How Much Money do Children’s Book Illustrators Make: 2021 Survey Results

In the 2nd annual Children’s Book Illustrator Survey, nearly 200 respondents answered questions about income and career. Huge thanks to everyone who took the time to respond!

It’s so important to have more transparency in our industry, especially for new artists who may not understand what’s possible in a career as a children’s book illustrator.

There are highs and lows in these survey results but overall I hope you read through this information and feel empowered to build the art career you want in the way you want.

Let’s take a look at the results!

Demographics

Where are you located?

How old are you?

How long have you worked as a children’s book illustrator?

As you can see, 39.1% of respondents have been working as children’s book illustrators for 1 to 3 years, 25.1% have been working for 4-6 years, and a total of 26.3% have been children’s illustrators for 7 years or longer.

That’s a nice cross-section from beginning illustrators to seasoned pros.

Now let’s see what their earnings in 2021 looked like.

Income

According to the survey, 53.4% of survey respondents saw their income increase and that’s great news! Last year’s survey saw only 45.5% with an income increase.

This year, 26.1% saw their income stay about the same which was in line with last year’s 28.5%.

And this year only 20.5% saw a decrease in their income.

Personally, my children’s book income stayed about the same between 2020 and 2021. Several years into my career, I’m thankful to be able to be choosier about which children’s book projects I take on and although I could have grown my children’s book income in 2021, I chose to focus on building up my other art business income sources. Y’all know I love the freedom and space of having multiple income sources working in a happy balance.

And speaking of multiple income sources, here’s a number to be aware of: 30.2% of respondents earned a full time income from children’s book illustration in 2021. That’s up from 28.7% in 2020, but it’s still true that it can be difficult to make a full time living only from illustrating books.

And look, there are a lot of reasons for that, but here are two of them:

  • Books take a long time to illustrate, anywhere from a few months to over a year and they also take a lot of creative energy. It can be hard to balance multiple book projects at the same time.

  • And you need to balance multiple book projects in order to earn a full time income because for most illustrators, one advance isn’t enough to earn a full time living. (Yes, there are exceptions and folks are earning $100K for author/illustrator books, but those are outliers. Yeah, you might be one of those outliers and you should aim for that, but you should also build a badass art business around the idea that you might be one of the 2/3 who don’t earn a full time income at children’s books).

Now let’s look at total children’s book income from 2021. This includes advances, royalties and flat fees:

As you can see just under half (48.9%) are earning less than $10,000/year, 22.5% are earning between $10K and $20K per year, and 10.7% are earning between $20k and $30k per year.

Only 17.9% of respondents are earning more than $30K a year from illustrating children’s books

  • 8.4% are earning $50,000 to $75,000 per year (this is where my children’s book income falls)

  • 5.1% are earning $35,000 to $50,000 per year

  • 2.8% are earning $75,000 to $100,000 per year

  • 1.1% are earning $100,000 to $200,000 per year

  • and 0.6% are earning over $200,000 per year

Day Jobs

This is a new addition to the survey and it’s a whopper. Over half of children’s book illustrators work either full time or part time at a day job.

  • 20.8% work part-time in a creative field

  • 18% work full-time in a creative field

  • 8.4% work part-time in a noncreative field

  • 7.3% work full-time in a noncreative field

  • 45.5% do NOT work at a day job

To my mind, it is so important to know this.

It’s important for new illustrators to understand that their favorite children’s book illustrator might be illustrating children’s books in addition to having a day job. It’s important for illustrators who are balancing a day job with their illustration career to know that they are not alone!

Having a day job isn’t a failure at all. Anyone who has worked full time as a creative knows that as soon as money and creativity get tangled up together, it can be messy and uncomfortable. Having a day job means having a steady paycheck and being able to make space only for the children’s book projects that really light you the heck up. Having a day job might also meaning having access to fancy things like health care.

Yes, I want every single one of us to be making a glorious full time living at making books, but that’s not the story for everyone. For a vast variety of reasons, some that are quite personal.

If you’re balancing a day job with illustrating children’s books and feel comfortable talking about the whys, chime in the comments section.

