Side Hustle #53: I Self-Publish Children’s Books

[Got a killer hustle for y’all today! My man Tim Johnson has created, and sold, thousands of copies of children’s books around the world… Hope you enjoy!]

I’ve always had a keen interest in learning foreign languages. Maybe it started with my mother teaching me silly French songs growing up or my interest in Japanese karate. At any rate, I mustered up some cash selling brownies, doing bottle drives and other odd jobs until I was able to participate in an exchange program at age 16.

I spent 5 weeks with a family in Tokyo soaking in as much language and culture as I could. Friendships are a very powerful platform for building good language skills. I found myself gravitating toward children’s books for learning language and determined that it was a great way for me to learn. Slow, simple and fun.

Finding the gap

As the years went on and I continued studying Japanese, I realized that there aren’t really many dual language books on the market, and even fewer that touted themselves as an effective language learning tool. There was my gap! With twin boys on the way, I had my inspiration and target audience already established!

I had started a website ( was intended to sell dual language books, and it earned a very small income through Amazon affiliate sales. But it was enough to convince me there was a market for such books and it gave me a platform that was already mildly established. Having some working knowledge of the rising self-publishing industry, I decided it was my time to publish a book.

Understanding the Potential

After thinking through this opportunity a bit further, it seemed like children’s book publishing was a good niche to get into. First, the barrier to entry is higher than self-publishing other books due to the illustrations. That means competition is not as stiff. The opportunity to stand out from the crowd is powerful because of the uniqueness of each book; the illustration style, story, book size and cover will, by nature, make this book different than any other book on the market.

Additionally, I believe that the prevalence of children’s books will remain in paperback for quite some time. Children enjoy flipping pages, and parents prefer not to have their children playing with tablets. There is no obvious reason to transition children’s books to a digital industry yet.

Also, children’s books are very easy and quick to read and review, which means that I would be able to find mom-bloggers and other relevant blogs who would accept a free copy of the book and write a review, essentially acting as a sales channel for me. People are much more willing to spend 5 minutes reading a children’s book, rather than 5 hours reading and reviewing a novel. (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is so true. We get pitched literally every day to review books and it’s just not possible to check ’em all out)

Bringing the Book to Life

bosley children books

Having a vague idea that I might want to publish a book, I took a few hours and put down a variety of plots. It’s a children’s book so of course writing the whole book (500 words) took very little time. With a little editing, I was happy enough with the story to find someone to illustrate the first page of the book.

I reached out to a few companies online and a few independent illustrators and found the most cost effective way to “kick the tires” in the world of illustration. I commissioned 3-5 different people on to illustrate page one. After some patience and some failed attempts, I found someone who made the book really come to life. The character, the colors, everything exceeded my expectations.

Now there was no going back, I knew I would make this happen. I’ve since developed a great working relationship with this illustrator who I’d originally hired for $5!! I’ve given him several books to illustrate and between him and the translators I pay just less that $500 for all the material I need for each title! And yes, translating a 500-word story in simple sentences is quite inexpensive.

Making it Happen

Knowing very little other than the fact that it was possible, I spent a great deal of time researching, crunching numbers, talking to printers, agents, and other authors about self-publishing. In the end I decided that print on demand would be the best solution for me, but in order to establish myself and build a little buzz, I started a Kickstarter campaign to get some cash under my belt and hire the right people to illustrate and translate my first book into 10 languages.

Getting it into print involved a steep learning curve and a lot of attention to detail. I approved the proof (after a couple revisions) about six months into the project, and a few days later it was available on Amazon! After that it was a matter or getting reviews, increasing traffic, and giving away free copies of the book.

Slowly the books gained momentum and I decided that after making several hundred dollars a month on the first one, that it would be worth the effort and money to get more books published. Publishing books in a series is a great way to help Amazon shoppers find your other books. Amazon automatically suggests similar books to shoppers so the marketing effort became easier with every publication. With 6 titles in 10 translations each that gives me 60 Amazon listing pages too!

I’m currently making just over $1,000/mo without lifting a finger! I’ll continue putting out new titles under the proven assumption that each title only increases that number.

