Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Taleist Survey, my thoughts

Image courtesy of Taleist

So if you were paying attention to writing stuff on the internet at all this last weekend, you probably heard about the Taleist Survey of self publishing. I downloaded and read the survey results over the weekend, and I have one word: Wow.

Ok, that's a lie. I have many, many words about this survey, and I have done my best to put them into some kind of order below. Onward!

For those of you who haven't heard, a few months ago, Steven Lewis, who writes the self pub blog/advice site, Taleist, set about a monumental task. He and author Dave Conford decided to lift the veil of self protective secrecy and create a survey that asks authors who self publish their books the big questions about sales, revenue, and marketing (specifically what worked and what didn't). They got over a thousand independent authors to participate, and the results were very eye opening.

As you know, I'm a big fan of information sharing. The gut instinct when you're doing something as self reflective as trying to sell your stories is to hide, especially if you're not do well. Even if you are doing well, sharing your numbers can feel like bragging. This damned if you do, damned if you don't situation has led to a frustrating feeling that publishing is a land of magic and luck when it's not. Publishing is a business, and open information like the Taleist survey can help everyone, self published or traditionally published, figure out how to sell their books more effectively, and we all win when books sell.

Now, of course, I'm not a self published author, but I found the survey enormously helpful none the less, especially when we got to the part about marketing. Marketing is one of the areas where independent publishers smoke traditional authors, especially those midlist authors who don't get a huge push from their publishing houses. I think a big part of that is because people who publish their books themselves can see immediate reactions to marketing efforts in sales numbers and make changes accordingly. If I do a big promotional push on Eli, I don't see if it worked until I get my royalty statement 6 months later, and since that's not broken up by month or any meaningful metric, it's often impossible to separate marketing efforts from luck or just a natural sale upswing. 

We've all heard that publishing houses are shifting the onerous of marketing onto their authors, and while that's not entirely true without caveat (most things aren't), I do a lot of my own marketing as does every other author I know. Unlike independent authors, though, I don't have real time information on my sales. This means I'm marketing in the dark, never a good place to be, especially since it's my career that gets ruined if my sales are bad. 

This slow speed of information is one of the dinosaur parts of traditional publishing that's going to have to change if we're going to survive. I think independent publishing is forging the path out, if only we can learn from those who've already found their way. But... that's another blog post.

Whew, that was a tangent! Back to the survey. Several people have picked out the highlights, such as the whole "10% of authors earn 75% of the money" bit that's been picked up by news sites. To this I say, yes? And? Look, 10% of people get 75% of the good stuff in everything - movies, business, even traditional publishing. We can't all be Nora Roberts. 

Slightly less expected was that the median self published title earns about $500. This is the median, mind, meaning that half the authors surveyed made less than that. $500 is not a lot of money, but it's actually a lot more than I was expecting to see when you think about just how many self pubbed titles there are on Amazon. And the top of the scale, that 10% of super earners, is really eye opening. Amanda Hocking and 50 Shades aside, there are non-phenomenon self publishers out there making very good money. 

This is not to say self publishing is a get rich quick industry. Most of those top earners have about 7 books out, and 7 books published is no one's idea of get rich quick (not even mine!). Still, I can't tell you hope hopeful it makes me to see the universal truth that a good book will sell be proven again and again, with or without a publisher. 

Final Verdict
(Alot via the amazing Hyperbole and a Half)

If you care about publishing numbers at all, independent or otherwise, The Taleist Survey is well worth your $5 (or you can check it out for free if you're an Amazon Prime member). I learned a lot, and I'm actually changing several of my marketing strategies right now. If nothing else, it's a fascinating look at how the wild west of ebook independent publishing is shaking out so far, and since this stuff is a big part of publishing's future, staying up to date is a smart career decision for anyone who wants to make or keep making a living off their words. 

My only complaint is that they didn't share their raw data from the survey results, just their findings. I want numbers! *twitchy fingers* If you sell a spreadsheet supplemental, Taleist, I would totally buy that.Also, can we get one of these for traditional publishing? I'd contribute in a heartbeat!  Just saying. 

For more detailed breakdowns on the actual contents of the survey, I found the following links helpful. I hope you will too!

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