Writing Children’s Books vs. Adult Books

Disclaimer—the following comments are based on my own experience and my not apply to everyone. Think twice before trying this at home. Why you should consider writing children’s books instead of adult books. (Further warning—I’m going to be so crude as to discuss money here. If you’re one of those persons who believe that no one should ever reveal how much money they made, read no further.)

You should consider writing children’s books instead of adult books because 1) they’re shorter and 2) they pay better. Is that simple or what? The short part is probably self explanatory, but as to the pay…My first adult novel, Navohar, was published in paperback for an advance of $5,000—pretty standard. It got fairly good reviews, but failed to earn out, so the advance is probably all the income I’ll ever see from it. A common experience with first novels, and no one’s fault—especially not fault of my publisher, Roc, who treated me very well.

My first YA novel, Songs of Power, was published in hardcover. This is not uncommon with children’s and YA books because school and public libraries will buy a hardcover first novel for kids—and children’s librarians buy from the reviews. There’s a strong reviewing mechanism for children’s books, perhaps half a dozen major review sources. If you get good reviews in three or four of them, librarians buy the book. Period. Because of this market, which is largely unavailable to first adult novels, my advance for Songs, was $6,000. It was well reviewed, so it sold to the libraries, earned out the advance, went to a second printing, and sold foreign rights for an additional $3,000+ (my cut before my agent’s commission) and it hasn’t even come out in paperback yet! And finally there’s the chance that children’s book clubs might pick it up.

I should add a caveat, that if your children’s book is first published in paperback, it faces the same challenges as an adult paperback. Children’s paperbacks are reviewed by the same sources, but librarians (and why this is true I don’t know, but it is) just don’t take paperbacks as seriously. Paperbacks are bookstore books, and they live or die on the chain stores’ shelves.

But this brings me to another odd phenomenon. It’s very hard to get a first adult genre book—any genre—published in hardcover. But in children’s books it’s just the opposite—at least as far as SF and fantasy are concerned. Your children’s or young adult book in these genres is more likely to be published in hardcover than in paperback. Even a first book. Think about it…

Fall 2001

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