Ever wonder what life is like for a children’s author? Or are you a Snoopy Sally like me who wonders what life is like for OTHER children’s authors?
Then this, my friend, is a post for you!
A couple weeks back, I was preparing to give a presentation to a group of aspiring authors, and I thought that—instead of just speaking from my own experience—it might be helpful to have some data points that show larger trends among debuting children’s authors. I haven’t really seen statistics like these compiled anywhere else, and I thought they might help illuminate what the process is like and maybe dispel some myths about publishing. So I dusted off my old SurveyMonkey account and got to working.
I created a survey and invited members of the 2017 and 2018 debut children's authors groups to take it. (Membership in these groups is restricted to first-time YA or Middle Grade authors whose debut book deals are with traditional U.S. publishers.)
Before I go any further, let me say this: The last statistics class I took was in freshman year of college. I took it pass/fail. (I passed!) And while I still remember the basics of mean, median, and mode, I am not a statistician. (Children’s author, remember?) I tried to keep the math pretty simple, so I’m hopeful that I didn’t make any gross errors. Then again, I also inserted a line DIRECTLY from Forrest Gump into my debut novel and only caught it because my husband pointed it out to me in first-round pass pages (“You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes.”). So. There’s that. You’ve been warned.
I ended up with exactly 100 responses from these kind authors: 38 from Middle Grade authors and 62 from YA authors. (Also two from lovely chapter book authors, which, alas, I decided to set aside, as I didn’t think two was a very reliable sample size.)
The survey was anonymous, and I asked the respondents ten questions (the maximum a the free SurveyMonkey account will let you do). They included:
What kind of book did you sell in your first deal? (MG, YA, etc.)
How many manuscripts did you write before writing your debut?
What age were you when you got your first book deal?
Did you ever work as an educator in a school setting before getting your deal?
How much was your advance in your first deal?
How many books did you sell in your first deal?
Was the deal with a Big Five publisher?
Are you a full-time writer, or do you also have a “day job”?
Do you have an MFA degree?
Immediately after sending the survey out, I thought of ten MORE questions I wanted to ask. How many manuscripts did you query before you queried your debut? How long did it take you to go from writing the book to seeing it on shelves?
I also think it would be really valuable to see the numbers broken down by the demographics of the authors. That type of data (if it doesn't already exist somewhere) would help us to see if there were a gap in what kind of advances POC authors are getting paid versus white authors, female authors versus male authors, etc. Which seems like important information to have.
Okay, okay, enough preamble you say. Get to the numbers!
First up: TEAM MIDDLE GRADE
The majority of us—62%—received advances of $25,000 or less, while 17% received $100,000-$300,000. The median advance was $10,000-25,000.*
Up Next: TEAM YA
You made slightly more money than Team MG. 55% of you received advances under $25,000. Another 18% received advances between $100,000-$300,000. And 5% of you earned more than $300,000 for your first novel. (Slow. Clap.) The median advance was $10,000-25,000.*
Trends I Personally Found Particularly Interesting and Shall Now Call Your Attention To:
Many, many thanks to all the authors who shared their data with me!
*After I sent out the survey, I realized that it would have yielded much more precise data had I just asked authors for the exact amount of their advance, instead of giving them categories to select from. Sorry, team.