Where I Talk About the Reader Survey: 2018 Edition

Like I did last year, I did a reader survey for 2018, and because I lack originality, I’m sharing the responses again. It’s worth rehashing the same warning label:

Self-reported results are troublesome, my sample size is small, and my unconscious bias flavors my results more than most people spice a good curry. Despite all that, let’s see what the people want, shall we?


Feeding the Beast

First on deck is what people want me to write next. Heavily implied within this is what people might pay for, and daddy needs to make rent. Lo! The responses are below, with a surprising twist:

It’s not surprising people want more Ezeroc Wars. This is my most popular series by far, despite Night’s Champion getting more reviews (I dunno, are supernatural suspense fans more likely to leave a review?). The surprises come in two parts:

  • 50% want more Future Forfeit, and
  • 32% want me to write Boundless.

Yeah, yeah, the chart’s hard to read, but those are the 2nd and 3rd placeholders, respectively. Future Forfeit’s original Upgrade was, until a few months ago, my worst-selling book of all time. I spent more time than I care to admit remastering it, writing sequels, and filling out the universe with novellas for hungry fans, and that’s borne fruit. It’s tremendously gratifying to see people have gone from a big, “That book can die in a carpet fire,” to, “This is the 2nd most important story universe to us.” The numbers reflect this; the remastered first book shipped more copies in its first four weeks than the previous book did in as many years, and the reviews are coming in much faster.

Yay for hard work, but what’s Boundless all about? I teased this to my mailing list a little while ago by way of a Pinterest board. I use Pinterest to collect ideas for upcoming works, and this one’s been in my head for at least a couple years now. The basic gist is epic/dark fantasy, heavy on the action, and deep character development, using a dedicated female lead/protagonist. It feels like people want me to try my hand at this, so I’ll bump it a little higher in the queue.

To further tease this out, I asked about specific stories:

Most people want me to write Beauty and the Beast, but in space, so let’s do that. Tyche’s Lost is coming up next. It turns out I already completed the road trip story: mailing list fans got Tyche Forever on the house. Quite a few of you wanted this to be a trilogy, so I’m getting it edited by Tiffany, along with the next two, and releasing it to stores later this year. What’s cool is people’s desire for Boundless remains strong; it ranks a little higher in raw number power in this question (perhaps meaning new story universes are risky, but the idea has a high level of Rad™).

There are some other free-text answers in there which are nice to read – thank you to those of you who wrote me notes. And that one person, you know who you are: no, I won’t tell you where I live.


Discovery

A curious quirk of selling books is readers buying them. I know, right?? I wanted to find out how people discovered their next best read.

  • Over half of people discover new authors through freebies;
  • 37% find their next best read through BookBub or similar recommendation service; and
  • 35% get friends to tell them what’s good on the menu.

Also-boughts, anthologies, and 99c surprises rank equal at 28% each. What’s curious about this is anthologies used to be the gas that powered our empires, but less so now. It’s tricky to know why this is, although my hunch is the market’s been swamped by anthologies once someone said it was the best way to get your USA Today bestseller tag. There was a significant number of free-text answers (>10%) from people saying they browsed retailers, or Goodreads, looking through bestseller lists, reviews, and similar: social selling appears to still be a neat thing, but more time consuming to access.


Book Length

There are stories circulating in the Author Community about how book length doesn’t matter, and how ravenous readers will gobble anything up. As a slight contrast, I get email from fans from time to time complaining about the shovelware on particularly Amazon, the same-ness of the stories, and how some big brands are eclipsing all the joy in their lives when they try to find a decent, meaty read.

My hunch was, short-term, an explotative technique could work, but longer-term people will wise up and resent your brand. What length stories do people actually want?

There’s no real surprises in here, and the numbers look pretty similar to last year.

  • Almost 80% of people prefer books around the 90k word mark.
  • Over half will read a book @ 120k words.
  • 44% like slightly shorter reads in the 60k bracket.

My one regret for this survey is here, and the inability to cross-reference these answers with stage in life. E.g., do younger people with more free time (bias alert!) prefer longer reads? Is the caricature busy professional who only wants blipverts a reality? I suspect most of those mental models aren’t immediately useful – 28% of people read novellas, which is far fewer than the number of professionals in the world. Only 15% of people want monster-sized books, which is somewhat at odds with Brandon Sanderson’s meteoric success, but there you go.

The take-home here is the most people will read your book if it’s around 90k words long. You will still get a decent readership slightly above and below that. Now, the interesting question: do readers consider the price of the book vs. its length (that is, is dollars per hour relevant to books)?

Only 19% of people claim price a motivating factor when compared to length; 45% don’t care. 36% will use this as one vector among others when making their purchasing choice. I suspect there’s a lot of nuance in here; Kindle Unlimited readers are largely insulated from the real cost of books, as it’s amortized through their subscription. There will always be price-sensitive buyers in any market, especially those on constrained incomes where their dollars need to stretch a certain distance relative to the next inbound pay check.


Waterboarding Fans

I’ve played around a lot with how often I communicate with my fans, both via email and on this site. The data suggests the frequency is less important than the value of the communication, but I like to ask people how much is too much. That way, when I ignore ’em, it’s a fully-informed decision.

