Yesterday over at According to Hoyt, Sarah kindly posted a guest blog by yours truly asking “Where’s the Money?”. The post came out of reading Jim Hines’ annual reporting of what he made as an author and the results of he 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Survey. I won’t rehash that blog other than to say I had some serious issues with the survey — or at least with the results of it tat have been reported. I won’t pay the almost $300 required to get full access to the survey questions and responses. However, doing some more research into the survey has led me to suspect that some of my suspicions about the reasons behind the survey were correct.
According to an article over at the DBW (Digital Book World) site, the survey “asked authors whether particular outcomes were more likely with self-publishing or traditional publishing.” Authors were asked about distribution, cover and interior design, marketing, etc. Note, too, that the author of this article links to “What Advantages do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors”, which for a mere $295 will let you see the survey results and, presumably, other information.
Take a few moments to look over the DBW article and then tell me that there isn’t a bias, at least in the way the information is presented, toward traditional publishing. It also becomes more clear in this article that the “aspiring authors” who took part in the survey, and accounted for approximately 65% of the respondents, were just that – “aspiring” authors. People who have never sold anything. I came to that conclusion when reading the last paragraph of the article. The problem with this is that when you are surveying authors about things like income and publication numbers, especially when you are trying to point out the differences between traditionally published and self-published authors, why in the world are you skewing the results by including authors who have never published?
If that isn’t proof enough that there was bias built into the survey, the next DBW article is further evidence of it. In “2014 Author Survey: Indie Authors and Others Prefer Traditional Publishing . . . Slightly“, the author of the article comments that most authors would prefer to traditionally publish their work. They didn’t share his enthusiasm for indie publishing. He points out that the majority of those answering the survey “were aspiring authors who had not yet published a manuscript.” Of these aspiring authors, approximately only a third had a finished manuscript. The rest of the respondents break down thusly: The numbers of self-published (n=1,636), traditionally published (n=774), and hybrid (n=598) authors are relatively small by comparison (and the remaining authors could not be classified due to missing information).
Oookay, now my suspicions about the survey have been confirmed. The “aspiring authors” are just that, folks who have not yet published anything. So, my question continues. Why were their responses given any weight in the survey about our industry, especially when it comes to income and units sold? Also, why was data from those unclassified authors considered?
But to continue. . .
My next suspicion is also confirmed. The survey was, indeed, non-scientific. It was done by folks volunteering to answer the survey questions instead of the survey developers going out and taking a random sampling of the writer pool. Most of those who responded did so after receiving notice from Writer’s Digest about the survey. You know Writer’s Digest. That’s the company and magazine that has so much of its survival tied to the continuing survival of traditional publishing. Hmmmm. . .
The greatest preference for traditionally publishing was reported by traditionally published authors (87.2%) followed by not-yet-published authors (76.8%). Among authors who have self-published, more than half hoped to publish with traditional publishers—53.5% of self-published authors and 57.8% of hybrid authors.
Considering how the survey was conducted, this doesn’t surprise me. Heck, I would like to traditionally publish — but only with one publisher and that publisher isn’t actually all that “traditional” when you look at the greater scheme of things. I’d love t sign a contract with Baen. It is the one publisher where I know I wouldn’t have to skew my politics and beliefs in a book I wrote so that it followed whatever the politically correct/socially desirable cause du jour might be. Baen, under the leadership of Jim Baen, expanded into e-books long before there was a Kindle or a Nook. He saw that technology and customer demands were changing and he led the field — with the field kicking and screaming and condemning him — into the digital age. He refused to put DRM on his e-books, something that has continued under the leadership of Toni Weisskopff. So, yes, I’d sign a contract with Baen any day of the week. I can’t say that about any other traditional publisher.
To add another layer to the misinformation that has been coming from this survey, take a look at what Publishers Weekly has to say about it. “Just over 9,200 authors responded to the survey. . . .” Now, PW does go on to note that these “authors” fall into four categories: aspiring, self-published, traditionally published and hybrid-published. Still, the skewing is done. It goes on to reinforce the “findings” that most authors would prefer the traditional route because they feel they will get more marketing, distribution and editorial support. (Sarah, quit laughing. They did survey mostly unpublished authors who don’t know better.)
Look, the truth of the matter is simple. Those behind the survey may have had the best of intentions but the survey is flawed. Yes, some authors may have wonderful editors who work closely with them. They may actually get good marketing and distribution from their publishers. But they are the exception and not the rule. You can find story after story about authors who have had books published that their so-called editor never even looked at. It was relegated to an intern or someone similar to make sure there weren’t too many misspelled words and then sent to the printer. You’ll find other writers, some of them bona fide best sellers, who hire private editors to go over their work because they know the editors at their publishing house either won’t or can’t do a decent editing job on it.
As for marketing, that usually consists of making sure your book is listed in the publication catalog sent to bookstores. Rare is the project where actual publisher dollars are spent on commercials or internet ads or, gasp, book tours. Now, your publisher will be more than glad for you to spend your own money to do so — in fact, a lot of them will encourage you to spend your money to promote your work. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.
To close, the survey concludes that vast number of non-traditionally published authors made less than $500. That might be true but we can’t take that at face value because of the problems with the survey. What I can tell you is that I made substantially more than that this past year. I know a number of other self-published or micro-press published authors who did as well. I also know that I have seen as many poorly formatted e-books from traditional publishers as I have from indies. Are there advantages to being traditionally published? Sure. But the question becomes do those advantages outweigh the disadvantages? That’s something each of us has to weigh.
And for the love of Pete, if you get a contract offer from a legacy publisher, have an IP attorney look it over before signing it.
For me, I will continue along the path I’ve been on these last few years. If, by any chance, I do get an offer from Baen, I’ll be thrilled. But I won’t hold my breath until I do. Instead, I will continue writing, both under my own name and under the pen name of Ellie Ferguson, and smiling as I collect my royalty payments. And I most definitely will not let the results of some survey convince me that I’m doing it wrong — at least not if they want me to pay almost $300 just to see the survey and the results and when it is clear from the data that has been reported that the survey has some very serious problems with the survey sample and with possible bias.