I (Laura) try not to overlap too much detailed content between this blog and my monthly e-letter for writers, but I think I have to in this case. I want this info to be out there, publicly, where it can help writers. So, I apologize for the repetition if you receive my e-letter. And if you don’t, why don’t you? Like I said, it’s usually different stuff than what I share here:>)
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.
You’ll notice some big swings in both directions:>) Because making a living as a writer is tough. Sure, there are those few children’s writers who are knocking it out of the park, income-wise. But most of us are…not. I hope you find the following information useful to you in your own career planning!In general, 2014 was a lovely year. WATER CAN BE… came out, and I indie-published some books for teachers, and I sold a new (non-Can Be…) picture book, and my next picture book poetry collection finally made its way (mostly) through the editing process. So I’m grateful to continue to expand my number of trade books! That’s my dream goal: earning a living off of trade books (the books I want to/love to/must write) instead of freelance assignments (the books/passages/pieces I get assigned to write). Still, even with three trade picture books in print for most of 2014, that is just a tiny portion of my income.So here we go. Here’s the breakdown of what I earned in 2014.
Trade Book Sales:My trade sales totaled $6,570. That’s only about 2/3 of my 2013 number. This number includes ½ my advance for my forthcoming NIGHT picture book poetry collection, my 2014 royalties on BOOKSPEAK and A LEAF CAN BE…, royalties for my poems in the Poetry Friday Anthologies, and a few miscellaneous fees for individual poems in trade anthologies. I would sure like this number to be a lot higher!
Work-for-Hire Books: $2,913. The bulk of this was one book for Capstone on how to write poetry. I haven’t pursued as much work-for-hire book writing the past couple of years, though I definitely consider offers that come my way. I turned down several this year when I could tell the research/writing time would make the fee too small. (If you’re interested in doing writing for the educational market, learn more about my textbook for writers here.)
Assessment: $11,600. I more than doubled my income from assessment writing this past year. More than half of it was from one huge project with a new-to-me client, and I hope to work with them more in 2015. In fact, I think all of this came from just two clients. I can work more efficiently (and thus earn a higher hourly pay) when I work on a few big projects rather than lots of little piecemeal assignments. But I’m conscious of not putting all my eggs in one basket, too. Still, I have enough clients/contacts now that there always seems to be some new offer not too far off in the distance. In 2014, as part of one of those huge projects, I did a fair amount of fiction writing for assessments, which was new to me. I learned a few basic things that made that go much faster for me. It’s still not my favorite assignment (I do prefer poetry and nonfiction), but I have to admit the lack of research usually required makes a nice change of pace. Last year, I said, “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.” I haven’t done that yet, and it’s hard, because it’s impossible to give examples of anything because of strict confidentiality agreements! Still, I think I could put together a guide that would be useful for beginners. Maybe this year.
Teaching/Speaking: $6,935. I really enjoyed speaking last year. I presented at several large conferences for educators, as well as some regional book festivals and state events (like Camp Read-a-Lot and different divisions of the Minnesota Reading Association or Minnesota Library Association. And I spoke at some writers’ conferences, too, which I love. I would like to do more of it, in fact.
School Visits: $7,748. More than half of this was for one large multi-week project with a summer school program. They had approached me, out of the blue, and I ended up really loving it (we made Can Be… books over several weeks). Right now, I’m contacting various other school districts to see if someone might be interested in doing this again this summer. I’ve left my rates the same, even though I contemplated raising them. This summer, I want to think about some tweaks to my school visit offerings and fees.
Mentors for Rent: $2,889. 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 seen some clients have books come out recently (yay!) and get contracts, which is always exciting. I struggle a bit with keeping this going because the income is so minimal from it. But I don’t want my main source of income to be from coaching. Eventually, people who do that are coaching/selling so much I feel like they’re out of touch with the writing side of things. I am a writer FIRST. Then a visiting author, teacher, speaker, critique, coach… So, Mentors for Rent will remain small:>)
Copyediting: $2,214. This was down quite a bit this year, though I turned down a couple of projects because I had so much assessment work already. I enjoy the copyediting, and I might look at growing this part of my income in the future.
Miscellaneous sales: $328. This is me selling autographed copies of my wfh books online. I previously sold these through half.com/ebay. 2014 was my first full year on Amazon sellers. I list all the books I have author copies of at $13. Then I pay about $2-3 each to ship them when they sell. Amazon pays me $12.70 per title. So I make about $10 per book. It’s nice to be clearing a bit of shelf space in my storage area downstairs. 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 $42,986. That’s within $200 of my 2013 income, so that’s a nice bit of consistency. I’d like to earn a higher percentage of this from trade books and speaking/teaching, so that’s what I’ll continue to work on growing. Meanwhile, I’ll do all of the other freelance stuff in order to pay the bills. I still feel very lucky to make my goal income ($40,000) doing work that’s at least related to what I love.
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.
P.S. Here’s an interesting article about the reality of six-figure book deals, too. Enjoy!