of Indie + Amazon imprint titles (first percentage below) against the percentage of US online book purchases that have gone digital (ebooks, audio) (second percentage below). All percentages are approximate. See the chart because otherwise, this can get confusing!

Animals – Less than 1% | Less than 1/5
Concepts –8 % | 5%
Holidays/festivals/religion –9% | 3%
History/sports/people/places –10% | 5%
Education/reference/language –15% | 10%
Games/activities/hobbies – 20% | 18%
Biographies/autobiographies – 28% | 12%
Social situation/family/health – 22% | 65%

Data Guy data on juvenile non-fiction categories. |

Does this mean that the sales go to traditional publishers because their books are better illustrated and published? Or because there are so few indie books in these areas? When I see that sales are very low percentages for Indie books, I think growth potential. For example the social situation/family/health category is 65% sales online, yet indies only represent 22% of titles. In every juvenile category, the percentage of indies is low and represent incredible growth categories. If you choose a sub-category, it would be even easier to find success with great books.

For juvenile fiction categories, online sales.
The first % is digital sales (ebooks and audiobooks); the second is % indie titles. Again, see the chart.

Concepts – 6% | 5%
Classics – 18% | 2%
History/people/places/sports 25% | 10%
Social situations/family/health 30% | 8%
Holidays 32% | 12%
Animals 40% | 18%
General juvenile fiction 52% | 35%
Juvenile Sci-fi & fantasy 70% | 38%

Data Guy's statistics on juvenile fiction categories. |

However, Data Guy breaks the Juvenile sci-fi/fantasy into YA/Teen and Children’s.
The first % is the digital sales (ebooks and audiobooks); the second % is indie titles.

Children’s science fiction/fantasy 28% | 10%
YA/Teen science fiction/fantasy 85% | 58%

Clearly, the YA/Teen market is strong in the science fiction/fantasy category, and much weaker for children’s. The average ebook for self-published YA/Teen SFF was $3.23 for indie publisher and $7.41 for traditional publisher (Non Top 5) and $9.06 for the top 5 publishers.

BIG Opportunity: Growth Potential

There is immense growth potential for children’s indie published books; this includes digital and print books. In almost every category except YA/Teen SFF, indie books are under-represented. Since about half of all juvenile books (45% non-fiction; 48% fiction) are sold online, indie publisher need to sharpen their marketing skills to reach more of their audience online. It’s time to focus on up-selling the digital formats, experimenting with prices to find the maximum profit range, and connecting with your readers.

Submit to Book Awards!

As in indie author do you submit to book awards? It’s one marketing strategy that might be a long shot, but if you win, it could pay off. I often enter my books into book awards. Here are some of the winners!

2017 National Science Teacher’s Association Outstanding Science Trade Books

Named a 2017 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Books
Also on the Alabama Camellia Children’s Book Award reading list 2016-17

2015 National Science Teacher’s Association Outstanding Science Trade Books

2015 NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book

Muse Medallion for Cat Illustrations

2016 Muse Medallion for Cat Illustrations |

Writer’s Digest Self-Published Award for Children’s Literature

**Starred Publisher’s Weekly review **

Writer's Digest Self Published Children's Book Award

How to Submit

When you consider submitting to a book award, you should consider this process as part of your marketing and publicity. Each book award looks for certain types of books to honor, so there are a wide variety of choices. As you consider where to send, pay attention to these things: entry fees, membership requirements, criterion for judging, deadlines for submission, and number of books required. Some awards are too pricey for me. I’ve seen some require a $75 entry fee, along with ten copies of the book to be given to judges. That’s a lot of investment into a single award. I tend to avoid those. For more on contests to avoid, see the recent ALLI post, How Indie Authors Can Avoid Predatory Awards and the Award and Contest Ratings. Also, be aware that an award by itself won’t sell books; however, the recognition is useful in your overall marketing; it may also lead to marketing in a niche market that fits your book.

Some reasons to submit:
When you’re traditionally published, the editor/publisher must decide which books to submit to which awards. I realize that my books probably would NOT have been submitted for awards that I’ve won. More established writers would have taken precedence, especially when there are costs of fees/books. As an indie publisher, though, I decide which to submit. And I always err on the side of taking the risk to submit.

First, I think the odds are much better. If you want your book to stand out in “today’s crowded market,” it’s hard. These awards, however, have a small number of entries. The recent NSTA Outstanding Science Trade Book award had about 200 children’s science books submitted and about 50 were recognized. The odds are much better that you’ll be noticed. Submissions to other prizes will vary, but usually the pool of books is smaller than what you’ll find in the general market.

