Hello, writers! I share my income breakdown every year in the hopes that my transparency will help other writers make their own career decisions. I am a working children’s writer with a number of books published, a nice handful of awards and honors, no NYT bestselling books, and a need to contribute to the family budget with a certain amount of income. These income reports appeared on various blogs and newsletters up through 2017, and I’m now gathering them all here. There are just as they first appeared, with a couple of exceptions. I’ve removed language and links to things that no longer apply (like “Click here if you want to be notified when this book comes out”), and I bolded my income categories and made the dollar amounts red. Otherwise, they are an authentic representation of my income and frame of mind throughout my writing career–redundancies, celebrations, failures, and all!
Howdy, writers! First, my annual disclaimer:
If you think it’s impolite to talk about finances, skip this article!
So, one question aspiring writers often ask is, “Can I make a living at this?” It’s not a matter of greed, but of necessity. So many of us dream of making a living doing what we love. But there’s little reliable information out there about what writers make. That’s partly because writer incomes vary so greatly, and partly because writers tend to be private about their incomes. Those doing very well probably don’t want to brag. Those making very little might feel embarrassed. Those of us in the middle might just be adhering to societal norms of not speaking about money. Luckily, I don’t care about societal norms:>)
Every year since 2007, I’ve shared my income publicly. And if you’re interested in these posts, you’ll likely be interested in my brand new book called Making a Living Writing Books for Kids! It’s 100,000 words’ worth of my tips on, techniques for, and anecdotes about making a living as a children’s writer, available in paperback or Kindle.
You can also sign up for my free monthly eletter for writers, A Writer Can Be…
OK, now on to the good stuff. Here’s my 2017 income breakdown.
Trade Book Sales/Royalties: My trade sales added up to $16,948. That’s about the same as 2016. Darn. I was hoping for a big increase. This is my #1 goal, to make a living from my trade book projects. My income in this category included my $4,000 advance for Lion of the Sky, $2,125 of my $4,250 advance for Here Comes Winter!, and $2,000 of my $4,000 advance for Meet My Family! It also included royalties on several books that have earned out their advances: $4,372 for BookSpeak (thanks to a sale of some reprint rights), $1,165 for Leaf Can Be…, $2,740 for Water Can Be…, and $329 for Rock Can Be… (Yay! It earned out its advance!) If You Were the Moon was still earning out its advance last year. I also earned $217 in royalties for my poems in various Poetry Friday Anthology books. [38% of 2017 income]
Work-for-Hire Books and Projects: $10,341. That includes two leveled-reader “picture books” (kind of) at $1800 each for an F&P project through Heinemann/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I really enjoyed these projects and was sorry when my editor moved on to older books! $4167 came from two Crayola branded books for Lerner. I had received partial payment on the first one in 2016. The first book, How to Make a Rainbow, is out, and it’s super cute! It also includes more than $2500 for a big phonics lesson plan series I wrote through a packager. Overall, my work-for-hire projects in 2017 were interesting and challenging, and I really liked the final results. [16% of 2017 income]
Assessment: $6,500. Well, that’s a big jump from last year. This is for a total of 20 passages. As always, I’m torn about this work. There is way too much assessment in education, and if this income segment disappears, that will make me happy, even while I scramble to replace the income. I loved these reading passages when I was a student, though, and writing them today—writing well and at a certain grade level and meeting specific requirements—is always a satisfying puzzle to me. [15% of 2017 income]
Speaking: $1,633. This is down from last year. I only did three paid event speaking to adults in 2017: an online poetry workshop for homeschooling families, a presentation to kindergarten teachers, and a library event for adults who want to write for kids. I love speaking to adult writers and to educators, so I’d like to do more of this. I also did a couple of unpaid gigs speaking to writers and educators last year. This number also includes income from my online courses for writers—which is obviously negligible. People who take my courses tell me they love them, but I’ve done a terrible job of promoting them. It’s why I’m not creating any new courses. I have to figure out the marketing of them first! [4% of 2017 income]
School Visits: $5,363. I’ve noticed a decrease in school visit opportunities this past year, plus I didn’t do the Young Authors Conference that I always do. This is for 10 days’ of in-person school visits or paid library events for kids. It’s been several years since one of my books has been a Minnesota Book Awards Finalist, and I know that’s a criterion for some funding that many outstate schools access, so that might be part of what’s hurting my numbers. [12% of 2017 income]
Mentors for Rent: $362. Since Lisa Bullard and I have stopped taking on mentoring clients, this income stream is mostly extinct. However, we have some excellent books for writers (ebooks, mostly, but a few paperbacks, too) that we still sell, so that’s what this income is: my half of the royalties earned on our indie-published books. [less than 1% of 2017 income]
Indie Publishing: $978. This number represents the royalties from my indie-published books for which I am the sole author (so, not the books on which Lisa and I collaborated). This includes both Kindle and CreateSpace books, and these are all books either for writers or teachers. I do not self-publish children’s books. This tiny income stream doesn’t really pay in money, but I’m glad to have the option for putting out books for writers or poetry collections I want to share with teachers (poetry is notoriously hard to sell to traditional publishers). [2% of 2017 income]
Copyediting: $1,600. I just did one project in 2017, and it was copyediting a middle-grade novel by a young writer. Copyediting is one of the income streams I don’t really pursue, but sometimes it comes my way. (I have newspaper copyediting experience.) [4% of 2017 income]
Miscellaneous Sales: $188. This is mostly just me selling author copies of my work-for-hire books through Amazon using their Fulfilled by Amazon service. It’s a terrible system, and I think even though I “earned” this much, I probably paid this much is fees and storage. I finally just had them do whatever they do to get the books out of my inventory, because they were actually going to cost me money. I wish I had just donated the books to schools or libraries to start with:>( So, this income stream is finished. Hallelujah! [less than 1% of 2017 income]
So, my total income for 2017 was $43,913. That is 94% of 2016’s $46,348. Am I getting rich? Not at all. In fact, I make less money than the average elementary school teacher. Few children’s writers make the kind of money other people think they make! It’s a hard career to make a living with, so any time I earn more than $40,000, I’m pretty dang happy.
