How to Make a Living Writing Children's Books
Writing stories for children is a work of passion, but it is not necessarily profitable. Getting published is a steep road with stiff competition, as publishers are flooded with unsolicited manuscripts. Those who are lucky enough to get published do not make much money unless the book is a runaway hit. According to Robin Michal Koontz of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, first-time authors can expect to split a $3,000 to $8,000 advance with the illustrator and receive three to five percent royalties when you sell enough copies to earn back your advance. Yet, some authors manage to make a living at writing books for children, and they do it by building a reputation and writing books that sell.
Read what is being published now. Books that were published in the 1980s would not be published today, said Andrea Brown, agent with Random House Children’s Books. Children are more savvy and sophisticated, and current books being published reflect that. Familiarize yourself with the newest publications. Identify the publishers of books that are similar to your writing style.
Consider smaller markets. Many aspiring authors earn credentials and publishing credits by targeting children magazines. Having publishing credits to list in your query letter may get the attention of a book editor.
Write from the heart, and often. Brown notes that successful children’s book publishers do not have children in the house. They write from the child within. When you have written the book, go back and revise until the story sparkles.
Join a critique group. Having feedback on the manuscript you think is perfect is vital for discovering handicaps you may be overlooking or gaining other tips on improving your writing. Critique groups can form networks and allies in your quest to be a children’s book author. Find a critique group through newspaper listings, online meetup websites or by joining a professional organization, such as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Format your manuscript for submission. Visit the target publisher’s website for details on the preferred format. Most picture book publishers will want the entire manuscript, typed double-spaced with one-inch margins. Include your last name, the title and page number in the top righthand corner of each page.
Include a query or cover letter if specified by the publisher. This can be three paragraphs: one to give the reader a hook, another to summarize your manuscript and a third to introduce yourself and your qualifications as a writer. This is where publishing credits from magazines and other small markets work in your favor.
Submit your manuscript. Note if the target publisher accepts multiple submissions. If this is not specified, you can only submit to this publisher and must wait until you hear from this publisher. Also note if a self-addressed stamped envelope needs to be included. Publishers use that to send back your manuscript if it is not needed, but recent trends stray from the SASE, with the publisher recycling your manuscript if it is not published. Publishers who do not accept a SASE will likely post a time period for contacting you on their website, usually three to six months.
It is not necessary to have illustrations when submitting a picture book. Publishing houses often have illustrators on staff or querying to complete that task.
- Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators: FAQ About Children’s Book Publishing
- Underdown: A Conversation with Children’s Book Agent Andrea Brown
- West Virginia Division of Culture and History: Ten Tips for Aspiring Children’s Book Writers
- Underdown: The Basics of Children’s Writing and Illustrating
- It is not necessary to have illustrations when submitting a picture book. Publishing houses often have illustrators on staff or querying to complete that task.
Alice Drinkworth has been a writer and journalist since 1995. She has written for community newspapers, college magazines and Salon.com. Drinkworth earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Wisconsin and won a media award for her in-depth coverage of local politics. She is also a certified master gardener.