How I used Canva & KDP to illustrate and self-publish a children’s book

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Summary: A lot of what I’m seeing already out there on the topic of illustrating a book with Canva seems to focus solely on the book cover, which is great! But, my goal here is to prove that your entire kids book can be illustrated in Canva—start to finish.

The beauty of it is, as is all things Canva, it’s a way to do graphic design without Photoshop. You don’t have to be an artist. You simply need to possess enough creativity and imagination to piece together a bigger item and element from smaller pieces.

It’s not as time consuming as it sounds, and yes, it can be a little tedious, but this first time around, I had a blast, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Once the illustration was complete, I simply exported the PDF, uploaded it to the Kindle Kids Book creator, used Kindle Previewer to preview, and then uploaded to KDP for publication!

With all of that, here we go.

So, it’s early 2020. A time for reflection, “turning the page,” the usual at this point of the new year.

While I’m not huge on resolutions, I’m big on goals…with one large goal of mine from 2019 being to write, illustrate, and self-publish a children’s book.

Here’s the thing—I could write a children’s book a day if I wanted. This is not a brag, but more of me just stating that writing isn’t and hasn’t ever been the issue. Instead, it was the process. The what ifs of the unknown. Not to mention the illustrating. I am not artistic at all, and it’s one big reason why I rely on Canva (affiliate link) to do it all for me. (I also advocate for Snappa, which is a great alternative.)

So, naturally, Canva is where I turned when it came time to illustrating my story.

Now, Canva is known for its templates, and its many plug-and-play elements that look amazing and are easy to use. With that said, I knew going into this that I was going to want to sell this book, and thus, I wanted to make sure anything I illustrated was “mine” and 100% original.

If you’re new to Canva, you can’t free-hand draw on the platform. Sure, you can dry elsewhere and then upload it to Canva for use, but again, I’m not an artist, so drawing was off the table from the beginning.

So, then, if you can’t draw your own characters and backdrops, etc., how do you create something original?

I pondered, and threw a few ideas against the wall. For instance, I thought about using original photography, and then even just simple animation effects, as can be achieved in something like PowerPoint.

Eventually, I went back to Canva, and started tinkering.

And after a short time, things started coming together. Luckily my book featured a moon as the main imagery, so that wasn’t all too difficult to accomplish. But even for things like houses, Christmas settings, etc., I found that by piecing together simple shapes, I could achieve a decent look.

Here’s how I went about it.

Illustrating a Kids’ Book in Canva

First thing that was helpful for me was to take inventory of the different shapes Canva had available. This is a simple navigation to the “elements” section and then to “shapes.”

Canva shapes

As you can see, there is everything you’d expect to have available (but did you know you can’t outline text in Canva, or even underline text in Canva without a workaround?)—circles, squares, triangles, etc. Sure, there aren’t any finished houses, trees, windows, or rocket ships, but all of that and more is sitting here, deconstructed, waiting to be pieced together.

And “deconstruction” really is the best term for it. Here are the major elements I created, and the pieces I created them out of:

House: Squares, rectangles, and triangles.
Grass: Rectangle
Sidewalk: Rectangle
Sink: Half circle and rectangles
Christmas tree: Triangles
Bed: Cylinders and rectangles

Anyway, you get the point.

Now of course, some objects were made of more obscure shapes, like the stockings hanging from the fireplace made from rectangles and these kidney bean-looking shapes; the fire was a jagged top shape I duplicated and changed the color to give it the flame effect.

But for the most part, you can look at what is created in the book and see the elements are really just shapes joined together.

Here is the breakdown on a few of them.

Moon: Really, just a bunch of different circles here. The overlapping circle (black shown below for the sake of the example) blends in with the background, so not noticeable, but allows for the crescent shape when placed on top of the main yellow circle. Then, the smaller circles are set at lower transparency to represent craters.

Arms and Baby: Cylinders were used for the arms, just joined and angled to create the elbow. The baby and blanket are just ovals, and of course the circle head. I couldn’t make lines thin enough for the facial features, so I just created a text box, and used keyboard dashes.

Bathroom Items: Pretty easy to create the soap dispenser, toothbrush holder, and toothbrush from rectangles of different colors and sizes.

Christmas Tree: Probably doesn’t need much explanation, but I stacked triangles and offset them to make it look like a traditional tree with a fuller bottom and slender top. I made sure to only show half the tree for this reason. Trunk is a cylinder, ornaments are circles.

