Self-Publishing Survey Coming Soon from Taleist

by | May 22, 2012

Perhaps you’ve heard that there’s a brand-new, never-before-attempted survey coming out later this week on self-publishing and self-publishers.

Real data from real authors is something we’ve been lacking in the indie publishing field. We try to get insight from comments publishers or distributors make, like Lulu’s president Bob Young saying that the average self-published book sells 100 copies. But real data? It’s been missing in action.

Recently Steven Lewis of the Taleist blog, along with author Dave Cornford have run an actual survey with statistically meaningful results. They are about to publish it, and I was able to have an early look at what they’ve put together. (You’ll find a link at the end of this article to Steven’s post about the survey.)

Before I go any farther, I’d like you to know that anyone with an interest in self-publishing will find a bonanza of insight and information in this report along with a lot of surprises, all presented in an easy to digest style with graphics and lots of explanation so you know exactly what the numbers mean. It’s really good.

self-publishing survey

Here are the chapters in the survey and what each covers, to give you an idea of its scope:

  • Chapter 1: Overview — The survey methodology, and the demographics of our respondents, including age, education, employment status.
  • Chapter 2: The Self-Publishing House — Where are self-publishers getting outside help, e.g. editing and cover design, and does production assistance make a difference to the bottom line? (Spoiler alert: it really does.) We also look at whether it makes a difference to have been traditionally published first.
  • Chapter 3: Not a Gold Rush — Who is self-publishing? How long have they been writing for? Are they writing fiction or non-fiction, and which genres generate the most revenue? (We’ve already reported that romance authors are earning more than twice as much as their peers). Perhaps the most anticipated result of all is here: What is the average income from self-publishing?
  • Chapter 4: Marketing — What are authors doing to market their work? How much are self-publishers experimenting with the prices of their books? How important are social media like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook? What is the single thing that makes more difference to revenue than anything else? How many authors have pulled their books from other stores to be part of Amazon’s KDP Select?
  • Chapter 5: Top Earners — We look in detail at the authors who have said they are making enough from self-publishing to live on their royalties alone. What makes these Top Earners different from everyone else?
  • Chapter 6: Looking to the Future — We draw together some of the threads from the other chapters, and talk about the sentiment among self-publishers. Would they self-publish again? Do they consider themselves successful? How do they feel about the future for self-publishing?

Should Self-Publishers Go It Alone?

Although I’ve only had a chance to dip into the survey report, I was particularly interested in how authors are getting their books done, what the attitudes are toward hiring freelance editors, cover designers, layout artists and marketing help.

This is a big concern among a lot of the authors I talk to, but I think that they are not representative of the majority of self-publishing authors.

This is borne out by the Taleist survey. Here’s a quote:

…Many self-publishers were testing the waters and exploring their earning potential before investing too heavily in outside help. … At least some of these authors decided that it’s worth spending more on book production in the future… But is it worth it? Do all these editors really make a better story or a better book? Do readers care and do they show it by buying more of the “professionally” produced books, or by buying these books at a higher price? In a word, yes: selfpublishers who received help (paid or unpaid) with story editing, copy editing, and proofreading made 13% more than the average. … Those who had help with these things, as well as with their cover design, made 34% more than the average.

That’s pretty powerful stuff.

Many Kinds of Self-Publishers

This is very important both to self-publishers who actually want to sell books, and to service providers who supply the help that those authors will need.

I’ve confronted the problem of how to address the larger world of self-publishers many times, from writing about the costs of self-publishing to creating workflows for designing books.

These are critical areas for authors to consider when they decide they might want to publish their own books.

Getting Clear on Self-Publishing

I’m about to launch a brand new training program for self-publishers, and this survey has been providing me with lots of insights.

Authors who intend to create a really professional book—and who want to create books that their readers really want to buy—face their biggest challenge in negotiating the sometimes confusing and occasionally treacherous path to publication. This new course addresses those concerns directly.

For today, if you are one of the more than 1,000 authors who filled out the survey, you’ll be getting your own copy. Others who are interested should head over to Taleist and check out the complete report or sign up to get notified when it’s available: Taleist Self-Publishing Survey.

And in a late word from Steven Lewis, I understand that there is still time for people who responded to the survey but didn’t leave an email address to identify themselves to get a free copy when it comes out by going to this link to identify themselves.

So what about you, is there something you’d like to know about the community of self-publishers? Want to know if your earnings or results are typical? I think it’s going to make fascinating reading.

Photo by amandabhslater

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. James

    Here’s a blog post that already covers some of what’s there:

    The reality check in the self-selected, unscientific poll? Less than 10% of self-published respondents earn a living at writing.

    Which, strangely enough, is comparable to “traditional” publishing.

    But, good or bad, I hope readers will take the survey with a grain of salt. It’s an anecdotal, self-selected survey, and there’s no meaningful way to calculate a margin of error or other useful things. In other words–it’s not data, it’s a collection of stories compiled to look like data.

    • Joel Friedlander


      I can’t say whether or not this survey is scientific, but I welcome it as the first attempt I’ve seen to gather any kind of data on self-publlishing. However incomplete, it sure beats the stray comments here and there and the articles that appear after the BISG puts out its annual study of the book industry, most of which completely misunderstand the numbers. So I look at it as a first step, and kudos to Steven for taking this on.

  2. Sue Curd

    A fascinating read of even these couple of highlights. I guess that we all know that outsourcing cover design and editing is the way to go in order for our transform our work into the very best it can be, the survey is timely for me too. First book goes onto the kindle store in a matter of days. Ill definitely be following through to read the survey itself.

  3. Katie McAleece

    I have been wondering about this subject for the past several days and this post is perfectly on time for me. (: I’m very grateful, thank you for sharing.


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