The Self-Publishing Pre-Production Process at Outskirts Press

Publishing our 2nd annual Facebook anthology, Fandemonium Volume 2, provides a great opportunity to walk step-by-step through the entire publishing process with Outskirts Press from start to finish.  That way, new authors who are considering their publishing options can see first-hand what the online experience is like.  And since I’m not only the CEO, but also a writer, I can also use this opportunity to share some “best practices” and suggestions that will help writers who read this series of posts better navigate our book publishing website to get the most “bang for their buck.”  I happen to have some “insider-hints” that can serve the savvy author well.

I will cover two phases of the publishing process in two separate series:

  • Pre-production – the part of the process leading up to clicking the “I APPROVE PRODUCTION TO START” button.
  • Production – the part of the process after Production Approval and leading up to publication.

So… onward to the pre-production process:

Self-Publishing with Outskirts Press – Selecting a Package

For the purposes of this self-publishing walk-thru we will use the 2nd annual Facebook anthology, titled Fandemonium Volume 2, comprised of submissions from our Facebook friends.  Since we’ve already published the first volume, I am greeted by the following screen when I sign-in to my Publishing Center at http://outskirtspress.com/authors.php:

This dashboard allows me to manage my current publication, Fandemonium Volume 1. I can order books or marketing options, among other management tools.  I can also start publishing a new book by clicking the “Click here” link circled along the left-hand side under my “Active Titles” list.

If I am publishing my FIRST book with Outskirts Press, I would click the Publishing Packages button along the top menu tabs (circled above).

In either case, I am taken to the Publishing Packages screen to choose the publishing service I wish to order:

 If I don’t know what book publishing package to order, I would order the “Down Payment on Book Publishing” option, which applies a small deposit toward the package I will eventually choose. It also gets my production team assigned so I can consult with my Publishing Consultant personally.  Some authors assume they must pay this deposit in order to get help or speak with someone on the phone, but that’s not true. We open lines of email communication with every author who registers for a free Publishing Center from our site at http://outskirtspress.com/authors.php when they download our free e-books.  And our toll free number is listed on just about every page of our website.   But when it comes to priority and allocation of available resources (people), it’s probably easy to understand why someone who has paid a down payment on their publishing package gets more attention than someone who has not.

So here are some hints to skip the Down Payment and go straight to a publishing package, where all the Outskirts Press service really kicks in: If you have any color inside your book, you need the Pearl package; it’s as easy as that. All of our covers are full-color, so this consideration is solely related to the interior of the book.

If your interior is black/white, you have more choices, although over 60% of all our authors choose the Diamond package and about 25% select the Ruby. Here’s why:  The Emerald doesn’t include an ISBN nor distribution (less than 2% of our authors choose this one), and the Sapphire is pretty limited in terms of available formats and options (less than 5% choose this one).

But perhaps the best reason is because authors publishing under “higher” packages earn higher royalties and their book copy prices are less expensive. Let’s look at a chart (which also compares 3 of our competitors):

Not to get too complicated, but in this chart, you’ll notice that competitive publisher “U” pays less royalties than the Diamond or Ruby package but more than the Sapphire package for this example book.  But keep in mind Publisher U’s retail price in this example is also $4 higher.

So for this reason, among others that I’ll elaborate on later, I’m going to choose the Diamond package for our Facebook anthology. And we’ll continue with that next time…

Self Publishing with Outskirts Press – Selecting the Diamond Book Publishing Package

So what are other reasons I would select the Diamond package? Yes, it’s more expensive than the Ruby by $300, so the question becomes:  Do I get that much additional value out of it? Well, let’s see:

