How to Make a Living as a Children's Book Author

Let's talk about how to survive financially by writing books for children.

Hannah Writes.jpg

This isn't a post about craft. Nope. Instead, I want to talk about the meat and potatoes of it, specifically how to afford them. And...uh...maybe not the meat.

Anyway if you write and also eat, this post is for you.

Full disclosure, I'm not making a living as a children's author. For the past two years, I've made a profit, sold books, kept financial records, and paid taxes off my writing income. However, I'm not "earning a living." I made $17,000 last year. The average rent in Portland, Oregon (where I live) is $1,362/month. That's $16,344/year. Leaving me with a luxurious $656 for food, health care, and new pants! Wheeee!

So, obviously, I'm not surviving solely off my writing income. And yet...

I'm relatively successful. According to a recent survey of 175 picture book authors, I'm in the top 30% of income earners for trade picture book authors.

Across the children's literature spectrum (picture books - young adult) most authors don't earning a living wage.

Only about 45% of young adult authors earned more than $20,000 last year. 35% of middle grade authors and 15% of picture book authors made the $20,000 income threshold.

We could talk about why most authors make hardly any money. That would make an interesting post for another day.

However, let's skip that part and assume you do want to earn a living writing children's books. 

Is it possible to earn a real living wage as a children's book writer?

Yes, but it's neither easy nor luxurious.

Here's what the data says about children's book authors making more than $20,000/year:

  • Most of them have been writing professional for at least six years. (Expect it to take a while to get established.)

  • Most of them have sold more than one story. (Be prolific.)

  • Almost all of them have written more stories than they've sold. (Again, be prolific.)

  • Almost all have an agent. (Authors with agents make on average more than twice as much as authors without)

  • They have all been rejected. (Persevere.)

  • They don't sell their work to no-advance houses. (You have a less than 1% chance of making a living wage this way. Value your work.)

  • Expect work to cycle in boom and bust phases. (Save during the boom times! Keep a safety net in the bank.)

Writing for children is a career where anything is possible. The top 1% of children's authors made more than $200,000 last year. It's also possible to become an overnight success. It happens. It's just really, really rare. So if you are in the thick of the query trenches, keep writing, keep trying, and keep working on craft. You'll need to keep these skills sharp even after you sell the first book.

Are you making a living as a children's author? Do you have something to add? Different advice? Please tell us in the comments.

Hannah Holt is a children’s author with an engineering degree. Her picture books The Diamond and the Boy and A Father’s Love weave together her love of language and science.