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 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. You can click on the links below to check them out. 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 e-book (Kindle and Kobo).
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.)