Second, I want to publish the best books possible. Someone once said that they didn’t want to compete against Mo Willems for awards. Well, I do! I want to compete against the very best of children’s books and find a place of excellence for my work. Win or lose, you’ll learn something about levels of quality (from that particular set of judges, anyway). And that’s helpful for the next books and for your long term publishing program.

Third, if you win, your marketing gets a boost. It gives you something to talk about, an audience to address, and a long-term boost.

Where to Submit: Children’s Book Awards

The list below is a work-in-progress list of children’s book awards. Please research each list carefully and consider entry fee, membership requirements, criterion for judging, deadlines for submission, number of books required, and your own criterion before submitting. Some lists will explicitly say that they are open to indie/self-published books, while others say nothing about that. I always assume that submissions from my publishing house, Mims House, are welcome.Email me with an update or addition to the list.


Publisher’s Catalog

How a Publisher’s Catalog Can Help You Sell 2400 Books

Since 2014, Mims House, my publishing company publishes two catalogs a year, and the Catalog on the website ( received about 8% of my traffic in the last 90 days, and over half the downloads on the site were for the catalog.

Recently, I had a request for information for a special order of 2400 books. It was simple to send them a catalog because it included all ISBNs, prices, contact information and details about each specific book. The contact person appreciated the easy access to complete information. In a return email, she also mentioned the 2015 NSTA Outstanding Science Book Award for Abayomi, the Brazilian Puma. That wasn’t one of the titles they were ordering, but the award added credibility to the rest of the titles in the catalog. Creating the catalog has been a good decision because it makes it easier to negotiate sales deals.

My list has recently been added to Overdrive, which delivers ebooks to 95% of the library market. To help build awareness on the platform, I sent out a press release to libraries and included links to the catalog. That way, information on individual titles didn’t clutter up the press release, but interested libraries had easy access to full information. As a sales tool, my publisher’s catalog is essential.

Creating a catalog

I’m not a graphic design whiz, so I often use inexpensive templates from companies such as, one of the Envato marketplaces. I use Indesign so I look for catalog templates that include an .indd file, but you can also find them to use with other software. Here’s the template I used last year, Fashion Lookbook. Sometimes the templates are for European sized papers, but I need the US letter size; be sure to read the specs carefully before purchasing to be sure you have the right size and it works on your software. Also make sure the fonts are embedded or included in the price; or check your computer to make sure you have the required fonts. For this template, the catalog designers envisioned its use by a high-end fashion company, but it was versatile enough to adapt for my publishing catalog.

One of the most important parts of the catalog is the ordering form. I create a table with titles, ISBN numbers, and list prices. Full contact information is crucial, so customers can order easily.

I create two versions of the catalog, a low-resolution smaller pdf file that is easily downloaded and a high-resolution pdf to use when printing.

Since I publish 3-4 books per year, I update the catalog at least twice a year, generally a Spring and a Fall catalog. However, it’s easy enough to update when there’s something to add such as reviews, or awards, etc. While the general catalog is created twice, there are often updated versions available.

Using the catalog

  • Create a special page for catalog downloads and just name it Catalog. Be sure to add CATALOG as a menu link on your site.
  • Include the URL in all promotional materials such as postcards, flyers, etc.
  • Include the catalog URL in all press releases.
  • When you have inquiries about your books, send people to the URL.
  • Include the printed catalog when you send out ARCs.

For my business plan, a catalog is a perfect tool to represent my list of books. Would it work for yours?

Can a simple publisher's catalog help sell books? Yes! Mine helped me sell 2400 books. |

The Classroom Library: Where Do Teachers Buy Books?

Featured Blog Post on the The Carnival of the Indies

The Book Designer

If you think about buying a book, where do you go to make your purchase? Probably it’s local bookstores or your favorite online bookstore. The market for the general public encompasses those bookstores and we call that the trade market.

Indie authors promote widely through creating their own mailing lists, using email list services such as BookBub, or ads on Facebook or other places. They pay attention to the subtleties of marketing on Amazon by paying attention to categories, keywords, excellent book descriptions and so on. If you market to the trade market, Kindle Select or Kindle Unlimited are appealing because they reach more readers. One of the Holy Grails of indie publishing is to place your book in a brick-and-mortar bookstore. For the trade market, those marketing strategies are appropriate.

Increase Sales by 25% by selling to the Education Market

But let’s go back to the question of where do you buy books. Children’s books are bought by parents and teacher through the trade market, and you can treat your book just like adult books for those audiences. However, school librarians, and classroom teachers purchase books with funds from their school or school district. State Department of Educations across the U.S. might buy books to distribute across the state for special programs. Other education related agencies, companies or organizations buy books. This audience is called the education market. It’s vast. And even in these days of tight budgets, teachers must have books with which to teach.

