How much money can you make from a children's book?
Anyone in the publishing industry will tell you that creating beautiful children's books is something you very much do for the love, as opposed to for the money. Yet of course, many first-time authors, and also published authors, have questions about how much money they can make from their children's book, and whether, indeed, it's possible to make a living from writing children's books. Here at Ethicool, we hate how little information the publishing industry provides, so we aspired to answer all of your money questions here.
Yet naturally, the topic of royalties is a gnarly question. It's not something that most people want to discuss, and often the question of 'what percentage' is given to authors is bound up in commercial-in-confidence contracts. However, it is possible to give averages, and if you, as an author, play your cards right, it is also possible to reasonably predict how much commission you'll earn from your children's book sales annually.
Here are the comprehensive facts about how much money you can make from a children's book:
What are the royalties from children's books?
Across the publishing industry, the generally accepted percentage figure for royalties is 10%. That is, authors generally receive 10% of the RRP of a book.
However, royalties from children's books are often less, and here's why. There is a lot, and we repeat, A LOT, of work that a publisher (or you, if you choose to self-publish) needs to do to in order to publish a children's book. For example, a children's book needs to be illustrated, designed, and typeset, whereas a novel only needs basic design. These costs often add up to many thousands or tens of thousands of dollars (more on this below).
For this reason, a publisher needs to factor in a significant amount of extra cost in the beginning, hence reducing the amount available for the author.
On average, though, the royalties from children's books range from 1% to 5% of the RRP of the book. A higher percentage may be given to authors who are either i) extremely experienced and well-known, meaning that bookstores will buy the book simply because of the author (NB. This will not be possible for first-time authors!), or ii) are either author-illustrators themselves, or bring a book to a publisher that is already illustrated, meaning that the publisher does not have to pay a high initial fee to the illustrator.
How much does a first-time children's book author make?
Given that we publish a lot of books by first-time and emerging children's book authors (some of whom have gone to secure six-figure publishing deals ... woohoo!), we know that that first-time authors want to know how much they will make from their children's book.
But this is a more complicated question that you think!
The reason why it is so complicated is because often, first-time children's book authors have to outlay a significant amount of money to publish their first book, so they don't really earn anything (in fact, they can end up in debt). This is because often, first-time authors either select to, or through lack of choice, are forced to, work with a vanity publisher to get their book out there. There are also a number of publishers who will agree to publish your book, but only if you get it illustrated first (this is also quite an expensive option).
As a first-time author, then, here's how much you can expect to make from your children's book:
How much money will you make for your children's book (if you choose a vanity publisher)?
A lot of traditional publishers REALLY HATE vanity publishers as they believe that they are making a mockery of the fine art of publishing, and wrecking the standards of the industry at the same time. However, here at Ethicool, we don't share this view. We know how difficult it is to get published as a first-time author, so sometimes the best outcome is to simply pay for that outcome to happen. After all - and this is true of almost all publishers - if you've published a book before, you're far more likely to be published again (even if you've self-published, and especially if you've self-published and sold a significant number of books).
If you choose to publish your children's book via a vanity publisher, you will need to invest (and quite substantially). Vanity publishers charge anything from $5,000 to $20,000 + to publish your book, with no guarantees for future sales, and sometimes no route to even generate any. Put simply, a vanity publisher publishes your book, and often the relationship stops right there.
In terms of how much you make for your children's book if you choose a vanity publisher, it is difficult to say, although honestly, you would rarely earn back your money.
Say, for example, you paid $20,000 (including illustration costs) to publish your book, and also that you chose to retail it for AUD $19.95. In order to make any money from publishing your book, you would need to sell more than 1003 copies of your book.
This might be possible for you, especially if you have a wide circle of family and friends who will buy it, and if you've organised a school to purchase copies. However, it will still likely take hours and hours (or days or even months) of work and effort.
For this reason, if you choose a vanity publisher, it's unlikely (although not impossible) that you will make money from your children's book.
How much you will make for your children's book (if you choose a hybrid publisher)?
A vanity publisher is a publisher who publishes your book and usually stops there. However, a hybrid publisher is one who publishes your book, but also who has relationships with distributors who will purchase your book from your publisher on consignment, and sell it for them.
If you do want to sell your book at scale in bookstores, schools, libraries or big retailers, you will almost always have to do so through a distributor, and distributors do not ever take on individual authors or individual books. For this reason, publishing with a hybrid publisher, even if you have to pay to do so, is more likely to result in you making money from your children's book.
Hybrid publishers vary in how they operate. Some require authors to pay for the entire cost of publication, whereas some share the cost. Some expect authors to bring them fully illustrated books, whereas others are happy to include the costs of illustration in their total packages.
The benefit of publishing with a hybrid publisher is that you often are able to access higher royalties. Some pay as much as 40% author royalties.
To calculate how much money you can make from your children's book, let's assume that you paid $10,000 to publish your children's book (including the cost of illustrations, which is often AUD $5,000 +). Your book will retail for AUD $19.95 this time, too.
