Diversify to Make a Living as a Children's Book Author

Today, we’re going to talk about money. Money can be tricky when you’re a freelance artist and/or writer, so I’m sharing a fantastic response that Jim Averbeck gave a student who asked how long he’d been making a living as a writer and illustrator of children’s books.

I think that sometimes there’s this illusion that as soon as we reach whatever goal we’re working toward, we’ll automatically have more time to make stories. For example, when I get an agent, I can focus on my writing because my agent will sell my stories. When my agent sells my book, I’ll be able to quit my day job and just make stories all day. I will have so much more time when . . . (you can fill in the blank).

Do you ever do this? I have to rein myself back in because I know better.

In reality, the agent I work with has me help write the submission letters she sends to editors, and she’s smart to do it that way. I’m still getting rejections. The truth is that if you’re sending your work out into the world, you’re getting rejections. Jane Yolen has sold somewhere between 300 and 400 books. I don’t know the exact number, but it’s A LOT OF BOOKS. And she still gets rejections.

A friend of mine had an agent for three years before the agent sold anything of hers, and then it was a multiple-book deal. Yay! But neither of them saw any income for three years.

Hopefully, you will eventually be able to quit your day job so that making books IS your main focus and job. Arree, Jim, and Vanessa make it work for them. A lot of people do. But a lot of writers and illustrators have another job. You want to make sure you have enough income coming in before you quit your job.

Arree talks about how important it is to make books that will keep selling. He’s still getting royalties every year for his first picture book. And when you start getting $10,000 a year in royalties for multiple books, it gives you a bit of an income cushion.

But as Jim points out, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to sell books every year, so it’s smart to diversify your income. In addition to making great children’s books, Arree, Jim, and Vanessa teach for Storyteller Academy and speak at conferences, book festivals, and schools.

Your other streams of income don’t have to depend on the book industry. Jim has a rental in San Francisco. Having assets that make you money without a lot of effort on your part will give you peace of mind and freedom to create.

Personally, I'm sold on the rental idea. It's a solution that I can work toward now.

How will you diversify your income?

Blog Contributors

Instructor Photo: Myrna Foster

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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5 thoughts on “Diversify to Make a Living as a Children’s Book Author”

  1. Yes, this is so true. So, many creatives think freelancing is easy and I can quit my day job.
    Be realistic and make sure you have an income stream to pay the rent or
    mortgage because you can quickly go into debt. Believe me, it isn’t easy when you are
    trying to be creative with debt hanging over your head. Don’t be embarrassed or
    ashamed. Pick-up a part-time gig if it will take some of the pressure off of you.

  2. I have diversified my entire working life I guess. Age 9.5 began babysitting… really… and of course, I was still going to school and doing chores at home. LOL… But seriously, buying most of my own clothes by 11 to help the family. On to other jobs in addition in HS; on my own for college, work-study and outside jobs, and even the early parenting times, I tutored, ran a playgroup for kids with developmental disabilities, taught at a community arts center. After art school, [3 separate times] when I could not still not navigate the waters of freelance work well, and had to support my kids, each time I fell into teaching full time, plus taking classes, plus raising kids on my own, plus art projects for sale which I generated myself, some public art projects where I applied for a grant, and public art projects that invited me to apply as an artist and be paid directly … plus along the way I helped start / run food coops, play groups, dance groups – also was a dj, and planned/ ran, did graphic design for events.
    All that helped me get by on less or pay down my school and parenting debt. Working on books off an on throughout all these years, but had no consistent support group to help me learn how to do it better or revise properly till the past few years.

    So diversifying did not make me rich. I could have done better if I’d known more about how to do it right.. or if life events did not give me more on my plate time and again. But it did help me survive, and I managed to include things in there that kept me engaging in my craft as much as possible. Oddly, I learned a very good skill – to live on less than what I made, because 1/4 to half my income was used to pay off debt each month for almost 20 years. This and finally receiving my teacher’s pension has turned out to provide my freedom to work properly on my books now.

    I’ve also worked both part and full time in a factory, ice-cream shop, pet store, JCPenney catalog dept., a wholesale needlepoint house, administered reading assessments to dev. disabled adults, taught creative writing and drawing in continuing adult ed., been a “coffee lady”, lunch counter – both within factories, sold crafts on the city street and country fairs.

    A creative mind may not always be paid well, but can usually come up with multiple ways to pay the rent and feed the kids.

  3. Even though I’m not published yet, I have diversified my income in some interesting ways. I have a few pieces that are self-published. If you have a niche audience to sell to this can work for you, too. My self-published coloring books bring income in for me every month because they appeal to a very specific audience. There is a need that I am fulfilling there. Then, I also have applied for grants and gotten them as a teaching artist. I’m also in cahoots with the Nevada Arts Council, meaning that I have gone through the application process to be on their register of teaching artists. This is available to organizations who are looking for facilitated workshops. You can be a writer and do this as well. Building relationships with organizations who get what you are doing and why is paramount. I also substitute teach from time to time for a local private school. This gives me some income as well as giving me access to kids, besides my own! Very helpful as a children’s book writer/illustrator. I think it is important to diversify, but be careful not to waste your precious energy on a day job that doesn’t fill your passion cup at least a little. 🙂 So, look around your community and dream a little. Lots of opportunities may be awaiting you.

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