Recently I undertook an anonymous reader/subscriber survey to learn more about my audience. This was the second reader survey I’d ever done. The first was undertaken in September 2015 before my fourth book Aurora: Centralis was released. As you can imagine it was pretty interesting to compare results from having had 3 books released (with Centralis on the way) to now 6 books released (with The Time of The Stripes) on the way.
Since I’ve been self publishing I’ve had a lot more access to sales data and audience / markets than ever before, which has been great. But at the end of the day, these results are somewhat clinical and don’t really give you the heartbeat of your readers like a survey does. Although my survey was multiple choice, nearly every question had a comment section for respondents to speak in their own words – and you can’t put a price on that.
Last time I ran the survey I posted it to all my social media accounts several times, pushing for people to take part. The result was 55 responses received. For this new survey, I decided to try a different approach. This time I didn’t push it at all. I simply mentioned it once in my newsletter (and only to those who had been subscribed for a certain period of time), and posted it once to my FB page. And that was it. I didn’t post it to Twitter at all this time. I did, however, offer a prize draw – a copy of my new book (The Time of the Stripes). The result? Double the amount of responses compared to my last survey (104). I was pretty pleased with this result! Very little effort and double the responses.
Of course my readership has grown over the years, and so too has my newsletter subscriber list, so you would expect there to be more responses. I think it’s important to note, however, that not all of my newsletter subscribers are readers yet. These people have at least one of my books in their possession, or are curious enough about me to subscribe to my newsletter, but they may not have had time to read my book as yet. That’s one of the jobs I have as a writer – to convince those subscribers who haven’t yet read any of my books, to push them to the top of their TBR pile. Running a survey to learn a little more about them is one way of doing that – making a connection.
So what did I learn? I asked nine simple questions covering my books and newsletter, books/reading/retail activity in general, and who their favourite authors were, etc (the 10th question was their email address if they wanted to go into the draw). Here’s what they had to say:
Q1 – How did you discover my books? (This lets me know where my readers tend to ‘hang out’)
- 54.26% of respondents discovered my books through a book giveaway site like InstaFreebie or Book Funnel. No surprises there, as over the past year I have been active on these sites – it’s a great way to find new readers. Like I said above, however, there’s still work to be done to convince those who’ve not yet read the books to do so.
Q2 – What do you like most about the Aurora series? (This lets me know what keeps bringing you back to read more). Note: Multiple selections allowed.
- Interestingly, 38.54% of respondents hadn’t actually read any of my books as yet. Which again, is not surprising. This is the one issue with the free book giveaway sites. It’s a great way to get your book in front of readers, but they download so many for free it can take years for them to actually get around to reading your book (if they get there at all). It’s a challenge even traditional publishers face. That said, some people DO get around to reading your book, and if you manage to hook them with your story, then it’s all worthwhile – especially when you have a six book series they can whiz through.
- 41.67% said it was the plot of the Aurora series that kept drawing them back. As the series is an ongoing saga, this makes complete sense. Naturally readers want to know what happens next.
- 38.54% said it was the characters that they liked best about the Aurora series. This is obviously lovely to hear, although not really a surprise as most of the positive feedback I’ve received over the years has mentioned the characters and how my readers feel like they ‘know’ them. I have to say, characters are the biggest pull for me too when it comes to any type of fiction – be it in a book or on screen. If I don’t like/care for the characters, then I won’t enjoy the story as much.
- 22.92% said they liked my writing style. This is an aspect that will definitely be to some’s personal taste and not to others.
- 10.42% said it was another particular element. Here are some of the comments related to this:
Q3 – Do you tend to leave ratings and/or reviews for the books you read? Why/why not? (Ratings and reviews really help authors get word out about their books!)
- I asked this question to satisfy my own curiosity. I know it’s one thing a lot of writers often struggle with – getting rating and reviews for their books. Most readers don’t realise how much they can help an author, but I completely understand how it could take the fun out of reading for them.
- 64.52% of respondents said they do leave ratings and reviews, which was great to hear.
- 74 responders left comments on this question, which were really interesting to read. Here’s a snapshot that I think covers the gamut of (understandable) responses:
Q4 – If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, tick which best describes how you feel about it. This will help me make sure I’m only sending you content you want to receive).
- This was obviously a personal question to help me ensure that subscribers were getting what they wanted from my newsletter. It looks like they are!
- One thing I did notice from the general comments was that some subscribers are starting to get sick of the constant cross-promotion that authors are doing. Many people are subscribed to multiple newsletters, so they often receive several different newsletters promoting the same book, which they get sick of. So, writers, you may want to reconsider this tactic.