1. The Diamond author earns $1 more than a Ruby author for every book sold
2. The Diamond author pays $1 less than a Ruby author for every book purchased
3. The Diamond author receives free ebook credit card processing/delivery on his/her Author Webpage (which costs $99 for a Ruby)
4. The Diamond author receives a free standard press release once the book is published (that is $99 for the Ruby).
5. The Diamond author can record a 3-5 minute audio recording which streams from his/her author webpage (that is $99 for the Ruby).
6. The Diamond author receives free additional Christian distribution via Spring Arbor for religiously themed book (that is $99 for the Ruby).
7. The Diamond author can choose a free cover image from among our massive image library to customize his cover (that is $99 for the Ruby).
8. Only the Diamond (and the full-color Pearl) are eligible for EVVY Awards, which is the pre-requisite for winning the Outskirts Press Best Book of the Year Award and it’s $1500 Grand Prize.
9. Between you, me, and the fence post, the majority of the books we feature on Facebook, promote in our newsletters, and list in the “Browse” section of our bookstore are all Diamonds because, well, frankly, they usually just “look” better, and we want to feature our best-looking books on all those channels.

So are all those benefits worth the cost difference between the Diamond and the Ruby, without even taking into account the higher royalty and lower author-copy price? That depends upon the author…

So when I select the Diamond book publishing service from the Publishing screen of Outskirts Press, I see this screen:

All the details about the Diamond publishing service are on display on this screen, including the publishing agreement which details the 100% author royalty payout. When I’m satisfied with my selection, I add the service to my shopping cart by clicking the ADD TO CART button.

The Diamond publishing service is added to my shopping cart and my first step toward checking out is reviewing my order and clicking the “Confirm Order” button at the bottom:

 If I had ordered the Down Payment option initially, my total cost for the Diamond would now be reduced by the amount I had already paid.  For the demonstration purposes of this publication, we have added a credit to this account, which you can see reflected in this shopping cart. Authors who have a credit on their account will see the credit depleted first. Why do authors have credits? It happens for a variety of reasons, but the most common is that they’ve paid us too much money for some reason). When that happens, our accounting department conveniently puts it back into the author’s account as a credit, and it’s reflected on their Account History screen for their records.

Upon clicking “Confirm Order” I am taken to Step 2 in the shopping cart:

 This screen does two things:

1) It allows you to confirm the total amount you will be paying. In this case, you see that my total amount due is $0, and that is because my author credit is being used to pay this balance.

2) Some purchases require you to review and agree to an agreement. In this case, since I am purchasing a publishing service, I must agree to the terms by checking the Yellow “Terms” box, indicating that I have read and approved the terms of the Outskirts Press Printing & Distribution Agreement. Of course, the links you see allow you to read the agreement online or print the agreement on your printer for your records.  So after I read the agreement, I click the Yellow Box and then click the Confirm Order button at the bottom of the screen.

At this point, one of two things will happen. If you had a balance due showing during Step 2, you will be taken to Step 3 of the Shopping Cart, which is the “Complete Order” step.  Here you will be presented with a number of different payment options:

  • Entering your billing and credit card information securely into our Thawte-certified secure shopping cart for instant, secure, and convenient processing.
  • Paying via PayPal (either all at once or by using their “Bill Me Later” option so you can pay in installments and continue with publishing even if you don’t have the cash at the moment).
  • Paying via check, or money order, or (somewhat hidden, since they’re a pain for both the author and us) paying via Money Gram or Western Union.

Alternatively, if you had a $0 balance during Step 2 as I did, you will be taken directly to the “Thank You Screen.”  This is also the screen you will see after successfully completing Step 3 of your Shopping Cart check-out procedure:

 And we’ll continue next time…

Self-Publishing With Outskirts Press – 5 Steps Toward Production

Once your payment has been successfully received, click “Press to Continue” on the big, green “Successful Payment” screen to see the 5 Steps to Production page:

This screen outlines the pre-production steps you will be completing in order to approve production to begin on your publication. Since for the example of this walk-thru, I am publishing Fandemonium Volume 2, I know from this screen that my 5 steps are going to involve:

  • Choosing the book format (paperback, hardback, or both) and the trim size
  • Customizing my cover design and my interior formatting
  • Selecting any production options I want
  • Selecting any marketing options I want
  • Confirming the submission of all my materials (like my actual manuscript), setting my book pricing, and approving production.

