In the summer of 2020, more than 400 nonfiction authors responded to a survey about their goals and experiences with their books. These are a few of the highlights from the data.
Author Objectives and Results
The survey asked people to identify their motivations for writing. First they selected all of their reasons, then identified the primary one.
In both situations, the top response was “Purpose: I want to serve others with what I know.”
- Nearly 80 percent of respondents chose Purpose as one of their reasons.
- Nearly 40 percent chose Purpose as their primary reason.
- The second-highest reason, at 18 percent, was “Personal fulfillment.”
Those authors who had already published a book were asked to assess how well the experience met both their personal and business/career goals (if any).
The experience was positive, meeting or exceeding personal goals, for about 89 percent of the authors.
It was almost as successful for those authors with business goals, meeting or exceeding them for 83 percent of the respondents.
Nonfiction Book Research
Nonfiction authors do a lot of research. And sometimes we can get stuck in it. Research can be a great way of procrastinating.
The survey asked authors whether they finished their research before starting the draft.
- Nearly 60% kept researching while writing
- Almost a quarter thought they were done—then did more research
- Less than 17% finished the research first
Most nonfiction authors start with a book outline. You need a chapter outline as part of your book proposal. But the final results don’t usually look like the outline you started with.
The survey asked published authors how closely the finished book matched the outline.
- Less than 6 percent of authors ended up with a manuscript that exactly matched the original outline!
- More than a third made major changes, or ended up with a whole new outline.
Where People Get Stuck
The survey asked the unpublished authors if they were “stuck” anywhere in the process. Not all of the unpublished authors were stuck, of course. But the responses were fascinating:
The biggest shared dilemmas are:
- Finding the time to write
- Getting motivate to write
- Topic-related issues: deciding on a topic or fining an original angle
- Publication-related issues: finding an agent or publisher
- Financial issues
About the Respondents
Of the 435 people who responded to the survey, 267 had published at least one book, and 168 were as-yet unpublished.
The respondents had written books in a variety of nonfiction genres. The most popular were business/career advice, self-help, and memoir. The “other” category was also popular.
Read the Full Report
The full survey report offers more data, and includes quotes from the free-form answer section, including:
- What was the biggest surprise about publishing a book
- What would you do differently?
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