I received this letter from one of our authors recently. I didn’t change a word (although I did insert the links). It’s long, but there’s a lot of informative stuff in here for authors considering their self-publishing options.
Mr. Brent Sampson
Chief Executive officer
10940 South Parker Road, 515
Parker, CO 80134
Dear Mr. Sampson,
Last week, I sent Anna Ely my approval of the final revisions for my novel, Prayers of God [232894A]. I appreciate very much the help and good counsel that I received from Anna, Jamie Belt and especially Brie Curtis. I want to mention them early in this long letter because their assistance directly created the warm feelings that I have for Outskirts Press. As their boss, you need to know how splendid they have been for me, and I hope my saying so will benefit them in whatever internal processes you have for rewarding competence and empathy that went well beyond my expectations.
I think, by the conclusion of this letter, that you will understand more of why I feel that way. A little backstory. I’m 71 this year. After starting out as a reporter and columnist for my hometown paper (in Roanoke, Va.), I lived in New York City for 34 years, working primarily as a staff editor for a maritime union publication (eight years); Colonial Homes (12 years), a Hearst home shelter magazine; and American Shipper (11 years), an international shipping and logistics magazine. I also edited a journal for the American Montessori Society for 16 years, as well as doing regular freelancing for other employers. I’ve taught writing workshops for NYU’s School of Continuing Education and lectured about logistics for both military and civilian college classes. I edited an anthology of essays by Marya Mannes, a pioneering media commentator, published by a former Doubleday editor under his own imprint, and had rapport with two literary agents, Jay Garon (who launched John Grisham) and John Hawkins (who worked closely with Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oates and Gail Godwin). Both men are sadly gone – I learned much from them.
In 2001, American Shipper’s New York office was in the World Trade Center. I was nearly killed by falling concrete, a life-altering event described in Prayers of God.
In 2006, I retired to live near Ithaca, N.Y., to be closer to my grandkids. I have always been a cynic, snark-mouthed and foul-witted, keeping well clear of churches, ministers and (especially) priests. So it came as a huge shock to find myself writing a novel about what might drive a deity to pray, why and how. It started with short stories that grew into each other and then became a coherent if broad tapestry. In the summer of 2011, an old mutual friend persuaded a well-known Cornell professor of comparative literature, William Kennedy, to read Prayers of God in manuscript. I had (and have) no connection to Cornell, and had never met Kennedy, who ranks with Harold Bloom in the upper strata of literary appraisers. Kennedy really liked my work, saying that it was as good as anything he taught, and told me what he has permitted, using his name, to be printed on the back cover of Prayers of God.
Professor Kennedy’s reaction shook me to the bone. If the manuscript is that good, I thought, then I must really go to work on it. Twenty months later, I reached the point of knowing I’d done all that I could.
There were three serious hurdles ahead. According to sources within major-house publishing, editors and agents play a very neat game. The former, as a rule, read no transom submissions, while the latter are not taking on new clients. That’s a convenient closed circle that can be penetrated, but not easily. Even well-known authors have trouble placing new work.
The second hurdle was the fact no agent or editor, despite Kennedy’s appraisal, was likely to scroll down the 109,000 words of Prayers of God on a computer screen.
This is a book you must have in your hands to appreciate its intent. Given the hermetic circle cited above, even a bound manuscript ($50 from Staples) would likely be tossed at the door.
A third problem would be the reception awaiting my novel if it were actually accepted in manuscript form by a major publisher. There’s a lot of satire that stings, very black humor, and enough sex to vex prudes on patrol. I would be urged, probably required, to soften if not mute the text.
If you doubt me, I recommend a new book, Hothouse, by Boris Kachka, about the goings-on inside Farrar, Straus & Geroux since that firm’s founding. This is one of the few tell-all accounts of the American publishing world, printed – interestingly enough – by Simon & Schuster. I can think of no other book on that subject in which the dust jacket copy refers to S.I. Newhouse as “that dwarf” and agent Andrew Wylie as “that shit.” Although there are delectable tales within, such as Maurice Sendak sending Roger Straus a Christmas drawing of Snow White about to be ravished by her seven helpers, the general content of Hothouse would drive any sane writer to consider self-publishing.
