Updated: Mar 22
This May, my coloring book, Bloom, will be two years old (time flies!). I realized I’ve never really talked about what went into making this book, so finally, almost twenty-four months late, I’ve written out as much as I can remember about the process of creating and publishing Bloom: A Coloring Book for the Industrious Woman.
Disclaimer: I am NOT an expert when it comes to illustration and publishing. This is just an honest look into my personal process, which may or may not work for others. Since some time has passed since the book’s publication, I may have forgotten some details, but I’ve tried my best to be as exhaustive as possible with my information.
So without further ado, let’s dive into it!
Part Zero: The Idea
So, why did I decide to create a coloring book in the first place?
I asked myself the same question a dozen times during the process. And I’m still not sure I know the answer.
In December of 2019 I read an article about a self-published coloring book (you can find that article here), and I guess it felt almost like a challenge.
And I’m not one to back down from a good challenge.
Part One: Planning
The first step of creating my coloring book was making sure this was something I could actually do. And that involved a LOT of research. As someone who’s actually not a huge fan of coloring, I had no idea what the market for coloring books was like and what it would take to sell one. I had to find the answers to a number of questions—what theme would be trendy, but one that the market wasn’t oversaturated with? What complexity/age levels of coloring books are most popular? How are coloring books marketed?
I also extensively researched the logistics of self-publishing—what size would the book need to be? How many pages? What would the initial fee for setting up the title with a printing company be, and how much would individual printed copies of the book cost? How can I get my coloring book distributed to popular stores? What company should I use for printing and distribution?
I couldn’t start creating coloring pages until I’d decided what size the book would be and how many pages it would contain. I settled on an 8.5x11 paperback book with 32 double-sided pages (25 for the actual illustrations, which had blank backs, and additional pages for front and back matter). 32 was the magic number that balanced having a substantial amount of pages without the printing cost being too high.
I decided to go with IngramSpark to print and distribute my book (more about that later). I thoroughly read their file upload guides so I could keep the requirements in mind while designing my coloring pages.
Part Two: Illustration
Originally, my coloring book’s theme was going to be a blend of sci-fi and floral elements. The first page I created was the astronaut page, which fell under this theme. However, after finishing this page, I decided to change the theme to women in various careers. I thought this would be a more marketable theme with subject matter that would be more enjoyable to draw.
I kept several things in mind while illustrating the pages. Firstly, I wanted them to be consistent so the coloring book as a whole would feel coherent. I did this by putting a few of the same elements on every page—the same kinds of flowers and tiny, pixie-dust-like specks. But I also wanted variety within the book. I did this by creating pages of various complexities and changing up the actual page content. For instance, some illustrations had abstract backgrounds, others contained animals; some included more angular elements while others were more rounded and flowy.
I illustrated the pages using the app Procreate on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. This allowed me to design on the go. When each page was complete, I saved it as a jpeg and transferred the file to my computer.
Each page took me 2-8 hours to complete. My goal was to create 2 pages per week. I completed all 25 pages by mid-March 2020.
Part Three: Creating the Book
When all the illustrations were complete, I thought the difficult part of the process was over.
I was wrong.
Putting the book together proved to be harder than I expected. The first challenge I had to face? Choosing a title.
Yes, I probably should have come up with a title before this point. To be honest, the fact that my coloring book needed a name had slipped my mind.
I created a list of options (most of which were terrible) and finally settled on Bloom. But a quick Google search informed me that there were not one, not two, but over seven other coloring books with the same name.
I probably should have picked a different name, but I was already attached to Bloom. So instead I added a subtitle—Bloom: A Coloring Book for the Industrious Woman.
Now it was time to put together the book interior file that I would upload to IngramSpark. Having already read their upload guidelines multiple times, I was pretty familiar with how to put the file together. Using Adobe InDesign, I put all 25 pages into the same file, being sure that pages with similar elements were spread evenly throughout the book. Then I created a title page, an “About the Author” page, and a copyright page, where I realized I’d need to put an ISBN.
I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but I remembering having troubles creating an account with Bowker, the company I wanted to buy an ISBN through. Thankfully, IngramSpark partners with Bowker, and I was able to purchase an ISBN through the IngramSpark website. I think I was able to get it at an IngramSpark discount, too, but don’t quote me on that. Usually a single ISBN is around $125, but I think I got mine for about $99?
I guess this is a good time to discuss why I chose IngramSpark as my printer and distributor. I decided very early on that I didn’t want to be responsible for distributing my book to stores and buyers, which means I needed to use a service that both printed and distributed, like Amazon’s CreateSpace (which I think is now called Kindle Direct Publishing) or IngramSpark. I’d heard good things about both companies, but in the end I decided to go with IngramSpark for several reasons. Their website user interface appeared more user-friendly than CreateSpace, I’d talked to an IngramSpark representative in-person at a writers’ conference, and I had a code to upload a title for free instead of paying the $50 setup fee it normally costs. My experience with IngramSpark was fabulous and I would definitely recommend them for your print and distribution needs!
After purchasing an ISBN, setting up my title in IngramSpark (which required filling out some basic information about the book and its contents), and finishing the interior file, it was time to make the cover. IngramSpark provided templates to make the design process simpler, but designing the cover was still very difficult for me. I did some sketches on paper and came up with a general idea for the design, then illustrated the individual cover elements in Procreate and imported them into Photoshop. When I put them all together, though, they just didn’t seem to work, so just I played around with the design for hours until I finally had something I liked. It was mainly just a trial and error process.
On the back cover I knew I needed a barcode and a publishing company name. The IngramSpark cover template took care of the barcode, but I wasn’t sure what to put for the publishing company. Should I use my business name, Sarah Madison Design and Development? Should I come up with a name? Should I leave off the publisher completely?
