The Honest Truth About How Much Money Children’s Authors Make

Piggy bank on book

My friend, a fellow writer, was getting her driver’s license renewed. The person processing her application asked her what line of work she was in.

“I write children’s books,” she said.

“Oh, there’s a ton of money in that,” the DPS officer said.

My friend’s eyebrows shot up so high they practically hit the ceiling.

You Mean Children’s Book Authors Aren’t Rich?

If you are a writer for children, experienced authors will often give you this advice:

Don’t do it for the money.

If you are new to children’s writing, or just starting to explore it, this may come as a surprise to you.

What about Jeff Kinney, you ask, the creator of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series? What about Rick Riordon and his Percy Jackson books? And how about Suzanne Collins, of Hunger Games fame?

What about J. K. Rowling, who has a net worth of $1 billion dollars??

Exactly what kind of numbers are we talking about, then?

So many books

Walk into the children’s section of a bookstore, or a library—even if you lived to 150 years old, there is no way you could read all the books. Every year, enough children’s books to fill a football field are published.

Surely most of these authors are at least making a decent living from their books?

Actually, no.

Let’s look at some numbers.

Expected Income for First-Time Authors

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) describes a typical compensation package for an author of a children’s book. This example pertains largely to picture books, which on average run about 32 pages.

Keep in mind that for picture books, the money paid by the publisher is split between the author and the illustrator (unless they are one and the same).

How Much of an Advance are Authors Paid?

For this example, we’ll use a situation where the author receives an advance from the publisher. (Some publishers, especially the smaller ones, do not give advances).

Typical advance: $6,000 – $12,000

Author/Illustrator split: $2,700/$3,300 – $5,400/$6,600

After the advance, authors can then earn royalties, which are often set at around 3.5% – 6% of the book’s sale price. (This figure reflects the fact that royalties, which are typically 7% – 10%, are also split with the illustrator). No royalties are earned until enough books have sold to cover the advance.

This is what is referred to as “earning out” your advance.

The Bottom Line

Generally, most picture books sell around 5,000 to 10,000 copies in hardcover form, and few are made into paperback. Most will also go out of print within about two years.

Easy readers have similar compensation packages, but royalties are not split on novels. So in this case, an author could receive an advance of $5,000 to $8,000 with 7% to 10% royalties.

Let’s use an example of a typical 32-page picture book. The book is assigned an advance of $8,000, which is split 45%/55% with the illustrator, leaving the author with $3,600.

Let’s say the book is listed at a retail price of $17.99, and the author is given royalties of 4%.

Book price ($17.00) x royalty (4%) = $0.72.

Yep, you saw that right. She will earn less than a dollar a book.

And if the author has an agent, part of that money (about 15%) goes to the agent, leaving the author with $0.61 per book.

About how much you’ll earn per book (Photo by Jeff Weese from Pexels)

Which means more than 11,000 books have to be sold before the author can even begin earning royalties.

Which means she probably won’t.

Financial Numbers for Other Children’s Book Genres

Literary agent Jennfer Laughren provided some ballpark figures for other types of children’s books in a blog post she wrote in 2015. Here are her estimates of advances for different levels of children’s books:

  • Chapter Books: $5,000 – $12,000
  • Middle Grade Novels: $8,000 – $20,000
  • Young Adult (YA): $12,000 – $30,000

These are numbers she came up with from her own experience with her author clients, so they were not scientifically compiled. But Ms. Laughren has been in the children’s book business for awhile and is a total pro, so you can be assured these are solid numbers.

As you can see, these numbers are pretty discouraging if you are hoping your children’s writing is going to be your ticket to quitting your day job and sipping margaritas at the beach instead.

And yet thousands of books are published each year. Thousands more are written and never even published. Someone is writing all these books.

Are they all just chasing a pipe dream?

For the Love of Writing

“Write because you love writing,” is a common refrain among seasoned writers. “If you are writing for the money, you are doing it for the wrong reason.”

The numbers don’t lie. The truth is, writing for children typically doesn’t provide enough income for authors to sustain a comfortable, or really even a bare-bones, living.

But if you do keep at it, and focus on improving your craft and writing stories that children want to read, and their parents want them to read, and eventually land a book deal, I’m guessing every single published author will tell you it’s worth it.

Getting your book out into the world and touching children’s lives in some way, whether it makes them laugh, or think, or connect with your story or characters in some way, really is priceless.

Does This Mean You Need to Accept a Life of Low Wages?

While it is extremely difficult to achieve enough success through book sales alone to become a full-time children’s book author, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dream entirely.

At least I don’t think so.

There are those who successfully support themselves as children’s book authors. But that doesn’t mean their only source of income is through their books.

There are other ways to earn income related to your work as an author.

Here are some examples:

  • School visits
  • Providing editing and critiquing services
  • Teaching writing classes
  • Ghostwriting services
  • Opening a publishing business

Because you want to make a living as a children’s book author, the first step is selling your books.

As a first step, let’s explore some of the best ways to market your books and increase your sales.