Other Income Factors

Where do the publishers you work with reside?

  • US – 59.1%

  • North America (excluding US) – 6.3%

  • UK – 13.6%

  • Europe – 11.9%

  • Asia – 5.1%

  • Australia and New Zealand – 3.4%

  • South America – 0.6%

  • Africa – 0%

Because the US is such a massive market for children’s books, the fees tend to be higher here than in other countries.

Are you an illustrator or an author/illustrator?

It’s important to note that many of the highest earners in this survey are author/illustrators. Being an author/illustrators means a higher advance that you would get for only illustrating and it also means higher royalties rates as well.

If you can both write well and tell stories with your gorgeous art, you increase your chance at earning a comfortable fulltime living for children’s books.

There are no guarantees, of course, but if you’re a good overall storyteller, use those skills to grow your art business.

Do you work mostly with traditional publishers or in self-publishing?

Do you have a children’s book agent?

How do you create your children’s book illustrations?

Other Earnings

Besides having a full-time or part-time day job, many children’s book illustrators supplement their finances with other income sources.

If you’ve been around this space for any amount of time you’ve heard me cheerfully exclaiming that every artist needs more than one income source. If I could only ever teach one concept about creative business success, that would be it.

I earn just over $200K/year and usually $55k to $70k is just from illustrating books, while the rest comes from my other income sources including teaching, memberships and digital products.

There’s no shame in doing more than one thing to earn money in our art business. I think it’s a) smart to balance your income across a few different sources so ebbs and flows aren’t financially devastating and b) it’s fun to work on different types of things and helps you feel creatively energized (if you’re choosing income streams that are aligned with your vision and values).

Hopping off my soapbox now so it’s let’s look at how children’s book illustrators are making money in other ways:

  • Private commissions (46.9%)

  • Selling prints or other products on Etsy shop or another online marketplace (43.4%)

  • Selling prints or other products on their own site (23.4%)

  • Art licensing (21.4%)

  • Editorial illustration (19.3%)

  • Teaching classes online (17.2%)

  • Selling digital products (14.5%)

  • Teaching classes in person (13.1%)

  • School visits (12.4%)

  • Print-on-demand sites like Society 6 or Redbubble (9.7%)

  • Gallery shows (7.6%)

  • Conventions (4.8%)

  • Patreon (4.8%)

  • Affiliate earnings (1.4%)

And this is certainly not an exhaustive list. There are so many ways that illustrators make money in their businesses!

The key is to find income sources that are a good fit for your art business, your vision, and your values. Of course, figuring out what those things are can take some trial and error. If an income source is calling to you, don’t ignore it. Give it a try and see what happens!

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Just focus on building your own unique and beautiful art business.

Royalties

I have feelings about royalties, specifically the expectations around getting rich from them. I wrote a whole blog post about it.

Here are some numbers to back up what I’ve been saying for years:

  • Only 27.5% of respondents have EVER earned out an advance on a children’s book. That’s up 2.2% from last year, so that’s something, but it’s still important to note that most children’s book illustrators don’t earn out their advances.

  • Of those, 90.2% earned less than $10,000 in royalties in 2021.

  • 3.3% earned $10K to $20K

  • 1.6% earned $20K to $35K

  • 1.6% earned $35K to $50K

  • 3.3% earned $100k to $200k

These numbers are meant to empower you, not discourage you.

Knowing that only 27.5% of children’s book illustrators have never earned royalties hands you a powerful piece of knowledge that you can carry with you: get the biggest advance you can get.

Don’t depend on the maybe of book royalties.

Promoting Your Art

When it comes to promoting art, it’s no big surprise that Instagram is the big winner again, with 97.2% of respondents saying they use the app to promote their art.

We all know art directors are looking at Instagram to find artists, so it makes sense. Some of my most lucrative and most fun children’s book projects have stemmed from art directors finding my work on Instagram. I love Instagram (and even made a mini course about my mindful approach to the app) BUT let’s not put all our cute illustration eggs in one basket, ok?