I also correctly presume that since only Step One is in color and clickable on the screen, that I’m going to be completing my pre-production steps in the order displayed here.  Our easy and fast online process will walk me through each step in turn. So without further ado, I click on Step One to get started…

Book Publishing with Outskirts Press – Paperback, Hardback, or Both?

The screen shots up until this point have provided the full-screen of the Publishing Center. Now let’s “zoom in” a bit, since the surrounding portions of the webpage are always the same. This will allow you to see the details a little better regarding the customization choices you have at Outskirts Press.

Step One involves choosing your book format(s) and once you’ve done that, selecting your trim size.  For the Fandemonium Volume 2 book that I’m publishing and writing about for this walk-thru, we will choose our format(s) from the first screen we see:

 I must complete this step before I can do anything else, so there’s no time like the present.

Here is some general advice:

The paperback format is included with the cost of every package, so I would recommend you always publish a paperback format, even if you also plan to publish a hardback. The production price on paperbacks is much lower, which means your per-unit pricing will be less and your retail pricing will be less. As a result, your profit margin is likely to be better. Over 95% of our authors choose to publish a paperback format, in addition to whatever additional formats they choose.

Therefore, if you also desire a hardback, I recommend you select the “Paperback and hardback formats.” Picking both formats is an excellent way to get a great value, since you are essentially publishing two different books for the price of one. Each format gets its own ISBN,  its own pricing, and its own listing in our bookstore, etc.

There are valid reasons to add a hardback format to your custom package, but making money probably isn’t one of them.  POD hardback books are expensive to produce, which means your retail price will be high.  So plan on the paperback being the “work horse” and the hardback being the “pretty” thing you give away as gifts, leave on your coffee table, and store safely for heritage. The exception to this is with full-color children’s books, which are often laminated hardbacks, in which case, you may wish to forego the paperback entirely (although for the pricing considerations I’ve already mentioned, I wouldn’t recommend it; you should probably get both).

Self-Publishing with Outskirts Press – Trim Size and Paper Type?

For our Fandemonium book, we don’t need a hardback version, so I’m only getting the free paperback format. So once I make that choice, I see this screen in my Publishing Center:

If you choose both formats, you’ll be making trim size and paper type choices for both (although I recommend publishing the same size paperback & hardback for a number of logistic reasons that are difficult to explain but, ultimately, may make your process smoother and quicker).

In any event, the number of trim size choices you have depends upon your package.  Since I chose the Diamond, I have the most choices (see above).  In general, the 6×9 size is the most popular for our black/white packages. It is available in both paperback and hardback and is the size I generally recommend. Smaller trim sizes force higher page counts (and with POD printing costs, every page counts), and larger trim sizes are more expensive to ship (fewer books per box).

As far as hardbacks are concerned, generally speaking, black/white books should get the dust jacket and color books should get the laminated case bound.

As for paper type, the most popular paper is the off-white (cream-colored) paper with 30% post-consumer recycled materials. This is the paper type to get unless your selected trim size doesn’t offer it OR unless you have images in your book. If you have any images inside your book, get the pure white paper. Your images will print better. This is why our full-color Pearl package only offers pure white paper.

For Fandemonium Volume 2, I choose the 6 x 9 off-white trim size and paper choice, and then click the ADD TO CART button to add my format, trim size, and paper type to my package. The cost is $0.

Publishing a Book with Outskirts Press – What Type of Cover to Get?

The pre-production process with Outskirts Press is designed to “lead”  you gradually into the more “difficult” areas.  Most, if not all, authors know right off the bat what format (paperback, hardback, both) they want for their book.  Therefore, that “choice” is first.

And most authors have been visualizing their cover in their head since the moment they started writing Page 1.  That’s why this choice is second. Authors are anxious to figure out their cover. But with this excitement comes the possibility for rash decisions.  Since most authors have visualized their cover in their head since Page 1, many are inclined to “submit their own cover” without realizing the ramifications of that choice.  Have you been visualizing the back cover since Page 1? Have you been visualizing the spine? How about the ISBN and the barcode and the BISAC code?  Have you been visualizing how wide the spine is (which is related to not only the number of pages in your book, but also the thickness of the paper)?  Have you been visualizing an image that a) you own the copyright to and b) is a high enough resolution for high-quality printing?

