Customer Satisfaction in Self-Publishing
How much is it worth?
Self-publishing a book is a serious business.
Seeking paid outside help is now a common practice among independent authors. To date, it has proven to be effective in terms of boosting a book’s quality and its chances of increasing sales—a fact further confirmed by author Catherin Ryan-Howard on her blog post “Wait Until You Hear THIS! The Taleist Self-Publishing Survey,”in which she wrote:
Who are the top earners and how do they do it?
“Does spending money make money?
In a word, yes. This was the most interesting part of the survey [Taleist’s] results for me—and of course it’s confirmation of what I’ve been saying all along, which is that every self- publisher needs to hire professional help, especially in areas such as cover design and copy editing/proofreading. But now here is proof that in doing so, you not only help the self- publishing side as a whole, but you actually help yourself as well, because you’ll sell more books and so earn more money from them.”
According to the Taleist survey, independent authors who invested in their book covers by hiring professional artists earned 18% more than the authors who made the covers themselves. Authors who hired professional editors for editing, copy editing, and/or proofreading received an average of 13% more earnings. Meanwhile, authors who paid for ebook formatting only have an average of 1% advantage than other authors who did not do the same.
Unfortunately, despite a number of authors who have successfully published their works with the help of author services firms, publishing services providers in general are still looked at with distrust and cynicism (a few large firms created a notorious reputation over the years, tainting the entire industry), mostly by unhappy authors who believe that they [authors] were either not able to get their money’s worth or had been completely robbed of it.
Since keeping customers happy is a fundamental rule in running a business, author services firms try to be on top of their game to gain the trust and confidence of their customers. But with so many firms competing for attention, another challenge for authors is to determine which one is the perfect partner to help them on their publishing quest.
Early in 2013, Publishing Research Group (PRG) conducted a survey of 600(?) self-publishing authors, gauging author satisfaction in three areas. In addition to the survey results (more than twenty author services firms were cited), PRG also published the author satisfaction ratings of specifically eight firms (Accurance, AuthorHouse, CreateSpace, iUniverse, Lulu, Publish America, Trafford, and Xlibris). The survey result that came out in September revealed some surprising—and some not so surprising—information.
Experience teaches that not everything that glitters is gold.
Even with the inclusion of Author Solutions’ major imprints (AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, and Xlibris) in the lineup, the outcome unexpectedly did not go in their favor, with them almost always in the bottom four. At the top of the heap, Amazon’s CreateSpace and publisher services firm Accurance consistently snagged the top two spots on a number of measures. On the other hand, Author Solutions’ firms almost perfectly grabbed all four of the bottom-of-the-barrel spots (11 out of the 12 lowest scores).
The three areas the survey focused on are:
1. Overall Satisfaction
2. Customer Service Satisfaction
3. End-Product Satisfaction
High client satisfaction serves as a form of guarantee for those who are contemplating doing business with any company. On the other hand, the survey clearly shows that marketability need not be related to actual performance. In fact, considering that Author Solutions’ firms market themselves better than any other around, one could extend the argument that the best self-promoting firms are the worst performing ones. Certainly, this survey emphatically shows the latter half of that statement to be the case.
There also exists a pervading yet misleading consumer mind-set: the more expensive a product, the better. However, this is proven false by the survey. While authors naturally learn from bad experiences and become even more careful in choosing their new partner firms—those with good customer satisfaction ratings—they also learn that high price is not always an indication of high quality services. As the PRG survey discussion section states:
“The more experience an author gets, the more they learn to avoid the firms that have given them problems, and engage the firms that have the higher satisfaction ratings. Those firms [CreateSpace and Accurance] also happen to be among the least expensive of the firms featured in this survey.”
CreateSpace has been making a name for itself as one of the leading self-publishing and distribution firms. Accurance, although lesser known, is actually the older of the two firms. For most of the last fifteen years, this company worked as a provider to publishers in the author self-publishing industry before “going retail” with authors. Services specifically designed for authors are now done under Publish Wholesale (PW). On the press announcement of Publish Wholesale’s launch, Jon Fitch, president of Accurance and founder of PW, shared the reasons behind the expansion and why they can afford to offer lower-priced packages without sacrificing the product’s quality:
“We have long been focused on publishers as our main client, but the more we looked at the experienced authors, the more we realized their potential for us and our potential for them. We can afford to give our economies of scale in particular to prolific self publishing authors, at a pricing no other publishing services firm worldwide can afford, as they are not so different from our smallest publisher clients.”
