Home » PG's Thoughts (such as they are), Self-Publishing » 2014 Author Survey: Indie Authors and Others Prefer Traditional Publishing…Slightly

2014 Author Survey: Indie Authors and Others Prefer Traditional Publishing…Slightly

10 June 2014

From Digital Book World:

I have had a very positive experience in traditional publishing, but I know many authors who have not. In my research life, having a prestigious publication by a highly regarded academic publisher has made the difference between long-term career stability and unemployment. Moreover, I was lucky to work with wonderful editors who not only helped me make the book infinitely better but who also provided important guidance in building my career. Cornell University Press was committed to my book Code Green: Money-Driven Hospitals and the Dismantling of Nursing, provided a gorgeous cover, and they continue, even ten years after publication, to promote the book in their list. Should I publish another book based on my research (I’ve tended toward articles), I would be hard-pressed to consider self-publishing.

My newest fiction project is another matter entirely. Later this week, writing as D. B. Shuster, I will self-publish the first installment of my serial thriller The Kings of Brighton Beach, a Russian mafia saga set in Brooklyn, NY. This publishing experience has also been a positive one—no rejection, no wasted time in the slush pile.

. . . .

Few authors share my enthusiasm for indie publishing, according to the latest data.

I recently learned this while analyzing survey results for the 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey. Among the authors surveyed who had completed manuscripts, surprisingly few expressed a preference to indie publish their latest ones. Among traditionally published authors in the survey sample, only 7.5% expressed a preference to self-publish rather than to traditionally publish, compared to 10.1% of aspiring, 35.1% of self-published, and 29.8% of hybrid authors. While interest in self-publishing was higher among those respondents who had tried it, few authors reported that they only wanted to self-publish their next book.

. . . .

The survey sample is a non-scientific sample, since it is voluntary rather than a random sample. The authors, most of whom responded after receiving a notification from Writer’s Digest about the survey, may not be representative of the population of authors. However, the number of respondents is quite impressive and certainly represents many, many more sources than would ever be consulted even in the best investigative journalism.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to David for the tip.

PG will add that non-scientific surveys cannot be relied upon to reflect the experiences and opinions of a population as a whole – authors in this case. Investigative journalism is most definitely not any sort of gold standard for discovering the opinions and experiences of a large group of people.

PG doesn’t know how many people still read or subscribe to Writer’s Digest, but the opinions and experiences described in the survey results only represent the 9,000 or so people who are on a Writers Digest email list who decided to spend their time filling out the online survey.

Scientifically generated random samples are expensive, but they’re the only way for the results of a survey to represent a larger population with any degree of reliability.

Somebody somewhere is bound to bring up the Author Earnings data as they have when prior results of Digital Book World’s surveys have been released. While past DBW surveys have confirmed the beliefs of many in tradpub concerning idie authors and the continuing desire of most authors to be traditionally-published, Author Earnings reports tend to cause discomfort among the denizens of legacy publishing.

Author Earnings takes its measurements from the entire population the survey covers – the 50,000 ebooks on Amazon with the highest sales rank on a particular day, for example (PG doesn’t remember the exact number that AE grabbed the last time).

The analysis Author Earnings conducts on its sample presents a completely accurate picture of those books on Amazon on that day. (This is the case with any survey, scientific or otherwise. The survey results are a picture of a population at the time when the survey was conducted.)

With each Author Earnings report, we receive another completely accurate picture of a large group of top-selling books on Amazon on a particular day. While it is theoretically possible that the days between each single-day snapshot Author Earnings analyzes are completely different than the snapshot days, it seems unlikely.

With each snapshot, we not only have another completely accurate data point for comparison with prior snapshots, but we have a basis for comparing one picture with another to discern trends and develop more reliable extrapolations of what was happening on the days between each snapshot.

Obviously sampling of any sort, scientific or non-scientific, is not as good as having all the information all the time, but sample reliability is fundamental to the reliability of any conclusions drawn from survey results. It’s yet another garbage-in/garbage-out situation.

PG's Thoughts (such as they are), Self-Publishing

36 Comments to “2014 Author Survey: Indie Authors and Others Prefer Traditional Publishing…Slightly”

  1. I wonder how many of the respondents haven’t even written a book. You know, just like in last year’s survey.

    At any rate:

    However, the number of respondents is quite impressive and certainly represents many, many more sources than would ever be consulted even in the best investigative journalism.

    Yeah, DBW, no one’s ever thought to do a survey before. Woodward and Bernstein got nothing on you.