19 thoughts on “The Honest Truth About How Much Money Children’s Authors Make”

  1. This is great information for those of us who want to “follow the dream.” It needs to be tempered with a dose of reality. As a school librarian, I encounter a lot of authors. I’m sure most of them are not living the life of luxury.

  2. But children’s book publishing is a billion dollar industry. And most everyone connected with the industry, publishers, editors, agents, printers, are making a living in large part from the labor of writers and illustrators. How ironic that the creators of children’s books cannot make a living from their passion.

    1. The same can be said for authors of text books. I have written two non-fiction books and had them published by reputable publishing house and yet I made at total of $600: 450 on the first and 190 on the second. No advances either.

    2. You are so right! That’s why after long research I decided to self-publish instead. The numbers are just not promising with traditional publishers. 3.5%-5% royalties per book? In the UK most picture books are paperbacks and they sell for £6.99, so the authors don’t earn much at all and still, they have to do some marketing to push their books.

      That is not to say that I will never publish with a traditional publisher, but as we know most don’t make a living out of it. It’s pretty sad for the reasons you mentioned above.

  3. I’m learning this firsthand after publishing 2 children’s books. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my research and went with 2 publishing firms which I paid and they still did a subpar job with my books. But to see posts on Facebook of children enjoying my books, you’re correct, it’s priceless!❤🦒🧚‍♀️

    1. Love that, when people begin enjoying your book creations and when they return much positive feedback from your books they hold in front of them….

  4. I just started writing. I’m having a great time writing I wrote three books (not been published yet). Working on my 4 book. I write escape from the everyday rat race. I never thought this hobby would be so satisfying. I don’t care if I make a lot of money. I just enjoy writing ✍☺

  5. I just started writing. I’m having a great time writing I wrote three books (not been published yet). Working on my 4 book. I write escape from the everyday rat race. I never thought this hobby would be so satisfying. I don’t care if I make a lot of money. I just enjoy writing ✍☺

  6. I must say, you are absolutely right. If an author thinks that having a book published is going to guarantee them a larger economic life is totally deceived. As you clearly stated in your article, if you write because you simply like it ,you will be a more emotional fortified person. Thank you, I will now write because it make me happy and my voice is heard. Also, if their is economic grow, that is just icing on the cake.

  7. I have been wanting to start somewhat one good day in my lifetime of my enjoyment for writing, i just need help how or where to begin with my many mental thoughts i would love to add into writing childrens and young adult books some just words and some with pictures

  8. I’m so happy to find this site. I have a children’s book written by my late grandfather I never met. My Father is alive at 85 and wants me to try and get this out to others. If it sells well are not. It is a beautiful story about the PNW (Pacific Northwest and an Island. It is sooo good in our opinion that it could be made into a movie. This book was written over 60 years ago.It needs to be shared with others and not just sit in a brief case.

    I know this is too much info ,but your site did help me think and get ideas. I’m NOT stopping to figure this “Book” could be something special.

    Thank you for your time,
    Tamara J Brinton

  9. I have written 10 children books and illustrated 3 so far. None of them published yet. Still waiting for the day to self publish them. I enjoy sharing my stories with everyone and getting the feedback to make them better. It’s definitely a labour of love ❤️. One day I hope to share them with the world. As for now …I just keep writing.

  10. Self-publishing is the only way for me. But I won’t sugarcoat it and make any claims of grandeur. It’s challenging on a good day. I’ve released two children’s books in collaboration with a successful Arizona artist. I’m a bit unique in that I also include an original song. That combination has been helpful. Not to mention my years in the music business and content creation. But keep in mind, it’s imperative you don’t approach self-publishing with any sense of romance. You must be authentic and friendly while also being highly professional and resilient. For me, that meant establishing a proper LLC along with learning how to build custom websites, hiring artists for custom logos, using a stellar print shop, creating a Shopify store, sending email after email and so on. So don’t be afraid. Just be ready.

  11. I retired recently and, I enjoy writing. When I was in college, I wrote a children’s story. My professor at that time graded it and said ,”not bad at all.” In fact, she edited it for me; besides, I am working on four other stories for children along with a book of my thoughts about life. I am new to this and, I would like to share my children stories with the world as well as my thought about life so, I am glad that I have learned few things about publishing. Thank you!

  12. I wrote and self published 5 children’s books, created to help kids 3 to 7 years old cope with illness, pain and fear. These are Rhymes for Wellness and a beautiful parent/teacher guide is included in each 30 page book. I was doing this through Costco printing and they looked great. Now I am looking at Ingram Spark and trying to figure out how to do it all with bar codes. I have the ISBN numbers. I look forward to printing more under Compassionate as a publisher, which is my company that operates as a nonprofit community based organization. Thank you for your information!

  13. My niche is LOW VISION/ BUILDING SELF ESTEEM AND CONFIDENCE . I believe we have to start at the beginning. My book are directed at pre-elementary school. Every book I sell gives me joy (not many sales). One child at a time😍

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