That is what I did last May. I researched six self-publishing companies online. When I came to Outskirts, I began by reading all of the unfavorable comments about your company that popped up on Google. The more I read, the more I liked Outskirts, since the complaints and such were clearly made by people who had unrealistic expectations. Whatever alleged lapses they were barking about seemed to me quite reasonable behavior on Outskirts’s part. So, I rang up and was put through to Jamie Belt. In our first talks and then subsequent e-mails, I began to think that I was in a kind of publishing Brigadoon. There was no arrogance, no bluster, just straightforward information. I picked your Sapphire option, figuring that if I didn’t like the result, I wouldn’t be that much out-of-pocket. I had decided by then that the only hope for Prayers of God was for it to appear first in a precursory paperback edition, which could then be sent as bait to selected editors, agents and sources of writing grants. I knew that critical and merciless eyes would be reading it, and that even small flaws would have the effect of gravel in a sandwich.
Given some of its content, I was very happy when Outskirts agreed to print Prayers of God, but (unsurprisingly) required that I accept your private-label terms. For my publishing company’s name, I picked that of an outfit called ‘Omniscient Neutral Intelligence’ in the book. (It looks marvelous on the cover – I expect NSA contracts forthwith.) Professor Kennedy, who remains a fierce partisan, doubled-down on his previous comment, even insisting – when my serious marketing starts in January – that I use his Cornell e-mail should anyone want to contact him. The only major qualm I had was what the book would actually look like. Brie Curtis helped me with the cover options. She was remarkably intuitive in guiding me toward what might work best within my budget constraints. I chose a black military-style script appearing on a pure white background. Seeing that on the galley screen gave a real jolt, love at first sight. Although extraterrestrials (who may be angels) play a part in the text, I was pleased to see that the tag at the top of the back cover read FICTION / Christian / Classic & Allegory. Prayers of God really isn’t science fiction per se.
The back-cover copy went as follows:
WOULD EMPATHY FOR HUMANS EVER COMPEL GOD TO PRAY?
IF SO, TO WHOM AND FOR WHAT?
In almost every religion sustained by fear-mongering, shamans dissuade their faithful sheep from contemplating the countenance of whatever deity they worship, citing abiding damnation as a well-deserved punishment for anyone who is reckless enough to do so. Exodus 33:20-23 suggests an alternative, albeit one that divinity students are advised never to quote publicly. The Hebrews’ Lord tells Moses that “while my glory passeth by, I will cover thee with my hand. And I will take away my hand and thou shall see my back parts, but my face shall not be seen.” Yet all caveats about viewing either end of a divine construct seem one-sided. Who warns God about looking too closely at humankind? This novel, a mosaic tapestry in which timelines and genres interweave, suggests how a modern-era deity would cope with the trauma surely induced by such exposure. According to its author, Prayers of God developed from “an odd trinity of catalysts: Rabelais, Martin Luther and Wikipedia.”
“Terrific, superbly paced, pitch-perfect, wonderful in so many ways.”
- William John Kennedy, professor of comparative literature, Cornell
Despite Brie Curtis’s assurances (well-founded, as it turned out), I remained concerned about how the proofs would look. There were traps a-plenty awaiting any designer setting my pages. Prayers of God is a mix of prose, scenes from a play, scenes from a screenplay, free-standing scripts of dialogue, and counterpoint called ‘antiphons.’ I had indicated in the text files what had to be in boldface or italic type. Much was not optional. One character speaks entirely in italic, another all in capital letters. Stylistically, it could have been a shambles.
Except that it wasn’t. The galley pages surpassed what I had hoped for. The chosen typeface was easy on the eye and yet not clinical-appearing. Brie Curtis’s design team had made all of the right aesthetic choices. The overall format of the text was absolutely on target. (The eventual look of the published book is stunningly effective. A friend who had brought her copy to read while waiting for a medical appointment had it yanked out of her hand by her doctor, who demanded to know what it was.)
