Author Survey Results: Expectations of Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

When you self-publish a book, are you more likely to like the cover design? Will more people buy it? Is it more likely to be a best-seller?

The 2014 Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Survey asked authors whether particular outcomes were more likely with self-publishing or traditional publishing. The questions covered the topic areas of distribution and marketing, production, costs, and sales and earnings. I expected that authors would be divided into camps, champions of self-publishing and champions of traditional publishing. While some authors in the survey had direct experience with traditional publishing, self-publishing, or both, the perceptions on the whole were fairly and surprisingly consistent among the groups, with some differences for hybrid authors.

(Some of the more interesting results are presented in charts below. The full set of charts displaying the results is available in the Digital Book World Report that Jeremy Greenfield and I co-authored, What Advantages Do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors? A Comparison of Traditional and Indie Publishing from the Authors’ Perspective. Some of the results were also presented by Phil Sexton from Writer’s Digest at Digital Book World 2014.)

Related: To learn more about what authors want in the era of self-publishing, attend a FREE Digital Book World webcast on the topic. Learn more.



In terms of producing their books, authors perceived traditional publishing as offering more help from industry professionals and better design services while self-publishing offered greater creative control and faster speed to market. Authors expected the available formats of their books to be the same for both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Aspiring and traditionally published authors perceived that their books were more likely to be of higher quality if published with traditional publishers, but hybrid and self-published authors were more likely to report that the book’s quality would be the same with either type of publishing.

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All four types of authors associated higher time and money costs with self-publishing. Overall, they perceived that with self-publishing they were more likely to spend more of their own time and money on editing and preparing their books for publication and on marketing and promotion. However, hybrid authors were split on the issue of whether they would spend more time on marketing: The most popular answer choice for this group was that they would spend the same either way (47.2%).


Distribution and Marketing

Authors expected greater advantages from traditional publishing related to print distribution, marketing, and reaching a larger audience. They did not see a clear advantage of one type of publishing over another in terms of e-book sales or of book pricing.

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Sales and Earnings

Authors thought that they would earn a higher royalty rate per book with self-publishing. The authors in the sample were not likely to see a clear advantage to e-book sales for traditional publishing over self-publishing, but they perceived that they were much more likely to sell more print books if they traditionally published. Authors were slightly more likely to expect that their book had a greater chance of being a bestseller if they traditionally published. Interestingly, however, close to half of all authors surveyed put their book’s chance of being a bestseller as about the same either way (46%). Moreover, hybrid authors broke the trend, with over half of them (52.3%) seeing no advantage of one type of publishing over the other.

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dana blog - sales



Looking at these results, it is perhaps easy to understand why so many authors hold on to their dreams of traditional publishing. Authors, especially not-yet-published authors, believe that publishers will provide us with market expertise and distributional reach that we don’t have on our own and that we have greater chances of reaching fans and stardom if we go the traditional route.

Do traditional publishers deliver on these dreams? We explore the answers here.


Related: To learn more about what authors want in the era of self-publishing, attend a FREE Digital Book World webcast on the topic. Learn more.



Authors & Self-Publishing, Expert Publishing Blog
Dana Beth Weinberg

About Dana Beth Weinberg

Dana Beth Weinberg, received her doctorate from Harvard University and is Professor of Sociology at Queens College—CUNY, where she directs the MA program in Data Analytics and Applied Social Research. Her research focuses on organizational behavior, work and occupations. Inspired by her own experiences as a novelist, her current research examines how digitization is changing the book industry for readers, writers and publishers. She also writes crime thrillers as D. B. Shuster. Find Dana at or @DBWeinberg. Find her fiction-writing alter ego at

22 thoughts on “Author Survey Results: Expectations of Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing

  1. Pingback: Publishing Opinions | Author Survey Results: Expectations of Traditional Publishing and Self-Publishing

  2. Pingback: Author Survey Results: Expectations of Traditio...

  3. Robert Gottlieb

    Authors Trident represents have a great deal of input on creative matters. Most creative matters revolve around a book package and publishers I find in general want their authors to be happy. Input from the author, publisher and agent helps to move the book package in the right direction especially if an author is being published in more than one format. Retailers also like to have input at times and the wrong jacket can turn retailers off to a book.

    Robert Gottlieb
    Trident Media Group, LLC
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  4. Michael W. Perry

    There’s a Catch-22 here for publishers.

    * New and inexperienced authors with no fan base are likely to be delighted to get picked by a publisher. But they’re also high-risk investments.

    * Well-established, experienced authors with a solid fan base are far less risky for publishers. But along the way those authors have learned a lot about designing, marketing and laying out books. They’re also likely to have the resources to contract out the interior and cover design, retaining control but getting professional assistance as good as that any publisher can offer.

    The result could be a death spiral for many publishers. They cultivate potentially successful authors and, when those authors do well, they’re soon lost to self-publishing, perhaps with professional assistance.

    I’m not sure I have a solution for these publishers other than suggest that they be very good to every author they meet. The real benefit publishers now bring to the table is their ability to take over any task that a particular author dislikes. Authors need to like that more than they dislike anything a publisher does to them.

    That said, one change is obvious. Pay more often. Self-publishing typically pays monthly which beats the socks off paying every six months.

    –Michael W. Perry, Untangling Tolkien

  5. Linton Robinson

    Well, I have experience with both sides of this and one thing I’d toss into it is the difference in production quality betweeen paperbacks and ebooks. I would say that self-publishers do a much higher quality job than big publishers do.
    I have read dozens of ebooks from big presses that were obviously just slapped out on a plug-in from InDesign or whatever software they used to format the paper version. Stupid margins and indents, no linked navigation, useless page numbers in the TOC (instead of LINKS), on and on.
    What I never see from the biggies is really high quality work in an ebook. Like back links from chapter heads, link-navigable footnotes and glossaries, page decorations, etc.

    Also, I would say that a LOT of indie authors are much better at promotion than the big houses are, use systems that are current and relevant, rather than old-fashioned, expensive means of promoting books. It’s only been in the last 9 months that I’ve seen big publishers using BookBub, for instance.

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