In other words, there is a reason we offer so many cover choices and flexibility. Covers are fun, but doing them correctly is hard.   Let’s be honest: When you look at most self-published books, the cover is often enough to tell you how “cheaply” the book was published, which, fair or not, also implies just how “good or bad” the whole book is in your mind.  You’re not the only one who uses covers to pass judgment on books.  Book reviewers do it.  So do agents and publishers.   So do readers.

So these are some things to keep in mind as you come upon the next phase of the pre-production process, which is selecting your cover type. For the sake of brevity and bandwidth, this image below is “collapsed” because I quite literally cannot possibly show you ALL the choices we offer to authors on one screen:


When you see this screen in your Publishing Center, clicking on the Section Heading will “collapse” and “open” each category. This will make the cover options easier to navigate. You can see in the screen shot above that two of the categories have been collapsed because, for all intents and purposes, the discussion of covers really should fall within one of the three custom choices shown.

Yes, we offer many professionally-designed cover styles with or without images and all those pre-designed cover styles are freely included in our publishing packages. The number of available cover themes depends upon your package. If necessary, you may wish to upgrade to get more choices. If so, your Publishing Center will show an “Upgrade Package” button.   For Fandemonium, I already have the top-of-the-line Diamond package, so I have all the possible cover choices.  Again, in the image above you cannot see any of the cover themes, because I’ve collapsed those choices. Every category will be open to browse within your own Publishing Center.

Naturally, I recommend the Professionally Designed Custom Cover. It’s the easiest and best choice.  We handle everything.  And besides, if you were to get a bid from a cover designer to create a custom cover for you independently of Outskirts Press, it would cost between $500-$1500 on average. Our Custom Covers cost $299 and you receive 2 different concepts (both based upon your description or, if you don’t know what to suggest, based upon our designer’s recommendation). Choose the concept you like best, make moderate adjustments, and boom, you have the single most important facet for marketing your book after it is published.  At the same time, you don’t have to worry about ANY of those details I described above; we take care of everything!

A custom cover is basically a must for a fiction book, a cookbook, or poetry.  Some non-fiction books may be able to get away with a well-designed cover without an image, although even then, a custom cover is going to be better received than a pre-designed style.  And if you are publishing a book for kids, you definitely should have an appropriate image on your cover, which typically means either a custom cover along with one of the interior illustrations, or the Professionally Illustrated Artistic Cover option.

In my 10 year experience as the CEO of Outskirts Press, authors submitting their own “Author-submitted print-ready cover” run into the biggest hurdles during production. This is because the covers we receive from authors are rarely (I might even be so bold as to say never) print-ready.  Remember all those details I described above? You have to worry about all of them.  If you choose this option, we will assume you (or your designer) are proficient with book specs and terminology, have access to professional grade software like Illustrator and inDesign, and know how to create a print-ready file according to our specifications (we’ll provide those specs to you when you choose this option, or you can read them in advance from our Help Screens).  If that doesn’t describe you or your designer, I highly encourage you to choose a different option. If you insist upon submitting a print-ready file, please read ALL the details about this option very carefully when we present the requirements and details within your Publishing Center, and plan to carefully follow all the precise instructions. It can be expensive later if you don’t, and it will slow everything down.

Interestingly, many authors assume they’re saving us money and making it easier and faster for us when they elect to submit their own covers.  Let me be the first to dispel that myth.  It’s harder, more expensive, and more time-consuming.  Why? Because each author provides a file in a slightly different way, with slightly different specifications, and almost never according to our specs.  Nothing is uniform; and irregularity within production-related industries causes problems, and problems cause delays and expense.  On the other hand, when we design our covers in-house for authors, either the custom covers or the free cover styles, they all meet very precise specifications.  Simply put, systemization like that is faster and more efficient.

It probably goes without saying that for Fandemonium Volume 2, I’m selecting the custom cover option. And we’ll get to the details of that next…