Most people, unsurprisingly, would prefer to hear from me when there’s something interesting to say. 6% of you are comedians (you know who you are, down there in the light blue). The really important number in this chart is in green: a mere 4% of people want to be emailed only when I have a new release.

News at six: people like informative, useful, and entertaining content, rather than new release spam. If you’re an author running a site or mailing list, and only email people with new releases, this could be why your engagement is terribad. Speaking of relevant content, I asked what people thought was interesting:

  • 77% of people want stuff about writing (e.g. characters, story structure, how to avoid spirals of self-disgust and misery);
  • 72% want to know about Me; and
  • 70% want recommendations from me about books they might like

The curious among you might wonder what the difference is between “recommendations” and the 51% of people who want book reviews. I think the short version of this is my recommendations tend to be punchy and a couple of lines, while my reviews tend to be pretty epic (just like me, yo). 49% of people want book deals, which is an ever-changing sea; last year I saw people turn off book deals, but this year my curated mails with specific and recommended books have got a lot of interest.

I think it’s easy to know why. People don’t like being spammed, and they know when an author’s newsletter is shilling a book they’ve never read. Curating a specific giveaway (for e.g.) is much harder, especially since I have a firm 4+ star quality barrier. It provides a higher level of value in those emails. I will sometimes review these books, because I’m not going to ask you to buy something I wouldn’t get myself.


The Devil Incarnate

There’s been a ruckus around particularly Facebook, but in general companies being assholes to people, especially if it relates to the exploitation of minors and our collective privacy. As a writer, I’ve used Facebook to connect with fans as well as advertise products, but this is feeling … uncomfortable. There’s some evidence to suggest people just don’t care, or are perhaps being manipulated into sticking around. What do pollsters think?

My hunch was, this is all too hard, and inertia, so Facebook. The numbers:

Yeah, okay, that’s pretty dire. 76% of people are on Facebook, with the closet competitor being Twitter at 36%. There’s some hope for the 18% of people using Discord, though, because that’s a real/intimate engagement platform. I’ve got some ideas and thoughts on where to take this which I’ll share soon, and is related to these two questions:

What I’m trying to discover here is whether folks would move from Facebook if there was a compelling alternative. We’ve got a few fans on the Discord, but not enough for critical mass. Would a collective of authors leveraging a channel like that give fans a good/desirable channel? The news is pretty good.

  • Only 20% of people don’t want a collective community, as they prefer their specific author kingdoms (…this is something I grok at a deep level);
  • Only 18% of people wouldn’t consider the move to another platform, assuming there’s a good destination at that train stop.

26% of people would outright migrate from Facebook (you are my heroes), and 55% of people would use Facebook alongside something else (still love you, but a little less). A staggering 80% of people would enjoy a collective made up of similar fans/authors in the genres they love.


The Free Text

I give a few fields at the end of survey to tease out thoughts people have strong feelings on.

  • Tell me which books I should read;
  • Tell me your favorite source of book intel; and
  • “If there’s one thing I could ask you for, it’s…”

The first expanded my TBR pile in uncomfortable ways. There are books there I’ve already read (James SA Corey, John Ringo, John Scalzi, Anne McCaffrey, Neil Gaiman…) and a hyoooooge list of ones I haven’t. I’m considering making a Goodreads list to capture all these (…spare time would be a wonderful thing!); watch this space.

Book information was a little more nuanced, but a surprising number of people use BookBub and Goodreads (…reviews or articles?) to get up on what’s happening in BookLand. There’s a lot of people who put in the time with freebies to find new authors, and a repeat of the get-intel-from-friends. Interesting surprise is people leverage (at scale!) their retailers (Amazon, B&N, whatever…), especially with book reviews and blurbs, to determine what’s going on and what to look at next. One brave soul mentioned Facebook.

In the ask-you-for section, the responses can be clumped:

  • More Tyche (Ezeroc Wars) stories, especially those featuring Nate and Grace; and
  • More writing in general, regardless of what it is.

One person wanted me to do “less moaning” about how hard it is to write books for profit, maybe because author income is unimportant to them (while not directly related, I hear a lot from people who believe books should be free, a dollar, or universally in Kindle Unlimited). The good news for this respondent is your wishes are answered: I will be doing less writing in general, due to massive levels of piracy and lack of sales. Side note is a) these sorts of comments are relatively hurtful and b) feel free to unsubscribe from the mailing list at any time (write me if you don’t know how).

Ironically, 25% urged me in some fashion to stick with writing (which I will, but not full-time – I can’t pay the mortgage with five-star reviews). Some noted the number of people walking away from writing. I believe this highlights that readers are empathetic to the state of the market and the difficulties authors face, and want a wider selection of good authors on their bookshelves. Another brave-yet-anonymous soul wanted me to drink less, noting they didn’t, “…know why people are so loyal to drunks!” It’s because I’m charming, bitch. Related to this, another person wanted less swearing, which might highlight an understanding mismatch of which channel they’ve tuned into.


Whew! That’s it for the author survey. I’ll talk more in the next days/weeks/months about what I’m planning (I have plans!) regarding Facebook and author communities. Until then, go be awesome.


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