Genres of children’s books (part 2)


  • The survey was open from April 19th to September 15th, 2017.
  • 174 published picture book authors participated.
  • Results were anonymous. (I don't know who answered what, so please don't ask.)
  • These are the final 2017 numbers. They might be slightly different from my previews published elsewhere. These results have the most complete data.
  • I offered no compensation to authors takin the survey. THANK YOU AUTHORS FOR DONATING YOUR TIME AND MAKING THIS POSSIBLE!
  • FYI, I'm also not getting paid to do this and have four small children. I'm doing the best I can to make this information quickly available in a useful format.

#1: How large was your debut advance (including additional books if in the same deal)?

The most common picture book author advances are between $1,000 and $5,000 (40% of all authors).

Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2)

3.5% of authors earned an advance over $50,000. This percentage is slightly higher than data available through Publisher Marketplace. Publishers Market Place (as of last week) had 3,826 total deals reported for picture books – 93 of those deals (2.4%) were $50k or higher.

Basically, this is a sanity check against a much larger data set, and the data collected here is close. Moreover, Publishers Marketplace does not break down deal information in units less than $50k, so there is no way to further analyze 97% of the deals from their reports.

Let's look at advances another way: by house size. How large are advances at smaller houses vs. Big 5 publishers?

Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2)

Note: There was one Big 5 author with no advance. This author was published 30+ years ago.

Let's look at all advances by year of debut. These graphs are chronological: 10+ years ago, 5-9 years ago, 0-5 years ago, and new titles not yet released.

Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2) Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2) Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2) Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2)

Over time, advances have generally increased, regardless of house size. For example, it wasn't unusual for an author at a Big 5 house to have an advance under $5,000.

There weren't any Big 5 authors with titles coming in the next two years, with advances under $5,000. However, the last 5-9 years have seen the rise of the small no-advance publisher.

It's becoming more and more common for authors at smaller houses to accept an offer for their book debut on a royalties-only structure.

Let's also look at author/illustrators vs. author vs. illustrator picture book advances. There were 174 people in the survey: 18 were author/illustrators, 4 were illustrators, 152 were authors-only. Here's how the advances looked by sub-group: 

Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2) Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2) Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2)

I don't have enough data to say much about illustrator advances, except that there's variation in what illustrators are paid. However, it appears author/illustrators receive the highest advances for picture books, and perhaps that's why some agents are only open to picture book author/illustrator submissions.

Finally, let's look at debut advances for authors with agents vs. those without.

Genres of Children’s Books (Part 2)

A few highlights:

  • The highest sale for authors without an agent was $15k-$20k (this was an author/illustrator)
  • The highest sale for authors with an agent was $100k+ (this was also and author/illustrator)
  • 64.6% of authors with an agent earned more than $5k on their debut sale
  • Only 11.2% of authors without an agent earned more than $5k on their debut sale

#2 Did your debut book earn out its advance?

35% of authors receiving an advance sold enough copies to earn-out their advance.

I scrolled through the data and some of those authors “still waiting to see” had their book published several years ago. That's a lot of waiting and hoping. If we just look at authors with books out 1-4 years and authors with books out 5+ years, this is how many authors earn-out.

By the 5 year mark, most of the authors taking this survey had earned-out their advance. It may take an author several years to earn out their advance, and some authors never collect royalties.

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#3) What was your total writing income last year (net income)?

Most published picture book authors (68%) earned less than $10,000 last year. Half of Big 5 debut authors earned over $10k, while only 21.3% of authors at smaller houses received over that amount (data not shown). Here is the summary income graph for all picture book authors in the survey. The small pink slice that my program didn't label is $100k+ (1.2%).

Now let's look at annual incomes for writers with and without agents.

A few highlights:

  • 16.2% of picture book authors without agents made over $10,000 last year vs. 42.7% of authors with agents
  • The maximum income of authors with agents was roughly twice the maximum income of authors without agents
  • The vast majority of published picture book authors with agents had some writing income last year (82.5%)

#4 Do you write in other genres?

Most picture book authors write in other genres.

Do authors writing in multiple genres have a higher net income? According to this survey…not really. A picture book author has a 33% chance of making over $10k annually whether or not they write in multiple genres. All income brackets were fairly comparable.