Let’s pick at least 2 or 3 different ways to promote our art and show up for those things consistently over time.

Here are the other ways children’s book illustrators promote their art:

  • Twitter – 37.6%

  • Facebook – 32%

  • My agent handles all my promotion – 32%

  • Free portfolio sites like Behance – 29.2%

  • Emailing potential clients – 24.7%

  • Attending conferences – 15.2%

  • Pinterest – 11.8%

  • TikTok – 10.7%

  • Postcards – 10.1%

  • Paid portfolio sites – 7.3%

  • YouTube – 5.6%

The Ups and Downs

This year, the survey includes two open questions about being a children’s book illustrator.

What’s your favorite part of being a children’s book illustrator?

The most common responses were:

  • creating characters and bringing stories to life

  • getting paid to draw

  • getting to be playful and clever with the art

  • getting to see the finished book

  • watching people enjoy the books

  • having creative freedom

  • and being your own boss!

What’s one thing that would make your children’s book career better?

The most common responses to this question were:

  • better pay and more transparency around money in general

  • less erratic schedules from the publishers (editors, art directors, and designers are all underpaid and overworked, so schedule delays are common)

  • getting an agent

What We’ve Learned

We’re illustrating children’s books because we love making art!  We’re also building creative businesses that give us the space and freedom to do our best art making. That means balancing other income sources. That means not assuming we’ll get rich from book royalties. And that means advocating for ourselves in asking for higher advance and turning down projects that don’t meet our payment standards.

You can build a beautiful, fulfilling, and successful career as a children’s book illustrator. You might not earn a full time living a children’s book illustration right away, but you might. You might build a strong creative business with a few income sources including children’s book illustration. You might stick with your day job while you start illustrating books.

There’s no one way to be a children’s book illustrator, friend!

Get out there and share your gorgeous art! Do the work to promote it. Keep making art and sharing it. Keeping building your creative business and improving your craft. You don’t get to decide when success will happen, but if you keep at it, it WILL happen one day.


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  1. Jennifer says:

    This was phenomenal article and I am so incredible grateful for the work you did to make this information possible for us. Thank you x 100.

  2. Mirka says:

    Thanks Steph! Really interesting to see the results. For the job status, I wonder if a lot of the folks, who don’t have a traditional day job have spouses who support them. The percentage that have no jobs at all, compared to the percentage that earns less than minimum wage, is pretty big, so it might be helpful to know who receives support from spouse. For example, I am a mom of three, who works fairly full time on my career around kids and their schedules. I teach/have Etsy/do licensing etc for extra money aside from PB illustrating. I’m starting to be at the point where I could just about support myself and kids on my income, but my husband has supported me all the way here, and I won’t lie and say I don’t appreciate the steady paycheck. 😉 The point I’m making, in a very roundabout way, is that I think there is a bias, that even though 45.5% do not have a day job, it doesn’t mean that they support themselves with their art.

    • That’s definitely an important point and something we’ll consider adding to next year’s survey.

      For me, the important takeaway from that question is that the majority of children’s book illustrators are also working day jobs, something that new illustrators may not realize.

      And the 45.5% doesn’t indicate those who are earning a full time income, just those who are not also working a day job, which could be mean they ARE earning full time at art or that they are not but have other circumstances (like having a spouse) that bring financial support.

      In this survey, we do ask how many folks are earning a full time income at children’s book illustration, and that number is 30.2%. Of course that doesn’t take into account artists who are earning a full time income via a few different sources, but this survey focuses on children’s book illustration money.

      Thanks for your feedback, Mirka!

  3. Julien Chung says:

    Good work, Stephanie! Also thanks for the encouragement 😉 And thanks to everyone who participated.

