Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Results of the Survey of Authors Who Have Used Subsidy Publishers

  • I created a 25-question online survey that asked authors who have published with subsidy publishers about their experiences with those publishers and about how their books turned out. I posted announcements on this blog and on fifteen author discussion groups, forums and/or websites asking authors to complete the survey.

Respondents: Who filled out the survey?

  • Sixty-two (62) authors filled out the online survey. The majority (55%) have published only one book through a subsidy company. Another 21% have published two such books, and the remaining 24% have three or more subsidy-published books. For the purposes of this survey, authors were asked to answer the questions based on only one of their subsidy-published books.

  • The authors represented a variety of subsidy publishing companies, including Authorhouse, Booklocker, Booksurge, Cold Tree Press, CreateSpace, Diggory Press, Dog Ear, iUniverse, Jorlan, Living Waters, Lulu, Morgan James, Outskirts, PageFree, Trafford, Virtual Bookworm, and Xlibris. By far the largest group (39%) published through iUniverse.

Did the authors think they got a good value for their money with subsidy publishing?

The majority of authors who responded to the survey rated the costs of publishing their book as reasonable; said they were satisfied with the layout and printing of their book; and said they were at least somewhat satisfied with the customer service they received.

  • "How would you rate the cost of the services provided by that publishing company?" The majority (58%) rated the costs as reasonable—a better than average or unusually good value. Only 16% said the costs were unreasonably high.

  • "How satisfied are you with the layout and printing of the book?" More than half (53%) said they were very satisfied, and another 26% said they were somewhat satisfied. Only 14% were somewhat or very dissatisfied.

  • "How satisfied are you with the customer service you received during the production of the book?" More than a third (36%) said they were very satisfied, and another 40% said they were somewhat satisfied. Only 15.5% were somewhat or very dissatisfied.

Did the authors get the promotion they expected to get from their subsidy publishers?

  • "Did you purchase a marketing package from your publishing company?" Very few (11%) said they did so; 89% said they did not purchase a marketing package.

  • "Would you say that the level of promotional support you received for the book met your expectations?" The majority (54.5%) said yes; nearly a third (30.9%) said no; and the remaining 14.5% said they were unsure.

How successful are the authors' subsidy-published books?

  • Copies Sold. Approximately one-fifth (19%) of the authors said that their book has sold 500 or more copies. Another fifth (19%) have sold 351-500 copies. Slightly more that two-fifths (43%) have sold 76-350 copies; and the remaining fifth (19%) have sold 75 or fewer copies. The most copies reported sold was 12,000.

  • Reviews. The majority of authors (74.1%) said their book had been reviewed at least once. One-fifth (20.5%) said their book had gotten eight or more reviews; one-fifth (20.5%) said between five and seven reviews; another 28% had gotten either three or four reviews; and the remaining 31% had gotten one or two reviews. The vast majority (87.2%) said that all their reviews resulted from their own efforts rather than the efforts of their publishing company. When the authors asked reviewers to review their books, more than a third of them (38.5%) got reviews from half or more of the reviewers they asked. About a quarter (23.1%) got reviews from fewer than 10% of the reviewers they asked.

  • Bookstores. More than half (56.6%) of the authors said they have been able to get bricks-and-mortar bookstores to carry their book. However, most had their books carried by only a few bookstores.

  • Profits. If making a profit or even recovering the publishing costs is used as a measure of success, the picture is not good. Fewer than half of the authors have recovered their costs and only 22% have made a profit.

Would they subsidy-publish again or recommend it to other authors?


  • The authors have mixed feelings about whether they would use the subsidy publisher they used for this book to publish another book—43% said they would; 22% said it depends; and 35% said they would not.

  • When asked whether they would recommend this publisher to another author, responses were again mixed—46% said yes; 33% said it depends; and 20% said no.

Conclusions. The authors who responded to this survey paint neither a rosy nor an ugly picture of subsidy publishing. While many were dissatisfied with some aspects of their experience, overall more were satisfied than dissatisfied. The majority thought the costs were reasonable, were satisfied with the layout and printing of their book, and with the customer service they received. The majority also said that the level of promotional support they received from the publishing company met their expectations. The majority did get their book reviewed and were able to get it into a bricks-and-mortar bookstore. However, the majority have sold 200 or fewer copies of their book, and fewer than half have recovered their costs.Although a few authors' comments indicated that they were naïve going in to the process, this survey does not support the belief that most unwittingly sign on with predatory companies and later regret their choices. Overall, they appear to have a realistic, if mixed, view of subsidy publishing. Only about a third of the authors said they definitely would not use the same subsidy publisher again, and only a fifth said they would definitely not recommend the company to another author. The authors who responded to this survey seem to see this method of publishing as a more complex and varied option than its critics describe.


  1. What a fascinating bit of hard work.. thank you! I am one of those who is shopping for a subsidy publisher as I have my own requirements for the historical novel I am close to done with. You answered a number of my questions, and ultimately encouraged me greatly.

  2. It is interesting, despite the fact that the source of the responses will be other than representative of the group as a whole.Some questions:--Did you include any questions to determine whether they were aware of POD printing options, and how those options compare to the so-called POD publishers?--Among those who did know about the alternatives, were the results different than among those who don't know about the alternatives?--How were reviews and reviewers defined? Did any of them get reviews in the majors? (NYT, USA Today, NYRB, PW, LJ, Kirkus, . . .)As you know, even among self-publishers, there's a tendency to see the subsidy publishing route as the choice of the uninformed or for those whose books are unlikely to sell even modest quantities. It's good of you to investigate the levels of customer satisfaction among those who have tried it.

  3. Wow! Seems authors should definitely be investing in a marketing package. I wish I had. Thanks for the survey and for posting the results.

  4. This is obviously one great post. Thanks for the valuable information and insights you have so provided here. Keep it up!

  5. Marion,Of course you are right that the survey is not representative of the entire population of authors who have used subsidy publishers. But I don't know of any way to get a list from which I could draw a random sample of authors I could reach with a survey. In my years as a researcher, I have come to the position that some information is better than none, as long as you recognize its limitations.I did not ask authors whether they were aware of alternatives. It's a good question -- maybe for another survey.If you'd like to download a more complete report that gives response breakdowns, some author comments, and the exact wording of the question about reviews, etc., go to and click on the yellow box.