Writing Picture Books, A Look at the Numbers (Part 2)


  • The survey was open from April 19th to September 15th, 2017.
  • 174 published picture book authors participated.
  • Results were anonymous. (I don't know who answered what, so please don't ask.)
  • These are the final 2017 numbers. They might be slightly different from my previews published elsewhere. These results have the most complete data.
  • I offered no compensation to authors takin the survey. THANK YOU AUTHORS FOR DONATING YOUR TIME AND MAKING THIS POSSIBLE!
  • FYI, I'm also not getting paid to do this and have four small children. I'm doing the best I can to make this information quickly available in a useful format.

The results: Finances

#1: How large was your debut advance (including additional books if in the same deal)?

The most common picture book author advances are between $1,000 and $5,000 (40% of all authors).

Q1 All author advances.jpg

3.5% of authors earned an advance over $50,000. This percentage is slightly higher than data available through Publisher Marketplace. Publishers Market Place (as of last week) had 3,826 total deals reported for picture books - 93 of those deals (2.4%) were $50k or higher. Basically, this is a sanity check against a much larger data set, and the data collected here is close. Moreover, Publishers Marketplace does not break down deal information in units less than $50k, so there is no way to further analyze 97% of the deals from their reports.

Let's look at advances another way: by house size. How large are advances at smaller houses vs. Big 5 publishers?

Q1 Large House vs small house advance.jpg

Note: There was one Big 5 author with no advance. This author was published 30+ years ago.

Let's look at all advances by year of debut. These graphs are chronological: 10+ years ago, 5-9 years ago, 0-5 years ago, and new titles not yet released.


Q1 10+ years advances.jpg
Q1 5-9 advances.jpg
Q1 0-5 advances.jpg
Q1 Not yet released advances.jpg

Over time, advances have generally increased, regardless of house size. For example, it wasn't unusual for an author at a Big 5 house to have an advance under $5,000. There weren't any Big 5 authors with titles coming in the next two years, with advances under $5,000. However, the last 5-9 years have seen the rise of the small no-advance publisher. It's becoming more and more common for authors at smaller houses to accept an offer for their book debut on a royalties-only structure.

Let's also look at author/illustrators vs. author vs. illustrator picture book advances. There were 174 people in the survey: 18 were author/illustrators, 4 were illustrators, 152 were authors-only. Here's how the advances looked by sub-group: 


author advances.jpg
author illo advances.jpg
illustrator advances.jpg

I don't have enough data to say much about illustrator advances, except that there's variation in what illustrators are paid. However, it appears author/illustrators receive the highest advances for picture books, and perhaps that's why some agents are only open to picture book author/illustrator submissions.

Finally, let's look at debut advances for authors with agents vs. those without.

Debut advances for authors without agents.jpg
Debut advances for authors with agents.jpg

A few highlights:

  • The highest sale for authors without an agent was $15k-$20k (this was an author/illustrator)
  • The highest sale for authors with an agent was $100k+ (this was also and author/illustrator)
  • 64.6% of authors with an agent earned more than $5k on their debut sale
  • Only 11.2% of authors without an agent earned more than $5k on their debut sale


#2 Did your debut book earn out its advance?

35% of authors receiving an advance sold enough copies to earn-out their advance.

Q2 Earn out advance all.jpg

I scrolled through the data and some of those authors "still waiting to see" had their book published several years ago. That's a lot of waiting and hoping. If we just look at authors with books out 1-4 years and authors with books out 5+ years, this is how many authors earn-out.

Q2 Earn out advance 1-4 years.jpg
Q2 Earn out advance 5+ years.jpg

By the 5 year mark, most of the authors taking this survey had earned-out their advance. It may take an author several years to earn out their advance, and some authors never collect royalties.

#3) What was your total writing income last year (net income)?

Most published picture book authors (68%) earned less than $10,000 last year. Half of Big 5 debut authors earned over $10k, while only 21.3% of authors at smaller houses received over that amount (data not shown). Here is the summary income graph for all picture book authors in the survey. The small pink slice that my program didn't label is $100k+ (1.2%).

Total net income last year.jpg

Now let's look at annual incomes for writers with and without agents.

Debut advances for authors without agents.jpg
Debut advances for authors with agents.jpg

A few highlights:

  • 16.2% of picture book authors without agents made over $10,000 last year vs. 42.7% of authors with agents
  • The maximum income of authors with agents was roughly twice the maximum income of authors without agents
  • The vast majority of published picture book authors with agents had some writing income last year (82.5%)

#4 Do you write in other genres?

Most picture book authors write in other genres.

Q5 Do you write in other genres.jpg

Do authors writing in multiple genres have a higher net income? According to this survey...not really. A picture book author has a 33% chance of making over $10k annually whether or not they write in multiple genres. All income brackets were fairly comparable.

That's all for PART 2. Stay tuned for Part 3: Agent/Author Relationships. Also check out Part 1: The Habits of Published Picture Book Authors