Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guest Post: Lisa Bullard & Laura Purdie Salas on Can I Turn “Children’s Book Writer” Into a Full-Time Job?

By Lisa Bullard
& Laura Purdie Salas

"Can I turn 'children’s book writer' into a full-time job?"


New writers ask us the above question all the time—because we’ve both managed to do just that!

Sure, we’ve had tons of ups and downs, but we’ve each relied on writing and related activities for our full-time incomes for over ten years.

And we’re not high-profile authors who make thousands for every speaking gig; our books win awards and honors, but we haven’t yet made the bestseller lists.

We decided to interview each other about the behind-the-scenes realities for all of you out there who have contemplated this career option.

Lisa: How much time do you spend writing every day?

Laura: I analyzed my time sheets once. I wish I hadn’t. I spend 5 percent of my time writing original work and 12 percent doing educational writing. Overall, less than 20 percent!

But my writing career is a small business, and business tasks eat up much of my time. That 20 percent makes everything else worthwhile.

What about you? What's the best thing about turning “children's book writer” into your full-time job?

Lisa: Three words: writing, which I’ve adored since I penciled my first word (it was “chair”); books—do I have to tell you?; and children, who have the capacity to fall head-over-heels in love with books.

I focus on those rewards because frankly, the monetary rewards are harder to come by.

What about you—do you live big on six-figure advances?

Laura: Whew—sorry, I’m out of breath from laughing! Try $4,000 as my highest advance. But that’s okay. There’s still a chance for royalties.

I think huge advances are overrated—they put great pressure on authors to create enormous sales numbers so publishers aren’t disappointed.

But $4,000 for a book when you’ve poured your heart and countless hours into it—that can be hard to accept, too.

Lisa: I know! There are a lot of days that I wish I could ignore the money side of things and just write for the love of it. But there are other kinds of bonuses to this work, right? Like, most people assume we get to work in our pajamas all day!

Laura: Well, the UPS guy delivers daily, so it’s best for me to at least wear jeans or yoga pants. For conferences and school visits, I wear actual pants—gasp! The ALA Newbery Banquet last year was stressful—my shopping standard was “anything too dressy for lunch at Chipotle.”

How about you—are you a PJs-every-day writer?

Lisa: There aren’t enough PJ days! That’s because a lot of the things I do to help make ends meet involve other people: Skype mentoring sessions with new writers, teaching writing, and book marketing consultations (those draw on my background in the publishing industry).

Speaking of new writers, what’s your best advice for somebody who would love to build a job like ours?

Laura: Write amazing stories—that goes without saying. But don’t overlook your other responsibility: Learn about the industry by talking to writers and editors, reading voraciously, and studying the market.

So—what would you tell someone who is thinking about quitting their day job to become a full-time writer?

Lisa: How about: It will be harder than you expect and more satisfying than you can imagine!

Cynsational Notes

Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas collaborate on numerous projects, the most recent of which is a coaching and critique service for children’s book writers called “Mentors for Rent.”

If you’d like to explore further questions about the writing life, you can visit their website for more details.

5 comments:

Wild About Words said...

Lisa and Laura are amazing. They did a guest post on my blog several months ago about how finding a publisher is a lot like dating: http://donnagephart.blogspot.com/2011/01/top-6-12-list-finding-publisher-is-lot.html

laurasalas said...

Thanks, Donna--and congratulations on the Thurber award--woohoo!

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Great post! I am in awe of these women. You are both very challenging and encouraging at the same time here. Nice to see the practical side with the "It can be done!" testimony.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Amazing indeed! Thank you for posting the link.

Yes, AJ, I wish we would see more posts along the lines of how to make it work, minus mega push and/or trust funds. I'm so glad you enjoyed this one!

Thanks again, Lisa & Laura!

LisaB said...

Thank YOU, Cynthia! You do so much to help writers at all stages connect, share information, and celebrate each others' accomplishments. That makes our work tons easier and more satisfying. It was an honor to be featured on your pages! Laura and I have tried to figure out a way to clone you so that we can increase your outreach in an exponential way, but sadly, our genetic skills are not nearly as developed as our writing skills. Lisa

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