% Royalties for Illustrating Children's Books?



  • In my experience working with self-published books, here's how the figures have turned out.

    I make between 2500-3500 on each book. A bit cheap yes, but I'm happy with the price, particularly from a self-published author in Central California (not exactly the rich part of the state...). The books sell on Amazon for $10, so that means we'd have to make 250-350 sales of each book to break even, let alone start thinking about it as a profit. The first book I published has had its price lowered to under $10, so that's an even longer wait for any profits.

    I agree with the others, especially Ness (I might start using that idea actually!). Set a limit for how many copies, probably also based on the initial fees you make and the price, then go from there. I wouldn't hold my breath for profits/royalties though, it's very rare.

    Hope this helps!


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    Hi @Gabby-Correia, I agree with the team here that royalties don’t really make sense for sel-published authors. I would stick to lump sum fee to avoid tying yourself to the authors for future payments you might never see.
    Maybe you can ask for a bonus term in the contract if the book becomes a best seller? Just a thought.

    @Jeremy-Ross I really do not agree with this.
    At least not the way you've worded it since at the end you mention " ask for a bonus" which seems to contradict "tying yourself to the authors for future payments you might never see."

    The bonus IS tying yourself to future payments. It makes your post a little confusing.

    Rather I will always recommend that illustrators avoid cutting of potential revenue streams from their work. This is simply because it is nearly impossible to know which project is going to take off. The best practice is to assume that any one of them could!



  • @Jeremy-Ross thanks! It's been great experience working for self-publishers and small publishers, and most clients have been a joy to work with.

    @NessIllustration -- interesting! Never heard of this approach before and it makes sense. It's something I'd definitely be willing to try. A few questions: So instead of granting reproduction rights for a set time (usually something like 'exclusive rights for __ years'), you grant reproduction rights for a set number of copies? Are you able to keep in touch with your clients and/or keep track of sales?



  • Thank you @davidhohn, I revised my comment to avoid confusion. Appreciate your input!


  • Pro

    @Melissa-Bailey-0 With self-published authors I have to trust what they tell me if they run out of copies and trust that they'll respect their legally binding contract. Not much else I can do, if I did royalties it would be a similar situation where I'd have to take their word for it on sales. I get paid the initial big flat rate and beyond that, have decided to be zen about it. So far my authors have made limited marketing efforts so I don't doubt their sales have been low 😅


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @Jeremy-Ross No worries! Thought it might just be phrasing issue.



  • Thanks so much, everyone! This information has been really helpful and eye-opening. I like the idea of asking for a set amount per book after a certain amount of copies are sold. Really good idea!



  • Hi there. I hope you don’t mind me piggybacking because I have a very similar question. I was just approached by a woman who wrote a book who has a very sizable TikTok following (333k) who wants me to illustrate her book. She’ll be funding the book through Kickstarter. I expect she could sell over 1000 copies just based on her fan base size. Would your advice be different if you were going in thinking they will sell a lot of books?


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    @deboraht Pricing a Kickstarter project is actually really nice because your advance would be based on the number of backers. And that number is public!

    Pro Insight: The advance a publisher offers for a book is (largely) based on the royalty the illustrator would make over the course of the first printing.

    To turn that into numbers:
    If a publisher expects to sell 5,000 copies in the first print run of a $17 book -->
    and the royalty the illustrator would get is 8% of the list price ($1.36) -->
    Then the advance against royalties the publisher would offer is $6800 ($1.36 x 5000)

    So in this case you would take the sale price of the book -->
    Multiply by the percentage you feel is fair per book (I would suggest 10-15% -->)
    Multiply that by the number of eventual backers -->
    And you have the licensing fee for that first print run!

    If the book gains additional traction in the marketplace you can always license a second print run for an additional fee.

    For example, if the author decides to print another 2000 copies in a second print run.
    Use the price per book (established in the first print run) multiply it by 2000 and then charge the result as a single licensing fee for the 2000 copies in the second print run. Limited to the 2000 copies. If the author decides to do a 3rd print run you would simply license the images again for a 3rd fee, and on and on until the book is no longer selling.



  • @davidhohn thank you! This is really helpful information!


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