Do you know Bear of Bear Snores On and Bear Feels Sick? Or Pip of Where is Home Little Pip? If so, you also know my very talented friend, Karma Wilson. Karma has been a published author for 12 years (not including the three years it took for her to get published the first time). She is the author of 30 books, and begrudgingly, she admits to using math from time to time.
Can you explain what you do for a living?
I write — specifically for the 4- to 8-year-old set. It is my goal to write engaging books and poetry for children that is also appealing enough to adults that they don’t hide it under the hamper lest it be requested again. To accomplish this I utilize rhyme, alliteration and two-tier humor that is directed to children on one level, adults on another.
When do you use basic math in your job?
I wrote a rhyming counting book (Frog in the Bog), does that “count”? It only went to five, which gives you a good idea of my math skills. Seriously though, in my line of work there is a lot of math that my literary agent mostly deals with. I have to pay him 15% of my income. My royalties are usually 6.5%. My publisher holds out profits from sales in case of large returns on my books, and that’s usually 25% of my royalties. All this adds up to a good reason for me to have an agent!
Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math?
If I have to do math I generally do use calculators, mainly because I’m a very wordsy, artistic type and math has never been a strong suit for me. In case of serious math questions I panic and turn my friends who know math, like the amazing Laura Laing!
How do you think math helps you do your job better?
Well, for me the biggest way is with word counts. If I have a story that goes over 1000 words I better darned well subtract a bunch of those words. Wordy picture books don’t typically sell very well. Also, my words need to fit into a formula, which translates to a 32-page book with end pages that have no words. It’s important that the words to my stories fall naturally and rhythmically into that formula, which sometimes requires a break down of words per page. Luckily, I am sort of “savant” in that area, and rarely do book dummies, but I know a lot of picture book writers who are lost without that breakdown.
How comfortable with math do you feel?
I don’t feel comfortable with math at all. The math that accompanies my work is relatively simple, so it doesn’t give me panic attacks. But for my taxes and running my corporation (Karma Wilson Books Incorporated) I get a little math-addled. That’s when I turn to people who are more comfortable with math than I am, like accountants and agents.
What kind of math did you take in high school?
The highest I got to was pre-algebra. I was pretty horrible at it. That letter x never needed to fear I would discover his or her secret identity. Ha!
Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job?
Since I have an agent who does the hard math for me I was able to skate on my pre-algebra level skill set. However, if you’re in this industry trying to figure out the contractual stuff without an agent, you should at least have some basic accounting math skills. Otherwise, you’ll be lost in royalty rundowns and not know if your contract was fulfilled or not. It really is that important.
While my specific line of work isn’t all that math intensive, the times that I’ve wanted to understand my royalty statements were severely hampered by my fear of math. I strongly encourage every adult to refresh their math skills so they feel more confident discussing numbers with professionals in their industry.
Karma is on tour right now, promoting her newest book Bear Says Thanks. Her next stop is Denver CO at the Mountains and Plains Bookseller’s Association Author Tea on 9/21/12 at 3:45 p.m.