Monster: This one was fun, and could have gone a million different directions. My goal, though, was to have the monster resemble something that could be found in a boy’s closet, like a basketball.

So, I used a larger circle for the head, smaller circles for the eyes, a lightning bolt for the headpiece (could also be achieved with a slender triangle and rectangle), and then smaller triangles for the teeth.

Bed: Again, basic and easy—cylinders for the posts, different rectangles for the mattress and box spring, triangles for blankets, etc.

Rocket: The rocket, while looking the most complex, was probably the easiest, made up of a simple oval, supported by triangles and then additional circles for the window, bolts, etc.

“Earth”: Settling on a concept for this one was difficult, as I tried a variety of shapes in an attempt to recreate the classic “globe” look you’d expect to see with earth.

It just didn’t work out, so I opted for a zoomed in look at a city. As you can see, simple rectangles form the buildings and windows; the road a jagged already-put-together piece, but could have easily been done with rectangles as well.

Sky: Last but not least, the clouds again were simple circles – three each – and then the hills/mountains were triangles of different shades for a depth effect.

Again, is this the only way to illustrate a children’s book in Canva? Not in the least. With all of this, my goal is to inspire ideas so you can begin to see how many simple shapes can be used together to create something greater.

Publishing with KDP

Now, once your book is created in Canva, you need to download/export it, and then upload to KDP. There might be a different ways to accomplish this final task, but here is how I went about it:

In Canva, go to “Publish” in the top right corner and then “download.” I then selected “PDF Print” and waited a second for the download.

For this step, I also made sure I downloaded the whole book minus the cover (I then also created a separate project for the cover, and downloaded it as a PNG; I’ll explain why in a minute).

From here, you’ll need the Kindle Kids’ Book Creator, which is the tool that will help you get your story file into the format needed for publishing.

Once downloaded, open the program and fill in the required details like book title, author, etc. On the next screen, you’ll be asked to specify orientation – either landscape or portrait, and whether you want the book to display two pages on the screen at once, or only one. (I opted for landscape, and one page, for what it’s worth).

Now it’s time to upload your PDF and PNG cover file.  You’ll see on the screen below, you have the option to “Import your entire book, including the cover, from a PDF” or “Import your cover from a separate image file.”

Honestly, I don’t know the pros and cons of each! But as mentioned above, I opted for the separate uploads.

Once imported, you’ll see all of your pages loaded into the creator. For me, I wanted to utilize the tool’s “Book Preview,” but when doing so, I encountered an error, and couldn’t find my way around it:

So, rather than trying to get the previewer to work from the creator tool, I downloaded the previewer (here) and opened it separately. The only file I was able to upload to the previewer was the .opf file, and when doing so, everything looked good. (I’d later come to find that this step didn’t do much good, which I’ll get into in a minute.)

Everything seemed to be ready to go! You’ll now head back over to the book creator and “Save for Publishing,” and then on to KPD and start the process, beginning with the “Kindle eBook Details” tab.

This piece is pretty straightforward, as you’ll just be filling out the book title, author, description, keywords, age ranges, etc.

After, it’s time to upload your manuscript.

Now, this is where I made a mistake, so take note.

I failed to notice that a PDF wasn’t an advisable format. I then doubled down on my mistake and ignored the KDP preview option next step since I had already downloaded and used the Kindle previewer to check things out.

Long story short, the PDF is a fixed format, and thus makes it less responsive to devices. As a result, my pages were too large, and required pinching and swiping just to get all of the images to fit on one page when reading (not a great user experience).

In the end, I didn’t notice this erorr until the eBook was published, so I had to unpublish, fix, upload again as a .mobi file, and wait for everything to be approved and available for sale again. I then had to wait an additional 5 days for the book reviews to be carried over to the “new” book.

In the end, I got the eBook published (I also opted to convert it into a printable paperback, but I’ll save that process for another time). The book is here if you want to check it out.

Lessons (and Skills) Learned

Honestly, between Canva and KDP, putting a children’s book together has never been easier. I knew I could always write a kids book, but was hung up on these two items: How am I going to illustrate this thing? And, the process seems like a lot of work.

(I could have easily gone to Fiverr to find an illustrator, and you can too, if the illustration process still seems like too much work.)

I’m now kicking myself I didn’t get started earlier, and can’t wait to create the next.

Ryan
About Ryan 32 Articles
Ryan started Rent My Words to help everyday people, (beginners without any experience, basically) find success with freelance writing on platforms like Upwork and others.