In 2015, I hopped on the coloring book bandwagon.
It was a logical match for my skills, since I’m — first and foremost — an artist and illustrator. I can draw my own coloring pages. (In fact, I do. They’re what I doodle as I’m unwinding with the latest episodes of my favorite TV shows.)
How I Started
First, I took two courses.
One had some good information, but most of it was so preposterous… well, to this day, I’m not sure if the instructor deliberately recommended bad (and convoluted) graphics techniques so he’d have less competition in the field. It wasn’t a very good course, but it helped me realize that I could do this. So, I don’t regret taking it.
The other course I took was Coloring Book Profits, originally by Alessandro Zamboni, and then — due to vicious (and very public) pettiness by a competing instructor — Bill Platt got involved, so Alessandro wasn’t the steady target of unfair criticism, legal threats, and other childishness.
If coloring books intrigue you, I recommend Alessandro’s & Bill’s course. It’s brief, but it provides the basics you’d need to get involved in this field. (You may need more or less info, depending on your art/graphics background. You’ll find plenty of free, more specific instruction at YouTube.)
What I Did
Over the next few months, I focused on coloring books, almost to the exclusion of all other projects. I knew I had the skills; I needed to see if coloring books held my interest and were profitable.
Since then, I’ve produced over 50 coloring books under three pen names.
Pen name 1 was a name I’ve been using online since 1995, and it’s an “oldie but goodie” in the mixed media arts community. More than half of my coloring books are written in that name. They provide the vast majority of my coloring book income.
Pen name 2 was a throwaway name, testing some techniques based on advice in the first coloring book course I took. I published several books following that instructor’s general advice. Only one of those books has done well. The others sell one or two copies per month.
Pen name 3 was created for a sub-niche outside the general coloring book category. I’ve produced just a few books in that sub-niche.
Note: If you haven’t read my articles about pen names, do. I use pen names to protect my privacy and my family’s.
In some coloring book forums, self-appointed “experts” insist that everyone should publish using their real names. They talk in lofty terms about being “authentic” and “not hiding behind a pen name.”
I don’t know if they’re naive, inexperienced, or deliberately misleading people.
Never publish under your real name. Not if you can avoid it. (Also, while you might think it’s cute to put your child or grandchild’s photo on your book cover… don’t do that, either.)
So far, my top three coloring books earn a comfortable three figures each, per month. Some months are better than others, but the income is fairly reliable.
Nevertheless, with over 50 coloring books selling at Amazon, I average $20 per month in royalties, per book title.
Books under pen name 1 — over 40 books — are varied. Most appeal to two different, specific coloring book sub-niches. Royalties average $20 per book, per month.
Books under pen name 2 — about 10 books — appeal to one narrowly targeted audience. It’s very different from those under pen name 1. Royalties average $20 per book, per month.
Books under pen name 3 — four books — are in a quirky self-help niche. They’re not bought as “coloring books,” per se. Each book sells equally well… and royalties average $20 per book, per month.
I have no idea if that $20/book figure is something cosmic or what. As far as I’m concerned, it’s very, very weird. I’ve never seen a pattern like this in any other book category.
But, since I’d draw these designs anyway, that reliable income is pretty good.
Note: The coloring book trend won’t last forever. Whether the field reaches a saturation point or enthusiasm wanes, I’m not convinced my current coloring book income will continue, indefinitely.
For now, it’s pretty good.
And, before leaping into the coloring book field, carefully consider these other points:
- I didn’t see much per-book income until I’d published more than 10 coloring books. I saw a second income leap at about 30 coloring books.
- My best-selling books are unique. Most of them are entirely hand-drawn by me, with pen & paper, and tweaked in Photoshop or Illustrator (or both) to improve the final illustrations. (I have 20+ years experience with Adobe software. I will not claim “anyone can do this.” Not the kinds of books I create, anyway.)
- My worst-selling books are based on graphics you can find, create, or buy online… the kinds of coloring books recommended in the first course I took. (I’m talking about public domain images, purchased graphics that aren’t significantly altered before use, and software that turns out ho-hum illustrations.)
Your results may differ. However, I’m not sure I can recommend this field to anyone completely new to art or illustration.
On the flip side, keep in mind that — so far — I’ve done almost no marketing at all. No ads. Just a couple of blog mentions via Fiverr. That’s it. Everything else has been word-of-mouth.
Tools and Tricks
I draw my original illustrations on the same paper I use in my printer. Generally, that’s the huge package of HP Everyday Copy & Print paper sold at Target. (There, it’s about $7 – $8 for a 500-sheet package.)
Most of the time, I use LePen drawing pens. My usual pen size is 0.8, but I’ve worked with 0.3 and 0.5. (That link takes you to Amazon, so you can see the pen I use. However, it’s smarter to buy those pens in bulk if you can afford it, or shop at Jo-Ann Fabric, if one is nearby.)
I also work with a Pigma pen, size Graphic 1.
My earliest books were created with a Zig Writer pen (double-tipped); the ink doesn’t last as long as I’d like, but it offers a nice, fine line as well as a broader one. I think I buy those at Michaels Arts & Crafts shops.
