Comprehensive Self-Publishing Survey – Please Participate!

The average self-publisher sells 100 books. Or is it 200? And is that in a year? Or is it over the lifetime of the book? The problem is, we have no idea at all, no way of measuring how we are doing.

Any “hard” numbers we have about self-publishing are either hopelessly out of date, or use (very) imperfect measures, such as the number of ISBNs registered in a given year, and then number of print editions bearing those ISBNs sold in outlets captured by Neilsen Bookscan.

This is problematic for a number of reasons. The most glaring is that a self-publisher could sell thousands and thousands of books without every getting an ISBN or creating a print edition (and many do just that).

Traditional publishers have all sorts of metrics. One that I like quoting here are the monthly AAP figures, which give us a rough idea of what percentage of the market that e-books have captured – an important number for all sorts of reasons.

However, as regular readers will know, the AAP numbers only tend to measure the larger publishers, and take no account of self-publishers whatsoever.

Steven Lewis (the brains behind the Taleist blog) has put together a comprehensive survey to seek to redress this statistical imbalance, and I asked him along to explain the thinking behind it.

Am I a failure as a self-publishing author?

I’ve been a professional writer for 15 years now but I didn’t start self-publishing until August 2010. I was lucky enough to find the blogs of Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath to help me but the sales figures they generously shared made me feel like a minnow swimming with whales. Amanda is now a member of the Kindle Million Club and Joe recently made $100,000 in three weeks. It took me months to earn the $100 I needed for Amazon to cut me my first royalty cheque. Everybody starts somewhere, though. Karen McQuestion told me she earned $30 in her first month on the Kindle and look at her now, just a couple of years later.

Today I get a royalty cheque every month, each one so far bigger than the one before. But I’m still a long way from induction into the Million Club even if I am frequently in the top 10 in my categories.

All these big numbers from the self-publishing lions got me thinking: How are the rest of us doing? The majority? The “ordinary” writers? Where’s the benchmark against which I can measure myself?

Those answers aren’t out there at the moment. Celebrity self-publishers like Joe, Amanda and Karen are inspirations because they’re outliers. What’s missing is information about the middle and the other end of the spectrum.

To fill the gap I’ve partnered with Dave Cornford to create the Taleist 2012 Self-Publishing Survey. Dave’s not just a fellow self-publisher, he’s an experienced consumer researcher so this is much more than just an online poll. It’s a professional snapshot of the state of the self-publishing “industry” in 2012.

Together — with help from a panel that includes my host today, Mr Gaughran — we’ve put together 61 questions. The questions look at the who and the how of self-publishing; and they ask how authors are doing and what’s working for them. From the answers we’ll be able to see whether, for instance, there are things that the most “successful” self-publishers have in common.

We appreciate it’ll take a little time to answer such a comprehensive questionnaire but the more information we have, the more interesting the observations we can make. We’ve also set ourselves the somewhat ambitious target of 1,000 respondents to get a meaningful sample.

To make this possible, we need your help and that of the rest of the self-publishing community to take the survey and share links to it with their networks on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and wherever writers gather.

We look forward to being able to share with you a picture of us all!

Steven Lewis runs the Taleist self-publishing blog and the Taleist 2012 Self-Publishing Survey is now open.


Steven has put in a lot of time and effort on this survey. It’s quite comprehensive, and the results will give us a picture of self-publishing for the first time – but only if enough people participate.

I just did the survey. It takes around ten minutes. As with any survey, if the answer you want to give isn’t listed, try and pick the answer which is closest.

Everything is anonymous – you aren’t asked for your name or the titles of your books – so you don’t have to worry about any private information being made public.

Please answer the questions as honestly as you can, and please participate even if you feel your sales are too low or too high and might skew things. The survey will only accurately reflect the community if everyone participates – both those doing better than expected, and those who feel they have room to improve, as well as those who have been doing this for a few years, and those who have just started.

I would be grateful if you could share this post – or the link to the survey – as widely as possible. That way we have the best chance of getting as many responses as we can – and the more responses we get, the more accurate picture of self-publishing will result.