That's all for PART 2. Stay tuned for Part 3: Agent/Author Relationships. Also check out Part 1: The Habits of Published Picture Book Authors

List of Book Types or Genres

Do you have a favorite type of book, either fiction or nonfiction? Are you thinking about branching out and enjoying a new genre? If so, a list of book types or genres can help you choose what to read next. See if any of the below subtypes catch your eye.

All books are classified as either fiction or nonfiction. Within these two types of books you’ll find dozens of more specific types, or genres. 

Nonfiction Books

Nonfiction books contain factual information, such as biographies and history books. 

Examples of nonfiction books include:

  • Most biographies are nonfiction. We say “most” biographies, because a biography of a fictional character is really a fictional book.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank is nonfiction and a journal, making it a nonfiction journal.
  • Most Dictionaries and encyclopedias are nonfiction because they contain facts about words.
  • Travel books such as an atlas are nonfiction. 

Defining Genre Part 2 (Writing Essentials)

  • October 29, 2012 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill last modified October 31, 2012
  • This article is part of Writing Essentials, in-depth coverage
    of the elements of fiction and writing basics.
  • ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is part 2 of Defining Genre, a Breakdown of the Genres.
Part 1 is an Intro to Fiction Genres.

The introduction to Defining Genre covered the basics of genre and the reasons why writers should know their genres. This article lays out the major genres and their sub-genres.

I’ve not covered every genre, nor have I included every peculiarity of each genre. To enrich your own stories, I suggest you learn as much about the genre you write in as you can. Learn what readers expect and what might turn them away from a book purported to be of a particular genre. Understand what the genre promises.

Do keep in mind, however, that we’re not talking about clichés. We’re talking about what makes a story fit a genre, the elements that make a mystery a mystery and a romance a romance and so forth. Think in terms of the foundational elements of genre and not necessarily the set decorations.

The Breakdown

The following are the typically accepted fiction genres. In some lists you might find two of these combined and presented as one—sci-fi/fantasy or suspense/thriller.

Sub-genres may change over time and there may be disagreement over names for sub-genres. My intention is to give you the broadest possible base of information for each genre and to provide the highlights of each. This list doesn’t include all sub-genres.

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Mysteries focus on making a discovery, typically regarding a crime. In the traditional whodunit, the emphasis is figuring out who committed a crime. In a howdunit, the emphasis is on determining how the crime was committed—the culprit might be revealed quite early in the story. In a whydunit, the discovery centers on motive—why was the crime committed?

Discovery of the unknown is the point of mysteries. Readers may come to them to see if they can outsmart the lead character and the writer. The lead character may be a professional detective—private or affiliated with the police—paid to discover whodunit or an amateur who gets caught up in solving the crime.

Writers include clues so both the lead character and the reader can try to solve the mystery. Readers are satisfied when who-, why-, or howdunit can’t be easily guessed but seems inevitable at the story’s conclusion.

The story is over when the mystery is solved. And the mystery must be solved.

Differences between sub-genres have a lot to do with the feel or tone of the story and the type of character who’s the protagonist. The main character, except in unusual stories in which a sidekick might actually prove to be the greater sleuth, needs to be the one to solve the mystery.

Famous fictional detectives include Sherlock Holmes, Adam Dalgliesh, Hercule Poirot, Kay Scarpetta, Charlie Chan, Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen, Travis McGee, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Lew Archer, Mike Hammer, and many, many more. (Please pardon me if I skipped your favorite.)

The appeal for the reader here is figuring out who the culprit is and how the crime was committed before the detective does and before the big reveal. Mysteries make readers think.

Mystery sub-genres

Cozy. Think Miss Marple from books and Jessica Fletcher from TV.

Often an older woman, not a detective by profession, the protagonist accidentally or nosily gets involved in a crime, usually murder, and attempts to solve it.

Cozies typically take place in a small town where the main character knows most of the other citizens. Depictions of violence, even the murder, are rare.

Private Eye. Think Spenser or Kinsey Milhone or Thomas Magnum from TV. The main character is a professional investigator, paid by someone to solve the crime. He or she may have once been a police officer or in the military.