What happened next was basically my doing, since I had not taken Outskirts’s editing option. I had sent the text in two Word files. For reasons that Outskirts could not be blamed for, there were numerous line drops and a slew of typos. There were 94 edits before the first publication run. It’s amazing what you see that didn’t register before when your work actually goes into type. After publication, I had to go through two tranches of revisions: 18 more edits in the first go-round, and a final five corrections in the second. Those post-publication revisions cost $305 that I would rather not have spent, but they were necessary. Outskirts’s correction fees are certainly not unreasonable. My total outlay thus far, for the paperback’s initial printing and subsequent corrections, is $902.50. That, in perspective, is less than the cost of a replacement tooth.
That is also an interesting commentary on the supposed high costs always cited by major publishing houses in justifying their alleged overheads, usually at an author’s expense. I was particularly interested to see what Outskirts would charge for substantial reprint orders, let’s say, for so many thousand copies. I don’t have to repeat in this letter figures that you know very well, but they certainly suggest that major publishers cite amounts greatly in excess of actual printing costs.
One other point. In the word count cited – over all of Prayers of God’s 470 printed pages, I found on my first reading only six unacceptable hyphenations on the justified right-hand margins. No one that I’ve told in the traditional print world will believe me, but it’s true.
Thus far, I have not pursued your marketing options because at this point, bookstore or online sales are not my prime concern. It’s certainly a plus to have Prayers of God up on Amazon, but – as I’ve explained – this paperback edition is basically bait for a hardbound sale. If I need Outskirts’s options, they are available to me. What I’ve read from your marketing coaches sounds helpful for authors in general, just not applicable to me at the moment.
So, we’ll have to see what happens now to Prayers of God. Meantime, I do have some recommendations for other writers who might be contemplating using Outskirts, as well as two suggestions that pertain only to your company. Let’s start with my advice to authors:
(1) Have realistic expectations. They will be met. I took Outskirts’s next-to-cheapest option and received a level of support that truly surprised me, as well as a fine-looking paperback in the end.
(2) While the company seems to accord the same respect and diligence to all of its authors, you will most appreciate Outskirts’s efforts if you have actually had substantial publishing experience.
(3) If you haven’t had that, a fair question would be ‘so, what is realistic?’ My answer: Keeping your focus on the book you want to be published: its content, internal format, outside cover. Once you’ve decided what you want done from the options available, Outskirts will not try to nudge you toward an upgrade.
(4) If you are genuinely uncertain about what you want, your Outskirts representative will offer counsel, but not as a personal trainer. Don’t expect vanity stroking. Also, Outskirts does not employ psychiatrists.
(5) Understand the logic of Outskirts’s processes. Initially, you’ll want phone contact. After that, e-mail works faster for everyone, although my phone calls were always returned within 24 hours. Two notable points: The company’s online proof-correcting procedures are writer-friendly, not daunting to use. Also, an author’s account history can be easily accessed and printed for off-site files, which can be very helpful for tax-preparing purposes.
(6) Make certain that the manuscript you send online to Outskirts is as clean as possible. You don’t have to right-justify margins, but you should check for any dropped sentences that may have occurred online which might not appear if you’ve been working from the same text in printed form. Try to send your work to Outskirts in one Word file. Also, what is sent should be your final version. You’ll get a reasonable number of free line and word edits at first, but any substantial shifts of text, or moving content around, will incur delays and extra expense.
(7) You will not be the only author on your Outskirts representative’s radar. Accept that reality, and work within it. Patience and a willingness to be flexible are also learning tools. Whatever your ego, or your belief in your book, you will have to work with other people to achieve the best final product. Yes, you are paying Outskirts to print your book, but publishing in any venue is not an instant gratification business.
(8) Finally, authors frequently complain that publishers don’t do enough to market their books. Outskirts offers a number of outreach and marketing options that will give your book a kick-start if you use them, but there’s no guarantee of success. There never is. If you care enough about your book to pay to have it published, then I think that in today’s world you are better positioned to maximize its chances. The hard truth is that no one knows why certain fine books become bestsellers and others do not.
