Becoming a Children's Author: By the Numbers
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
On average, we wrote 2.4 manuscripts before writing the one that would become our debut novel.
Over half of us—53%—worked as educators in a classroom setting before selling our debut novel.
61% of us were 35 or younger when we got our first book deal.
Only 13% of us have an MFA.
55% of us sold our debut novel to a Big Five publisher.
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.*
58% of us sold more than one book in our first book deal. The average number of books sold was 1.6. The median number sold was 2.
Only 40% of us are full-time writers. Nearly a third of us—32%—work full-time jobs, and another 28% of us work part-time jobs in addition to our writerly duties.
Up Next: TEAM YA
You tied Team MG for average number of manuscripts written before writing the manuscript that would become your debut novel: 2.4 (twinsies!).
Only 32% of you had worked as educators in a classroom setting before selling your debut novel.
56% of you were 35 or younger when you sold your first book.
Like Team MG, only 13% of you have your MFA degree.
58% of you sold your debut novel to a Big Five publisher.
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.*
Just under half of you—47%—sold more than one book in your first deal. The average number of books sold was 1.5, and the median was 1.
Only 31% of you are full-time, while 42% of you have another full-time job, and 27% of you hold down a part-time job.
You are less likely than Team MG to be a full-time author. Only 31% of you are full-time, while 42% of you have another full-time job, and 27% of you hold down a part-time job.
Trends I Personally Found Particularly Interesting and Shall Now Call Your Attention To:
MG authors aren’t just younger at heart. We’re actually younger than our YA colleagues!
MG authors are quite a bit more likely to have worked as educators than YA authors.
But YA authors appear to be a bit more industrious. Almost half of you have full-time jobs in ADDITION to writing. Well done, busy bees.
YA authors are also getting paid slightly more than MG authors, and for fewer books on average.
YA or MG, most of us were paid less than $25,000 in our first advance (many of us for multiple books). So much for that Get Rich Quick scheme…
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.