  4. Nancy says:

    This was a great article and survey, Steph. Thank you for creating this! I have had some success with picture books, have had an agent since 2017 and still work full-time as a photographer/web/graphics person at a state university. My husband is a middle school teacher so we definitely need two (or two-plus) incomes. We also have two kids so "just picture books" as an income source is not a thing for me. I would love to pump up other art income streams, but at this moment in my life, I do not have any extra time. And I am happy that I have that state job, with it’s healthcare and pension plan! I will retire one day, and then it will be "only art and picture books" for me. 😉

  5. adriana hb says:

    A bit alarming that as soon as I turn 41, I’ll be in a group of only 17% of illustrators, but comforting that I’m not alone in making a "patchwork" career out of art and illustration.

    • Well I’m 42 and not even a bit worried about being in that group ? I know that I’m going to keep making children’s books as long as I still love doing it. And I also know that I can’t know what the future holds so I have no idea what I’ll be doing in 5, 10, or 20 years, which is kind of exciting!

  6. Robin says:

    I’ve definitely noticed that a lot of the people in classes I take that have gone full time illustrator are either in countries that have healthcare for all citizens or they have a spouse (who likely has healthcare for the family through their job). Not sure if I could ever quit the day job (I’m a US citizen) unless I was either married or moved to another country.

    • Stephanie Smith says:

      In the US, healthcare is such a huge part of that equation if you don’t have a working spouse with a plan that can include you. Healthcare/insurance without an employer subsidizing it isn’t impossible for most people, but takes up a much, much bigger chunk out of your income that needs to be accounted for in your budget… and despite newer regulations can still be out of reach for those with certain health conditions. (said by someone who also still has their day job)

      There are some professional organizations out there that help self-employed artists offset costs: for example, illustrators can join Graphic Artists Guild to access their group insurance plan.

  7. Arielle Li says:

    Thanks so much for conducting this much needed survey! I’ve taken part in the 2020 one as well as this one. I really enjoy seeing the results and reading your insights 😀

    I’m wondering if there are other illustrators that are like me who also love their non-creative day job? (I work in healthcare)

    For a lot of illustrators their goal might be to eventually build towards earning a full-time income, but I love the flexibility of having 2 different (and equally challenging) jobs 🙂

    • I think there definitely are many other illustrators who dig having a non-creative day job and getting to flex different parts of their brain.

      And of course, having any day job really takes the pressure off having to make art for money. You get a lot more flexibility in which projects to work on!

  8. Shiv says:

    Thank you for the survey and to the participants for sharing such an important aspect of any business: financials! This is great insight and a reminder that one has to be smart in the art biz, apart from being creative. Appreciate you putting this together

  9. Carolina says:

    Wow this is great! SO much isight into the industry and so important for illustrators so we know where to pivot or where to keep putting our energies. I am right now between jobs and trying to decide whether I should go and try to be a full time illustrator and wait a while until a earn a decent living (while relaying on my partner fully) or get a full time job as a graphic designer (which I’ve done for the las 10+ years ) and try to do illustration on the side. It’s hard to decide because it’s about money and reality vs expectations. Anyway thanks again for your generosity in sharing this!

    • It’s 100% possible to earn a good living at being an artist or illustrator (I do it and know plenty of other folks who do) BUT you definitely have to build a few income sources to have a solid, reliable career. For you, being between jobs could be just the chance to start solidifying your income sources. But trust your intuition over anyone else’s advice 🙂

  10. Suzanne McDonald says:

    Wonderful blog post and results to the survey. Thanks so much for putting it out there and for all those who took the time to answer! I am 70, was a Waldorf Kindergarten Teacher and then a Child and Family Therapist and now I am working on my artistic skills and writing/illustrating children’s books feels like such a fantastic blend of my Loves. My favorite work was being a kindergarten teacher spending my time creating delight for the children…..and really for myself too—we loved it together, so this seems a way for me to continue on with that! Thanks Steph for the support of a techno-community.

  11. Vanda Romão says:

    Your article was very helpful, thank you very much, but it made me realize how different it is in my country, or for me… I illustrated 3 children’s books, but in all of them I only received $500 in advance and $60 in royalties per year… Did I realized that it didn’t compensate me, I love illustrating children’s books, but it’s very hard and in the end I get almost nothing, besides the prasos are always to die for.

    Now I’m trying to increase my portfolio to try in other countries that I’ve noticed is quite different.

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