Money matters when it comes to writing, especially if you're planning on doing it full time. But if you think that writing children's books is the easiest way to quit the day job, then you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. For every JK Rowling or Julia Donaldson, there are tens of thousands of authors who are writing for love rather than money.
First the Official Numbers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is the official government resource for all things salary-related. BLS gathers data for writers and authors, a category that includes children's authors. The median salary – that's the salary in the middle when ranked highest to lowest – was $63,200 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,660, while the highest earners made more than $122,450. Bear in mind that novelists, magazine writers, sportswriters, copywriters, biographers, screenwriters, bloggers and other writers are included in this category. The figures are interesting, but they don't really tell us what children's authors are earning.
Publishing the Traditional Route
The traditional path to publication involves finding a children's book agent who'll hawk your book around the various publishing houses and negotiate the best deal on your behalf. Finding an agent is often the toughest part of the job – besides researching the market, coming up with a marketable idea, hiring an illustrator and writing and editing your book!
Children's authors who choose the traditional route can expect an advance of between $1,000 and $10,000 for their book, plus royalties for every copy that sells. Royalties vary between publishers, but you can expect somewhere around 5 to 7 cents on the dollar for printed books and up to 25 cents on e-book sales. The more you sell, the more you earn.
Selling Children’s Books Online
Self-publishing offers a different route into publishing, and one that gives authors more creative control. Digital formats lead this sector, with most people choosing to sell their books on the Kindle Store. Authors get up to 70 percent royalties on this platform if their book is priced reasonably, and the major attraction is that you get to keep all these royalties – there's no agent to take a 15 percent cut from your earnings.
Again, your income will depend on how many books you sell. With 70 percent royalties, for example, you'll make $2 from every book priced at $2.99. That means you're going to have to sell 30,000 copies of your book to pull in revenues of $60,000 per year gross – and research expenses, promotional costs, illustration, cover design and other expenses will eat away at that headline figure.
Making this volume of sales is no walk in the park. Getting your name out there can be tough when you don't have a major publishing house behind you to help drive your sales.
Putting It All Together
Theoretically, you can make millions from writing children's books. Jeff Kinney, the author of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," made $19.5 million in 2016, reports Forbes. JK Rowling and Rick Riordan were not far behind.
Outside of the big names, however, writing is rarely a full-time job. Data from the Author's Guild 2018 Author Income Survey suggests that only 21 percent of full-time published authors derived 100 percent of their income from book sales – the rest had other jobs. The median income for full-time authors was $20,300 in 2017 according to this survey, and roughly 25 percent of authors surveyed earned nothing from their book writing at all.