The private detective may have friends (secondary and recurring characters) on the police force who help him with his investigation (and he may help them in return), but he may also be on the bad side of some police officials, forever rubbing them the wrong way.

Private eyes are predominantly American.

Amateur sleuth. The amateur is not hired to solve a crime but becomes involved perhaps because he knew the victim.

The amateur sleuth needs to get to the bottom of the crime, often because the police are getting nowhere, have declared a homicide a suicide, or they’ve pinned the crime on a friend of the sleuth’s, someone he knows to be innocent. Cozies may feature an amateur sleuth, but the amateur isn’t confined to cozies.

Hard-boiled. Think Sam Spade. The hard-boiled detective is a professional private eye, but often an uncaring one. He talks tough and acts tougher. He’s concerned about solving the crime, less concerned about the people involved and their grief or loss. He adheres to his own personal code to solve crimes. The narrative style may be terse. The lead is probably a loner.

Noir. Noir deals with the darkest of characters or situations. While the cozy keeps violence off the page, noir highlights the violence.

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The hard-boiled detective may appear in noir, but as a distinction, noir features unrelenting emphasis on darker elements. Graphic sex and violence may be depicted as commonplace, as the norm.

The main character, while he solves the crime, may not be a stereotypical good guy. In fact, he may be a mobster or gang member who’s an enforcer for his group.

Caper. The caper deals with crime in a comic way. The main character or characters are the bad guys.

But they’re inept or forces conspire against them so that they have trouble succeeding with their crime. Think bungling or ill-prepared. Capers often feature a heist gone wrong.

Not a whodunit, a caper is a how-are-they-gonna-pull-this-off mystery. Readers root for the bad guy in these stories.

Police procedural. This type of mystery puts the accent on how the law professionals solve the crime. From TV, think Law and Order and Inspector Morse and any other show featuring detectives catching the bad guy.

The professional is often a high-ranking detective, but doesn’t have to be. He may work for Scotland Yard, the Sûreté du Québec, the Security Bureau of Hong Kong, or a metro American police force.

The accent here is on how the bad guys are caught and on the evidence needed to arrest and convict them. Besides the primary detective, characters may include specialists such as forensic experts and medical examiners.

Relationships and conflicts between the main character and other officials, especially those in the same department or a superior officer, feature in the story.

Historical. Historical mysteries take advantage of the possibilities of crime and mayhem happening in the past.

The setting is important for flavor, but the sleuthing is still the key and may be seen to by an amateur or a professional.

Think of the Brother Cadfael mysteries as well as the stories of Anne Perry (both William Monk and Thomas Pitt) and Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody). The story’s sleuth may be wholly imaginary or a person from history.

Other. I could list other sub-genres, but most would fall under the categories listed here. Many of the other sub-genres get their category designation from the primary career of the sleuth—medical, legal, culinary.


The keyword for thrillers is thrill. Thrillers are fast-paced and keep readers on edge, anticipating the next event. Think fear and anxiety for both main characters and readers.

While the focus of mysteries is on solving a crime that’s already taken place, thrillers are all about what might happen and what can be done to prevent a catastrophe.

Thrillers feature action, with a greater emphasis on event than character. A hallmark of the genre is that the main character(s) face danger, often right from the start.

Much of that danger, and many of the lead character’s problems, are the direct result of actions orchestrated by the antagonist.

In thrillers, the accent is on preventing something—a death, the takeover of a country, the destruction of the world. The issues, the characters, and the story itself may seem larger than life. If the protagonist fails, the consequences could be literally world-changing. The clock is ticking.

The protagonist, while he may be skilled, is typically not a professional or if he is, there’s a reason he’s unable to use his buddies and professional resources to defeat the antagonist. The protagonist is often compelled to act because his personal moral code says he must do what’s right, even if it costs him.

The appeal of thrillers is the danger and seeing the bad guy thwarted. Thrillers make readers feel anxious, allow us to test our responses to danger.

Thriller sub-genres

Political. Think spy stories and Cold War stories.  The antagonist may be out to destroy or take over a country or  direct its policies toward a certain end.


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