I decided to create a publishing company name in case I ever wanted to publish additional media in the future. I filed for a DBA under Sarah Madison Design and Development called UmbrellaBird Publishing (I just really like birds, okay, but most of my favorites were already taken). I designed a quick logo for it, and voila! The cover was finished.
In early April, I ordered a couple proof copies of my coloring book to make sure everything looked okay. The colors were less vibrant in the print copy than they appeared virtually, but I expected that and I didn’t think it looked bad. So I approved the proof and it was time to set a release date.
I decided on May 1st. It was perfect since Bloom’s theme was spring-related, and the book would make a perfect Mother’s Day Gift. IngramSpark also gives you the option of setting a pre-order date, which I did and will discuss further in the section below.
Part Four: Marketing and Release
I wanted a pre-order campaign for a few reasons. I knew when I announced I was publishing a coloring book, people would want to order it right away while it was on their mind. Pre-orders also help books get on bestseller lists. Most websites don’t count pre-order purchases until the day the book releases, so (for example) if 200 people pre-order your book on Amazon, on release day the Amazon algorithm thinks, “oh, 200 people ordered this book today,” which gives you a higher chance of ending up on their bestseller lists.
Spoiler: I didn’t get Amazon’s coveted orange “bestseller” banner on my book. On release day I was #132 in the “Illustration and Graphic Design” category on Amazon. Which isn’t bad—I’ll take it. :) I think part of the problem was that I didn’t use specific enough category tags when I set up my title in IngramSpark. For example, one of the tags I used was “Coloring Books for Grown-Ups,” which is a category that is going to contain a TON of books. If you use more obscure tags with fewer books in them, you’re more likely to be a bestseller in those categories.
But back to marketing: the first step to marketing my coloring book was announcing it on social media. Later, I also created and posted videos showcasing the interior of the coloring book. I sent copies of the book to several of my favorite social media influencers (with their permission, of course), along with some other goodies, and they were gracious enough to share Bloom on their accounts.
IngramSpark was a dream—the day pre-orders opened, my book was instantly available online on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, AbeBooks, and other sites. It also had its own Goodreads listing without me having to set it up.
To further incentivize people to pre-order my coloring book, I created several goodies to send anyone who pre-ordered. If they pre-ordered one copy of the book, they would receive pack of digital goodies. If they pre-ordered two or more copies, they’d also receive stickers. I had my sticker sheets printed through a company called Moo and my holographic stickers printed by StickerMule. While both companies were really nice to work with, they were both rather expensive and in the future I might try a cheaper but still well-known company like Sticker App.
Since there was no way for me to tell who pre-ordered my book, I created a Jotform that people could fill out with their name, email, address, and a picture/screenshot of their pre-order receipt. I didn’t have as many people fill out this form as I’d hoped, even though I tried to promote it heavily.
When release day arrived, I had a virtual release party on Facebook with games, giveaways, and a live chat. Thanks to the recently changed Facebook algorithms I didn’t get much interaction as I wanted, but it was still a blast and I’m thankful to everyone that came.
And just like that, Bloom was out in the world.
After the book was released, my work still wasn’t done. I needed to further promote the book. I convinced several local stores to carry Bloom (including my local Barnes and Noble). I also sold copies at local events like my city’s fall festival and holiday market. At the fall festival, my local newspaper asked to do a story about my work, which was absolutely amazing.
IngramSpark lets me purchase printed copies in bulk for an author price of about $5. I make more money reselling copies that I ordered than I do from copies sold online through their distribution services, because they take a chunk of money to cover distribution costs. I make about $3 per copy I sell online, and am paid monthly, about a month or two behind.
I’m also diligent to check for sales on Amazon or other sites that carry Bloom. I am not notified when stores decide to put it on sale, but I try to share any substantial sales that I happen to see.
After release day, as books shipped, it was so fun to see photos of Bloom trickle into my email and social media feeds. I love to see people having fun with the book; it always warms my heart!
What I Learned
This process, more than anything, was a learning experience.
A really, really difficult learning experience.
I dove in headfirst without any idea of what I was doing, and, while there’s certainly things I could have done better, I consider Bloom a success. I learned about print-on-demand and distribution, I learned how to do (and how not to do) a pre-order campaign, and my art improved dramatically because of how consistently and intensively I was drawing.
A few other things I learned:
-Enjoy the process. I had a hard time getting that through my skull. Too many times I became too focused on the end product, and I would put pressure on myself to complete things in a hurry. That caused a lot of unnecessary stress.
-Get help when needed. Most of this process was a solitary one, but it was a huge encouragement when others helped me with marketing, design, etc.
-If I could do things differently, I’d try to host more in-person events. Signings, release parties, etc. I think I would have sold a lot more copies that way. I also would have joined some coloring book groups on social media and shared a few free pages with them as another form of self-promotion.
Would I Do It Again?
The looming question—will I ever make another coloring book?
Immediately after releasing Bloom, I would have answered with a resounding “no!” I was exhausted. But now that some time has passed, the answer is…
I don’t know.
Just like I’m not sure what sparked my desire to create Bloom in the first place, I don’t know if or when another spark like it might come. But if it does, you guys will be the first to know! :)
If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of Bloom: A Coloring Book for the Industrious Woman, you can find it on Amazon here and on Barnes and Noble here. If you already have purchased a copy, THANK YOU! It makes me so happy to know people are enjoying my work.
I hope you found this post helpful, or at least that it made for an interesting read. If you have any thoughts or questions, leave them in the comments! And feel free to share this post on social media if you think it might be helpful to someone you know!
Until next time,