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How to Self-Publish Coloring Books and Activity Books

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Expand your self-publishing offerings with coloring and activity books!

Expand your self-publishing offerings with coloring and activity books!

A Brief History of Coloring Books

Coloring books started making it onto the scene around the late 19th and early 20th centuries as part of a movement toward art education for all children. Early coloring books were designed to be painted, as crayons didn’t start to be used as a coloring method until about the 1930s. Today, other art materials such as markers and colored pencils are also used to fill in line-art drawings or complete activities in these books.

As a promotional products distributor for 17 years, I sold coloring books to organizations for children’s entertainment and education. My clients would keep reordering them because they were very useful and welcome items.

In the 2010s, the use of coloring books by adults became a pastime to relieve stress, build creativity, and maintain brain and motor skills. But after reaching a peak around the mid-2010s, the adult coloring book trend started winding down. Then, 2020 happened. The global coronavirus pandemic forced people of all ages to stay at home and look for ways to entertain themselves and deal with their stress and anxiety, including coloring books. So the trend wound up again.

Regardless of the degree to which the renewed adult coloring book interest continues post-pandemic, low-content coloring and activity books for markets of all ages represent a continuing opportunity for self-published authors.

What Should the Subject of Your Coloring Book Be?

As with all books, the subject matter of your coloring book should be geared to the intended audience and their expectations. Families may want pictures and activities that provide educational enrichment for children. Adults seeking stress relief may want beautiful or fun designs that aren’t too challenging for them to complete but still provide a pleasant and relaxing distraction.

Think about what subjects you’re known for. What hobbies or topics do you talk about regularly on social media? How could you integrate these into your coloring books to help expand your self-published book sales?

How to Create Art for Your Coloring Book

Please, please use your own artwork when creating your coloring or activity books. Don’t ever use any stock artwork, especially something from a free stock art site. Not only are there potential copyright issues—even the legit stock artwork sites have licensing restrictions against using their art for calendars, coloring books, imprinted products, and more.

Vector line art, such as Adobe Illustrator (.ai) or Encapsulated Postscript (.eps) files created with graphic design software, are ideal since they are scalable, so they can print clearly in different sizes without becoming pixelated. If you're not proficient with graphic design or illustration programs, you could hire a professional to create designs for you, but that can up your publishing cost dramatically.

For those who can't or don't want to create their own designs and who don't want the expense of hiring a professional illustrator, some programs and apps help you create line art from your own photos. One such program is Colorscape. It might not be as perfect as vector art created with programs like Illustrator, but it could provide an alternate way to create your own special art for your coloring book at a lower cost.

Can You Self-Publish a Coloring Book on Kindle Direct Publishing?

Yes. However, you can only publish coloring books in paperback through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The good news is that they’re print-on-demand.

Though there are coloring apps for mobile devices, Kindle devices and eBooks do not offer that capability. So, eBook versions of coloring and activity books are not allowed to be published on KDP.

While I never recommend selling direct to customers, if you also want to sell your coloring or activity book at in-person events or online, you can order author copies through KDP at discounted pricing. Just remember that direct sales to customers involve orders and payment processing, which can reduce your net profit. You’ll also be responsible for sales tax collection and reporting. Discuss your direct selling plans with your CPA before getting started.

Art materials such as markers and colored pencils are used to fill in line-art drawings or complete activities in coloring books.

Art materials such as markers and colored pencils are used to fill in line-art drawings or complete activities in coloring books.

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What About Bleed-Through When Customers Use Pens and Markers?

I got a question through YouTube with concerns about pens and markers bleeding through the paper in KDP’s print-on-demand books when used for journals and workbooks. Similar concerns would, of course, also apply to coloring and activity books produced through KDP.

Yes, there is some bleed-through when liquid ink markers and pens are used in print-on-demand books published through KDP. But these concerns have been around almost as long as coloring books! I remember the coloring books from when I was a kid. The pages were almost like heavy newsprint paper. By comparison, KDP pages are a big step up from those old-time coloring books in terms of thickness and durability.

If you think that customers would be upset by bleed-through when using your coloring or activity book with markers or other liquid ink tools, it’s best to address that at the beginning of your book. Suggest that they use wax crayons, colored pencils, or other non-liquid art materials.

KDP Books Don’t Lay Flat

In addition to the concerns over bleed-through, there’s also concern that perfect-bound print-on-demand books don’t lay flat for coloring. That’s understandable. But given the high cost of commercially printing a coloring book, it’s an acceptable tradeoff.

A workaround that’s been used for all the self-published coloring books I’ve observed—and that I have used for my own 101 Business Writing Prompts workbook—is to publish in the largest available page size on KDP, which is 8.5” x 11”. The larger page size allows the book to lay flatter.

How Should You Price Your Self Published Coloring Book?

You would price your coloring books using the same principles you use when pricing your other self-published books. Your retail price should be based on your costs, overhead, and desired profit margin, as well as how similar books on the market are priced.

Self-Published Coloring Book Authors and Examples

I’m glad to introduce you to some self-published creators who have ventured into coloring and activity books. They all use Kindle Direct Publishing print on demand for their books. Their stories might inspire you to add a coloring book to your self-published offerings. All of their coloring books can be found on Amazon.

Amelia Griggs

Amelia Griggs (@ameliagriggs on Instagram) started out self-publishing computer education books and resources. Later, she diversified into self-publishing children’s cookbooks that encouraged family activities. An outgrowth of those cookbooks were companion coloring and activity books. For example, her Counting and Math with Meatballs and Pasta activity book coordinates with the Squishy Wishy Meatballs cookbook.