Bridging the gap between authors and author services companies by understanding client satisfaction and publishing as a business.
Another prevailing trend that the survey reveals is how authors lose trust in their partner firms and decide to switch to a new one. The result states the top four reasons:
1. Unsatisfactory book sales
2. Poor client service
3. High cost
4. Low quality products and services
While the second through fourth reasons cited are matters that self-publishers/author services companies can be held responsible for, the first one is a factor over which a firm has only partial control. As stated in our article about the difference between distribution and promotion, author services firms can only offer promotion, and promotion can only give a book exposure. The decision to buy is then a result of the management of the relationship the author forms with his or her audience, and of course, the quality of the book itself and the reviews that quality produces.
Authors’ trust and confidence in a publisher/author services firm is not and should not be based on keeping the authors happy by doing everything they want, but on helping them understand the things that would work for the mutual benefits of the parties involved—the authors, the publishing firm, and the readers. The survey results clearly indicate that author experience contributes to an author’s satisfaction with his or her chosen publisher. The corollary to this is that if “an experienced and knowledgeable author is a happy author,” then it is the responsibility of the publisher to help the author become knowledgeable as this leads to picking the right publisher. As the PRG survey writer states:
“In order to minimize an author client’s frustration, there is no substitute for educating the author, helping him or her move along at the fastest rate possible towards experience and knowledge, because that more learned and experienced author tends to stay more and more with their publisher – which means repeat business. The ‘sell them their dreams and run’ tactic not only poisons author perception of the author services world in general, but it also vastly reduces a particular publisher’s chance for repeat business, and there is no author that is more profitable for a publisher like one that is already a client.”
The other side of the same coin.
While self-publishing/author services firms are the usual go-to spots for authors who want to self-publish, there are also freelance professionals whom some self-publishing authors seek to help prepare their books for publishing.
BiblioCrunch founder and CEO Mila Sattar wrote an article (“The Real Costs of Self-Publishing a Book”) in which she put a breakdown of estimated costs per service when hiring individual professionals to help with the manuscript preparations, such as editing, cover design, formatting (print and digital), etc., as well as distribution and marketing.
The prices range from two-figure hourly rates to as high as five-figure payments, depending on the service, the manuscript, and the experience of the professional hired. One, however, can also get help for free, but this is only if he or she knows someone who would be willing to work on his or her manuscript without pay. Regardless of the payment and whether the manuscript is entrusted to a freelance professional or a self-publishing company, there would still be authors who would end up satisfied or disappointed with either one aspect of the self-publishing process or the overall experience.
Experience, in the end, would still be the best teacher. Self-publishing is neither like winning a lottery nor striking it rich in a gold mine; it is more like starting a business. The PRG survey’s discussion section speaks to this:
“Self-publishing one’s own manuscripts is no different; it is in fact starting one’s own business. It is a race, one’s learning curve pitted against one’s shrinking wallet. Publishing one’s own book is a big enough learning curve in and of itself. When one begins to look at how to get attention, how to get an audience, how to get book sales, it is exponentially more a mystery and a challenge to learn.
“This is why it is so important, for both authors and publishers, to understand the underlying truth and opportunity of the fact that the more experienced authors in this survey are in fact also more satisfied with their publishers.”
Publish Wholesale is a publishing services firm dedicated to help independent authors by not only offering prepress and promotion services but also by providing them with significant information about self-publishing and publishing industry in general.
Ryan Howard, Catherine.“Wait Until You Hear THIS! The Taleist Publishing Survey.” catherineryanhoward.com, May 24, 2013. http://catherineryanhoward.com/2012/05/24/wait-until-you-hear-this-the-taleist-self-publishing-survey/
PRWeb. “Accurance, CreateSpace Rank Highest for Author Satisfaction; Author Solutions Lowest in a Survey by Publishing Research Group.” October 23, 2010. Accessed November 29, 2013.
Sattar, Mila. “The Real Cost of Self-Publishing a Book.” www.pbs.org, May 15, 2013.http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2013/05/the-real-costs-of- self-publishing-book/
Publishing Research Group. “Survey Series: Self-Published Authors, Survey 1 of 4.” pubresearchgroup.org, September 2, 2013. http://pubresearchgroup.org/
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