Putting Systems in Place

Now that I have gone through the process several times, failed many times, and figured out better ways of doing things, I would say my process is very streamlined and optimized. My translators, illustrator, and proofreaders are all established, and I can simply send them files via email. My publication process is always the same and I have virtual assistants help me with this process as well.

Nowadays, it takes me about 1-2 hours to come up with a worthy manuscript and finalize it. It takes another hour to make notes for my illustrator describing what I want, an hour to come up with a book description and create the listing details, and about one hour per translation to paste in the proofread foreign language copy, format it and get it submitted to Amazon.

The whole process still takes a couple months, but as you can see, a large part of the process is automated or outsourced, which takes the majority of the work off my plate completely. If you remember, I have twin baby boys so this was not by choice, but by necessity. I could have chosen not to take on this endeavor in the first place, but I chose instead to make it mandatory that I proceed. That way I would simply do what was necessary to accommodate everything that needed to be done.

People ask me how I have so much time to get everything done, and it’s simply a matter of making a sequence of appropriate decisions toward your goal.

** Want to Publish Your Own Children’s Books? **

self publish childrens book

Tim just launched a full video course for aspiring children’s authors and authorpreneurs, and today he’s giving all Budgets Are Sexy readers free access to it (promo now over). This course costs $40 for everyone else, and he approaches it by treating book publishing like product development in order to create successful products from the onset. So grab it while you can!

Thanks so much for sharing and hooking us up Tim – really kind of you :) And congrats on all your success!! If you ever want to brainstorm “Bosley Learns About Money,” you just let me know ;) I heard a cool name for a guest character could be J. Money?

Tim Johnson published his first children’s book in 2011, and now has over 50 titles on Amazon with thousands of copies sold worldwide. For more information about Tim’s children’s book series, visit:

Liked this? Check out our entire series of side hustles – we’ve got over 50 of them!

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  1. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank October 8, 2014 at 5:26 AM

    This is something new and very interesting! I just watched Tim’s video and had a free access to Budget are sexy…. I’m planning to embark in this field. I hope I can find success and adopt the skills needed.

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 7:41 AM

      Jayson, Great to hear you’re interested in children’s books. It’s a lot of fun! I hope to see you in the course soon and best of luck to you on your book! let me know if I can help :)

  2. How to Save Money October 8, 2014 at 6:17 AM

    Kudos Tim for embarking on this project. We need more people like you who create children’s book rather than people who create app’s for children.

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 9:48 AM

      Thanks! It’s a good feeling :)

    2. J. Money October 8, 2014 at 8:59 PM

      Hah! Good point… I’m so afraid of my kids being glued to electronics as they grow up… It’s nice we still have good ol’ fashioned books around!

      1. Jay @ ThinkingWealthy October 9, 2014 at 9:54 AM

        This is a very good point. Will the next generation of parents feel the same way though? Should be an interesting dynamic to watch…


  3. Chris @ Flipping a Dollar October 8, 2014 at 6:32 AM

    Unbelievable! That book looks great! Have you been able to get any research data on how well it helps teach the language? Not sure how easy that would be to achieve.. Might need test groups…

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 7:46 AM

      Language learning is always different for everyone so all I can go on is reader accounts, reviews and testimonials. Most accounts thus far respond with a resounding YES. It’s a unique way to teach, that attempts to work well for many different types of learners, auditory, visual, social, etc. so I think a lot of people appreciate it, and incorporated it into their learning curriculum. I have actually had a language institute purchase several hundred copies to use when teaching primary school teachers how to teach their language classes!

      1. Chris @ Flipping a Dollar October 9, 2014 at 6:47 AM

        That’s awesome! I think a lot of smaller private schools who already teach another language from a young age could be a great market if you got to do some extra legwork. Maybe conferences or something like that!

  4. Mrs. Frugalwoods October 8, 2014 at 6:54 AM

    What a great idea! My sister is teaching her kids Spanish and, indeed, it is difficult to find dual language children’s books. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 7:47 AM

      My pleasure! :)

  5. Aldo October 8, 2014 at 7:49 AM

    This is a great idea. Thank you for sharing. I’m going to check this out because I have been thinking about writing a children’s book for some time now.

  6. Dee @ Color Me Frugal October 8, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    I have always wanted to write a children’s book! I am definitely going to check this out!