With that level of investment, with a 40% royalty, you would need to sell 1,254 copies of your book to make your money back.
At this point, it's important to talk about exactly how many children's books an author sells, although this does vary a lot based on the book itself, and how effective the publisher's distributor is (and also whether they sell books online).
A lot of blogs online who estimate this figure do so based on US data, which is quite unreliable in the Australian market. From our industry knowledge, and also from the performance of the books we publish, the average author who publishes and distributes their book in Australia will sell between 250 and 30,000 books, with some books, such as Stuart French's Remembering Mother Nature, selling many more than that.
The average, however, hovers around 2,000 books, so if you do chose to hybrid publish, you make not make any money from your children's book.
How much you will make for your children's book (if you secure a traditional publishing contract)?
The final option - and indeed, the preferred option - for many authors is to secure a traditional publishing contract. If you secure a traditional publishing contract, the publisher pays for the entire cost of publishing your book (which often costs around $20,000), and also agrees to market and distribute your book for you. It's definitely a very attractive deal! However, it's also quite hard to succeed using this route. Less than 1% of all children's book authors secure a traditional publishing deal.
If you do secure a traditional publishing deal, you will either earn royalties from sales, or you will be paid an advance, and at some time in the future, you may earn additional royalties. While some of the larger publishing houses do still pay advances for children's books, many publishers in Australia are opting instead to simply pay royalties.
As a first-time author, unless you have something substantial to bring to the table (say, for example, you're a celebrity with a huge following) you likely won't be offered an advance.
You will, however, be able to earn royalties from sales. The amount you earn will depend on many factors, including the distributor that your publisher works with, whether or not bookstores engage with your story, and of course, whether readers like it!
But, again based on averages, if you were to sell 2,000 copies of your book that was priced at $19.95, at a royalty percentage of 2%, you would make $798.
Why are author royalties so low?
When it comes to children's book author royalties, a lot of authors may look at the percentages they are offered through a traditional publishing contract and think ... why are these so low?
But there are a few important reasons for this.
Publishing and marketing children's book is EXTREMELY expensive, and it's likely that before your book even reaches a bookstore shelf, your publisher will outlay a considerable amount of money (as we've mentioned, the average children's book will cost about AUD $20,000 to edit, illustrate, design, print and ship).
There are also numerous, also very expensive marketing costs for children's books. These include acquiring review quotes (some of the larger reviewers charge upwards of USD $500 for reviews), as well as the cost of running advertisements on social media and paying for PR (this typically also costs several thousands of dollars per month).
Another huge cost that many authors don't consider is the percentage discount that book distributors require publishers to give them.
The average distributor requires up to an 85% discount, meaning that there will be a mere 15% of the book price left for the publisher. With the production cost of a book equating to about 10% of the overall cost, this means that the only percentage left for the publisher is approximately 5%.
Looking at things from this perspective, under a traditional publishing contract, an author may receive 2%, but this 2% actually represents 40% of the publisher's profit!
How much does children's book authors make per year?
Online data aggregators, such as Payscale.com, seem to have come up with figures for how much children's authors make per year ... but we have no idea where they get this information from?! Children's book authoring is not a salaried job, and the total amount of money you can make from a children's book is calculated in that book's lifetime, not by year.
In the children's book publishing industry, there are most certainly classics, such as anything by Dr. Seuss, or Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. These are books that, decades later, still earn the respective authors royalties. Creating a masterpiece of this calibre is quite rare, however. Most children's books have a relatively short publishing life, and will likely no longer sell after 1-2 years.
The question of how much does a children's book author make per year, then, is a tricky one, and is (unsurprisingly) related to how many books an author publishes.
Using the above example, if an author has a particular good year and publishes 5 children's books, they could expect to earn $3,990. If two out of those five books become very popular and sells 10,000 copies each instead of the average 2,000, those two books alone would make that author $7,980, plus the additional $2,394 they'd make from the other three books. That's $10,374!
A lot of first-time authors might look at these figures and lament that this is certainly not a living wage: and it most certainly isn't. However, should the book really take off in popularity and sell 250,000 copies (at last count, Where the Wild Thing had sold 24 million copies!), you could make $99,750 from your children's book!
With the average wage in Australia sitting around $70,000, you could make a yearly income from just one children's book, plus some!
How to make a living as a children's book author
We're all about being ethicool (haha ... see what we did there?!?) and transparent here at Ethicool books, so if we said that it was easy to make a living as a children's book author ... we'd be lying.
But what we do know is that it's certainly a worthwhile life. From seeing dreamy illustrations come to life, to seeing the delight on thousands of children's faces when they read your book, publishing a children's book is nothing short of a magical experience. And while it may not make you a millionaire money-wise, it will certainly make you rich in many other ways.
Are you an aspiring or established children's book author? If so, Ethicool is open for submissions and we'd love to hear from you!
We strongly encourage all first-time children's book authors to undergo a children's book manuscript assessment to maximize their chances of being published. Ethicool is a traditional publisher and covers all cost of publication for their authors.