Here’s my advice for Outskirts:
(1) The only internal procedure that I think you should improve is the way that corrections are made after an initial printing. My frustration – only with myself, as I’ve made clear – at having to go through two tranches of further revisions flared into real angst only when I saw the narrow-lined spreadsheet of ‘errors to the left’ ‘corrections to the right’, which was very different from the side-by-side ‘error’ and ‘correction’ boxes that made proofing the first galleys easy on the eyes. Also, the narrow lines on the spreadsheet didn’t allow for indicating dropped sentences. And, to top it off, my computer (which uses LibreOffice) will accept Word files for reading but not editing.
Fortunately, Anna Ely assured me that I could send the revision corrections to her directly by e-mail. I did so following the format used for proofing the first page galleys: listing each error and then its correction with enough space to show a dropped line or to make a comment to the designer in brackets.
It would be easier if you could have the same proofing format for initial page galleys available to make post-publication revisions.
(2) My second suggestion concerns how Outskirts could attract substantial new business. Without knowing who most of your other authors are, I run the risk of preaching to a crowded choir here, but bear with me. Your website seems designed to attract first-time writers. I’m sure saying that does an injustice to many professionals who already publish with you, and no offense is intended. After all, Prayers of God is my first novel, so who am I to complain? It is commendable that you treat all authors the same, whether they intend a family memoir, a gardening book, a volume of poetry, a remembrance of a lost loved one, their take on history, whatever – no matter if the project is their first or tenth foray into print.
A close friend of mine has counseled troubled children for many years for a Western state agency. On occasion, he receives a grant from that state to print a journal of peer-approved essays. The publisher he uses has routinely charged five times what Outskirts would, even at the level of your most expensive option. When I told him how well Prayers of God had turned out under your auspices, and on Outskirts’s next-to-bottom option rung at that, he went to your website and was put off by what he called its “obvious pitch to amateurs.” He may yet come around when I mail him the novel.
I’m also told, on excellent authority, than university presses [and I'm not speaking of Cornell here] are rejecting books by distinguished professors who have had no trouble in the past in placing their wares. A number of those rejected, once they’ve swallowed their indignation, are beginning to self-publish. I suspect more than a few have come your way already. I also know of blue-chip public relations firms that increasingly outsource their clients’ printing needs to far-flung vendors, even billing a client in full for such (beyond their own service fees).
So, my suggestion is that you create a quadrant on your website specifically pitched toward academic (or collegiate-oriented) authors, and other professionals in government, public relations, law, health, etc. This would in no way detract from your approach to people interested in more personal projects. I think you would be astounded by the inflow of new business. Most professionals in those fields want no-nonsense turn-arounds (which I certainly obtained from you). In my experience, your delivery time (less than five months) would be more than agreeable for anyone implementing a well-planned publishing project. (I’m not speaking of CEOs who wants fast overnight printing for a board meeting the next day – Kinko’s you are not.)
Finally, I realize that Prayers of God does not qualify, because of its Sapphire option and private-label lineage, for consideration of awards – or attention being called to it – within Outskirts. That’s quite all right. My satisfaction comes entirely from knowing that the first edition of what others say could become a world classic has been handled so well. Again, I want to congratulate Jamie Belt, Brie Curtis, Anna Ely, Michelle (I only know her first name) and others in the Outskirts production department for their fine work. My thanks to you, as well, for setting the standards you have, and for reading through this long letter. Feel free to quote from any of this for your own purposes.
Top Consumer Reviews just sent us the following press release as notification that for another year in a row they have determined Outskirts Press to be the #1 best self publishing company. Thank you, Top Consumer Reviews. We agree.
Outskirts Press, a professional provider of Self Publishing services, receives a best-in-class 5-star rating from TopConsumerReviews.com.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
TopConsumerReviews.com recently awarded their highest five-star rating to Outskirts Press, an industry leader in Self Publishing services.
“We’re very happy to receive TopConsumerReviews.com’s highest rating,” said Lora Gallagher, Marketing Manager for Outskirts Press. “Our company provides access to a large array of customizable self publishing tools from printing, formatting, marketing assistance and much more. We also work hard to provide our authors high quality publishing services that don’t break their budget. Thank you for recognizing our self publishing services!”
