Five Lessons from 100 Published Picture Book Authors – A Guest Post by Hannah Holt

The Official SCBWI Blog
Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I saw Hannah talking about this research on social media, and invited her to blog about it here. I’m so glad she took me up on it…

Earlier this year, I joined Epic Eighteen—a group of picture book authors and illustrators with 2018 debuts. It’s been great rubbing shoulders with other almost-authors, and it’s made me think deeply about the practical aspects of this beautiful yet challenging career.

For example, everyone in the group has another source of income besides writing. Are any picture book authors living solely on writing? Also, some authors have agents. Others don’t. How essential is an agent? To answer these and other questions, I created an anonymous survey. So far, 135 published picture book authors have participated, and I’ve learned things, like…

1. You don’t need an agent to break into the picture book trade market. 

Almost half (48%) of the authors surveyed sold their first book without an agent.

2. However, having an agent is advantageous. Really advantageous. 

Overall, agented authors sold books to larger houses for more money than authors pitching their own stories. Average advances were 500% higher for authors with agents. Authors were also more likely to have sold multiple books with an agent.

3. Picture book advances range from $0 to $50,000+. 

The most common picture book advance for a small house falls between $1,000 to $4,999, while the most common advance for a Big Five publisher is between $5,000-$9,999.

Here’s the spread.

Advances at small houses:

Advances at large houses:

4. You don’t need a regular writing schedule to become a published author. 

About a third of published picture book authors don’t have a set writing schedule.

Also, those earning the largest advances tended to be authors without a schedule. In contrast, picture book authors working 40+ hours a week earned smaller book advances (<$5,000).

“Butt-in-chair” doesn’t necessarily translate into more dollars in your pocket in the short-term.

However, the more years an author had been writing, the more likely she would have a sizeable annual salary. Two picture book authors in the survey earned more than $100,000 last year. They have both been writing professionally for 20+ years.

So find a writing groove that works for you, and settle into it for a decade or two.

5. Rejection is normal. 

Picture book authors are usually rejected at least ten times before signing a book deal. Fifteen-percent of authors are rejected 100+ times prior to selling a book. Also most picture book authors write six or more stories before selling anything.

Keep calm and query on!

(Bonus) 6. There is an exception to every rule. 

Perhaps you’ve heard about overnight successes and wildly successful authors without agents. These things happen. They are just outliers.

Three-percent of published picture book authors sold a book on the first query. The first query! Oh, those lucky (and talented) ducks.

Also having an agent doesn’t guarantee success. While most authors love their agent, ten-percent hate theirs. No agent is better than one you don’t trust.

Finally, many authors find success with a regular writing schedule. In fact, the majority of published authors have some kind of consistent writing routine. Good news for me because I’m one of them.

I’ll publish a full summary results in the fall. Until September 15th, I’m still collecting data. If you’re a traditionally published children’s author, please consider taking my survey: Picture Book Author Survey 

I also have a survey for chapter book, middle grade, and young adult authors. I’ve had over 100 replies so far and am still taking more: Chapter Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult Author Survey 

A HUGE thank you to all the authors taking the survey! Here’s to demystifying a career as a children’s author!

Hannah Holt is an engineer by training and a picture book author by trade. Her first two books, Diamond Man (Balzer+Bray 2018) and A Father’s Love (Philomel 2019), showcase science stories with heart. You can find Hannah chatting on Twitter, working on her website, and eating chocolate chip cookies with total abandon.

 

About eve culley

Children's Author, micro-farmer, wife, mother, and grandmother
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