  7. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 7:50 AM

    J- Thanks for running this article. I have definitely considered writing a book to the tune of entrepreneurship and learning about finances. I’ll have to consider what Bosley’s cousin “J-Money Bear” will look like!! :)

    1. J. Money October 8, 2014 at 9:00 PM

      That’ll be a best seller – you can bank on it ;)

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 9:50 AM

      German, by far. From everything I’ve heard that id’s common across the board with indie authors, a lot of authors are having their books translated into German in order to provide value in a seemingly hungry market segment.

      1. J. Money October 8, 2014 at 9:01 PM

        That’s pretty interesting…. I would have guessed Spanish?

  8. Shannon @ Financially Blonde October 8, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    My husband has thought about writing a children’s book about a kid who was into science (my husband is a science teacher) but we were always hung up on the illustration factor. I would never think about Fiverr, but that’s a great idea to ask a few people until you find the right one. Also, love the idea to translate to other languages to easily expand your markets. Congrats!

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 9:51 AM

      Thanks Shannon, there are a lot of other creative ways to get illustrations done besides fiverr as well. Of course I cover them in my course :)

  9. jennydecki October 8, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    I’m IN! I’d love to try this and I’m listening to the intro video right now. Thank you for sharing this. :)

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 9:52 AM

      Great! I can’t wait to hear more about your book idea and see it published! Let me know if I can help in any way.

  10. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life October 8, 2014 at 9:21 AM

    Not bad for 1- 2 hours of running time. I wonder how well books would do though, if they don’t have the dual language feature. What a great niche!

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 9:53 AM

      As far as I can tell it’s just about finding an element of value and making it clear to your buyers in order to stand out. I’m sure there are many means to that end other than language learning.

      1. J. Money October 8, 2014 at 9:02 PM

        Gotta find your “edge” really, just like in blogs and business in general… Really makes me want to try one myself!

  11. Mike Collins October 8, 2014 at 9:23 AM

    This is great stuff and I just signed up for your course…thanks for offering it!

    I’ve have a couple of ideas for children’s books bouncing around in my head for a while but I never knew how to get started and it seemed like it would be tons of work (plus I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag). Hopefully your lectures will be what I need to get the ball rolling.

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 9:54 AM

      Excellent! I hope the course helps. I’m working in improving it all the time so let me know if you want anything else included.

  12. Mel @ brokeGIRLrich October 8, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    Do you do it all in Japanese or do you do multiple languages? When I was a kid, we had a few Russian children’s books in my house, but none with English in them, so they were sort of useless for learning. The only dual language one just had individual words, not actually sentences.

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      The books are translated into many different languages, I do have Russian for all of them!

  13. Liz October 8, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    What a great idea you had there Tim! Are you planning on expending the number of languages or you are going to stick with 10 for now? Thank you for making your course available! I am going to check it out!

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 11:46 AM

      I’ve gotten some requests to expand and have taken on a couple more languages since I got started. Right now I’m going to stick with my correct translations and focus on attitudinal titles. I can always translate into more languages later if I’m not feeling creative enough to come up with more stories!

  14. Nick Loper October 8, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    Tim is the real deal, and if you’re at all interested in this side hustle, I encourage you to check out the Udemy course (especially while it’s free!). He really lays it all out and Amazon is such a powerful platform to sell on right on. 237 million verified credit card accounts? Where else can you reach that kind of built-in customer base? :)

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 11:48 AM

      Haha, thanks Nick, you’re the man! And so right, Amazon is very powerful.

      1. J. Money October 8, 2014 at 9:03 PM

        It’s a Side Hustle explosion! Haha… pretty cool you two know each other :)

  15. Lauren October 8, 2014 at 11:00 AM

    This is so interesting! I just signed up for the course. Bosley is definitely a cute little guy, and it’s so great to introduce children to other languages. We’re raising our daughter to be bilingual out of necessity (husband is from another country) and I hope to introduce her to a 3rd language, eventually.

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 11:49 AM

      Good for you! It seems to be a popular thing to do and VERY good for young brains!

  16. Even Steven October 8, 2014 at 11:10 AM

    I think it’s a great idea, I could see Mrs. Even Steven and I doing this down the road for the future Lil Even Steven, putting this in the memory bank.

