The answer to this question came as a surprise. Our expectation for the number of writers who had reached the publishing stage — traditional or self-published — was far lower. We were expecting a figure under 20%. The answer was a whopping 53%.
More light might have been shed here if we’d broken the answers down into traditionally published and self-published but in spite of this the figure is a strong indicator that there are more professional, published authors out there than expected. An assumption could also be made that many of those who answered “No” will have finished a novel or at the very least finished a first draft of a novel even though they have yet to be published. This would increase the proportion of writers surveyed who had completed a novel — an important piece of information when designing software for writers.
Coming after the answer to question 1 this was less of a surprise but it does demonstrate how consistent and long term the writing ambitions of so many writers are. PageFour, our first software application for writers, was released in 2005. Many of the respondents to this survey began using our software years ago and here they are, still working on novels and short stories in 2017.
When we began putting this survey together, we were expecting a number of writers to have abandoned the craft and moved on to other things as success failed to materialise or novels failed to be completed. That still may be the case as a survey such as this is likely to be more attractive to writers who are still actively working on a novel.
For many, genre is a dirty word. Writing is writing and it shouldn’t matter which subject matter a writer tends to favour. However, a fair proportion of writers identify themselves by the genre or genres they write in, many going so far as to use different pseudonyms for different genres. The naming / terminology used for the above genres is not our own — it is how the writers who completed the survey identify their own genre. This includes the word “literary” — often controversial.
What’s immediately obvious is the dominance of certain genres. Science Fiction and Fantasy combined are written by over 34% of writers, while Romance — a genre that has seen huge growth since eBooks have become common — comes in a distant second at only 8%.
This surprised us as a very large proportion of SmartEdit users write Romance and based on the sales figures and popularity of the genre we were expecting it to come out on top. Other genres mentioned were as follows:
|Regular old fiction||2.6%|
[Genres that fell below 1% include: Biography, Police Procedural, Religious, Poetry, Western, Speculative Fiction, Women's Fiction, Military, Medical, Political, Chick Lit, Erotica, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Inspirational, Animal Stories, Slipstream, IT, Flash Fiction, and a story about 4 horse riders making a 3 week trail.]
Of all the questions asked in this survey, we consider this to be the most important for software developers like ourselves as we strive to build better products for writers. When PageFour was first built way back in 2005, much of the world was still struggling with dial up connections — broadband was making inroads but only slowly and storing personal data on the cloud was not even an idea. Almost everyone worked on a single PC or Mac and working on multiple devices was for pure techies.
We were expecting that a large majority of writers would be working on a single lap-top and that maybe 10% or so would be syncing across a second device — possibly a desktop / lap-top combination.
Yet 44% of respondents say they work regularly on their novel on more than one device. In a few years that figure could rise to 70% or even 80%. What then for single-platform software or software that does not automatically sync data with a central cloud repository?
Microsoft Word is cross-platform, comes with apps for iOS and Android and syncs with your own OneDrive account. Multi-platform, multi-device — everything a modern writer needs apart from the fact that it’s Word and not software designed for creative writers. Scrivener — the market leader for creative writing software — has Mac and Windows versions as well as an iOS app, but it does not store your novel in one location and it does not keep your novel in sync across devices — for this it relies on the user to configure and use Dropbox accounts separately — and carefully.
Our own new software, Atomic Scribbler, specifically warns against working on a project from within a cloud folder, as corruption of the project can happen easily in such an environment.
Food for thought here to be sure. The biggest stumbling block we see with building cross-platform software for writers that fully utilises central cloud storage is marrying the reluctance of consumers (writers) to pay a monthly or yearly fee for their software with the necessity of such recurring fees for the development of the cloud based software they seem to want.
|Plain text editor||3|
The following apps were mentioned once:
4thewords, Byword, CP/M Perfect Writer for Kaypro, Dabble, Emacs, Grammarly, Liquid Story Binder, Manuskript, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Movie Outline, My Notes Center, Notepad, NoteTab Pro, Novlr, OneNote, Power Structure, QuarkXPress, Quicknote, Right Note, Scrivener for iOS, Serif PagePlus, The Journal, Toodledo, Typora, Ulysses, VIM, WhizFolders, WriteItNow, Yeah Write
This is a hugely important question and the results throw up some surprises. The intention here was to learn which software was in use by writers, not which they preferred. To allow for this, multiple choices were permitted and an option existed to enter software not present in the prepared list.
The biggest surprise here was the dominance of Microsoft Word. Bear in mind that each one of the respondents had at some time purchased dedicated software for writers, which in theory should have made Word unnecessary. This did not happen. Whether they purchased one of our software packages, Scrivener, or something else, Microsoft Word is still used regularly by 58% of writers.