For indie kids authors, it’s smart to target the education market; for me, the education market is about 25% of my sales, and growing. Taking your books to the education market means some mind-shifts. You’ll need to think differently about everything, which over time, we’ll talk about in depth on this blog. One thing concerns authors when we first talk about this shift: can you sell and market in both the trade and education market? Absolutely. Some books will do better in one or the other market, but you can target both.

Your first question should be where does the education market buy books? It’s a simple answer when you think about it, from education book distributors. That simple answer brings a huge shift in perspective.

I realized that if I wanted to sell my Indie Books to teachers, I'd better find out where they like to buy books for their classroom library! |

To see the complexity of the education market for ebooks in particular, some recent articles in School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly are helpful (listed chronologically).

You’ll see that there are many players, but also that the door is open to self-published or indie books.

Education Distributors That Will Work With Indie Publisher: Print

One of my goals for Mims House‘s first year was to establish the widest distribution possible. I discovered that education distributors prefer both hardcover and paperback. They are not as price sensitive as the trade market, because if a school needs certain content or literature for a classroom, they will pay for it. Certainly, they are price-conscious, but librarians also realize that some specialty information books may be a small or niche market that pushes up prices. This means that the print-on-demand hardcover that is too expensive in the trade market can be successful in the education market.

Often, an education distributor will accept your metadata directly to list books, but will order through a wholesaler such as Ingram. If you prefer, some will set up a direct sales relationship. I prefer that they order through Ingram, but I want to provide the information directly and maintain a relationship. For large special orders, that allows me to offer a discount.

Here are some of the major education distributors.

  • Follett. The largest distributor of books to schools and libraries.
  • Mackin. Energetic and smart company distributing to schools and libraries.
  • Permabound. A major rebinder, a company that puts library-tough binding on books.
  • Others. One market strategy that has helped me is to create a seasonal catalog. Twice a year, Mims House puts out a new catalog, and it includes an order form. That allows us to accept purchase orders from any educational distributors, libraries, schools, etc.

Education Distributors That Will Work With Indie Publisher: eBooks

For a current list of major ebook distributors for the education market see 2016 School Library Journal Ebook Market Directory.

Here are some ebook distributors to take notice of because they accept indie books:

  • Follett. “Sixty-seven percent of PreS–12 schools using ebooks purchase from Follett, according to a recent Library Journal survey.”
  • MackinVIA. “MackinVIA offers nearly 200,000 nonfiction, fiction, popular fiction, and interactive ebook and database titles.”
  • Permabound: While known as a rebinder of print books, Permabound also has a robust ebook market.
  • Overdrive. “OverDrive is the largest provider of ebooks for libraries.” Their international market is surprisingly robust, too.
  • Your Own Website. You could also choose to sell books from your website. Jane Friedman discusses options for adapting WordPress for ecommerce; or, you could try one of the sites that provide a sales platform such as

Education Distributors That Will Work With Indie Publisher: AudioBooks

  • ACX. Amazon’s platform for ebooks works to match up authors and audio narrators/producers. They distribute to iTunes,, and Audible. However, they require a seven year exclusive contract. If you sign that contract, you can’t take advantage of other options.
  • Findaway. Because of the different formats/specs for audiobooks, many of the education distributors choose to acquire audio from other companies. Findaway distributes to many of the education markets including MackinVIA, Follett, and the trade markets through Baker and Taylor.
  • Overdrive. Overdrive also distributes audiobooks to schools and libraies.

More Distributors, More Work

One downside of working with a variety of distributors is the inevitable reformatting of a book. Some will accept a validated ePub and others accept a pdf that they transform to their proprietary format. All require a master Excel sheet of your books; unfortunately each company requires something slightly different.

Master Metadata Excel Sheet. I regularly update my Master Metadata file to make sure it has the current pricing, book descriptions, etc. Each company wants the data displayed in a different order, but it’s relatively easy to cut and paste columns and create a file for that company.

Master files. I also make it a practice to put the most-up-to-date master files of each book, ebook or audiobook into a certain folder for ease in locating them. This is one place where attention to detail pays off. I like to label the files with long descriptions to make sure I know what is there. For example, if it’s a pdf file, I want to know if it’s high resolution or low resolution.

FTP. Transferring the files to each distributor’s site is usually done through an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) program. I use FileZilla and find it simple to log into an account on a publisher’s site and transfer the files.