Self publishing companies exist today in abundance to help authors create books affordably and easily. The best self publishing companies are able to provide a wide range of self publishing services including marketing, format, book covers, professional editing, graphic design, distribution services and much more. But finding the right company to assist in the publishing effort is important to both the overall success of the book and the opportunity to turn a profit. Prospective authors should look for self publishing companies that have a history of providing quality services, are customer friendly, and offer upfront pricing to avoid any surprises.
“Outskirts Press offers the best overall value of any self publishing program we reviewed,” said Brian Dolezal, of TopConsumerReviews.com. “Their website is the best organized, with easy to find information, upfront pricing, and user friendly services. We found that authors appreciate the one-on-one assistance provided by the individuals at Outskirts, to help them from start to finish in both publishing and launching a new book. The affordable pricing at Outskirts is also a major plus when choosing this company. Outskirts Press offers the total package in self publishing services.”
About Outskirts Press
Outskirts Press offers high-quality, full-service self-publishing and book marketing services for writers and professionals who are seeking a cost-effective, fast, and flexible way to publish and distribute their books worldwide while retaining 100% of their rights, 100% of their profits, and 100% of the creative control.
TopConsumerReviews.com is a leading provider of independent reviews and rankings of hundreds of consumer products and services. From self publishing services to logo design services and website builders, TopConsumerReviews.com delivers in-depth product evaluations in order to make purchasing decision easier.
Back in April, I wrote this paragraph in the closing moments of one of my blog postings: “And speaking of best, over the course of the next few posts, I’ll write more about the 3rd annual Fandemonium Anthology, the 3rd annual Best Book of the Year awards, the 5th placement (hopefully) on the Inc. 500/5000 list, and our 10-year anniversary.”
And in the following posts, I covered the publication of the 3rd annual Fandemonium Facebook Anthology and the winner of the 3rd annual Best Book of the Year awards. That leaves us with the Inc 500/5000 list and our 10-year anniversary, but I’m also going to throw in a big milestone Outskirts Press hit yesterday. But first the bad news. After 4 consecutive years appearing on the Inc. Magazine 500/5000 list of American’s fastest-growing private companies, a run that began back in 2008, we did not qualify for the list a 5th consecutive time. Last time I checked, less than 1000 companies have appeared on the list five times in a row, much less consecutively, so 4 consecutive years is something to be proud of. And this means we get to work even harder through 2013 and 2014, delivering to all our clients continued stellar service and quality at competitive prices.
And now the good news! Yesterday, Outskirts Press reached 10,000 Fans on its Facebook Page, a milestone we are all very proud of. We’d like to thank the writing and reading community for their continued support and friendly participation in one of self-publishing’s growing online communities. Now, all 10,000+ of our Facebook fans are in the running for a free Apple iPad we will give away in a random drawing we hold very soon. More details will be forthcoming on the Self Publishing News blog.
And everyone will want to stay involved with our Facebook page for the drawing we hold once we pass the 25,000 milestone. Stay tuned!
That still leaves the topic of our 10 Year Anniversary, which we officially celebrate in October of this year. I say “officially” because Outskirts Press was “up and operational” in 2002, but didn’t officially incorporate as a corporation until 2003. So you could say we’re already smack dab in the middle of our 10th year, and there’s lots more to come. Our talented editing, writing, and designing artisans along with our passionate authors (and IT/accounting and administrative folks) are all to be thanked and congratulated. Here’s to many more!
Speaking of 10 years, my lovely wife and I are celebrating our 10-year wedding anniversary this month. Happy Anniversary, Jeanine. I love you.
For the past three years, Outskirts Press has collected original short stories and poems from its Facebook community at http://facebook.com/outskirtspress for free publication in an annual anthology titled Fandemonium. This exercise offers writers a chance to interact with Outskirts Press in a fun, fast way without cost or obligation while experiencing the joy of publishing (and seeing their work published) in a first-hand way. To top it off, the proceeds from all Fandemonium sales go toward the American Red Cross, which was the charity chosen by our social media community back in 2011 when we published the inaugural edition.
