Why do writers publish? What do they make? Social science findings from DBW
December 10, 2013 | 4:10 pm
Digital Book World has released the first three excerpts from some extremely detailed social science research into the practices and performance of writers, based on a joint survey with Writer’s Digest under the direction of Dana Beth Weinberg, Harvard University alumnus and Professor of Sociology at Queens College at CUNY, where she directs the MA Program in Data Analytics and Applied Social Research. “Over 9,000 authors participated in the survey and the results are nothing short of astounding,” reads DBW’s preamble. Whether astounding is the right qualifier or not, they are certainly fascinating, and Weinberg’s detailed breakdowns of why writers write (either as self-published authors or for traditional publishing), how much they produce, and what they make from it are already up online, with graphs, and practically required reading for aspirant or current writers.
Weinberg’s analyses are lengthy and well substantiated, and it makes best sense just to precis them briefly here – which also gives me a chance to contribute something at least a little extra to the findings. In her survey of authors’ “number one priority in getting published”, whether aspirant, self-published, traditionally published, or a hybrid mixture of both of those, she found that for all, “top priority reported was building their careers as writers, but from there, the priorities quickly diverged.” What she found in fact was that the hybrid authors were the most seriously concerned by far “to make money from my writing” – probably appropriate for those who seek any and every means to do just that. Entirely self-published authors are by the same token almost ‘amateurish,’ with only around 10 percent registering the money priority as their prime concern – though of course, this is just a finding across 9,000 authors and there are going to be many exceptions. Interestingly, all four types of writer will be sitting on just about the same number of three to four unpublished manuscripts at any one time, according to Weinberg. That said, the seriousness and ambition of hybrid authors shows once again on the published side, where they will on average have released up to ten traditionally published and four self-published manuscripts. The entirely traditional authors, meanwhile, will have had eight manuscripts published on average. And it’s no surprise to find that aspiring writers make no income, or next to none, from writing. But self-published authors also tend to be near the bottom end of the income scale, represented most conspicuously in the $1-1499 p.a. band for income from writing. Traditional and hybrid authors, meanwhile, are almost neck and neck in all the higher income brackets, right up to $100,000 p.a. plus. For the simple objectives of helping writers decide what they should do and how they should do it, these data points already serve a purpose. And apparently there will be lots more of them coming soon. Clearly, then, self-publishing has not changed the fundamental goal for a really serious writer: Get yourself in print. And if you have to self-publish alongside your traditional appearances, go ahead and do it. Pure self-publishing alone remains something that the dedicated writer, especially one dedicated to living off the craft, is going to want to vary.