Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Genre-Specific Sales, Part 2 of 8: Children's

So, as always, some caveats:

#1: I work in adult sales. (I hate telling my friends this because they assume it means I only help sell erotica.) Children's books are not my specialty, but I've taken the liberty of talking to some of the children's sales folks at my house, so hopefully you'll still find some useful information here.

#2: When I say "children's," I generally mean "not adult" (i.e. everything from baby books through YA). I'll break things down further as I go.


Now, children's books are divided in number of different ways, so I'm going to summarize here (hopefully without glossing over anything too much). First, by age range. You can find a more specific breakdown here, but I'm going to use slightly broader strokes. Generally, you've got picture books (children younger than 6), chapter books (ages 6 - 9), middle grade/MG (ages 8 - 12), and young adult/YA (ages 12+). The distinction between MG and YA can be a little blurry, but here's a pretty good explanation. In a nutshell:

• MG protagonists are usually in the age range of 8 - 12. YA protagonists are usually 12 or older.
• The word count for MG is around 20,000 - 40,000, whereas it's 50,000 - 75,000 for YA (as Jessica Faust notes here, these numbers are a little fuzzy, so take this with a grain of salt).
• MG plots tend to center on the protagonist's internal world, whereas YA plots are more complex and are more concerned with the protagonist's effect on his or her external world.
• MG is chiefly read by late elementary/middle school students; YA is chiefly read by high school students and up.

Basically, the MG/YA question boils down to Ramona Quimby vs. Bella Swan (shudder). Which is your protagonist?

Yes, now, sales. Alack, sales are still soft (and are projected to remain so), but it looks like adults are still more willing to spend money on their kids than on themselves, so for now, children's sales are doing relatively well across the board. (Remember yesterday's discussion on paperbacks versus hardcovers? Well, right now children's paperbacks are doing particularly well.) I also encourage you to check out this article on sales by channel. What's a channel, you ask? Well, click and find out.

Yesterday, I also told you to check out the impact of e-books on sales (hint: e-books are the future). Well, it's true for children's books, too! My theory is that this will be especially pronounced among the younger kids as they grow up with this kind of technology and are more comfortable with it.

Now, genre. Based on my conversations with a couple of children's sales specialists, YA fantasy remains the hot market, although traditional MG/YA and MG mysteries continue to do well. I get the impression that picture books are really a tough market to gauge, so I'm not sure I can point to any significant trends there. As everyone knows, vampires are still "in," but I strongly caution you against trying to time the market. Have you ever tried that with stocks? If so, you know what I'm talking about. You end up buying high and selling low. If you're just starting your YA vampire novel now, it probably won't be on shelves for two years, minimum. A lot can happen in two years.

Next, disclaimer: I am not making any legal warranty, explicit or implicit, as to the accuracy of my research. If you end up writing a paranormal romance YA featuring steampunk zombies and it doesn't sell, don't waste your time suing me.

Now that that's over with: projected "hot" trends include zombies and steampunk, so if you're writing along those lines (MG or YA, most likely YA), you're probably in good shape. If you're not, no worries, so long as your book is good. I'm sure traditional epic fantasy YA will continue to do well, and I doubt vampires are going to (re)die in the immediate future.

Finally, average advances:

According to Writing World, the average picture book advance (a few years ago) was $1,000 - $3,000, and it's probably not much different now. In fact, these numbers are more or less comparable to the MG and YA numbers, although YA tends to be a little higher, according to my chat with the children's folks at my house, and the average children's book advance is around $7,500 (as of this time two years ago).

Lo, in summary:

• There is a difference between MG and YA, and it's slightly more complicated than the age of the protagonist.
• Children's books sales are soft, but doing relatively well now. They are projected to do relatively well for the next several years.
• Paperback YA is especially hot. Current trends include vampires and zombies; zombies and steampunk are believed to be next. Perhaps Christian vampires and Amish fiction, as well.
• I'm not sure there's a pattern to the advances, but the ballpark for picture books seems to be $1,000 - $3,000 and MG/YA around $7,500. My best guess: $0 - $8,000 if you're writing any kind of children's book, with a median around $4,000 or so.

Not bad for a non-children's sales guy, no?


  1. Keep in mind that for a picture book, the author is essentially splitting the advance and royalty with an illustrator (tbd by the publisher), so the pay stucture is competitive with the other age groups in children's publishing.

  2. Not bad at all! Thanks for this. As someone who has recently abandoned her literary pretensions and realized YA is the right place for me right now, I found this post quite helpful.

    One thing I don't get: STEAMPUNK. It's such a hip word right now, in literature and fashion. But why?!

  3. Is a chapter book more in line with a picture book or with a MG? My guess would be a picture book, because they are apt to have illustrations and be much shorter.