I hope this info is helpful to you rather than discouraging. This is a competitive field, but it’s also satisfying in a way that no other career would be for me.
For more information about earning a livable income as a writer, check out my Writer in Progress, a video/text course where you’ll see what my crazy writing life actually looks like for 30+ workdays. And, again, the book Making a Living Writing Books for Kids might be eye-opening.
If you’re making a living solely through the sales of your trade books, I salute you! And if you’re still working on your first trade sale, don’t despair. You can do it!
PLEASE NOTE: This is gross income. It doesn’t include any of my expenses—like travel, business cards, printer ink, Google storage fees, Paypal fees, office supplies, etc., nor the self-employment, federal, state, and sales taxes I pay. (The taxes alone are generally 30-40% of my gross income.)
Hello, writers! I’ll start with my annual disclaimer. If you think it’s impolite to talk about finances, skip this article! Now that that’s out of the way…One question I hear often from aspiring writers is, “Can I make a living at this?” We’re not greedy, but we do dream of earning a living doing what we love. In our case, writing. This field is very tough, though, unless you happen to have a book that dominates the bestseller charts for a while (and even then, writers don’t earn as much as everyone thinks). But it’s hard to know that, because most people are understandably private about their income. I have no financial filters, though, so every year since 2007, I’ve shared my income publicly. Also, you may be interested in a book I’m working on called How to Make a Living as a Children’s Writer (or something like that).
OK, here’s my 2016 income breakdown. If you just want the bare facts, with no explanations, my gross income in 2016 was $46,348.
That breaks down into:
Trade (bookstore) books: $16,991
Work-for-hire books: $2,772
Indie-published books: $1,508
Short passages: $2,600
Speaking to educators: $2,597
School visits: $11,580
Teaching online: $618
Mentors for Rent: $2,521
Miscellaneous sales: $144
Trade Book Sales/Royalties: My trade sales added up to $16,991! That’s about a 60% increase from 2015. Whee! I am passionate about my trade projects, so this is happy news. This figure includes $8,500 in advances on four different forthcoming titles, $1,851 on BookSpeak royalties, $6,513 on Leaf Can Be… and Water Can Be… (A Rock Can Be… has not earned out its advance yet—uh oh), $100 for a poetry anthology poem, and $27 for a poem in Cricket. Those amounts are earnings AFTER my agent commissions were paid: $1,560 in agency fees. It’s not an I-could-live-off-it income, but at least the number is rising! [37% of 2016 income]
Work-for-Hire Books: $7,233. That includes three leveled-reader “picture books” (kind of) at $1800 each for an F&P project through Heinemann/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Those were really fun to write—topics I came up with and was interested in—though they did include the leveled reader tasks of art specs and such. I actually wrote two or three more than that that haven’t yet gone through the revision/acceptance process. In addition, it’s $1,000 for two sight word story poems—a fun writing puzzle/challenge. And it’s $833 that is 1/3 payment for a branded picture book that I’m writing for Lerner. On that one, the topic came from the publisher (typical for work-for-hire), but I had lovely latitude on the approach and creativity. This is a big increase in work-for-hire from 2015, but it felt like challenging and enjoyable work-for-hire, so I’m pleased with that. [16% of 2016 income]
Indie Published Books: $1,508. That’s a small increase from 2015, but I’m happy with it for now. This includes both Kindle and CreateSpace books, and these are all books either for writers or teachers. I do not self publish children’s books. This is a very small income stream, clearly! But it gives me an outlet for things I want to share with writers or for poems I want to share with teachers (poetry is notoriously hard to sell to traditional publishers). [3% of 2016 income]
Short Passages: $2,600. This was seven passages at $300 each and one at $500. I turned down several projects this year, due to our move, our daughter’s wedding, my mom’s death, and other family events. I’m forever torn about this income because I enjoy the writing but hate the overuse of assessment in education. [6% of 2016 income]
Speaking to Educators: $2,597. This is a nice increase from 2015. I did one virtual visit with a homeschooling group plus three in-person events at libraries or teachers’/librarians’ conferences. I love speaking with educators. I wish I knew how to increase this segment of my career more. This dollar amount is also a little misleading, as it includes hotel stays and out-of-pocket expenses that I got reimbursed for. My speaking fees ONLY were $1,975. I also spoke to educators at both ILA and NCTE last year, but those are unpaid gigs. [6% of 2016 income]
School Visits: $11,580. This is almost as much as I earned in 2015 on school visits, so that’s great! This is for 16 days’ of in-person school visits or young authors conferences. As with speaking, this number also includes some reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses. [25% of 2016 income]
Teaching Writers Online: $619. I started offering online video courses this past year through Teachable, and I really like speaking directly to you in videos. I do a terrible job of marketing my courses, though! That’s something I need to get better at in order to make this feasible. This year, my only new course is Writer in Progress: 30 Days in the Life of a Children’s Writer. I have told myself I cannot create any more courses until I figure out a doable marketing system. I price them REALLY cheaply, because I want them to be accessible. But that means I need a lot of writers to buy them. But who wants to spend time on marketing? Oi. [1% of 2016 income)
Mentors for Rent: $2,521. This is a decrease from 2015, but Mentors for Rent has never been a big money-earner. Lisa Bullard and I really enjoy consulting with writers, so we’ve kept it going. However, at the end of 2016, I was extremely overwhelmed and scattered. I knew something had to give. I analyzed my income streams, and it was glaringly obvious (unfortunately) that I had to step back from Mentors for Rent. At full price, I earned $48/hour for our joint consulting. However, marketing efforts and long emails with clients before sessions ever happened brought my pay to about $20/hour. In fact, we discovered we couldn’t afford to be “more successful” (i.e., to have more clients). The business model just didn’t work. So I am not critiquing, and, for now, my involvement is strictly through books and online classes and speaking gigs. (Lisa and I are dynamite joint speakers:>) We have a few ongoing clients who had prepaid for more hours, and of course we’re honoring that! Otherwise, Lisa is still offering critiques and coaching (contact Lisa here if you’re interested). She is awesome! [5% of 2016 income]
Copyediting: $555. This is way down, only about ¼ of my 2015 income. I had to turn down some projects because of my crazy schedule. [1% of 2016 income]
Miscellaneous Sales: $144. This is just me selling author copies of my work-for-hire books through Amazon using their Fulfilled by Amazon service. I end up making VERY little per book. In fact, I’m not sure this number reflects all the storage fees and such I pay them. I might not have even broken even. I was glad to get the books out of my house before we moved, but I actually don’t recommend this for authors. Unless you have indie published a single title that is selling well—then it might be worth it. But if you have a lot of odds and ends of titles and they sell slowly, it is kind of torture to sell them through Fulfilled by Amazon.