    They’ve got to be kidding.

  2. Few authors share my enthusiasm for indie publishing, according to the latest data.

    Have to agree with you, PG. Why is he stating this using info/data/whatever from Digital Book World and Writers Digest?

    GIGO? Yup.

  3. PG doesn’t know how many people still read or subscribe to Writer’s Digest, but the opinions and experiences described in the survey results only represent the 9,000 or so people who are on a Writers Digest email list who decided to spend their time filling out the online survey.

    It seems like this would inherently bias the results toward corporate publishing, as that’s pretty much why people read Writer’s Digest. It’s all about top ten tricks to get an agent, 7 things never to do in a query, the 1374 top trends editors are looking for right now, and 11 ways to powercharge your plot(!).

    • Absolutely. I read it back in the day when I wanted to sell to NY. (Lawrence Block’s column was one of the highlights; his collections are worth seeking out today.)

      So I would wager they fit Will’s profile, plus most of them haven’t sold a book.

      • I think (but am not certain) you can find those on Kindle, collected. I don’t recall the title as collected, though.

        Block is also totally an example of an author doing Kindle right, I think. His books are reasonably priced, and there are a ton of them.

      • Block’s TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT was my bible as a young wannabe.

    • Yes, exactly. The fact that it came from Writer’s Digest is automatically going to skew your results. You’d see the same sort of skew, but in the other direction, if you ran the same survey at Kboards.

      Duh. I didn’t even go to college and I understand that this will be a biased survey without anybody having to point it out to me. Why on earth has it been repeatedly used to support blog posts and articles if it’s so obvious that it’s got a very heavy bias?

      • It’s not just biased. It’s utterly worthless. I just can’t even believe anyone would think anything else. It’s so obvious.

      • They same reason they use ISBN tracking to comment on the size/state of the digital market.

        Corporate publishing isn’t interested in accuracy, only agenda.

    • I just noticed: it’s by Dana Beth Weinberg. She was the one who first attempted to fisk the first Author Earnings report at DBW (and maybe on her own site).

    • Just what I was about to say.

    • Will,

      You forgot to mention all the WD courses, books, CD’s, yada, that WD pushes… along with all the class ads for editing & critiquing services, “agents” looking for new clients, money-making conferences and workshops, and the big ASI ad.

  4. Garbage in, moldy garbage out.
    It is amazing to me to this day
    how global conclusions that would have given
    your research-based term paper an automatic F
    are put forth in “printed media” as gospel.
    The editor probably didn’t finish the tenth grade.

    • I don’t know about the editor, Chuck, but the author has a doctorate from Harvard.
      Given her research methodology, the only case she’s managed to make is for a refund from her alma-mater.

      • I’m guessing that her Ph.D. isn’t in statistics or statistical analysis. Or any subject where the scientific method is taught…

        • Ouch!

          Careful tho, she’ll come in and wave it around in front of everyone like she does in her articles.

          • It gets even better. She directs the Data Analytics program at CUNY. You’d think she would have put a little more thought into the data-set underpinning this article.
            It’s not the best advertising for the program.
            It ranks with the study of inmate intelligence that concluded criminals have a lower average than the general population. If you only test the criminals that were dumb enough to get caught, then you might have a skewed result.

  5. Author Earnings data is still new. It represents the changing environment of publishing in its actuality. I wonder if the DBW survey results reflect the lingering old perceptions: trad pub is better because it lends the author status. Even from successful indies, I’ve heard the line, “Oh, to see my book in a bookstore!” And those who remain trad pubbed might look with some envy at their indie colleagues, yet waver on making the jump because they’d lose that a-publisher-liked-me! status. As time goes on and it becomes clear that indies can make more money, the “status” could perhaps shift–to those selling more books and making higher royalties.

    I’m new at this indie biz. Switched over after 26 trad pubbed books, most with HarperCollins (Zondervan division). Just put out my first indie suspense–the genre for which I’m known. Sidetracked is selling well, ranked at 4.9 stars with over 80 reviews, and most of all earned me more in royalties the first month from the ebook alone than any of my trad pubbed books earned from their ebooks in their first YEAR. And many of them were bestsellers in the Christian market. So–did I have good experiences in trad publishing? Yes, mostly. Great editors, great people to work with. But now that I’ve experienced Indieship, do I want to return? Uh-uh. I’ve seen both sides. I like this better.

    Yes, my story is simply one more piece of anecdotal datum. But I’m betting these kinds of stories will continue to grow in number over time.

