This post contains all the data gathered from our Do You Love Your Publisher? Survey. That survey was launched on our blog here. It benefitted greatly from the help and support offered by The Society of Authors, The Crime Writers Association, the Romantic Novelists Association, and many others. We are grateful for their help.
This summary data does not show filtered answers. (Eg: If you want to see how authors-published-by-major-publishers-only responded, you can’t do so from what follows.) But we are happy to share access to our complete dataset. Please just ask if you want to know more. If you are a senior decision-maker at a major publishing house and would like to discuss these findings, then great. Get in touch. And if you’re a journalist wanting a comment, then what are you waiting for?
Questions 1-6: Profile of Respondents
Comment: Note well-published nature of typical respondent.
Comment: Note recency of interaction with the industry.
Comment: It’s been known for some time that authors are very poorly paid. Data gathered by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society in 2007 revealed a median income for authors of just £4,000. Since people can’t actually live on £4,000, most authors don’t: they find other sources of income besides. The median income for ‘professional authors’ – that is, those earning at least 70% of their income from writing – was £13,000 (for novelists), £10,000 (for academic/educational writers) or £8,000 (if you are unfortunate enough to write non-fiction.) Our survey wasn’t exploring incomes, but is highly consistent with that ALCS data – which is now somewhat out of date, but no one in the industry thinks that the trend has been anything but downwards. The link you need to the ALCS data is here, but it appears to be broken: please contact the ALCS, not us, for help. Alternatively, you can find a discussion of these things in this very fine book.
Comment: Again, note that the bulk of our respondents are published by the industry’s commanding heights. Note too that our survey is essentially a survey of ‘trade publishing’ – that is, consumer-oriented publishing, not educational, academic or business related.
Comment: not all authors have or need agents. This breakdown is not untypical.
Comment: Shows high-quality nature of respondents.
Questions 7-18: Experience with most recently published book
Comment: very impressive. Publishers clearly do very well on this front, despite the fact that editors today face a far wider range of pressures than in the past. Data like this raises the question of whether there is any substance to ‘Decline of The Editor’ type stories, such as this one.
Comment: same again – very impressive. Challenges the idea that most copy editors should go home and shoot themselves with a gnu. (see Antony Horowitz’s recent complaint.)
Comment: open to question how these results are interpreted. My own (author-centric) view is that all authors should always be meaningfully consulted on cover design, so that these results hint at insufficient depth of consultation. It should be said however that most publishing contracts require consultation but not necessarily meaningful consultation – that is, the exchange ‘Do you like this cover?’ ‘No.’ ‘Thank you for your input.’ would satisfy almost any current contract.
Comment: again, somewhat unclear how to interpret these results. They are certainly broadly positive – but would author satisfaction increase if consultation were made more meaningful? And, crucially from an industry perspective, would covers improve as a result? No one knows.
Comment: as for question 9.
Comment: as for question 10.
Comment: in our view, this set of responses shows a remarkable lack of concern by publishers in the views of their authors. We note:
- the success or failure of a marketing campaign will determine the author’s overall income from a project;
- that authors have median incomes from writing in the region of £4,000 or (for professional authors) in the region of £8-13,000;
- that all publishers claim to have authors at the heart of what they do.
Since authors will always know far more about the subject they are writing about than any publisher can, since the author is ‘the brand’, and since the author may well have contacts and digital presence that reach pockets not easily accessed by or even known to publishers, this lack of communication is astonishing and regrettable.
Comment: see above. It’s not surprising that if publishers don’t make the best use of their authors, the resultant marketing campaign is underwhelming. Do note that this question carefully steers respondents away from simply thinking, ‘I wish publishers had spent more money.’ Both the emphasis on the author’s own assets in the question title and the comment about ‘without huge cost outlays’ in one of the responses were intended to focus authors on steps that could have been taken without significant financial investment.
Comment: respondents divide about 50/50. It is not clear why author-centred publishers should ever fail to communicate properly with their authors.