  4. This post was very helpful. Thank you!

    Back to my fantasy world ... :-)

  5. Thanks for the info! It's good to know all of this stuff. :)

  6. I was just posting on YA advances at my blog today. Glad to see some other numbers!!

  7. Okay, this is likely a dumb point but I'm having a hard time envisioning picture books on an electronic reader due to the um, pictures. However, I also don't own an electronic reader - but would think the graphics would be quite small and not as engaging for a wee one. Have your children's people given any feedback on this to you? Just wondering as I write picture books among other juvenile fiction. Thanks.

  8. Thanks for all this information. It's a big help!

    Rick, Chapter Book is a pretty broad term. Because it includes everything from short Junie B. Jones chapter books on up to some pretty hefty tomes in the MG category.

    Kristi, There are some services that libraries are now subscribing to providing electronic versions of picture books to library patrons. Tumble Books Library is the one I'm familiar with. This might be the wave of the future in terms of e-picture books.

  9. Thanks Alissa - I just looked them up online and it looks interesting.

  10. Great post! Totally coming back to re-read it later. Kristin, I'm relatively new to the world of Steampunk, but being a long-time anime fan, I can say that Steampunk itself has been around for a very long time. In anime circles, it's a beloved theme. I can't say why exactly it's experiencing such a surge in interest in popularity (it's about time in my opinion) but it might have something to do with Steampunk bands that are making names for themselves. One of my favorites is Abney Park. Check them out, I implore you!

  11. Thank you for the last two posts, can't wait to read more.

  12. Wow- well I guess I'm clicking my heels right now that I've begun querying for my zombie paranormal romance. Yeah!

  13. These numbers seem to be on the low end. Maybe they're typical advances for unagented children's book writers?

  14. I agree, Anon. 12:10-- these numbers are definitely low in my experience, even for unagented-- if we're talking trade publishers only. If educational publishers are thrown into the mix, that could bring the average way down.

  15. Kristi,
    I'm looking at the e illustrations possibilities myself. The Shatzkin Files... http://www.idealog.com/blog/ has as excellent piece of e books sales in general and gave me some info, (see comments section, ScrollMotion) on who has what in e illustration technology at the present time and what may come in the near future.

    Haste yee back ;-)

  16. This was great information. is there one place where we can find this information if we want to - or are they only numbers you can get as an insider?

  17. Hey...find out from your children's folks: does the illustrator truly divide the money with the author in a picture book situation? OR, does the illustrator get hired for the job at a determined price and then is done with it? I've heard both stories. I'm curious....

  18. In almost all cases, the illustrator truly splits the money (advance & royalty) with the author. If the illustrator's name appears on the cover with the author it is a split deal. Sometimes, the illustrator is selected as a work-for-hire and gets a simple flat fee (rarely the case for trade books). In those cases, the illustrator is credited, but not on the cover.

  19. In real life, MG books are mainly read by elementary school kids. YA is mainly read by middle school kids. And high school kids read mainly adult books.

  20. Also, the idea that illustrators "split" some predetermined amount of money with authors is absurd. The author, or the author's agent, tries to get the biggest advance and best terms possible. The illustrator, or the illustrator's agent, tries to get the biggest advance and best terms possible. Since each is negotiating separately, and each presumably has a different amount of leverage depending on previous success, etc., there is no reason to think that your advance and royalty rate has anything to do with the other person's.

  21. What are books called which are designed to be read to children who are too young to read themselves, but not picture books?

  22. Picture books are the only books designed to be read to children who are too young to read themselves. Although there is no law that says you can't read easy readers and chapter books to your children, or anything else for that matter.

  23. Great inside information. Thanks for remembering us children's writers.

  24. Hi, I am an new author and my new fantasy novel, "Gateway to DreamWorld," was released on August 12th.

    I would like to invite readers who enjoy YA fantasy/sci-fi to purchase a copy from Amazon.com or Barnes&Nobles.com.

    Any and all reviews are greatly appreciated.

    Brenda Estacio

  25. Don't discount the library market's importance for children's books! Even if advances for books for youth are frequently lower than those for books for adults (and I agree, the advances cited above seem extremely low; I'd say $5000-15000, and even higher for past award winners, etc., is more typical), the library market keeps many books for youth in print for a long, long time.

    In fact, institutional sales (those to schools & libraries, often via wholesalers) for years dominated the market for children's books. Over the past say, 10-20, years, the retail market has taken on more significance. But even so, institutional sales are the bedrock at many children's publishers/imprints.

    Often, sales of a new children's book begin low and then grow over a year, as the book is reviewed by trade publications (BCCB, SLJ, Booklist, Horn Book, PW, etc.) and may win awards, not only ALA awards (Newbery, Caldecott, Notable, Printz, Belpre, Coretta Scott King, etc.) but child-voted, state-sponsored awards, the masterlists for which may be determined a year or so post-publication. That may be one reason for traditionally low advances: It's hard for a children's book to earn out quickly, but if/once it does, it's likelier to have a longer in-print life than an adult book.

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