    • I took some galleys to Half-Price books so I could see my books in a bookstore. 🙂 Next time I went back, they were gone. So I’m good now.

    • Even from successful indies, I’ve heard the line, “Oh, to see my book in a bookstore!”

      You mean, like this and this and especially this?

      My point is that authors do not require a traditional publisher to be on the shelves in bookstores. Even huge Barnes & Noble bookstores.

      This is another myth which I see us indies giving as much lip service to as the advocates of traditional-publishing.

      It’s nonsense.

      • Yes, agreed, publishers aren’t necessary to get books on bookshelves. But not all indies may know how to do this yet, or be successful at it when they try.

        The pics of the books and you look wonderful!

        • But not all indies may know how to do this yet…

          Hi Brandilyn,

          That’s why I keep making a big point about indies being able to get their self-published books into Barnes & Noble — because I hear so many indie authors lamenting how impossible it is to get their books on bookstore shelves without a traditional publishing contract.

          It’s a form of learned helplessness that many indie writers seem to fall prey to… often deliberately encouraged in this defeatist thinking by the lies and misrepresentations of publishing-industry pundits.

          Kristine Katherine Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith have been debunking this one for years.

          The sooner we can get a critical mass of indie books on the shelves in bookstores, the sooner the print retailers will be forced to adjust their business models to better accommodate us indies with co-op opportunities, less-ridiculous business terms (like requiring returnability), etc.

          Anyway, that’s my hope.

          Thanks for the kind words 🙂

          – Paul

          • And while we’re busy killing bogus memes about what indies can’t do without a traditional publishing contract, here’s another one I hear all the time:

            Without a traditional publisher, you can’t get your books onto library shelves…

            Yet again, it’s total nonsense.

            Your POD indie print books may already be on library shelves. Even if you don’t know it.

            I’m a nobody — an indie newbie — whose first two books have only been out for a few months. And even my unknown books are starting to show up in more and more libraries around the country. All by themselves.

            Who knew?

            Anyone who wants to can check for theirs at: http://www.worldcat.org (just substitute your author name for mine).

  6. And the survey says…get back to work.

  7. Sounds kind of like the publisher’s of Cat Fancy put out a survey asking their readers how many of them preferred dogs to cats.

    • This.

    • I struggled to come up with a good comparison. You nailed it. Damn you.

      • To finally answer the question of “which publishing path do writer’s still prefer” we drew our entirely infallible source data from survey responses given to us from the subscribers of All Indies are Worthless Scum and Bezos is Satan Himself magazine.

        So, once and for all, all writer’s still crave publisher legitimacy, value add and validation. 😛

  8. This reminds of the church who did a survey and was shocked when they discovered the entire choir consisted of Christians (some more pious than others).

  9. When we are in the middle of self-publishing endeavor, it is hard to believe that not everyone is interested in self-publishing. But getting to this point requires a lot of hard work, courage, frustration, Jack Daniels, reading, and desire to succeed in spite of all obstacles. At least that’s what I experienced. For example for me, trad-publishing was not the only way to see my book in print. Although I submitted my manuscript to publishers and agents for a period of two years my fall back position was self-publish. And that was when POD was the only alternative, not the eBooks.
    For many new writers the course “write – submit – get rejected – put the manuscript in a drawer – write another novel – and repeat the cycle,” is the only thing they know, and even if they know otherwise, being published by a trad-publisher is the only endorsement they seek; you’re not an author unless you’re published by a publishing house. Then there is the fear of doing something very unfamiliar, and the rumor that there is very little money in self-publishing, and everything else that you’d have to do besides writing and the fear that you’d be blackballed for life.
    I couldn’t know all the reasons why all writers would not consider self-publishing, and maybe they do want to self-publish, but I know why I did it. And it is very simple: I believed in the novel I wrote. Working full time and taking years to write my first novel, and then put it in a drawer was inconceivable. Writing and not publishing it was like having a baby and then abandoning it. Maybe some writers don’t want to be published that badly, by others or themselves. We all believe in different degrees in what we’re doing, be that writing or every action we take in our life. Everyone to his or her own.

  10. These tradpub folks are starting to sound a lot like certain kinds of religious people. Meaning, they believe in something because they’re a part of that crowd, and not because they’ve worked their beliefs out and found them to be reasonable or logically true.

    I’m religious myself, so I’ve met both kinds of people. Some are in it for purely social or self-identity reasons. At this point, it seems like a lot of people are in tradpub for purely social/identity reasons.

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