So, my total income for 2016 was $46,348. That’s a 38% increase from 2015’s $33,653. I am super happy with that, because it means I have a decent mix of incomes right now that lets me pay bills plus have time to work on the projects I absolutely love. Am I getting rich? No way. Very few children’s writers do! In fact, the income of some very well known writers might surprise you. It is just a hard career to earn a livable income at, so any time I top $40,000, I’m happy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the average elementary schoolteacher salary in the U.S. is $54,890. I earn less than that, clearly, but I’m OK with that. Educators are one of the few groups of people whom I think work as fiercely and creatively and exhaustively as I do—all toward growing kids and books. (I just wish all schools were understanding about why authors need to be paid for school visits.)
There are also writerpreneurs (entrepreneurs whose main customer base is writers) earning a lot more money than I do. And I’m OK with that, too. As a writerpreneur, your primary focus has to be on list-building and product creation and sales. Those things are part of my life as a writer and small businessperson (essentially anyone trying to make a living as a writer is a small business), but they are not my main focus. And I don’t want them to be. Writing what I love. Getting kids excited about reading and writing. Trying to celebrate the world as it is and change it where it needs to be changed. Those things motivate me. If I can pursue those and earn more than I’d make flipping burgers, I feel happy. And please don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking writerpreneurs! I learn a lot from them. There are a couple in particular I follow, and the knowledge they share helps me do what I do! Neither path is good or bad. It’s figuring out if the path you’re on leads you to the place you want to go. The place I want to go is (ideally, in my dreams) making a living through my trade picture books (70%), speaking (15%), and courses and books for writers (15%). So I trot along my path with that goal in sight, way off in the distance.
I tried some new things in 2016. My Putrid Poetic Ponderings download was an epic fail and sold barely double-digit copies. Again. Marketing. Online courses were a hit with the students, but I need more students. Sigh. In 2017, I will continue on the same path, though I want to spend some time refining my online presence and my marketing efforts. I hope you find this information helpful. Writing income can be discouraging. It is hard work and a competitive industry. But it’s incredibly satisfying! And it’s possible to make a living at it, if you’re willing to hone your craft, write a lot, and branch out into writing-related activities.
For more information about earning a livable income as a writer, check out my Writer in Progress, a video/text course where you’ll see what my crazy writing life actually looks like for 30+ workdays…For you writers making an actual living solely through the sales of your trade books—congratulations! I want to grow up to be you! And for those of you still hoping for your first trade sale, I hope this gives you a realistic picture of what the income of a typical hard-working children’s writer looks like.
PLEASE NOTE: This is gross income. It doesn’t include any of my expenses—like travel, business cards, printer ink, Google storage fees, Paypal fees, office supplies, etc., nor the self-employment, federal, state, and sales taxes I pay. (The taxes alone are generally 30-40% of my gross income.) The only expenses already subtracted to arrive at these figures were for my agent and for all the fees Amazon charges to store and ship my books that I’m selling directly through them in the Fulfilled by Amazon program.
I’ll start with my annual disclaimer! If you think it’s impolite to talk about finances, skip this article! One of the questions Lisa and I (at Mentors for Rent) often hear from children’s writers is, “Can I make any money at all doing this?” It’s not that we’re a money-hungry group. Far from it. But most of us dream of making a living doing what we love. And we love writing. But it can be super hard for a writer to figure out if he or she can make a living by writing (and related activities), because there’s so little info out there. Even knowing if you can make a part-time income off of it is tricky. So every year since 2007, I’ve shared my income publicly. Feel free to check some of my older income reports if you like.
Last year was a rough year. Sometimes people look at writers whose books have won some awards and assume they must be easily making a full-time living. I’m guilty of that—still!—when I think of other writers and make assumptions about them. But, it’s just not always true. I am a working writer, and my emphasis is always on the writing. Still, I do various things (and enjoy most of them) to earn income related to writing. (Like, ahem, my brand new online video course for picture book writers, called Picture Book Fixes – A.)
So, here, I’ll break down my 2015 income, including writing, teaching, speaking, etc.
Trade Book Sales: My trade sales came to a total of $9,810. I’m excited that that is 1.5 times my 2014 trade sales of $6,570, because these books and poems, the ones I write because I’m fascinated by or passionate about or in love with a project—those are the ones that keep me going! This amount includes $7,160 in royalties for BookSpeak, A Leaf Can Be… and Water Can Be…, some Poetry Friday Anthology editions, and portions of advances (sort of like an advance on your salary) for two forthcoming picture books—If You Were the Moon (2017) and If You Want to Knit Some Mittens (tba). And it includes $2,650 in flat-fee payments for various poems in anthologies and a one-poem reprint that garnered $1,700 (I wrote about that in detail in my most recent edition of A Writer Can Be–you can subscribe here). Even though this total amount is still small, I’m pleased to see it go up for 2015 instead of down!
Work-for-Hire Books: $200. I only wrote one work for hire poem (meaning I sold all rights and wrote it to the publisher’s specifications) last year, and that was $200. I did do another work-for-hire picture book that I really enjoyed doing, but I didn’t receive my payment until early this year. I’m hoping to do a few more picture books for this project this year, and I’m working with a great editor—so fingers crossed! (If you’re interested in doing writing for the educational market, you can learn more about my book on this topic here.)
