Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Five Lessons from 100 Published Picture Book Authors - A Guest Post by Hannah Holt

I saw Hannah talking about this research on social media, and invited her to blog about it here. I'm so glad she took me up on it...

2018 Debut Picture Book Author Hannah Holt

Earlier this year, I joined Epic Eighteen—a group of picture book authors and illustrators with 2018 debuts. It’s been great rubbing shoulders with other almost-authors, and it’s made me think deeply about the practical aspects of this beautiful yet challenging career.

For example, everyone in the group has another source of income besides writing. Are any picture book authors living solely on writing? Also, some authors have agents. Others don’t. How essential is an agent? To answer these and other questions, I created an anonymous survey. So far, 135 published picture book authors have participated, and I’ve learned things, like...

1. You don’t need an agent to break into the picture book trade market. 

Almost half (48%) of the authors surveyed sold their first book without an agent.

2. However, having an agent is advantageous. Really advantageous. 

Overall, agented authors sold books to larger houses for more money than authors pitching their own stories. Average advances were 500% higher for authors with agents. Authors were also more likely to have sold multiple books with an agent.

3. Picture book advances range from $0 to $50,000+. 

The most common picture book advance for a small house falls between $1,000 to $4,999, while the most common advance for a Big Five publisher is between $5,000-$9,999.

Here’s the spread.

Advances at small houses:


Advances at large houses:



4. You don’t need a regular writing schedule to become a published author. 

About a third of published picture book authors don’t have a set writing schedule.

Also, those earning the largest advances tended to be authors without a schedule. In contrast, picture book authors working 40+ hours a week earned smaller book advances (<$5,000).

“Butt-in-chair” doesn’t necessarily translate into more dollars in your pocket in the short-term. 

However, the more years an author had been writing, the more likely she would have a sizeable annual salary. Two picture book authors in the survey earned more than $100,000 last year. They have both been writing professionally for 20+ years.

So find a writing groove that works for you, and settle into it for a decade or two.

5. Rejection is normal. 

Picture book authors are usually rejected at least ten times before signing a book deal. Fifteen-percent of authors are rejected 100+ times prior to selling a book. Also most picture book authors write six or more stories before selling anything.

Keep calm and query on!

(Bonus) 6. There is an exception to every rule. 

Perhaps you’ve heard about overnight successes and wildly successful authors without agents. These things happen. They are just outliers.

Three-percent of published picture book authors sold a book on the first query. The first query! Oh, those lucky (and talented) ducks.

Also having an agent doesn’t guarantee success. While most authors love their agent, ten-percent hate theirs. No agent is better than one you don’t trust.

Finally, many authors find success with a regular writing schedule. In fact, the majority of published authors have some kind of consistent writing routine. Good news for me because I’m one of them.

I’ll publish a full summary results in the fall. Until September 15th, I’m still collecting data. If you’re a traditionally published children’s author, please consider taking my survey: Picture Book Author Survey 

I also have a survey for chapter book, middle grade, and young adult authors. I’ve had over 100 replies so far and am still taking more: Chapter Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult Author Survey 

A HUGE thank you to all the authors taking the survey! Here’s to demystifying a career as a children’s author!


Hannah Holt is an engineer by training and a picture book author by trade. Her first two books, Diamond Man (Balzer+Bray 2018) and A Father’s Love (Philomel 2019), showcase science stories with heart. You can find Hannah chatting on Twitter, working on her website, and eating chocolate chip cookies with total abandon.

23 comments:

Angela Dale said...

"Keep calm and query on!" Amen.

Hannah, thanks for the data to help us put expectations in place.

Carrie Pearson said...

Loving this peek behind the curtains, Hannah. Congrats, too!

Sarah Perkins said...

Its cool to see the surveys for authors of different levels of books... but what about one for illustrators, or author-illustrators? Those would have interesting and unique stats I would think.

Kathy Halsey said...

Hannah has worked hard to share this info with us and it is both hopeful and fascinating. TY, Lee and Hannah.

McMarshall said...

Great synopsis of the research Hannah. I look forward to seeing the final results in the Fall. It is affirming and intereating to see thia information in statistics. Thanks.

Johnell DeWitt said...

Wow. Excellent info. Thanks you.

Denise Vega said...

Hannah, congratulations on your upcoming picture book! That's fantastic!

I have a vague memory of participating in your survey--or at least hearing about it. :-) So fabulous and worthwhile.

Thank you SO much for this post and for the time and effort you put into it. I teach a lot of picture book classes and information like this is incredibly helpful in addition to helping me as a published author.

~ Denise Vega, author, RAE (Rocky Mtn Chapter)

Brianna Zamborsky said...

Thanks, Hannah! This is great.

Cindy Williams Schrauben said...

Great info! Thanks, Hannah

Kristen Olsen said...

This is a nice little article. Thanks for the information!

Rebekah Dorris said...

Wow. This is gold. I can't thank you enough for sharing all this. Thank you! And God bless - richly! :)

MD Knabb said...

So interesting. Thanks for doing this, Hannah.

David McMullin said...

Truly interesting information. It helps me see that my hunt for an agent, though not necessary, is still worth the effort. Thank you, Hannah, for putting in so much work.

Jeanne said...

After reading this post, I feel both encouraged and challenged. What wonderful insights! Thank you for gathering this info and sharing it with us.

Aileen Stewart said...

Quite an interesting article. Thanks for sharing :0)

G-Mom Midnight Blogger said...

Great information for children book authors. Thanks for sharing.

G-Mom Midnight Blogger said...

Great information. Looking forward to more results.

Lacey said...

This very interesting and useful information. Thank you to Hannah for the study and thank you Lee for getting her to share her results on your blog.

Hannah Holt said...

Sarah Perkins, I have stats for author-illustrators separate from authors. I'll report those in the fall. Hoping for a few more!

Thank you everyone for your kind words! I wouldn't be able to do this without a great deal of support from fellow authors. A round of applause to the anonymous contributors to this survey!

Melanie Ellsworth said...

Lots of interesting, info! Thanks for sharing, Hannah, and congratulations on your upcoming picture book!

andrea peck said...

Thank you, very motivating!

John Shelley said...

I'd be interested to hear what the illustrators had to say, or was it a survey just for writers?

Katherine Ryan said...

Hats off! Thank you for collecting this kind of rich information about these important topics.