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A YouGov survey shows that 60% of British men an women would like to become an author. 81% of Americans feel they have a book in them.

But how many people do actually set out to write a novel?


Replies to comments

@Jay In the context of my question, "set out to write" means that they begin to write it. The number I'm after includes those that eventually give up, as well as those that manage to publish their novel.

@MarkBaker: I'm not after professionals here. I'm trying to understand the situation of aspiring writers.

The percentage of the population that attempts to write a novel directly reflects how desirable writing as a profession appears to the general public, compared to other professions.

@ggiaquin Any numbers would be helpful at all. Of course there are cultural differences, but given the scarcity of data, numbers from all over the world are relevant for a first impression.

If the scope of this question must be regionally limited, I am mostly interested in the Western world. There is a lot of cross publishing among countries of Europe and the Americas, there are many cultural similarities, and there should be some similarity among aspiring writers, too. Also, those are the countries where most of our users come from, so that is where we will have most information.

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    I like Stephen King's distinction, on a live talk show he was asked what he tells people that want to write. He said, "Then write." Then basically that most people that say it do not want to write, but to have written. They want to be famous, or rich, or making the rounds of TV talk shows for their book tour. But a person that truly wants to write can do it for nearly nothing, and if they read and work they will eventually get good at it and start selling. While if they only want to have written they will likely never put in the many years it takes to get good enough to sell. – Amadeus Dec 3 '17 at 18:35
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    Sry, this is no place for surveys. – Mephistopheles Dec 3 '17 at 18:52
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    @ggiaquin It is not a survey or poll question. It is asking for a piece of data -- a number. There are issues with defining the parameters of that data, and one could question its relevance, but there may be measures and some users may be aware of them and be able to respond. – Mark Baker Dec 3 '17 at 19:51
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    There's a big difference between, "I'd like to write a book some day" and actually putting words on paper. And there's a big difference between starting a book and finishing a book. And there's a big difference between finishing a book and publishing a book. If you asked, "Would you like to be president (or prime minister or whatever)?", I'm sure a lot of people would say yes who have never done a thing to get involved in politics. Similarly if you asked, "would you like to travel around the world?", "would you like to be an olympic athlete?", or dozens of other such questions. – Jay Dec 4 '17 at 20:04
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    "aspiring" is not a useful category here. I have aspired to all sorts of things, and have the disused equipment (art supplies, instruments, etc) in my closets to prove it. I'm pretty sure every little boy and healthy number of little girls at one point aspired to be a fireman. I suspect that everyone who reads aspires to be a writer for at least ten minutes. You need a measurable standard of commitment to make this meaningful. – Mark Baker Dec 5 '17 at 22:24
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I know you are looking for data, but based on your edit I will say, don't worry about the numbers, or how many are trying out for the job. Does it change the way you interview if you know you are the only one vs 1 of 100? Hopefully not if you want to get hired because nothing says it has to be you guaranteed or from the 100. They could still choose to wait.

You know that most people fail for various of reasons. Some get derailed by life, others lose interest in their own story, but again that really has no relevance to you making the best story you can! Whether you are book #1 of 2000 submissions or of 10, either way, there is still a vetting process to go through. Many people choose to self-publish because they don't want to wait (it could take months/years) or they get declined and still want to publish anyways.

The state of writing as a profession is no doubt a rough path. Many people set to write full time and earn enough to actually be able to write full time but not many actually achieve that. It's very competitive and again why many choose to self-publish as it provides the best path to getting published.

In the end, good books will rise up from the bad. I can't think of any book that has been a huge hit and also self-published, but this may also be because a publisher approached them and they took over the book.

Sorry I don't have any specific numbers, but I wanted to address a few things you brought up in your edit. Bottom line is to just write! Write your best you can! Once you have a book actually finished and edited, then worry about competition. Until then, you can't compete if you have no product ;).

  • I really just want that number. – Walter Fenn Dec 5 '17 at 9:23
  • @WalterFenn I don't think you will actually get a number. Lots of people will admit to wanting to write as you quoted 81% feel they have a story to share. Of them, you are looking at probably at most 50-60% will begin to write. However, not many people will admit to actually starting the writing process. That is usually followed by the "let me read it!" as many writers here are even too nervous to share their own work. So you will never get an honest answer as even some may lie and say they are when they actually are not. – ggiaquin16 Dec 5 '17 at 20:47
  • I know from my circle of friends, several have stated they wanted to, of them, only a couple actually started but none of them have actually finished. I also know some others who claim they write for a living, though they have never been published and mostly write roleplay. Not sure why you really really need that number unless it's some sort of essay/report but there are too many variables to discern truth from lies and it would be a statistic that should be taken lightly. – ggiaquin16 Dec 5 '17 at 20:51
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    You know that 81% of Americans want to write or feel they can write a book, so you know that it can't be anything greater than that who actually do. Logic states that you won't have 100% of that 81% actually start to write and would be closer to half +- some deviation. I have tried to look around for you but found no statistics outside what you quoted in OP so you will need to probably form your own survey or use other data to derive a conclusion. – ggiaquin16 Dec 5 '17 at 20:54
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I'm a little confused, maybe because I skimmed over the question. Are you looking for a poll, like a raise of hands from members of SE writing a novel currently?

Asking in a writers forum, may give you a limited sample size, but still might be interesting if it falls within the rules. I'm still new here so I may be a poor one to answer.

Anyways that said, I've been working on a story for most of my life, but like most of my hobbies I work in spurts. I will focus one at a time until I grow bored, then put it aside and work on another hobby to develop it until the challenge wears off, I get bored, and I cycle back to a hobby and the skills I long to develop. Writing is one of the hobbies I'm most passionate with, but is also the weakest of my skills, in my self reflective opinion. Some day I hope to complete a novel and have it published, but I have a long way to go and my tendency to switch off to other hobbies can get in the way.

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