(All of my pens come from Amazon, Jo-Ann, or Michaels.)
I create templates — basic design ideas, sizes, and shapes — with the thick Zig Writer pen. Usually, I place one of my templates on a clipboard, underneath the plain sheet of paper I’ll draw on.
My main template is a rectangle in the size of the finished coloring page. That allows for a one-inch margin at the center of the book, and about a 3/4″ margin on the other three sides.
My second favorite template divides a similar rectangle into “slices of the pie.” I put a dot in the center of the rectangle, and draw lines out from it — in an asterisk-type (or star) shape — to the edges of the rectangle. That template is for symmetrical designs.
After I’ve drawn 5 – 10 coloring pages, usually with my LePen pen, I scan them with my DoxieGo scanner. It saves me so much time (compared with scanning with my all-in-one printer/scanner), I’d have to say it’s the #1 reason I can turn out so many quality coloring books, quickly.
Looking back, if I had to choose between buying software to produce coloring books, and my DoxieGo scanner, I’d make the scanner the top priority. No contest.
I’ve also used that scanner to scan thousands of family photos and papers, while sitting in front of the TV. It’s really easy to use, and — for me — it’s peace of mind knowing that, if anything happened to the original photos and papers, it wouldn’t be such a tragedy. Everything is backed up on my hard drive and in the cloud, as well.
I create mandalas with Kaleidoscope Kreator, but you can find similar software — with fewer options — online. (Search for “free mandala software.” You’d find things like ColorMandala.com and MyOats.com.)
However, I’m not convinced the mandala market will remain strong in coloring books. In fact, some Christian audiences specifically avoid mandalas, and that may be a sub-niche to consider.
I fine-tune my drawings and designs in Photoshop. Sometimes, I use Illustrator for vector work, and I’ve also used Vector Magic.
Lately, I’ve used the latest version (free) of Irfanview to tweak my line drawings, per the instructions at this article about enlarging images. (I tried the other software recommended in that article. Not impressed.) For me, Irfanview’s results have been superior to Vector Magic, at least for line drawings.
Steps to Publishing
I always publish my books with images on just one side of the page. I publish via CreateSpace.com. I’ve been publishing with them since around 2009 and strongly recommend them to all indie authors and publishers.
I don’t buy ISBNs. I use the free ones offered by CreateSpace; then, my books can sell to schools and public libraries.
I create the final version of my coloring pages in Photoshop and save them as PDFs. Others like to create their pages in Word, OpenOffice, or LibreOffice, and save them as PDFs.
Then, I assemble them with Adobe Acrobat Pro. (You can find free tools to do the same things, and you can compile your book in something like OpenOffice, etc., as a single, multi-page PDF.)
Most of my books have 35 to 50 individual coloring pages.
Initially, I created my books in both right-handed and left-handed versions. (Add one single-sided blank page near the front of the book. That shifts all the following pages to the left side.)
At first, the left-handed versions sold well, even better than the right-handed ones, but that interest fell off dramatically after about three months.
Now, I rarely bother with left-hand editions.
I do include a few sample pages (from my other coloring books) at the back of most books. I can’t claim it’s led to lots of extra book sales, but I think it has helped a little.
And, I’ve tested hand-colored cover illustrations and digitally-colored cover illustrations. It’s a little early to be sure, but — to my surprise — I haven’t seen a major leap in sales among my coloring books with the hand-colored covers.
Regarding pricing: I test my prices over several months. I also keep checking Amazon to see if they’re discounting my book prices.
Once I settle on a good price, I may revise my book cover with a printed price on the back. That increases the likelihood of a brick-and-mortar store stocking my books.
Other Sales Options
I never publish my coloring books in Kindle. Though (as of this writing) some people are doing well with that approach, I firmly believe it’s against Amazon’s policies to do so. I think Amazon will (eventually) shut down everyone offering coloring books via KDP.
I don’t sell through Etsy or my own website, either, but that’s because I like everything as hands-off (passive) as possible. I know that some people are selling lots of coloring books and coloring pages at Etsy, and they say they’re doing well.
My Future Coloring Book Projects
Yes, I’m about to start marketing my coloring books via Facebook ads. That may change my coloring book income significantly.
But, as I said earlier, I think coloring books are a fad that will wane over the next few years. So, I’m looking at longer-lasting writing and publishing projects, for more reliable, long-term income.
Also, I’ve tried to create content that’s almost identical to my three, top-selling coloring books. So far, the clones haven’t achieved anything close to the income of the original three.
(For example, I tried five different variations — each a different book — duplicating different aspects of one of my best-sellers. So far, only one of those clones has done well… but the income from it is only about 25% of the book it mimics. So, I’m baffled and can’t say what makes one coloring book sell better than another.)
For me, coloring books are fun. They’re based on doodles and designs I’d draw, anyway.
However, if I look at the big picture and the $20/book per month (average) income… I wouldn’t continue to create coloring books if they were anything except fun.
If you enjoy drawing or digitally creating designs, you may want to test-drive this niche. You might stumble onto a coloring book concept that does really, really well.
Or, if you’re like me, you might think of this as a really cool way to share art you’d create anyway… and earn some income from it at the same time.