Search the Site

Book-Buying Poll Results: Content is king, whether a book is self-published or not

I had originally intended for this to be a quickie poll in my series of Informal Surveys/Polls About Writing, Reading and Publishing but realized that for a topic like this, there is no such thing as a quickie poll. The topic is clearly a pretty sensitive subject, and some people automatically assumed that I was out to discredit books that had been self-published. Yikes.

For the record, I have bought self-published books. Some were very good (like Cheryl Rainfield‘s YA novel, Parallel Visions, and Galleycat recently listed some top children’s books by indie authors) and some were not so good. I am going to be self-publishing a compilation of my writer comics (my agent at Curtis Brown is helping me with this).

I know there are many out there who sneer at those who self-publish, but I am not one of them. As I said, there are some very excellent self-published books. But there are also many, many bad self-published books. Overcoming that stigma will be a challenge for indie authors until there are easier and better-known ways to separate the good from the bad. 

The “Us vs. them” hostility (on both sides of the equation) frustrates me. It’s not productive, it sparks flamewars, it only widens the gap between those  publishing with traditional houses and those who go the indie route. The truth is that more writers are starting to experiment with doing both. It’s a choice.

And whether you choose to go indie or traditional with any particular book, your focus should always be on quality content. There are many good resources online to help; please feel free to post suggestions below. NOTE: I will not tolerate flamewars in the comments section so if you post a hostile or abusive message, whether pro- or anti- indie publishing, I WILL REMOVE IT/NOT APPROVE IT FOR POSTING.

But on to the poll results….

I knew when I posted the poll that the results would probably skew toward those who already had an interest in self-publishing (whether positive or negative). However, I was mainly curious about the people who bought a book they knew was self-published (and DIDN’T know the author/illustrator), and why they did so….I figured the results would give some useful info about book discovery, and that info could help indie authors.

However, some pointed out that some self-published books out there that don’t LOOK self-published, so how would people KNOW if they had bought a self-published book? Also, some pointed out my poll answer choices didn’t cover the scenario where a traditionally published author decided to go the self-publishing route. I’m sure there were many other situations that my limited yes/no type of choices didn’t cover.

With the above in mind, here are the results of my poll:

141 people participated in the poll and of these, 78% said they had bought a self-published book. 

Of those who bought a self-published book, 42.5% said they made the purchase because they knew the author and/or illustrator, and wanted to support them.

I was mainly interested in the remaining 57.5%, who had bought a book but weren’t familiar with the author and/or illustrator, or said that knowing the author and/or illustrator was not a factor in their purchase decision. 

Of these purchases:

67.7% were digital, 27.7% were print and 3.1% were digital AND print. One person wasn’t sure.

The most interesting part of the results, at least for me, were the reasons that people bought these books. Here are some of the reasons:

37.5% — Word-of-mouth recommendations

31.3 % — A review

20.4% — The book was $2.99 or less.

10.9% — The cover.

9.4% — The book was free, so they figured they had nothing to lose.

Other reasons listed in the open-ended comments section, from most popular:

Liked the sample excerpt.

Non-fiction book about a unique topic.

Fan of the author. Author had traditionally published in the past but had decided to self-publish a new book or a sequel to a traditionally published series.

Story description or blurb intrigued them.

Amazon suggestion based on other books they had bought.

Fan of the author’s blog.

Met the author in person or saw their presentation at a convention/in-store event.

Book recommended by publication or blog.

Book was subject of a controversy.


By far, most of the people who commented said that their book purchase decision was made because they liked the sample excerpt. 

Second-most common reason: because the book offered them content they couldn’t easily get elsewhere…in nonfiction, this involved a niche topic. In fiction, it was because an author they liked was offering more of his or her writing.

So in the end, people don’t really care whether a book is self-published or not. What matters: quality content.


Also see Debbie’s other Surveys and Polls.

Tags: Inkygirl, Surveys