Looking at the caveats made by most writing software packages, you begin to understand why. Most claim to be for first draft writing, meaning they expect the final manuscript preparation to be carried out by something else (shorthand for Microsoft Word), while the day to day writing is performed inside their software. Our own products (Atomic Scribbler and PageFour) have the same caveats attached as does Scrivener.
But why is this?
The reality is that first draft writing involves little more than a basic text editor, with a few common formatting options — easy enough to build into your dedicated writing software by a small development team. Delivering a polished manuscript often involves emailing copies to editors, tracking changes, leaving comments inside the document and producing a Microsoft Word file at the end that will look the same when it is opened by someone else in Word. The complexity of each of these steps and the many more not mentioned add hugely to the resources and time required to build the software. This leaves a gap at the end of the novel writing process that most writers feel is still best filled by Word.
In terms of non-Microsoft software the field is dominated by Scrivener but beyond that — as the Other Software list shows — a multitude of software applications are in use by writers, many of which we have never heard of.
A point worth highlighting is the 11% of respondents who use Google Docs on a regular basis. This, coupled with the results of the previous question on multi-device use re-enforces the emerging dominance of cross-platform and web based writing environments.
The presence of PageFour in the above list and the frequency with which Atomic Scribbler appears in the expanded Something else list should be discounted, as both are products developed by ourselves. The writers who received this survey were predisposed to be using one of these products.
A number of writers are hesitant to study creative writing, seeing it as an art that should not require outside teaching or mentoring. What they often forget is that in every other art form (painting, sculpting, music, etc.) it is normal and even expected that beginners will learn the basics of their art in a college setting or from an expert. Why should novel writing be any different?
We had no expectations regarding this question. The results suggest that not all writers are so hesitant to study their craft and that maybe this is not such a bad thing.
The reason this question was asked was to determine how viable it might be to approach schools and colleges who teach creative writing. A marketing and sales pitch basically, pushing Atomic Scribbler and SmartEdit. If the “Yes” answer here is indicative of the wider writing community then this seems like a strong prospect.
Online communities frequented by fewer than 10 respondents include:
Romance Writers of America, Tumblr, Blogs, Writing.com, 20booksto50k, The Creative Penn, 3day Novel, 4thewords, Alli, American Christian Fiction Writers, Archive of Our Own, AWAI, Career Authors, Christian Writers, Critique Circle, Dirty Discourse, e-stories.de, Friday Fictioneers, Jeff Goins, Jerry Jenkins guild, KidLit, LDStorymakers, Literature and Latte, Original Writers Group, Poetry.com, Romance Divas, Savvy Authors, Sci-Fi Bridge, Scribner, Sell More Books Show, SFF Online Writing Workshop , SFWA, Sisters in Crime, Society of Medical Writers, The Kill Zone, Wattpad, Women Fiction Writer's Association, Writer Unboxed, Writer's Digest, Writers Village University, Writing.ie, Writing Academy
We keep a close eye on r/writing and The Passive Voice blog. It’s a quick and easy way to keep up to date with the writing world and ensures we’re aware of any new software coming out, any changes to the Kindle platform, any disagreements that pop up between writers and publishers and such.
r/Writing has 340,000 members — a huge number. We expected Reddit to dominate the answers to this question but that was our own bias talking.
It turns out that private Facebook Groups are the most popular form of online community in use by writers. It’s not surprising that anyone not using these communities could miss their existence, as they are often inaccessible to non-members. Communities such as r/Writing and Absolute Write have their following but they’re very public. Every thought voiced is there to be read by anyone and is there forever. There’s little scope for private discussion — something that many writers are looking for in their online as well as offline communities.
Beyond Facebook, the Kindle Boards Writers Café is the most popular community. Writers who congregate and share here tend to be published authors. They post under their real names or published pseudonyms.
Beyond these key communities, respondents answered with a host of varied websites. Coupled with the popularity of Facebook groups, the conclusion we draw from this is that smaller communities are collectively far more popular then the larger websites despite what media coverage might suggest. Sites such as r/Writing are not as significant as you might think and they do not provide the access to writing professionals that their numbers might suggest.
This re-enforces an opinion we’ve had of Reddit for some time based on the occasions when some of our own products receive a mention in submissions and comments. Traffic referrals tend to be extremely light and visitors from Reddit rarely venture beyond a quick five second look at the home page of our product websites while browsing on their Smart Phone. This contrasts with Facebook traffic which often leads to downloads and sales of one product or another.