Assessment: $3,385. This is only about 29% of the 11,600 I earned in this category in 2014. But a huge chunk ($8,000+, I think) of 2014’s earning was from one enormous project. So I knew it wasn’t likely to happen again. This money was all earned from individual passages, usually paying $3-500 each. As usual, I did lots of poetry and nonfiction, but I’m getting more comfortable with literary/narrative passages on demand, too. That big 2014 project took me out of my comfort zone and gave me some new skills:>) (I’m thinking about doing a video course on this topic during 2016.)
Teaching/Speaking: $870. This is a sad 13% of 2014’s $6,935. I really only spoke (for money) at one SCBWI conference and one Minnesota Book Award event. I already have several teacher inservice gigs lined up for this year, which is awesome. Last year, I did speak at both ILA (2 sessions) and NCTE (3 sessions). But speakers don’t get paid for those large educator conferences. At least Lerner (thank you, Lerner) was able to support me by providing me with a badge so that I didn’t have to pay several hundred dollars to attend each conference.
School Visits: $12,065. This is 156% of the $7,748 I earned from school visits in 2014. I’m excited about that because I enjoy getting out there and working with students. Don’t get me wrong. It’s HARD work. But it’s super rewarding! I had several fairly big ticket projects, including a 2-week poetry tour of schools and libraries in northeastern Minnesota, a Poetry Month storytime at 5 or 6 libraries in one library region, and 5 days of the local Young Author Conference. And then the rest was just individual days at various schools.
Mentors for Rent: $3,415. This is a slight increase over 2014’s $2,889, but I think that’s a false reading. Before, I was including MFR ebooks in my Ebooks category (see below). But this year, I separated the MFR ebooks sales into the MFR income category, as they should be. So, my income for this small hourly writers’ mentoring business I run with Lisa Bullard is really about the same. It’s not much money, but this work brings a lot of satisfaction.
Indie Publishing (formerly Ebooks): $1,375. This is about 130% of my 2014 indie earnings of $1,054. But this is only my books now, not the Mentors for Rent collaborations Lisa and I create (those are now properly included in the MFR category). And I’ve changed it to Indie Publishing, because this includes my Kindle and paperback versions of books. In fact, I’m trying out something new right now—selling pdf downloads of a poetry story/collection on my website for National Poetry Month! Anyway, this figure, for 2015, includes only my 30 Painless Classroom Poems series for educators and my book for writers on writing for the educational market. Will there be more indie published projects? Who knows! I’m playing with a couple of possibilities.
Copyediting: $2,285. This is almost exactly the same as last year’s $2,214. I did small projects for a couple of new clients this year, but I still haven’t really pursued it in a big fashion. Still, I like to keep my hand in:>)
Miscellaneous sales: $248, down from $328 in 2014. This is me selling autographed copies of my wfh books online. Just last month, I packed up my books I had left and shipped them to Amazon to do the Fulfilled by Amazon program…I will make even less per book (seriously, who knew that was even possible!), but I don’t have to mess with them! So while we were decluttering our home in preparation for selling it, it felt good to ship off three heavy boxes of books!
So, my total income for 2015 was $33,653, which is a 22% decrease from 2014’s $42,986. That is disheartening, because I work really hard. And it means I have to spend more time thinking about increasing my income and less time writing. Boo, hiss! But I love writing and teaching, so, what can I do? Even though I didn’t reach my goal income of $40,000 last year, I did see my poems and stories get into the hands of many teachers and kids, and I am thrilled about that.
What will 2016 bring? I’m not sure. I’ll be trying new things, like the Putrid Poetic Ponderings download and my Picture Book Fixes video course for children’s writers. I have so many ideas for cool books for kids and books/courses/etc. for children’s writers and/or teachers. If only I had the time to do all of them!
I hope you find this information helpful as you think about your own financial and writing goals. Be realistic, of course. But know that it is possible, with a lot of hard work, to make somewhat of an income through writing for kids and its related activities. For the writers who are doing this and making a great living at it—I salute you, support you, and hope to be in your shoes someday. For the writers still working on their first sale or making less than $5,000 per year—I encourage you and support you as you work to make a career in children’s writing!
PLEASE NOTE: This is all gross income. This doesn’t include any of my own expenses-travel, promotion, office supplies, etc. nor the self-employment or sales and self-employment taxes I paid. Unfortunately.
P.S. Here’s an interesting article about the reality of six-figure book deals, too. Enjoy!
If you think it’s impolite to talk about finances, skip this article! It’s hard for writers to figure out if they can make a living by writing (and related activities), because there’s so little info out there. So every year since 2007, I’ve shared my income on my blog. I’m switching to sharing it here, since I’m trying to reach educators with my blog now.
Overall, 2013 was a great year. A LEAF CAN BE… got lots of lovely recognition, and I’m starting to work my way in to the world of educators and feel comfortable there, and I think that’s where I need to be to promote my picture books and poetry. Here’s the breakdown of what I earned in 2013.
Web Work: I used to update webpages through the Children’s Literature Network. In 2013, this accounted for $2,100 of my income. My work with CLN has come to an end, as the Network itself is going to (very sad about that). Although it wasn’t a big source of income for me, I will really miss working with the CLN founders and meeting so many wonderful writers through my web work.
Trade Book Sales: My trade sales totaled $8,944. That’s almost double my 2012 number. I’m especially excited about this because my goal is to do more trade books and fewer work-for-hire projects. This includes anthology payments/royalties, advances for two forthcoming picture books, and royalties on A LEAF CAN BE… and BOOKSPEAK!, my two trade books that are in print.
Work-for-Hire Books: $600. This number is waaaaay down. I only did one wfh book last year, and it was an ebook about car racing that I wrote through a packager. I’m of mixed feelings about this. I miss the steady work, but, as I try to build my career as a trade book writer, I’m thinking it’s a good time to decrease my number of wfh books. So I didn’t pursue more wfh books last year and am still trying to cement my approach in this area. (If you’re interested in doing writing for the educational market, learn more about my textbook for writers here.)
