L is for Life Cycle

I’ve read in several places that most newly published picture books will go out of print in fewer than two years following publication.

It’s a sobering thought. What does such a short life cycle mean to a would-be author? In a nutshell, don’t quit your day job. Not yet, at any rate.

When a traditional publisher agrees to buy the rights to a manuscript, the author is usually paid an advance against the royalties. A modest advance could range from $3,000 to $8,000, and must be split with the illustrator. Let’s say that the illustrator takes 50%. That drops the range to $1,500 to $4,000.

A hardback picture book might earn the author 5% of its retail price. Let’s say that retail is $17. The author earns 85 cents for every book sold. That means that 4,706 hardback copies would need to sell before an author can start earning royalties following a $4,000 advance.

And paperback copies, if the picture book lives long enough to see paperback, only make about 2.5% of the retail price. They’re also priced much lower than their hardback counterparts. The average royalty per sale at this stage is said to be 20 cents.

What if you’re an agented author? Go ahead and subtract another 15%.

So why write picture books? Look no further than another L-word: For the love of it.


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