Interviews with emerging writers and media coverage of writing in general often touch on the importance of writing groups for individual writers. The results of this question do not seem to support this view, with almost 80% saying they are not part of an offline writing group.
It’s quite possible, based on the answer to the previous question about online writing communities, that more writers are frequenting online groups these days, reducing the need for local, offline groups.
If you’re one of the 15% who had no idea what this question was about, a plotter is a writer who plans things out beforehand (plots, sub plots, characters, timelines, etc.), while a pantser is a writer who “Flies by the seat of their pants.” No outlines for the pantser! Writers who identify as belonging to either of these camps can get a bit heated in discussions with their opposite number — a little like Mac versus PC discussions amongst die-hard fans.
As software developers designing software for writers, the proportion of writers who identify themselves as belonging to these two categories is important, as it affects which features get added to a product and how much prominence is given to those features. For example, many of the features added to Atomic Scribbler and other writing products are there for the plotters — areas to store research materials, images, website links; sections for character definitions and plot outlines; the ever-popular cork-board in Scrivener. Writers who do not plan — who sit down in front of a blank document and start writing — have no use for such functionality.
From our perspective, the important figure here is the 18% who identify as “Pantsers.” This is small enough to reassure us that adding these special features for writers that help them to plan their work is valuable to the majority of writers. While the 18% can still use dedicated writing software with these extra features, they would probably be just as happy using Microsoft Word from start to finish.
Not an important question. It was included more out of curiosity than anything else. Many of the writers who use SmartEdit are women and we were curious to see if that female dominance spread across the writing community as a whole. The 55% / 41% split highlights a wide gap but we have no conclusion to draw from that.
Multi-device use for novel writing is growing and will continue to grow. This means that before too long all commercial writing software will have to be cross-platform and use the cloud for storage. That software will probably also need either associated apps for iOS and Android or a browser based app that will run on any device. For this to work effectively writers will no longer be able to buy single purchase software such as Atomic Scribbler or Scrivener. They will have no choice but to pay yearly fees as many already do for Office 365 and Ulysses. There is simply no way around this.
Working on a novel across multiple devices means single-platform software will be insufficient and cloud storage rather than local storage will be required. This adds a regular, ongoing cost to development, maintenance and deliverability that can only be met by a recurring fee. Single-platform, one-time-purchase software will be unsustainable in a world where most writers want the flexibility of the cloud — something they didn’t want five years ago.
Writers don’t seem to have accepted this yet but we see it as unavoidable.
Microsoft Word has not been replaced and is unlikely to be replaced in the near future. None of the dedicated software products on the market for novel writers handle final manuscript preparation well enough for publication, not even Scrivener. Smaller software packages will likely continue to support the early and editing stages of writing while leaving the final manuscript preparation to Microsoft Word. A few conclusions are as follows:
There is no single, dominant online community for writers. Even popular online communities such as r/writing, which boasts 340,000 users, are only frequented by a tiny proportion of writers. Smaller Facebook groups collectively boast far greater numbers of users, probably due to their more intimate size and tighter focus in niche areas. As developers of software solutions for writers, this makes marketing new products far more difficult. There is no silver bullet when it comes to advertising or media mentions and exposure. The best we can aim for is to do everything we can to ensure writers want to talk about and recommend our products in their online and offline communities
Finally, novel writers need extra features in their software for planning, research, world building, timelines, character sketches, etc. Less than 20% of writers identify themselves as “Pansters” or “seat of their pants” writers. Most choose to plan out their work before and during the writing process — at least some of the time. This strengthens the general case in favour of dedicated software for novel and short story writing as none of this functionality will ever be a part of more general-purpose writing software such as Word.
Two primary biases should be noted when examining the results of this survey.
Firstly, all respondents are writers who had already purchased dedicated software for creative writers. This suggests that they are technically aware and comfortable exploring new technologies.
Secondly, all of the respondents had at one time purchased one of our products for writers (Atomic Scribbler, SmartEdit and PageFour), leading to these products having a greater prominence in the answers to the software question than they might have if a random sample of writers had been taken. The reality is that none of these products are yet market leaders in their field, despite what this survey might suggest.
Prizes were offered to random respondents as an incentive to complete the survey. The winners are listed here.
If you’ve read this far, congratulations. The attention span of most readers these days rarely runs to a 3,500 word post. Please feel free to share a link to this page on Facebook, Twitter or on your own website or blog. Our conclusions are our own, and we don’t expect everyone to agree with them. If you’d like to raise a point or discuss any of the conclusions further, you can do so on the Atomic Scribbler forum