6.5 min read

I’m starting to experiment with some publishing projects, and one of my first projects is a fun one! It’s a colouring book called Plantasy: A Vintage Botanical Fantasy. It’s a therapeutic adult colouring book I published (POD) using Amazon’s CreateSpace. (See it on Amazon here.)

Here’s a video of me flipping through the proof, hot off the press.


Colouring books are all the rage now. It may be a fad that will wane (that’s my prediction, but it’s certainly up for debate), and I’ve gotten into the game a bit late. I heard recently that there are over 9,000 colouring book titles on Amazon at the moment, and that most of them are self-published—stiff competition!

Actually, I’m not primarily publishing this for the sales. I’m doing this as a tester project—something I can practice my indie publishing skills on. After binging on a bunch of Joanna Penn videos, I was eager to get some content out there and explore these online retailers and learn about things like ISBNs, book ads, list building, meta data and all that strategic book marketing stuff.

I’m also a colouring dork. When I see my mom we often colour together, so I also just think it’ll be very cool to create something like this and hold it in my hands when it’s done. I’ll probably give some away to my friends and family for fun.

I’m a drawer and a painter and I’ve always been in love with vintage imagery. I collect old Valentine’s cards, and have completely fallen in love with the ephemera of bygone eras. I have a decent amount of hard drive space cluttered with old scanned images that I’ve saved for various projects that never materialized, so … why not put them to use?

Here’s how I created my first colouring book

1. I chose a theme

I chose vintage botanical illustrations! I used to be a florist and I just totally love them. But after perusing online there are many, many themes that are successful. Seems like the more niche, the better.

2. I chose images

Instead of drawing or using a program like Illustrator, I chose to use royalty free images. (Though I’m working on drawings for an upcoming book too.)

Don’t think using royalty-free images is necessarily the easy way to go about this. Yes, it cuts down some time, but there’s still a LOT of work involved if you want to put out a quality product. This includes:

  • Finding quality websites that provide royalty-free older images in high-ish resolutions. This is harder than it might seem. (300 DPI is the standard for print.)
  • Sorting through thousands of these images to find appropriate ones. Many won’t work because of shading issues, sizing issues, line issues, etc.
  • Editing the images using photo editing software like Photoshop to make the images appropriate for colouring.

To show you what I mean, take a look at these edits I made.

The illustrations I chose were scanned or photographed, like this:

They needed to have the backgrounds knocked out, lines darkened, and any pesky leftover shading erased. After that process, which can take quite a while depending on the image, you get something that looks like this:

Often, images were too dark and wouldn’t work for colouring, unless I edited them. For example, the areas for colouring in this butterfly are pretty dark originally.

So, I edited it to include more whitespace:

3. I prepped images for collage colouring pages

I also noticed that a lot of the vintage images were too small to use, or simply didn’t have enough going on. I knew I wanted to have some pages that used patterns, so I needed to cut and edit various usable elements from certain illustrations so I could arrange them as unique pages later on. For example, a final collage page:

4. I ordered an ISBN

In Canada you can order free ISBNs through ISBN Canada. I set up an account with them as a publisher, and within 10 business days they got back to me with login details. From there, I easily set up my project and was assigned an ISBN, which I later added to the interior pages of my book. CreateSpace also automatically adds it to the barcode of your cover.

Note: It looks like there is an option to get a free ISBN in Amazon/CreateSpace, but I didn’t go that route because apparently it doesn’t work outside of the Amazon environment. If you use an Amazon ISBN but might want to sell your book in other locations, like your neighbourhood bookstore (if you still have one 😢), you’ll have to publish a different edition with a non-Amazon issued ISBN.

I wanted to avoid that potential hassle, so I got my own ISBN.

5.  I created the interior pages

There are specific sizes and page counts that you should keep in mind before you layout your colouring pages. There are all sorts of resources and threads on CreateSpace discussing your various options, like this one.

I chose a 8.5 x 11 portrait orientation for my colouring book. Square colouring books are also quite popular, but note that 8.5 x 8.5 is the largest square size that CreateSpace can accommodate.

I used InDesign to create my colouring book. I know the program fairly well and am comfortable with it, but many people use Word for formatting.

I made sure to do my market research, and learned that seasoned colourers like a mixture of easy and difficult designs, and that they only want designs on one side of the page. Fussy bunch!

Tip: Check out CreateSpace’s page, How to Create an Interior PDF of Your Book.

6.  I created a cover

This isn’t a step you want to take lightly. It’s always good to do keyword research and look at what’s selling online before you create your cover. The info you uncover will inform your title, subtitle (if you want one), and your cover art.

A look at a few of my cover renditions.

My first attempt:

I added colour and a more professional main font:

Wanting a cleaner look and more readable text, I updated to this:

7. I created an account at CreateSpace

CreateSpace is an Amazon-affiliated online service that lets you set up your Amazon books easily. There are others, but I’m only familiar with CreateSpace at the moment. So far, I’ve found it pretty easy to use.

I’m going the POD route for this colouring book, which is a just-in-time purchase fulfillment approach. It just means that when someone orders your book online, they print and ship it to that person automatically.

This means you don’t have to order a load of books ahead of time, or go to the post office yourself whenever someone orders your book. You also don’t need to fork over much money up front. You’ll need to pay for proofs, or any orders you want to keep or sell by hand, but other than that there are zero upfront costs.

8. I uploaded my art and project information into CreateSpace

As you are creating your project, you can upload PDF versions of your interior and cover designs.

For the interior files, CreateSpace has a great tool called the Interior Reviewer. It lets you check your pages and it flags any potential issues like resolution or alignment problems.

Unfortunately this isn’t the case with the cover. They provide you with a checklist you can follow, but you won’t get a chance to review it for at least another day. (This is my understanding anyway.)

After you enter all the required information (author, publisher, ISBN number, etc.) the project is submitted and awaits review. The reviewer will get back to you within 24 hours and if your project passes, you get to move into final preview mode (where you can preview your cover) and order your physical proof!

9. I reviewed the physical proof

My proof came back this week, and I LOVE it. I’m quit impressed with the product. It definitely looks and feels like a professional level book. My one concern is that I wish the lines on the interior pages were darker. I’m not sure if that’s something I can control, but I’m going to look into it.

One caveat: With Amazon’s CreateSpace POD service, you don’t have control over the paper type or thickness so the quality isn’t the same as some of the higher end ($25+) colouring books that are on the market sold by traditional publishers. By going this route, you are charging less for your book (between $7-$12 CAD seems to be the going rate), and are offering a more cost-conscious product.

10. I watched the sales roll in

That’s how it works, right? Don’t we wish. I’ll be practicing some marketing techniques with my colouring book series over the next few months and reporting back when I get the metrics in.

Follow along while I create and share more publishing, POD, and book marketing experiments.

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