My company, Mims House, is distributed widely online and in the education market. Some of our partners for print books include Ingram, Mackin Educational, Follett School Solutions, Children’s Plus, Inc., Permabound, Smithsonian Museum Stores (for selected titles), Amazon, and B&N. Our ebooks are distributed by Kindle, Nook, iBook, Kobo, Follett eBooks, MackinVIA, Overdrive, and direct sales on the website. Audiobooks are distributed by Audible, iTunes,
Amazon, Overdrive, Findaway (which distributes to Follett, Mackin, and Baker&Taylor).

You’ll want to decide on your strategy for distribution based on your publishing goals. I want my books available to both the trade and education markets, so I’ve concentrated on the widest reach possible. Some sales channels are stronger than others, but I believe this strategy works best for Mims House books.

Submitting to Education Distributors: Contact Information

When you submit to a distributor, you should have information sheets for each title that lists the title, ISBN, size, pages, any reviews or awards, etc. Some distributors, such as Overdrive, prefer to work with publishers with over twenty titles in their catalog. Others will accept just a couple books. Education distributors do care about reviews and awards, both of which increase your chances of being accepted.

When you sign up for the Indie Kids Books Newsletter, you’ll receive a free 2-page Indie Kids Books Resource sheet that includes contact information for five of the education distributors discussed here.

Subscribe to Receive the Indie Kids Books Resources Sheet – Includes contact information for 5 education distributors


7 Requirements for Bookstores to Carry Your Book

I recently visited with two booksellers. Mims House’s catalog now lists 18 books, and I wanted to present them with the variety of my titles. My business plan focuses on education markets, but I also target trade markets and would like to grow that part of my business. I also have new books scheduled for release and I wanted to see if events were possible. Here’s how I did.

The booksellers were looking for seven things:

  1. hardcover
  2. competitively priced
  3. available from her favorite distributor
  4. favorable discount – minimum 40%, 55% best
  5. returnable
  6. fits their audience

Booksellers Won't Stock Your Indie Book UNLESS - 7 requirements |

Bookseller #1:

I visited a small independent bookstore and knew going in that her business model didn’t often support indie authors. As she flipped through my catalog and books, she went through her mental checklist.

My book was available as a hardcover from her favorite distributor (Ingram) with a favorable discount. But because I use print-on-demand printing, I’m forced to price a bit higher than normal. And I don’t take returns. The quality was good and it might fit her audience

I ticked off five of her requirements, but that wasn’t enough, even for a local author.

Notice, that there’s nothing about quality in that list. She wasn’t much concerned about that; instead, it seemed the book was just a commodity that had to fit into her business plan. To be fair, it’s a nice bookstore and I do understand her point-of-view. Higher priced books are a hard sell in a bookstore, even when you’re doing hand-selling. From her point-of-view as a small business, she can’t tie up money in a product that she can’t return. But then, neither can I allow returns to eat into my profits! That may fit into my business plan at some point, but not yet.

“What about book signings or other events?” I asked.
“You must bring your own audience,” she said, “and preferable about 50 people. Otherwise, it’s not worth it to my business.”

Again, I understand. Events are time-consuming and can be costly. Getting the books there is hard. I offered to provide books at the typical discount, but take home what was leftover. No, she said, that would only work if I could guarantee 50 people attend.

I left with a deeper understanding of the difficulties of making a profit with a small, independent bookstore. But I was also sad that she didn’t choose to grow an audience with me; I really felt it could be a mutually beneficial relationship. I’m sorry she didn’t agree.

Bookseller #2:

This bookstore owner had the same concerns as the previous, but she was a bit looser on her requirements. For her store, she does order non-returnable books, but she’ll only order one at a time. Smart. She can’t afford to tie up dollars in non-returnable books.

For events, she was fine with me bringing books for her to sell, as long as I’d take the remainder home. This time, she was excited about the quality of the books with strong reviews and some awards. She quickly transitioned to a discussion of a possible event. We agreed on a date that would take advantage of other scheduled local events such as a Farmer’s Market. We also discussed the topic of discussion and agreed that it needed to appeal to adults. I’ll be discussing how to help a child choose a great book based on this blog post. With the wider appeal, we hope to pull in a nice size audience.

When you go into a local independent bookstore, you need to go in with eyes wide open. Here are some things to consider.

  • You’ll get a better reception if your a consistent customer and the owner knows that.
  • Try to solve the bookstore owner’s problems! She wants to sell books. How can your books help her do that?
  • NEVER burn bridges. Be respectful at all times, even if the result isn’t what you wanted.
  • Be ready to leave review copies of anything and everything.
  • Do you have a catalog? Why not? It’s a great selling tool. Leave a copy of your catalog and business cards.
  • Be flexible. If the owner suggest an event try to make it work on HER terms. Suggest ideas that will help the owner draw an audience: dates, tie-ins to local events, topics, etc.

What has helped you with contacting local independent bookstores?