  17. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 11:51 AM

    Go for it! I started writing before I had kids and now they are just starting to grow into the age level for the books. Lots of fun. The other day one of my little guys turned over my book and gave a big kiss to my photo on the back!

    1. J. Money October 8, 2014 at 9:04 PM

      Awww that is so cool!!! You’ll forever be a celebrity in their eyes – even more so than being “dad” :)

  18. Michelle October 8, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    Wow this is an awesome hustle. Good job!

  19. Carol in Mpls October 8, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    I love this idea as well. I’ve had some ideas for children’s books, but never could figure out the illustration angle. Tim’s offer looks to put all the pieces in place. Cat books anyone?

    Clearly, J$ Bear will have a cool ‘hawk, just like his namesake. He’ll be the hip, urban cousin-bear, ready for a good time with Bosley, and they’ll let loose on the kid-money-lessons.

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 4:26 PM

      Love it! Thanks for the visual Carol! Best of luck with the cat books. No lack of audience there. The trick well be to find a sub niche to allow your books to stand out and provide value.

      1. J. Money October 8, 2014 at 9:06 PM

        Yeah, feel free to totally use J$ Bear as a bad example too… Trying to lure kids into spending their hard earned lemonade money on junk food, haha… I don’t mind being a villain! ;)

  20. Kayla @ Red Debted Stepchild October 8, 2014 at 4:01 PM

    What an interesting idea and it doesn’t sound too difficult (after you’ve done it once or twice). The hardest part is probably the first one. A series of children’s books about money would be a great idea!

  21. La Rae Randall October 8, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing your talent with us!! This is an amazing idea that I have thought about for ages and am so excited to take the course!! :)

    1. Tim Johnson October 8, 2014 at 4:27 PM

      Glad to hear that! Let me know of there’s anything else I can do to help.

  22. Lisa October 8, 2014 at 9:06 PM

    That’s awesome! Now, I’ll patiently wait for Thai books….

  23. Kim O. October 9, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    Time that’s awesome. Congrats and much continued success! P.S. This doesn’t sound like a side hustle, it sounds like a main hustle! :)

    1. Tim Johnson October 10, 2014 at 1:50 PM

      Thanks Kim! That’s the intent! Eventually I hope to be a full time author, but with kids and a house to support I can’t quite jump into the abyss yet~ :-)

  24. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply October 9, 2014 at 2:33 PM

    Fascinating…I think my wife would find this very interesting. She got her masters in early childhood education and taught at daycares for a few years but the pay was horrible. She loves little kids though. Now she has a desk job which pays better but she still loves the little ones…and I think she would enjoy publishing a children’s book. Oh and she is great with foreign languages as she is Chinese (spoke that with parents at home) but grew up in Central America (speaking Spanish), but went to a dual language school where they taught in English for the most part.

  25. Tim Johnson October 10, 2014 at 1:53 PM

    Wow! She’s got a great start! Writing books is a whole lot of fun, especially when you can share your books with kids or hear how other parents and teachers enjoy them. Make sure she signs up for the course while the free code still works! :)

  26. Christina @ Youthful Homemaker October 12, 2014 at 10:12 AM

    Woohoo! Thanks for sharing this, I’m very excited. I have been wanting to dabble in children’s books for a little while now,but wasn’t sure where to get started. Thank you very much for sharing the course for free as well, that is a huge relief.
    On a side note – I had been looking for a platform where I could build an online class and hadn’t seen Udemy, which looks like the best for what I have seen thus far. :D Thanks!!

  27. John @ Building Financial Freedom October 12, 2014 at 3:34 PM

    Finding side hustles is as important as budgeting in my opinion. It’s a pretty simple concept. We can’t save what we don’t make.

    I would say diversity is key in our efforts to make side income. You clearly have a diversified strategy! Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing!

  28. October 14, 2014 at 9:25 PM

    Thanks for your generosity Tim in offering this course for free. I can’t wait to check it out (oh and congrats to you for finding some extra $ for your twins – I am a twin parent as well. :))

  29. Sally Ferguson February 13, 2016 at 9:45 AM

    Good reminder to use campaigns with Amazon. Time to do so, with my ebook!

    1. J. Money February 29, 2016 at 4:59 PM

      Congrats on it! :)