Assessment: $5,340. I did loads of assessment writing in 2013. I mostly write poetry and nonfiction passages, though in 2013, I also did some fiction and some item-writing, too. Assessment writing is very different from writing for magazines, even though the length might be similar. I’m thinking of writing a how-to ebook for writers interested in this area. Sadly, with standardized assessments multiplying constantly, the demand for good, dependable writers in this area seems to be growing.
Teaching/Speaking: $4,238. I had a great time speaking last year. I spoke at a couple of university children’s literature conferences, the Minnesota Library Association annual conference, the Loft Festival of Children’s Literature, and a few library events. It’s awesome connecting with teachers and librarians, and I’m hoping to do more of this!
School Visits: $11,553. Woohoo! That was 19 or 20 days of school visits or young authors conferences. I don’t have tons lined up for 2014, though, and I’m wondering what to do to promote my visits more. Many writers at about my level of publishing history are charging $1,000+ per day, and they’re getting it. I charge $680 per day, but when my rate was higher, I didn’t book as much. Not sure if it’s because Minnesota has SO MANY wonderful children’s writers, many of whom do school visits, or whether it’s my lack of name recognition. Another area I need to figure out this year!
Mentors for Rent: $2,206. This is the hourly writers’ mentoring business I run with Lisa Bullard. It’s another income stream that is small but brings a lot of satisfaction. We’ve had several clients get publishing contracts (both with trade publishers and educational publishers) this past year, which is wonderful. We have a new ebook just out (see below).
Ebooks: $523. This includes both the MFR books for writers and my ebook on Writing for the Educational Market. I’d love to sell more ebooks, since they are already made and can bring in more income with very little additional work. But wanting and doing are two different things:>)
Print version of Writing for the Educational Market: $963. Even though the Kindle version is only $9.95, I still sell some of the print version. I get great feedback on it, and there’s really no other comprehensive guide to this market. So, this book keeps chugging along.
Copyediting: $6,312. This is a new category for me. I’ve done a bit of copyediting on and off, since I have newspaper copyediting experience. Last year, I did a huge copyediting project for a book packager. It was stressful at times, but also really interesting, since it was a literacy curriculum for another country. I learned so much! I don’t have steady copyediting clients, though this is an area of income I could probably grow if I put my mind to it.
Miscellaneous sales: $32. I started selling autographed copies of my wfh books online. Last year, I only sold a couple, but I switched to an Amazon Sellers account recently, and I’ve already sold 5 or 6 this year. I’m not going to make much money on this, but it will help me clear out some shelf space, I hope! (I’m just selling off my author copies.) I don’t sell my trade books this way–only my wfh books. (I also donate a lot of these books.)
That’s a total of about $42,811. That’s a 26% increase over my 2012 income, which is awesome! My goal for 2014 is to hit $40,000 again. I know I’m not going to make millions as a children’s writer. But if I work hard enough, I like to think I can earn more than minimum wage. I work my buns off and do a million different things. But if that also allows me a little bit of actual writing time and the opportunity to connect with kids, educators, and other writers, either in person or through my books, then I am the luckiest worker I know:>)
NOTE: This is gross income. This doesn’t include any of my own expenses–travel, promotion, office supplies, etc. nor the self-employment or sales and self-employment taxes I paid.
If you think it’s impolite to talk about finances, skip this post!
Every year for the past few years, I’ve shared my income breakdown. It’s hard for writers to figure out if and how they can earn a living through their writing and related activities, largely because there’s little info out there. So I share every year. And it’s that time again. 2012 was definitely a better year for me than 2011. Thank goodness. It was nice not to need to get a holiday retail job! Here’s the breakdown of what I earned last year.
Web Work: I update webpages through the Children’s Literature Network. In 2012, this accounted for $2,405 of my income. One of the reasons I keep doing this freelance work is that it lets me interact with lots of other writers, which I love. It helps me stay a little bit on top of new and forthcoming books, too, as I see what various members have coming out. Of course, it also contributes greatly to my looming TBR pile. Sigh.
Trade Book Sales: My trade sales totaled $4,993. Yay! More than twice my 2011 total. Um, not exactly a livable wage, however. Like most writers, I would love to earn a living off of trade books advances and royalties. Clearly, I still have a long way to go! I did meet one goal and sold a follow-up manuscript to Leaf Can Be…, Water Can Be… (coming out in 2014). And although Stampede has not earned out its advance, BookSpeak!: Poems About Books did! It was so exciting to get a royalty statement with a real check attached! I had about $2,100 in royalties for BookSpeak, plus my $2,700 advance for Water Can Be…, plus a few small sales to anthologies, magazines, etc., for that total of almost $5,000.
Work-for-Hire Books: $7,913. This amount includes four math picture book/board book sets for Capstone, a very short novel for reluctant readers for Heinemann, and several kindergarten-level shared readers (for an educational publisher through a packager–for digital production). Those shared readers were a mix of nonfiction, fiction, and rhyme. (If you’re interested in doing this kind of writing, learn more about my textbook for writers here.)
Assessment: $7,075. Well, this is a part of my writing business that’s growing that I wish wasn’t. I mean, I actually enjoy a lot of the writing I do for assessment companies–I just wish there was less testing in the schools and therefor less need for those passages. I mostly write nonfiction passages and poetry for use in standardized tests. The poems usually have to be fairly lengthy and detailed, so that they can support a dozen or so multiple-choice questions. And I have to write them so that certain standards can be covered, like using context clues to determine the meaning of a word. So that would mean I’d include a word 2 or 3 grade levels above the grade the passage is for, and I’d make sure to include enough context clues in the sentences surrounding that word that a student can figure out the meaning even if she’s never heard the word before.
Teaching/Speaking: $3,250. This was fun stuff! I again co-led a writing retreat/intensive with Lisa Bullard in Wisconsin (though this was the last year for that, I think). I judged a community poetry contest in the Chicago area and also finished out my commitment with the Shabo Mentorship at The Loft. These were all great experiences!
School Visits: $4,670. School visits and young authors conferences were up somewhat in 2012, and even more so so far in 2013! I love visiting schools, and it’s demanding but rewarding work.