Anne Manera

Anne Manera is a “coloring book queen.” I discovered Anne through a colleague’s YouTube channel, and then I connected with her on Instagram. She says she has over 280 self-published books on Amazon. Wow!

Her coloring books could appeal to many age groups, but she targets the adult coloring book market primarily. Anne’s unique angle is that she offers an online community where she and her group's members color a particular design together. That’s a great idea that builds her community of fans. Plus, the color-along sessions use books she publishes. Brilliant!

Austin Fabinski

I discovered Austin Fabinski on TikTok. He’s an artist who does a lot of nature and pet paintings and portrait commissions. (They are amazing. Do check them out.) As a service to fellow artists, Austin created his “100 Days” series of self-published drawing-prompt books. Each book focuses on a different type of subject (e.g., dogs). The prompt appears on one page, with a blank facing page to draw on. His goal is to encourage artists to draw every day to improve their skills and creativity. Austin posts videos on TikTok showing his daily drawing habit to encourage people to do the same.

William D. (Bill) Holland

I’ve been following Bill Holland’s writing career for many years. He’s primarily a novelist, but he did dive into the coloring book publishing pool when he self-published The Urban Farming Coloring Book. On one page, Bill shares what he’s learned about being an urban farmer, and on the opposite page is a simple coloring page related to the topic just discussed. This is a bit of a departure from his crime-thriller novel writing, but it's still on-brand since he has been active in the urban farming movement. He has also sold the book at farmers' markets, where he sells his farming produce.

Seeing what these creative people do almost makes me want to do my own coloring book. But I’ll have to think about that, given my lack of drawing skills. Stay tuned.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 09, 2021:

Mary, like you, I'm more of a text-based person when it comes to enjoyment. I've never really understood the whole coloring book thing. But, hey, everybody's different.

The thing I do like about them is that it does provide a self publishing income stream for some authors.

Thanks for sharing your experience, as always. Have a beautiful day!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 08, 2021:

I have never been interested in colouring books for adults but when you described some of them, I'll be interested to colour some. I know friends who enjoy colouring them.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 08, 2021:

You're welcome, Bill! I appreciate you offering a coloring book I could use as an example. I will be diving into the book a bit more in the upcoming companion video for this post and podcast. So stay tuned.

With all these types of projects, I think we all feel we could have done things differently or better. But, hey, we're adventurers. :)

Thanks for your kind words and have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 08, 2021:

Pamela, I had a lot of coloring books when I was a kid. But like you, I don't get into them as an adult, and would rather do crosswords or other puzzles.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on the coloring book craze. Have a lovely week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 08, 2021:

Peggy, that was thoughtful of you to offer your friend a gift to bring some stress-relief and joy while she dealt with her health issues. That's definitely one use for these types of books, especially as so many deal with the pandemic.

And, yes, we have a couple of coloring book adventurers in our midst! Bill Holland and Amelia Griggs are long-time HP folks. Kudos to them for being brave.

Appreciate you sharing that great example of how coloring books can bring joy. Have a beautiful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 08, 2021:

Flourish, previewing that coloring book was a little gift to yourself. ;) But that's a great example of how an author's mission can be communicated through something other than a standard text-based book.

And you're right, projects like this seem so simple... until you get going with them. I hope I've saved some authors a bit of heartache and headache.

Thanks for sharing that great example! Have a great week! (It's crazy cold here, like 0.)

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on February 08, 2021:

Hi Amelia! I really liked how you coordinated activity books with the cookbooks. Definitely extends the brand. Thanks for providing a great example for other authors to follow. Have a great week!

Amelia Griggs from U.S. on February 07, 2021:

Very informative article, Heidi! After self-publishing 3 coloring and activity books as companion books to my children's rhyming storybooks, I have to say that it was a fun experience especially creating the food-themed activities.I do wish KDP offered some additional binding options, which would help the books lay flat better. Some kids may tear out the pages to color. I would say that I'm very happy with the quality of the paper (I have been opting for the white vs. cream color).

If anyone does want to check out my coloring and activity book series, I'm including the link to the series page here. Thanks again!

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 07, 2021:

This just goes to show that when you get down to the details doing something like this is a lot more complex (if you do it right) than the uninitiated person would assume. I bought someone with some anxiety issues a couple of hilarious anti-anxiety/confidence building coloring books. They were so funny that I leafed through them before I gave them to her as a gift.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 07, 2021:

I gave an adult coloring book to a good friend of mine. Hopefully, it gave her some pleasure as she battled cancer. She appeared pleased with it when I gave it to her. I never found out if she used it, as she died not too long after receiving the gift.

With the pandemic, I can understand why there has been a resurgence in interest. Hooray to Bill Holland! I hope he sells many of his coloring books.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 07, 2021:

This is a very interesting article, Heidi. I would think there is a good market for children's activity or coloring books. I know adults have the also, but it does not interest me. Someone gave me a couple books, and I have done nothing with them.

I guess many adults do like them, however. I like Sudoku and other logic type games though.This is a very good article as it gives people so manyy facts.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 07, 2021:

Aww, thanks for the mention, my friend. Wonderful article, as always. I could have used your article before I ventured into this genre. I was the blind kid leading the blind kid when I first started out. I think I would have done things considerably different if I did them now, but that's not going to happen. lol Still, I do recommend it. I think there is a market for coloring books for someone willing to take the time to market them properly.

Happy Sunday, Heidi!

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