Q5 – Where do you live? (I often travel overseas and attend international conventions. If I find I have a lot of readers in one particular city/state/country, then I’ll try hard to pay that area a visit if I can).
- This was simply a comment box for people to input into, and it was super interesting to see what parts of the world my subscribers and readers lived in.
- The most responders were from the US (48.35%), next was Australia (31.86%), followed by Canada (7.69%), UK (6.59%), and other countries included South Africa, Finland, Thailand, and The Netherlands.
- Of the US responders, they came from 26 different states, and the most responses were received from California (I’ve been there twice and loved it. Looks like I have an excuse to go back!).
- Of the Australian responders, they came from all 8 states and territories, with Western Australia (naturally) having the most responses and Victoria a close second.
Q6 – What age range do you fit into? (In the past I’ve found my books tend to appeal to a wide age range of readers, I’m curious to see if this is still the case).
- It’s great to see that my books still appeal to a wide range of ages!
- In terms of a true reflection of the age of my readership/subscribers, it’s important to consider who actually had the time to take my survey (despite it only taking 5 mins to complete). Obviously those retired from work would have more time and be more likely to complete this survey than someone working/studying full time. Based on the individual contact with readers that I’ve had, I don’t believe the 21-30 year age bracket is reflected correctly below.
Q7 – Who is your preferred ebook retailer? (This lets me know where I should focus future promotions, sales and giveaways)
- Now, I can tell from my sales records where I’m selling the most books (In the past 12 months it’s been the US iBooks store). But the reason I asked this question, was so that I could tailor my newsletters a little more. If the survey responders wanted to go into the draw to win the free book, they had to leave their email address. Not all did, but of those that did, I can now run a cross check with my subscriber lists and mark down which ones prefer to buy their books on iBooks and which on Amazon or Kobo or Google Play, etc. That way, the next time I run a deal on one of those stores, I can let those people know without bothering the others.
- It would seem, however, that a lot of my subscribers get their books from the beast that is Amazon! Not really surprising.
- In the comments section, the following other options where mentioned as preferred: Booktopia, Smashwords, Vyrso, Noisetrade, Free-ebook, and some said they read paperbacks only.
Q8 – What other authors do you enjoy reading? (This not only gives me ideas on what books to check out myself, but also lets me know the other kinds of books my readers enjoy – which can assist in future marketing activities).
In total I received 84 comments on this and it was really interesting to see which authors my readers/subscribers like to read. Some mentioned that there were simply too many authors to name, some simply mentioned genres they enjoyed reading. Of those who mentioned specific authors, 242 individual authors were named – which goes to show the vast spread of reading taste! Of those 242 individual authors named, only 36 were mentioned more than once. The most popular authors were:
- Matthew Reilly’s name came up the most with 7 mentions. Go Matthew!
- Receiving 4 mentions each were: Stephen King, Stephen Baxter, Arthur C Clarke, Clive Cussler, Dan Brown and Jay Allan.
- Receiving 3 mentions each were: James Patterson, Ken Follet, Michael Connelly, Nathan M Farrugia, Tom Clancy, and Vera Nazarian.
- Receiving 2 mentions each were: Alistair Reynolds, Brandon Sanderson, C.L. Stone, C.J. Cherryh, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Drew Avera, EE Doc Smith, Elizabeth Moon, H.R. Ward, Hugh Howey, Isaac Asimov, Jim Butcher, Mark E Cooper, Neal Stephenson, Odette C Belle, Patty Jansen, Peter F Hamilton, Robert Jordan, Robin Hobb, Sarah J Maas, J. R. R. Tolkien, Traci Harding and Wilbur Smith.
Q9 – This is a space for you to leave any other comments, suggestions or feedback. This can be about my Aurora series, my upcoming book The Time of The Stripes, books/reading in general, or anything else you want to. So go for it – the floor is yours!
This question was really an opportunity for my readers/subscribers to say anything they wanted to me, and for me to learn a little bit more about them. Not everyone responded and that’s cool. Not everyone had something to say. Some said their comments were already addressed in the previous questions, some simply said things like ‘Have a nice day! Of those that did leave a comment, they could be broken down to fit into the two categories mentioned in my question – my books, and writing/books in general. So I’ve broken down the snapshot of responses below according to those categories:
My Books in Particular:
So there you have it! Hopefully you found this as interesting as I did. It’s great to see people are enjoying my books, great to hear what other authors they enjoy reading, and really interesting to read the general comments about reviews and the retail/publishing industry in general.
Who knows what we’ll find out when I run the survey again in a few years… Maybe next time I’ll actually push it and see how many responses we get!
The winner of the prize draw will be announced in my newsletter this Wednesday!