Mentors for Rent: $3,650. Mentors for Rent, the hourly writers’ mentoring business I run with Lisa Bullard, is growing little by little. We’re starting to see many repeat customers, which we love. We have an ebook on How to Query an Agent or Editor and an ebook on Writing for the Educational Market, too. This year, we hope to keep growing and also to produce more helpful materials for writers–probably with a focus on quick tips.
That’s a total of about $33,956. That’s a 77% increase over my 2011 income. Thank goodness!
NOTE: This is gross income. This doesn’t include any of my own expenses–travel, promotion, office supplies, etc. (ballpark of around $8,000)–nor the taxes I paid (which were around $4,500). My goal was $40,000, and I didn’t hit that, but I at least came closer. For 2013, my income goal is again $40,000, and I have lots of writing goals and writing dreams, which I’ll share more about another week. I hope this info is helpful to you. If you have a different job and write just for self-expression or love, great! Or if you write full-time, but don’t need to contribute a certain amount to your household budget, great! This info is for those of you who, like me, want to write, love to write, but need to earn income, too. I hope you met your 2012 writing goals!
If you think it’s impolite to talk about finances, skip this post!
Every year for the past few years, I’ve shared my income breakdown. It’s so hard for writers to figure out if they can earn a living through their writing and related activities, largely because there’s little info out there. So I share every year, sometimes with pride, other times (cough, cough) with dismay and more than a little embarrassment. I know income does not directly correlate, necessarily, with skill, passion, or a job well done. The people in some of the professions I most admire make very little money. Still, as a small business person…ack.
Anyway, here’s my 2011 edition: Keep in mind, this is only gross income. (And for 2011, gross really applies.) This doesn’t include any of my own expenses–travel, promotion, office supplies, etc.–nor the taxes I have to pay. 2011 was a bad year, financially. My worst in a long time. Sigh. The rough economy and my huge time commitment to doing a year of drum corps combined to squash my income like a bug. So be warned.
And here goes:
Web Work: I maintain and update webpages through the Children’s Literature Network. In 2011, this accounted for $1,545 of my income. This is not a big chunk of income, obviously, but I like keeping my hand in with this fantastic organization.
Trade Book Sales: Another year without a trade book sale. Ugh. I did get the second half of my BookSpeak! advance, plus $450 for a couple of poems in a Georgia Heard anthology–yay! (And I have made a trade sale for a follow-up to Leaf Can Be… in 2012.) So that came out to a total of $2,150.
Work-for-Hire Books: $5,768. This is only about half of 2010’s amount.That included the second half of payment for two Picture Window books about emotions, three really fun monster-related e-books (can’t wait to see them!) with Jackson Fish, and one easy e-reader. This also includes some copyediting I did for a book packager and the kill fee for a work-for-hire fiction middle-school book that was accepted by the editors but then killed by the project manager. Not a stellar year.
Assessment: $1,200. This was a mixture of nonfiction and poetry, mostly poetry, sold to assessment companies for use in their standardized tests. The poems usually have to be fairly lengthy and detailed, so that they can support a dozen or so multiple-choice questions. A lot of times I’ll use an existing poem and then make it longer and edit it in other ways to make it usable in a testing situation. It’s always a challenge, but interesting to do.
Teaching/Speaking: $2,500. I really enjoyed this work in 2011. This income came from two events: the Redbery Writer’s Retreat I co-led with Lisa Bullard in Wisconsin and the first half payment for the Shabo Mentorship I was the mentor for for The Loft. Both were great experiences, and I connected with many terrific writers!
School Visits: $2,067. The other half came from 5 or 6 days’ worth of Young Author’s Conferences and school visits (of course, the prep time was lots more than that). I’m re-vamping my school visit presentations and also hoping to get into Skype visits shortly.
Marketing Consultant: $2,670. This was the tail end of a short-term project that I took on for 2010. I put aside other income streams like online classes to take on this project, which was interesting and paid well. It wrapped up in the first couple of months of 2011, and I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my income streams.
Addendum: Mentors for Rent: $1,200. I somehow deleted this entry earlier! Mentors for Rent (new website coming soon) is a small business I run with Lisa Bullard, where we mentor kids’/ya writers for an hourly rate. We started out very slow and small, but we’re getting great feedback. We’re hoping to really grow this business this year!
That’s a total of about $19,100. Only a bit more than 1/3 of my 2010 income ($53,600). Ouch. I could make more money working at Target. But could I do that full-time and let go of my writing? No way. So, those were my fairly pathetic income numbers in 2011.
This year, I’m really focusing on getting my income back into shape. We’ll see if it pays off. I hope you’ve supported yourself doing something you love, too! Or, if you weren’t able to support yourself at it (like I couldn’t have this year), I hope it at least kept you in cute shoes and caramel brownies.
If you think it’s impolite to talk about finances, skip this post!
Every year for the past few years, I’ve shared my income breakdown. Trying to figure out whether you can earn a living doing writing and writing-related things is excruciatingly difficult because there’s so little concrete info out there. So, here’s my 2010 edition:
Keep in mind, this is only gross income. This doesn’t include any of my own expenses–travel, promotion, office supplies, etc.–nor the taxes I have to pay (which worked out to about $17,000).
As always, I found myself juggling a ton of different activities in 2010 do a whole bunch of different things to make up my income. Most relate to and interact with my writing in some way.
Web Work: I maintain and update webpages through the Children’s Literature Network. In 2009, this accounted for $3,167 of my income. I used to do some other accounts, too, but all I retained this year was CLN. I like being in contact with children’s writers and illustrators, and it’s pretty low-stress occasional work. Just a couple of hours per week.
Trade Book Sales: I didn’t make a single trade sale in 2010. I am SO depressed. On the income side, I did get my advance for a book I have coming out with Millbrook in spring 2012. After my agent’s percentage, that came out to $2,590. I am really hoping I have at least one trade sale in 2011.
