Writing Chapter Books - A Look at the Numbers
Ah, chapter books. That sweet spot between picture books and longer middle grade.
Unfortunately, like chapter books, this post will be somewhat short.
Of the 300+ people taking my children's literature survey, only 5 were chapter book writers. My sample-size simply isn't big enough to analyze anything with confidence.
However, even this lack of data could be hinting at something important about publishing chapter books: There might not be many chapter book deals out there.
Let's look at a larger data set: Publishers Marketplace. When I checked Publishers Marketplace, there were 3,826 deals for picture books, 3,029 deals for middle grade, 4,790 for young adult and...
178 deals for chapter books.
Chapter books made up only 1.5% of reported Publishers Marketplace deals for children's books. That's about the same percent I captured. Looking at the titles on my library's shelves at at my local book store, it seems many are written in-house or as a work-for-hire project with no author listed.
Understanding these limitations, let's dive into chapter book advances:
Of the chapter book sales listed in Publishers Marketplace, 2.8% were $100,000+ (mostly established authors and celebrities). None of the chapter books in my survey sold for that much. The highest advance was $12,000. There were two deals around $4,000, and two authors accepted deals with no advance.
The person with the largest advance had been working the fewest number of years prior to publication (2 years). That's how it rolls sometimes.
Authors with advances tended to have a more positive experience with their publisher than those without advances (8 vs 6 out of 10 in overall satisfaction).
How hard is it to sell a chapter book?
Most of the authors in the survey sold the very first chapter book they wrote, but they wrote an average of three drafts before it sold.
Most chapter book authors have a regular writing routine, working 30+ hours per week.
Most of the authors had an agent.
About their agents:
All of the authors with chapter books at large houses are currently represented by an agent. These authors collected an average of 29 rejections before signing with their agent.
After signing they waited an average of 10 months before signing a book deal. Their agents sent an average of 2 books on submission late year, and sold an average of 2 books. They all hear back from 70% or more of their submission by the three month mark.
Their agents send stories to an average of 5-9 editors at a time.
Their agents mostly send to Big 5 publishers.
On a scale of one (bad) to ten (excellent), chapter books rate their agents overall as an 8.
More about chapter books:
Word count varied from 5,000 words to 40,000 words, with an average (mean) of 17,200 and a median word count of 8,500.
The authors had sold between 10 copies and 2 million copies of their chapter books. The author selling the most copies was a Scholastic author published only in softcover (hello, Scholastic school market!). As for the number of books sold (titles) over the course of a career, only two authors answered. One authors had sold 11 books and the other 166 books. More data would have been helpful to see if most chapter book authors are this prolific.
ALL of the chapter books in the survey were published as part of a series. There were no stand alone titles.
ALL of the authors wrote in other genres.
ALL but one of the authors tried to establish themselves in one genre before breaking into something new.
Words of Advance from Published Chapter Book Authors:
"Learn your craft well and have lots of patience."
"Work on craft. Craft is what matters."
"Keep trying and write what you love."
"Join a good critique group."
That's it for chapter books! Thank you chapter book authors!