Have you self-published a children's book?

If you've ever uttered the words "I have this great idea for a children's book!", you're in good company. And bad company. And, well, just lots of company. Seems like just about everyone is trying their hand at writing children's books these days, and thanks to the plethora of self-publishing platforms that exist, it's never been easier to turn that gleam in your imagination into a real, honest-to-goodness book.

Which is not to say that it's easy. In many ways, self-publishing is more difficult than the traditional method of working with an established publisher. The question I hear most in my role as children's collection management librarian for Oakland Public Library is "how do I get my book into your library?" It's a complicated answer, so let me break it down for you:

  • Like most libraries, we select books for our collection based on professional reviews. If a book has been reviewed by Kirkus, School Library Journal, Horn Book, or another professional journal, we have some basic information about exactly what will land on our shelves if we order that book. Is it great for storytime? Is it written in terrible, awkward rhyme?* A professional review, to us, is a recommendation on whether or not to buy a book. The more recommendations we can get, the better. 
  • Is your book available through a major distributor? It's easiest for us to buy books through distributors like Baker & Taylor, Brodart, and Ingram, and we do most of our purchasing that way. That's not to say that we can't buy your book if it's not available through one of those, just that it's a lot easier if it is.
  • Most self-published books do not end up in our regular ordering stream because they don't get enough professional reviews in a timely fashion. Without a major publisher backing a book, it's just not likely to happen. There is a way around that, though:
  • Send us a copy. Take a look at OPL's Author and Publisher Submissions policy. All the instructions you need to submit your book are there. If we can review your book in person, we can get the information we'd otherwise get from professional reviews. If your book is available from a major distributor, let us know when you send it in. Also include any professional reviews you do have, or reviews from blogs.

    Know that we can't consider your book without a physical copy of the entire book. (So: a PDF won't cut it.) It's important for us to know exactly what we would be handing to a patron if we recommended your book, from typeface to binding. When you submit a title, we can't send you a response; we don't guarantee that we will include the book in our collection; and we won't return your review copy. However, we WILL look at it, and we will consider it.

  • Self-published books must meet the criteria in our Collection Development Policy, just like books from mainstream publishers. Naturally, we consider quality of writing and art when we decide whether to add a book to our collection. We also consider whether the book will be appealing to children, whether it will be useful to teachers, whether families are likely to pick it up, whether the author is local and has a fan base, and other factors. OPL is committed to diversity in children's books, so we take special notice when a book's creator is a person of color, it contains characters who are people of color, and those characters are represented with authenticity (aka 'realness').

In short: while I can't promise you we'll add your self-published children's book to our collection, you CAN ask us to. And we encourage you to do so. If you want to get your book into its best possible shape before you print it up, why not connect with a local writer's group, or a self-publishing meetup? Making books is a tough process, but even if you are doing it all yourself, there's no need to go it alone.

OPL Author and Publisher Submission Policy

*Note: please, please do not try to make your children's book rhyme. Unless you are an excellent poet already. Just... don't.