Work-for-Hire Books: $12,000. This is the same amount as last year! I wrote five Colors of… books for Capstone, one leveled reader that almost killed me for a book packager, two books of verse about emotions for Capstone, and a very nifty book about using photos to inspire poetry, also for Capstone. The bad news? I didn’t get a single assignment for this winter/spring from Capstone or any of its imprints. Not sure what that signifies.
Assessment: $2,600. This was actually mostly from poetry! I wrote a bunch of poems on contract for an assessment company. The poems have to be long and detailed enough to support 12 questions each, or sometimes a related pair of poems can support 12 questions. I can often use an already-written poem as the starting point and then expand it, add specific poetic techniques they need to assess, etc. It’s an interesting challenge.
Teaching/Speaking: $1,225. This is a huge drop from 2009. That’s because I didn’t really teach online at all in 2010. I pretty much put that on hiatus in order to do the marketing consultant work below.
School Visits: $11,750. This was a great year for school visits for me. I did a bunch of school visits and Young Authors Conferences. However, this year, all I have booked is one day at a school and four Young Authors Conference days. My school visit income will be WAY down in 2011.
Marketing Consultant: $20,275. This was new to me at the end of 2009 and throughout 2010. It was interesting work and good pay, so I put aside my online teaching and a few other things in order to make time for it. However, the big projects are finished now, so this has dropped down wildly since the new year. It will likely only be a few thousand dollars for 2011. I knew going into it that that would happen, so it’s not a shock. This year, however, I’m trying to figure out anew how to balance my various income-producing activities.
That’s a total of about $53,600. That’s up almost 50% from last year! After my income dropping the past two years, it’s a nice change of direction. However, dwindling school visits and marketing consultant work will bring it back down for 2011. Way down. But just like I couldn’t focus too much on the lower income the past two years, I can’t focus too much on the higher income this past year. I worked intensely hard all the years–as a freelancer, you have to work unbelievably efficiently and hard in order to earn a livable income.
And the income doesn’t necessarily vary as a result of my efforts. It’s market conditions. Sometimes there are higher-paying jobs available, sometimes not. So I’ll just keep plugging along, trying to keep all the balls I’m juggling in the air, ever grateful to earn a living through writing-related stuff…
So, those were my income sources in 2010. I hope you supported yourself doing something you love, too!
Each year for the past couple of years, I’ve shared my income information in the hopes of making money a less taboo topic among children’s writers.
Our taxes are now done, so I’m ready to share my 2009 info! Of course, this is only gross income. This doesn’t include any of my own expenses–travel, promotion, office supplies, etc.–nor the taxes I have to pay (which work out to somewhere between 30 and 40% of my gross income).
As usual, I do a whole bunch of different things to make up my income. Most relate to and interact with my writing in some way.
Web Work: I maintain and update webpages through both Winding Oak and the Children’s Literature Network. In 2009, this accounted for $4,600 of my income. I recently stopped doing the Winding Oak work, though I am still maintaining author pages for the Children’s Literature Network. I kept the CLN work even though it pays a lower hourly rate than the Winding Oak work. The reason I did this is that the CLN work is more reactive. I just respond to requests to add or update pages. And the pages are templated, so there’s very little learning curve. There are no urgent deadlines, and it doesn’t require mental energy on behalf of clients, where I had to think about, “Hmm…it’s almost the end of the month, and I don’t have Writer XYZ’s beginning-of-month updates. I should contact her!” I can barely keep track of all my own stuff. It was too stressful to always have that in the back of my mind for other people. I do miss the contact with the fabulous writers whose Winding Oak sites I maintained, but it was the right decision for me, stresswise.
Trade Book Sales: Bleh. I didn’t make a single penny on trade book sales in 2009. I did sell a trade book, so that’s good news (in fact, I just got my first half of the advance on Saturday!). Stampede is nowhere near earning out its advance. But with a new book sale and a previous sale finally moving forward, here’s hoping this category will look a lot better in 2010! Total: $0
Work-for-Hire Books: $12,000. I wrote four Science Songs books for Picture Window Books and eight Alphabet Books for Capstone Press. Oh, and one leveled reader for a book packager. Not all the income for all 13 books came in during the calendar year, but that is most of it!
Assessment: $800. These were four nonfiction passages I wrote for an assessment company. I also sold a boatload of poems to an assessment company at the end of the year, but I didn’t get paid until after the new year.
Teaching/Speaking: $9,600. This money came from almost exclusively from teaching online last year! Hardly any in-person stuff, which is unusual. This year will be more of a mix.
School Visits: $5,800. This was an area I’ve been trying to increase, and it’s working! I did 12 days’ worth of school visits and Young Authors Conferences in 2009. They take a lot of prep time, but they’re a great mix of promotion for my books, connections with my audience, and income. They exhaust me, but I actually really enjoy them.
Marketing Consultant: $3,500. This is something new for me. I am doing some freelance consulting work for a financial firm. I’m helping with things like a book they’re self-publishing and a website redesign. I’m not actually doing the designing or anything, but I’m kind of the middleman between their marketing person and the subcontractors. It’s a bit out of my comfort zone, but I’m applying the stuff I’m learning there to my writing career. For instance, I learned all about Constant Contact, a service for sending out html emails, and I just started using that service for my own monthly update emails. Plus the cash is nice:>)
That’s a total of about $36,300. That’s down about 9% from last year. Shoot. That’s down two years in a row. But I’m trying to find the time to work on trade projects, which don’t bring in any immediate money but will hopefully figure into the budget in the future. And I’m just trying to lower my stress level enough to actually enjoy the fact that I get to make a living from writing-related stuff. Don’t get me wrong. I worked my butt off for that amount of income. Lots of books. Lots of poems. Several trade projects that my agent is trying to sell. But I just mean I can’t focus too much on the lower income, because if all I concentrate on is the money, I’ll be miserable.
So, those are the main ways I made income in 2009. I hope you’re finding ways to support yourself doing what you love (or at least tasks related to what you love!).
If you’re a person who thinks it’s rude to talk about finances–skip this!
A while back, I blogged about my income from 2007. I did that because money is such an off-limits topic to many people, and yet, when you’re trying to figure out whether you can survive as a writer, you need people to talk about it.