Comment: pattern of responses looks broadly similar for inexperienced writers (those with just 1-2 books published.) It is clear that authors will find it hard to play an engaged and useful part in the publishing process if they have not been given any instruction in how that process works and where they can best add value. Debutant authors reading this post probably want to arm themselves.
Comment: another deeply dispiriting set of responses. How is it justifiable not to give authors a channel by which they can meaningfully communicate their views to their publisher? And how can it be commercial good sense to avoid doing so?
Comment: good. Very few issues arising here.
Questions 19-28: Broader reflections and the changing industry
Comment: It is striking how many professional authors either have self-published or have flirted with the idea of doing so. In evaluating this answer, it is important to bear in mind that:
- In the past, self-publishing was a costly venture (because you needed to print copies) and one likely to benefit from very few retail outlets (because few national retailers would stock self-pub material on any but the most local of scales).
- The advent of electronic platforms means that e-pub is essentially costless to the author (though wise authors will invest something in editorial, copy-editing and cover-design).
- Furthermore, those books can be made internationally available via multiple platforms (Kindle, iTunes, Smashwords, etc). That is: self-published authors can, without substantial upfront cost, sell alongside commercially published authors and with (in the eyes of consumers) few ways to easily differentiate the two.
- In the US, where the use of e-readers is around 1-2 years ahead of the UK, much genre fiction sells 70% or more on these platforms. (When I was in New York recently talking with my editor at Random House about their upcoming release of Talking to the Dead, she anticipated that more than 70% of sales would be of e-books.)
Many UK authors will not fully have appreciated the extent of the changes underway, because e-books in the UK, though very fast growing, remain a minority element in most authorial incomes.
Comment: somewhat endorses the comments made just above. It is notable that only a quarter of authors would stick with publishers come what may. Much recent discussion in the industry has focused on the corporate power struggles between Amazon / Apple / other e-platforms / publishers. We suggest that perhaps the crucial battlefield will be whether publishers do enough to retain their authors. These responses are far from offering any conclusive answer to that question – but they do suggest the question is a real one.
Comment: responses to this question show the strong – if too often frustrated – attachment that authors have to their publishers. It is notable, however, that the first three elements on the list above are quite easily outsourced. The ‘links with bookshops’ has been absolutely crucial in the past, but the landscape is likely to look very different in 2-5 years. It is notable how little authors care about ‘marketing savvy’ and ‘advance and royalty structure’ – two of the areas most likely to be cited by publishers as being of importance to their authors.
Comment: no very strong negative responses here. It is worth noting however, (i) the repeated implicit endorsement of publishers’ editorial standards and (ii) lead times in publishing – typically 12-18 months – are capable of being abruptly shortened by author-led e-publishing.
Comment: In our view, this is the most striking answer in the entire survey. Publishers overall have done so little to impress their authors that more authors would jump ship to an unknown new publisher than remain with the one they have. If you include ‘not sures’, then almost two-thirds of authors are unimpressed by their current publishers. We consider that to be a remarkable, and disturbing, finding. (Note: this question was inserted into the survey after the first few dozen responses had been received. So overall data collection was a little lower than on other questions. If you were one of those early responders – as I was – then apologies.)
Questions 24-25, Question 28: text-based answers
- Q24. Now please tell us anything we’ve missed. First, positive things you have to say about your experience in publishing …
- Q25. And now anything negative you’d like to share.
- Q28. And finally – if you had to send a message to the publishing industry in one single sentence, what would that sentence be?
Answers took the form of short textual statements. We will be publishing a selection of those statements in due course. If you are a journalist or publishing exec and wish to see a full set of responses, please feel free to ask.
Comment: Although ‘Yes, most likely’ is the most commonly chosen response, that’s still a somewhat muted response from a generally experienced bunch of professional authors. We suggest that the large number of don’t knows is probably the more telling verdict.
Comment: broadly in line with previous question.