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!
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.