And now it’s time for the update. It’s August, and I’m finally taking a bit of time to look back at my 2008 income and give a recap. Like most writers, I scrap together a patchwork income from many sources. Looking back at my 2008 business plan, these are the totals I find. Keep in mind this is gross income only. It doesn’t include any of my office expenses, travel for conferences, etc. Here goes:
Web Work: I maintain and update webpages through both Winding Oak and the Children’s Literature Network. In 2008, this accounted for $8,500 of my income.
Trade Book Sales: I received one-half of my advance for a children’s poetry book, Bookspeak: Poems By and About Books, plus a tiny royalty check for an old book. Total: $1,750
Work-for-Hire Books: $13,350. That’s a big step down from last year on work-for-hire, reflecting the fact that I didn’t spend quite as much time on it and that I didn’t have the set of 10 poetry books for Capstone, which had been a large chunk of my 2007 work-for-hire income. In 2008, I wrote 4 science songs, 2 ecosystem books, and 4 animal classification books for Picture Window Books (all for K-2), plus 4 alphabet books for Capstone Press. I think that’s everything. Well, everything I got paid for during the calendar year, anyway. So that’s a total of 14 work-for-hire books. There were also a few work-for-hire assignments in there that weren’t books.
Assessment: $1,500. These are passages I wrote for assessment companies.
Teaching/Speaking: $13,030. This money came from some one-day writing workshops at the Loft Literary Center and numerous online classes. This was a big jump from last year. I enjoy teaching and speaking, but I’m still trying to find the right balance!
School Visits: $1,900. 2008 was the first year I did enough school visits to make a separate income category for them. I’ve done a bunch so far in 2009, and this is one area I’m trying to increase, since they’re a great convergence of connecting with kids, promoting books, and making some income.
So that’s a total of about $40,000. That’s down about 28% from the previous year, which is not good for the family budget. But that’s the life of a freelancer.
Right now, I’m considering an ongoing freelance position of about 10 hours per week in marketing/PR. This possible job would be decent, regular money, with a company of good people doing interesting work, which is a nice thing. The problem is, I’m already working more hours per week than I really have available. So something would have to go. But every single one of the scraps of my patched-together income offers me something besides just money. And the job would stretch me past my current skill level in the marketing/promotion arena. That makes me anxious. But it also interests me, and I know my own book promotion efforts would benefit from some of the skills I would expand doing this job. So I’ll keep pondering how best to find the balance between income, love of writing, and interesting, challenging work.
It was really helpful for me to lay out here the various income streams I’m relying on and how each one is going. I hope it’s helpful to some of you out there who are considering writing (and all its related tasks) as a possible career.
If you’re a person who thinks it’s rude to talk about finances–skip this!
I’ve been thinking recently that one of the things children’s writers wonder about is money. Usually because we don’t make any. Of course there are exceptions. There are children’s writers who make a living solely off their book sales. I think there are 4. Which leaves the other 9,996 scrambling to put together an income off this crazy, wonderful, unreliable world of children’s publishing. OK, maybe there are more than 4. But most children’s writers I know who actually make a living off of writing do it by cobbling together an income from many different sources.
This has been on my mind even more than usual lately. Partially because I’ve had a few different students in my online classes ask how realistic it is to make a living at this. And partly because my husband and I sat down a couple of months ago to re-do our family budget and make it more realistic. I was feeling way too much pressure because I had been unrealistic about what I hoped to earn this year.
So in the interest of sharing specifics for those of you who are wondering whether to quit the day job, I’m looking back over my 2007 business plan and sharing my deep dark financial secrets with you. All of my various jobs are/were related to writing or children’s books in some way.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: I used to work part-time for the website of the Trib, and in 2007 (my last year there), I made $13,000 after taxes. But I didn’t have enough taxes taken out to offset my writing income, apparently. I no longer work there (newspaper industry is in the toilet, if anyone’s not already aware of that), and trying to make up that income elsewhere has been a major stressor in 2008!
Web Work: I maintain and update webpages through both Winding Oak and the Children’s Literature Network. In 2007, this accounted for $5,000 of my income.
Trade Book Sales: I received one advance for a children’s poetry book, Stampede! Poems About the Wild Side of School, plus a tiny royalty check for an old book. Total: $3,725
Work for Hire Books: $26,000. That’s the most I’ve ever made in a year for WFH books! That includes 10 poetry books for Capstone, Write Your Own Poetry and Scrapbooking for Fun for Compass Point, three life-cycle books for Picture Window, and a book on Gallaudet University for Trillium. So, a total of 16 books. There were also a few work-for-hire assignments in there that weren’t books.
Assessment: $2,150. These are passages I wrote for assessment companies.
Teaching/Speaking/School Visits: $5,450. This money came from some one-day writing workshops at the Loft Literary Center, some prepayment for an online class that I actually taught in January of this year, an appearance at a Young Scientists Conference, and a couple of writing conference appearances.
That makes a grand total of about $55,000. But I really hustled to make that and didn’t have very much time to work on my own writing projects that I’d really like to work on. Actually, really hustled is a kind way to put it. I maintained a brutal schedule all year. It’s not a pace I could keep up year in, year out. Plus I didn’t pay quarterly taxes (I’d never needed to before), so I ended up owing about $9,000 in taxes at the end of the year, on top of the money I’d already been setting aside in my “taxes savings account.” Yikes. I’m mailing in those quarterly tax payments now! (And yes, I do use an accountant, deduct my home office and all my expenses, etc.)
2008 is different. No Trib income, for one. And fewer WFH books. The poetry books were fun, but a fluke. Not many of those in educational publishing. So I’ve been trying to figure out how to maintain some kind of reasonable income as well as my sanity.
Maybe I’ll check back in on this topic in January or February to see how 2008 compared to 2007. I’ve always wished I knew how much money other writers make and how they make it, not from a nosy standpoint, but just from a career-planning and budgeting view!
I hope this info’s helpful to people really trying to figure out how to make a livable income off their writing!