Why Aren't Authors Happy Publishing Their Book?

Most authors don't make a lot of money from publishing...

(Photo: Diana Brown)

...and what they don't know is killing them.


I've done my own study of DBW's author survey. In addition to their earlier year's surveys, this also adds to the Taleist survey which got such headlines in 2012.

Here's the link to compare the DBW results yourself: Survey Results

(Note: I'm no fan of DBW's writing in general. They are too literary in style, meaning that their sentences are too long. Their words are too big. So they don't make sense quickly as you're reading.)

Here's my take:
1. Over 3,000 people answered the 2014 DBW survey, with over 75% of them having successfully published.

2. Over 53% have a manuscript completed (although this question was missed by 75% of those surveyed.

3. 71.8% were self-published, 28.9% got an advance (traditionally published.) 24.8% got no advance, and split royalties with the publisher.
4. Over 50% published their first book since 2012. 15.7% first published 2003 or earlier.

5. 97.9% have another book they want to publish.

6. Over 53.5% would publish either traditionally or self-publish, although they have preferences. 23.9 only want to self-publish; 14.4% only want to traditionally publish.

7.  Reasons for publishing:
  • Most important - Publish a book that people will buy, to build my career as a book writer.
  • Moderately important - to get validation for my work, to see my book in a bookstore.
  • Least important - to share my expertise, to get prestige.

8. Time devoted to writing - 10-14 hours per week (17.4%), followed by 20-24 hours per week (16.6%)

9. Time devoted to related activities (such as marketing) - 10-14 hours per week (17.6%), followed by 7-9 hours/week.

10. Income from writing books (pre-tax): $0-$499 42.9%

11. Satisfied with this? 31.4% are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied, but 51.6% are slightly or very dissatisfied.

12. Primary source of income? No - 78.3%

13. Do you earn income from other writing-related activities? No - 73.5%

14. Approximate pre-tax income from these other activities? $0-$3,000 - 31.4% (note: 75.7% ignored this question.)

What's the takeaway? 

  • Writers publish wherever they can, and don't make a living at this - or even enough to cover their expenses. They publish to get a book out there, hoping to make a career at this, or even just sell a book at all.
  • Writing is a hobby, not a profession - they still have their day jobs.
  • Writers don't effectively get any marketing done (or their books would sell better).
  • And they aren't happy about it.

DBW took the traditional publisher's view on this, which isn't useful to authors - it's second-guessing. (And shows how embedded they are with the Big Publishers.)

What this survey really says is that there is a market out there to publish books for authors, splitting the royalties for doing the work. Most authors don't know how to do their marketing, but spend most of their free time writing.

Only 5% paid someone to publish their book for them, but over 70% published it themselves. Adding the self-publishing industry leaders (the distributors who all take a percentage of the royalties and usually charge nothing) brings this up to 96.6%. (Note: questions were multiple choice, apparently.)

Vanity publishing (paying someone else to publish your book, royalty-sharing or not) is sucking bilge-water at getting any decent market share. No wonder their prices are so high.

Compared to Taleist


First off, they both are selling their survey results. (Thanks a lot.) I kept track of this DBW survey page when I got the result, and kept updating it.)

A good overview of Taleist survey showed:
  • 72% of respondents lived in the US (UK survey)...
  • One third work full time
  • Authors who got outside help earned 34% more on average
  • 53% self-published for the first time in 2011, with 20% having gotten a start in 2010
  • the 29% who went from a traditional publisher to self-publishing earned twice as much on their own as they did from their publisher
  • Only 60% of authors either could or would answer questions about their earnings
  • Average earning was $10k per author
  • Half of the authors earned under $500 in 2011 from their books
  • 10% of authors earned over 75% of the revenue
  • 97 authors indicated that they could live off of their ebook sales

Note that the Taleist survey only had 1007 respondents, compared to the nearly 3,000 at DBW's.

What's changed in 3 years? 

  • More authors have published their books than ever before. (1155 for 2012-2014, compared to 1092 up to that point.) 
  • Their income hasn't improved, even despite inflation, as around 46% still make $499 or less.
  • Those able to make a living were just under 10% in the Taleist survey, and 17.6% made more than median U.S. income in the DBW survey. (Note: the DBW respondents were more forthcoming about their income.)
  • The DBW top 3% made more than nearly 90% of the rest. These few made over 36% of the total income.
  • Average DBW income was over $22,000, over double the Taleist.
  • Like Taleist, the top DBW 10% made around 72% of the income.
While neither survey is "scientific", they both say a lot about the industry - and tell us that they are pretty close to the mark as they compare well.

Short summary: 

More  authors are making a living at writing and self-publishing than ever before, but...

Those writers who effectively learn both writing and marketing will earn their financial freedom - while everyone else has to be satisfied with a digital and/or print copy of their self-published book. 
And that's at least more rewarding than never even publishing that manuscript.

If they want to be truly happy, they'd better learn to both write and market better.

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