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Welcome to “How I Became,” the Lifehacker series where I ask real people how they really got their jobs. This week I’m chatting with Aubre Andres, an award-winning children’s book author. She mostly writes nonfiction, but also some short fiction for publishers like Disney, American Girl, Scholastic, National Geographic Kids, and more. Here’s how Andres came to be a children’s book author, and how you might be able to follow her footsteps.

What does the typical career path look like for a children’s book author?

Children’s book authors are an interesting bunch! Some have experience as children’s book editors or teachers, but they really can come from all walks of life. While you could always major in English or creative writing, my journalism experience has been hugely helpful to my children’s book author career. Having intense experience researching, reporting, and writing under hard and fast deadlines has only made me a better author. It’s also made me a better ghostwriter. Some of the children’s book projects I’ve worked on were actually ghostwriting gigs for kid celebrities like YouTube stars. Since I’m comfortable interviewing people and finding a compelling storyline within a real-life situation, these projects were a good fit. I never had a true publishing internship, just internships at a newspaper and another internship doing public relations for a children’s museum and then for American Girl. I didn’t live in New York City and couldn’t afford to take an unpaid summer internship in a big city. But it turns out, I didn’t need that.

And how do you personally get into this line of work?

I majored in journalism and landed a paid public relations internship at American Girl the day after I graduated. By the end of summer, an associate editor position at American Girl magazine opened up, and I got the job. I eventually became lifestyle editor, then left to go freelance a few years later. I was able to translate my kid’s magazine experience into writing books for kids by taking on work-for-hire book projects, which is essentially like freelance writing but for publishing houses instead of newspapers and magazines. When I was first trying to break in, I attended many conferences like The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ( conference to better learn the industry and to network directly with agents and editors. 

What are the major job responsibilities?

Being a children’s book author requires a lot of brainstorming, researching, and writing. I’m always dreaming up interesting titles, looking up fun facts, finding cool true stories, or developing a new story for a much-loved character like Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I work closely with editors at publishing houses, and it’s my job to develop a book from start to finish and meet my deadlines. First I create an outline. Then I write the first draft. Next, I’m responsible for revising my draft after getting feedback from my editor, a fact-checker, or an expert. The art director will take care of all the visuals from photos to illustrations to the cover. 

What are some of the best parts of your work?

I love that I get to write books that help empower the next generation. A book can change a kid’s life! I get fan mail that makes me cry with happiness sometimes. I’m so thankful that I get to do what I do. I also love that I can hold a physical product in my hands that represents all of my hard work—and that I can then read it to my daughters.

And what’s not so great about it?

It’s difficult to break into children’s books, which means there is a hustle culture element to the process. I never know for sure where my next gig is coming from, which is stressful. It essentially has the same downfalls as any freelance writing career—constantly hustling and looking for the next paycheck. It can be creatively exhausting. Also, while writing a book for a big publisher is exciting, authors don’t always have the best experience. We’re often kept out of the loop on a lot of decisions, which can feel disempowering. 

What’s changing in the sector?

Publishing is going through huge changes right now, and no one is quite sure where it will land. Self-published authors are giving traditional publishers a run for their money. Slowly, more established authors who’ve already built fanbases are starting their own publishing companies, like fantasy author Brandon Sanderson whose Kickstarter smashed records after raising over $41 million—truly astounding. Between Amazon and social media, an author doesn’t need a publisher’s distribution and marketing reach as much as they used to. Even as a smaller traditionally published author, I ended up self-publishing my own women in STEM series for kids called The Look Up Series. It features real women in ridiculously fun careers like toy engineer, ice cream scientist, and more. It’s easier than ever to publish and distribute your own ideas, which obviously has an impact on the traditional publishing industry. 

What kinds of people do well in this industry?

I think the real secret to success is to be business-minded. The children’s book publishing industry loves to say things like “we’re not in this for the money” but the reality is that publishers need to make money. They need authors who can write attention-getting titles, create concepts that stir emotions, and have stellar storytelling skills in order to make a book that stands out in a crowded marketplace. I live in Los Angeles now and screenwriters here are so much more aware of the business side of things and the need to create a sellable concept. I really appreciate that, and I wish there was more of that talk in the children’s publishing industry. 

What are the different salary ranges?

There is such a wide range here. Most authors dream of a six-figure contract, but are more likely to end up with $20,000 to $35,000 per book, and that contract can be spread out over three to four payments over two years. Anything less than $10,000 would not be ideal but certainly happens. 

How many hours do you actually work? What does a typical workday look like?

I do work Monday through Friday 9 to 4, but what I’m doing during that time varies greatly. I might be developing a pitch for an editor, or hopping on the phone with an editor to talk more about an upcoming project. I might be wrapping up a short fiction story for Disney or starting on a new research-heavy nonfiction manuscript for National Geographic Kids. Or reading through the outline for a potential ghostwriting project where I have to decide if it’s a project I’d like to tackle. I might be working on a novel that I hope to pitch someday. I usually have about three projects going on at one time that are in various stages of completion. I also do school visits where I read aloud my latest project to a local elementary school. Sometimes I’m teaching other aspiring authors how to break into children’s book publishing via a webinar or a podcast. On the weekends, I also do book events like the LA Times Festival of Books or the American Library Association Conference. 

What didn’t you know before you got into this industry that you wish someone had told you?

That you don’t need an agent! So much focus is put on landing an agent—which is a time-consuming and somewhat depressing process—but there are publishing houses like Chronicle that will take unsolicited manuscripts. And, as I mentioned, there are work-for-hire projects where publishers develop concepts in-house then need a writer to execute their idea. It’s OK to network directly with editors for these kinds of projects, no agent required! The Author’s Guild provides members with free contract reviews if you’re worried about not having an agent to help you through that. 

What job search advice would you give to someone interested in this role?

I just want to clarify that becoming a children’s book editor and becoming a children’s book author are two very different things. Aspiring children’s book editors will find jobs and internships most easily in New York City where many of the publishing houses are located, but children’s book authors can live anywhere and have any kind of background. The most important thing is to just get started. Get a project finished and throw it out there in the universe. Then get working on project number two. Don’t be precious about your first idea. Take feedback. Don’t be afraid to move on if it’s not working. Also, try new writing strategies. Read screenwriting books like Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. Take the advice that works for you and leave the rest. There’s no one right way to be a creative person. It may take awhile for you to hit your stride, so just keep writing and pitching and networking. Learn the industry, stay persistent, keep improving, make yourself visible, and your work will eventually get noticed. 

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