Over the years, the charity (American Red Cross), retail price ($16.95), title and cover (see below) have all remained branded and consistent — another important facet of self-publishing a series of books:
Congratulations to the writers included in all three volumes, the table of contents for which can be seen by visiting each respective bookstore page by clicking on the cover image above (which, incidentally, is also where one can enjoy the 10% discount!) This is also the first year we’ve been including Pinterest in our social media efforts, and a collection of our anthologies can be found on our Self-Publishing Anthologies board on Pinterest.
On July 1st we launched our biggest self-publishing promotion of the year at Outskirts Press — an opportunity to save $200 or more instantly on our most popular publishing package, the Diamond. In the years past where we have offered this discount, is has proven to be our most popular.
Holding “4th of July” events is a mainstay in America commerce, as evidenced by all the car commercials and retail store specials you’re doubtlessly being bombarded with. This is a week when people’s attentions are generally elsewhere (outside, BBQing, boating, camping, swimming, being with family, and watching fireworks, etc.). In an effort to maintain monthly “cash flow” many companies and businesses historically “sweeten the pot” to lure customers and clients to their places of business even during this holiday where Americans, at large, are too busy having fun outside to be inside buying things. It must work. Year after year, you see the same car commercials and retail store specials.
Our July promotion certainly works for us. Unlike some of our competitors who artificially inflate their prices just so they can offer 50% discounts all the time, our black/white packages are packed with value and already in the sub-$1000 range. We do not have $13,000 packages simply so aggressive, commission-based sales people can sell them for $6,500 and call it a “50% discount.” Doing such things ultimately undermines the true value of your services, affecting the long term credibility of your business.
At Outskirts Press, our self-publishing packages have remained consistently value-packed and economically priced for years, and we expend a good amount of effort communicating that value with our clients through various channels like phone, email, and social media channels. As a result, many writers come to recognize Outskirts Press as their self-publisher of choice. For many, it’s simply a matter of timing — having a manuscript that is ready to go at the same time the price is achievable. It is our hope our 20% discount in July helps many more authors reach their publishing goals. An instant savings of $200 (or more if they choose our full color Pearl package) certainly does help.
We are able to offer this deep discount (it’s deep for us), not because we artificially inflate all our prices to accommodate a huge discount, and not because we undercut the value of the discounted packages, but because we are confident that the majority of authors who publish with Outskirts Press once will choose to publish with us again and tell many of their friends about their great experience. If the daily author testimonials being posted are any indication, that seems to be working, too.
Happy 4th of July everybody!
I’ve spent a lot of posts talking about the Outskirts Press Best Book of the Year awards over the past few months and even though we announced the winner on the Self Publishing News blog, I realized I hadn’t mentioned the winner here. This gives a good opportunity to also discuss another way Outskirts Press is using Pinterest, as a way of further promoting our Best Book of the Year winners and finalists with their own board. We “pin” the three finalists and then the winning author’s photo is also pinned, along with some biographical information. You can see our self publishing finalists and the winners from 2010, 2011, and 2012 on Pinterest by clicking here. And in doing so, you’ll learn the recently crowned winner of the Outskirts Press Best Book of the Year for 2012.
The Pinterest board that focuses on our winners and finalists is different from many of our other boards in that it continues to grow and evolve, with four new pins added every year. In reality, this is how most Pinterest boards should be (albeit, perhaps “pinned” more frequently). Highly successful Pinterest Boards (from a social media perspective) should categorize “pins” and then constantly add new pins within that category. These are the boards that receive the most followers and activity. Most of our boards are static, in that they announce a specific collection of books at a specific period of time (self publishing bestsellers in a particular month, for example), and as a result, those boards never change. That is admittedly defeating much of the advantages of Pinterest, because why would someone bother to “follow” a board that never changed or expanded?
On the other hand, our monthly self publishing bestseller boards do allow us to collect a diverse collection of books that all share one trait (best selling status), and that makes it easier to point to them as a collection when discussing them on other sites or blogs. For example, if I want to mention our top 10 bestsellers from the month of May, I can simply say “Click here to see them” rather than having to generate 10 different clicks with 10 different images. Pinterest has already done that work for me.
Ultimately, both static boards and dynamic boards have their place on Pinterest.