Trying to figure out what to write about for your next book, or even blog? An online survey might be just what you need to do to get feedback and insight from your ideal audience.Heidi Thorne

One mistake that authors can make when doing such a survey is to ask their prospective readers and fans, “What would you like my next book to be about?” On the surface, that sounds like you’re trying to provide what your readers want. But there are problems with this approach.

First, people may think you have no ideas, creativity, or understanding of your readers and their needs.

Plus, most readers don’t know what they want! Unless your survey question is set up as a multiple choice answer (either as a pick one answer, or check all that apply), they often won’t know how to respond. A better way to structure the question would be to ask, “Which of the following is of greatest concern to you right now?” As well, promoting the survey as an opportunity for them to share their concerns with you is a much more caring approach.

In addition to offering a multiple choice response, make sure the choices are more detailed. For example, if your topic is small business accounting, the choices could be understanding new sales tax rules, determining if you’re really making money, etc. These types of specific and detailed choices speak to a specific need that your readers have.

Another reason to offer more detailed answer options is that even your most loyal fans may not know the depth or breadth of expertise you have. Offering specific answer options also plants a seed in their brains that you are knowledgeable in these areas. So in addition to getting feedback, your survey can be a marketing tool, too.

Don’t Scare Away Your Participants

With today’s concerns over privacy, I believe going anonymous is for the best. On survey platforms such as SurveyMonkey, you can easily make your survey responses anonymous. Turn that on before you launch your survey.

Also, one thing that scares people away from participating in surveys that ask for their name or email is that they think you will constantly bother them with sales pitches afterwards. This is another reason to go anonymous with your survey. You really just want aggregated data so that you can make decisions.

What to Look for in a Survey Platform

I’ve used the very popular SurveyMonkey for all my surveys. This isn’t a sponsored endorsement! I would recommend it to anyone since it’s easy to use and has a wealth of analysis features, even on the free version. I also like that I can turn paid upgrade features on and off as my needs change. Since I do my major self publishing survey only every other year, I would hate to pay for these features every month forever.

There are other good platforms, too. So search for one that fits your needs and budget, and that helps protect your survey participants’ data.

Author Bio:

Dr. Heidi Thorne, MBA/DBA, is a nonfiction author of several books and audio books on small business and self publishing. She has been a business blogger since 2010, is host of “The Heidi Thorne Show” podcast on self publishing and small business, and was a trade newspaper editor for over 15 years. Her professional career also includes several years in advertising and sales, and teaching at the college level for five years. Her website is