With the major success of children's stories like Harry Potter, it's easy to think that writing literature for children would yield a high salary. However, getting started in the children's publishing business is difficult and offers no guarantee of success, even once you have signed your first contract.
A 2005 article in the Guardian explained that 7 per cent of the UK's children's book authors earned nothing in 2005 and 17 per cent earned less than £5,000. The top 17 percent earned more than £30,000. Although those figures are a little old now, the same situation rings true today. The problem with putting a figure on incomes for writers is that they are almost never directly employed. Instead, they get paid a small percentage of what the book earns in sales.
Children's books cover board books for toddlers, picture books, chapter and middle-grade books, and young adult literature. According to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, an author with a 32-page picture book can expect to share an advance of £5,200 to £7,800 with the illustrator, with the illustrator typically taking a larger cut. For books written for older children with few or no illustrations, the advance goes to the writer.
When an author signs a contract with a publishing house for her children's book, she receives an advance based on predictions of how many copies of the book will sell. After the book "earns out" that advance, meaning enough copies have been sold to equal the amount of the advance, the author will begin to earn a percentage of royalties on the book as agreed on in her contract.
The children's book industry is highly competitive, and most traditional publishing houses do not accept unsolicited picture books or manuscripts from unpublished authors. An aspiring children's author will nearly always not only get a contract, but earn a higher advance, when she finds representation with a literary agent. For a 15 per cent commission, agents submit material to editors, negotiate contracts to get the highest advance possible for the author, and reviews royalty statements once the book begins to sell.