Should You Spend More Time Writing or More Time Promoting?

A few month ago, The Taleist Survey of 1007, a survey of 1007 self-published authors made the rounds. That survey tried to explain why some self-publishers make a living by writing and how they do it, but the survey only complicates matters.

The survey says that 2/3 of the top earners (those who make a living by writing, which, incidentally, was less than 10% of the total), are women, leaving the impression that women were better at self-publishing than men, but the truth is, women write romance more than men do, and romance sells more than mystery and science fiction and way more than literary fiction.

It also says that “respondents who’d had their work rejected by traditional publishing and then opted to self-publish it were among the lowest earners,” but that “32% of the top Earners tried and failed to get a traditional publishing deal before self-publishing, but now make a living from selling their work.” Huh? What’s the difference between being rejected and failing to get a traditional publishing deal? Even more confusing, 29% of the top earners had an agent. Why? I thought the point of self-publishing was to bypass the traditional route. Or maybe they hope the agent will get them a traditional publishing contract? If so, then apparently, the top earners still aren’t earning enough.

The report also said that the average top earner spent 69% more time writing than the average author outside of the top earners group. The top earners group spent more time writing than they did marketing, and those in the group who spent the least time marketing were making the most money. Out of all respondents, those who spent the most time marketing earned the least.

Bewildering, isn’t it? The survey leaves out a lot of important information, such as: did the top earners promote at the beginning, and once their careers took off, stop promoting in favor of writing? And if they never promoted, how did they sell books without marketing? The only self-publishers I have met who managed to get on the bestsellers lists without doing any promotion at all (they just posted their ebooks on Amazon and waited for sales) were romance writers and some mystery series writers. Romance readers seem to be voracious consumers of books, and the more they buy, the more Amazon will recommend. And it stands to reason that the more books you write the more you will sell.

Once you get in the Amazon loop, you can spend your time writing and let Amazon take care of your marketing, but those writers who don’t hit that particular jackpot have no other option but to promote. Some writers who eschew marketing in favor of writing are publishing more books but still not making money.

So yes, the top earners spend more time writing, but that does not mean that if you spend more time writing you will earn more.

The survey also says that those who get reviews from top reviewers on Amazon make more money than those who don’t get such reviews, but the top reviewers seldom review newly self-published books from unknowns, so again, the question is, which came first — the financial success or the reviews?

Although I am not a self-published writer, such matters interest me. Those of us who are published by small presses have many of the same concerns as the self-published since for the most part neither group has a has a publicity departments helping us get better known. But this survey has no answers for us, just more questions.

Should we spend more time writing and less time promoting? Or do we need to spend more time promoting and less time writing? Or maybe we should simply spend less time reading such surveys.

14 Responses to “Should You Spend More Time Writing or More Time Promoting?”

  1. Carrie Rubin Says:

    Great post, especially since I’m facing this conundrum right now. As you point out, having a small press publisher stills puts the onus of marketing on us. I feel like I’m doing much more of that and not nearly enough writing. In fact, I’m doing very little writing, which is something I need to rectify soon if I want to finish another novel! And I don’t even have my paperback yet. When that’s out in a couple weeks, I’ll then be adding face-to-face marketing to the mix, which is beyond frightening. 🙂 Clearly I need to find a better balance.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      It’s a real conundrum for many authors — write or promote. I’m not sure I spent much time actually promoting. I guess it depends on what is “promoting”. I blog (which is just about the only writing I do), I spend a little time on facebook, and a I spend a lot of time researching ways to promote. Haven’t a clue how to actually make a lot of sales, though I’m on a ten-year plan. In other words, I made a pact with myself to wait to see what happens in the ten years from when I was first published. (I have seven more to go.)

      • Carrie Rubin Says:

        Seems like a smart plan. My measure of success for my current novel is not so much sales but whether readers seem to like it. I think I’m still in that vulnerable phase.

        • Pat Bertram Says:

          Carrie, I think authors are always in that vulerable phase. It’s hard to open yourself to write then afterward close yourself off to criticism or affirmation.

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I admit, the whole article sounds confusing and possibly self-contradicting. Where is this survery, and can I read the article the resutls were reported in? I might be able to use it for a report for one of my classes!

  3. Stephen Leslie France Says:

    I ignore surveys and statistics presenting the probability of publication or any relation thereof.

    Taken mathematically, they destroy any optimism of reaching the dream. I personally have not taken the path I have by utilising logic, stats, science or even basic rationale; in essence, statistics have no influence on why I write.

    Besides, they come from the ‘other’ hemisphere of the brain and that does not influence creativity…much. I suppose they are always good to know though, but to answer your question, both writing and promoting yourself simultaneously are significant. They are both possible facets of why people blog – to maintain writing skills and market those abilities.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I think you’re right — ignore the surveys and stats, ignore the constant brags from other authors as to sales numbers and Amazon rankings, and just concentrate on doing what you can. Me? For now, since I’m not yet ready to immerse myself in novel writing, I’m sticking with blogging.

  4. shadowoperator Says:

    Hi, Pat. I opted to publish my novels on my own website some time ago, and since doesn’t allow for a PayPal obligatory “Buy Now” button, but only a “Donate” button, my earning potential is limited. But in some ways, I don’t mind (believe it or not) because a lot of people are reading my posts and some have read my four novels, and I’m still dreaming that possibly impossible dream of being read by someone who wants to publish me in print form, or on Amazon or like e-spot. It’s probably not right for a lot of people, but I was tired of trying to find an agent with an older novel I don’t have published even on my site, and I decided when I went about writing the 8 novels I have planned in this series that I would never again go that route. So there we are, and there I am. It’s not perfect, but there’s always hope. And I really enjoy writing that much.

  5. Carol Says:

    I’d follow your closing comment. 🙂 I tend to bypass surveys and polls, or occasionally skim the conclusion if it’s a subject that particularly interests me. Whether promoting or writing should be the priority probably depends on one’s goals. If someone wants to make a living from their books, they need to become well known for at least one successful title, so that suggests big time promotion of a well-written high-concept story. When one title “takes off”, however, there needs to be another equally good one ready to step into the void, so the writing cycle has to keep pace.

    I don’t imagine many of us will make a living with our books, but if we gain pleasure from the writing, there is significant reward in that. And unless we keep writing we may never produce the one book that has the success-potential we dream of. For me, that means writing is a higher priority, at least in this season of my life.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I’m still not quite ready to write just for myself, though that will come. Right now, I still think it’s foolish to foist more of my books on the reading public until at least one of them takes off. Oddly, I don’t even consider what I do “promoting.” It’s just a different type of writing. Still, I do write, and one day I will write more fiction. I’m considering doing short stories.

  6. joylene Says:

    I’m probably not the person to ask. I worked my buns off when my novels were released. To the point that I’m exhausted and could really use the break. LOL. Bet every author says that. If I lived in a huge metropolitan area, it would be easier. While online helps, I’ve sold more books in person. Readings, signings, retreats, fair, you name it. I sometimes wonder if it’s because there are so many of us now that readers like to see the face behind the word. I’m not sure.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I don’t live near a metropolitan area, and there are no real shows or anything like that around here, but someday I’ll make the circuit. I have a hunch that people still like physical books and they like to pick them up and look at them before they buy. As hard as it is to believe when one is online, not everyone has a computer or an ereader.

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