Last month, author Harry Bingham and I launched an author survey to explore the experiences and current leanings of traditionally published authors in the English language. The Bookseller in the UK originally reported on the survey here; it can catch you up on what we hoped to accomplish with this effort.
So the results are now in. We received 812 responses; you can view the entire dataset here if you’d like to wade through the figures.
The Bookseller has published a report on the results (including publishers’ and authors’ reactions), and Harry Bingham has done a thorough and excellent overview titled Grumbling, But Not Quitting, which accurately sums up the results.
The Major Findings (Not Surprising?)
- Authors respect and value their publishers’ editorial and design skills.
- Authors question their publishers’ marketing ability or philosophy.
- Publishers don’t communicate well with their authors.
- Authors value their agents more than their publishers.
- Despite their complaints, most authors aren’t leaving their publishers.
The traditional publishing industry often claims to have authors at its heart, but our results suggest, on the contrary, many authors feel somewhat excluded from it. Since communicating better with authors would not entail significant costs (and might, you’d think, bring some significant benefits), it would seem that our data provides a large clue as to how regular publishers could improve their operations. …
The formula for success is not hard to find. Talk to authors. Involve them. Ask for feedback. Then rinse and repeat. The more you solicit and respond to feedback, the better your results will be.
The Limitations of This Survey
If you look at my original post announcing the survey, you’ll find a few commenters who felt the line of questioning made some bad assumptions. Keep in mind that our goal was to recruit highly experienced authors, particularly those agented and actively working with a Big Five house. We succeeded in part:
- Almost 80% have published within the last year
- More than 60% have published six or more books
- More than 60% have a literary agent
- More than half are published by a Big Five house or by one of the larger independent houses (such as Perseus in the United States or Bloomsbury in the UK).
That said, there are limitations in the data:
- As with some other well-known author surveys, like from Digital Book World, it’s a self-selecting survey. It’s not scientific, but we believe it is directionally useful.
- The survey asked authors to base their responses on their most recent traditional publishing experience. We didn’t ask if authors were working with more than one publisher when they took the survey, or ask for authors to make comparisons among the publishers they’ve worked with. Harry’s analysis does comment on how responses differ when we filter them based on the size of publisher, the size of the advance, or the number of titles published by the author. In most cases, there is no difference in authorial attitudes.
- For agent-related questions, we neglected to add a N/A option for those authors without agents, but it was possible for respondents to skip questions.
I highly recommend reading Harry’s analysis, then also take a look at The Bookseller’s report by Sarah Shaffi. You can also join a live chat on Twitter today hosted by Porter (follow #futurechat).
P.S. Earlier this year, I was invited to contribute a 5-minute video to a UK-based Hachette Books digital conference, answering the question: What is the biggest opportunity for publishers in the digital age? Below is the video I sent.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.