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
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! Check it out. I’ll share more about why I’m trying this in a future post. 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. Here are the books I have listed there. 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.