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.