Branding the new Outskirts Press

In my previous post, I announced the *new* Outskirts Press, which is scheduled to launch on August 1 with a new website for new authors, and new branding and new packages for everyone. As we gear up for that exciting launch, some new branding will start to “trickle” into our other online presences, beginning with this one.  For frequent readers of my blog, you know that “branding” is a common theme of my posts, and one goal for the launch of the New OP is consistency across all our various online channels.

So yesterday marked the launch of the new blog theme, and I’ll discuss a number of components of that theme today, so as additional Outskirts Press sites across the Internet re-brand themselves, those who are playing along can see what goes into a rebranding strategy.

I’ve taken a screen shot of this new blog, and I’ll discuss the following elements:

The first circled element is our trademarked logo.  We introduced this stylized dark blue/light blue logo back in 2010 in two iterations: a stacked version, like the one you see circled here, and un-stacked, horizontal version, in which “outskirtspress” ran together:


Say good-bye to that horizontal version. Part of our rebranding exercise is using one consistent trade-marked logo everywhere — the “stacked” version.   The logo and placement on my blog also matches (as closely as WordPress allows) the placement on our new website when it launches later this summer:

If you look to the upper-right of both images above you will see a menu that offers links to our shopping cart, our contact us page, our author login page, and our bookstore, respectively. Those links are duplicated on this blog, along with the main menu choices from the new website (publishing, marketing, and writing services).  Until the new site launches, those links on my blog go to the current versions of all those pages.

Outskirts Press operates four different, active blogs, and the arrow on the left of the image above points toward the “title” that will designate the brand-identity of each blog when they each re-launch with consistent branding over the next several weeks.   Also acting as a “brand-identity” is the photograph in the right column of this blog, which the second arrow is pointing to in the image above. In my case, it’s an updated picture of yours truly (the last one was taken in 2002, so I figured it was time for an update).

The last remaining element is the red box, which is a place-holder for the “header” image.  The new RWD Outskirts Press website will feature a rotating header image that features our monthly publishing, marketing, and writing promotions (as demonstrated by the “Save 10% on Amazon Look Inside” in that mock-up image above).   Will those monthly same images play a role in the branding of our various blogs in the same “header space”?  Stay tuned to find out.


Announcing the *NEW* Outskirts Press

Before I got sidetracked discussing the recent Colorado Book Awards, the new edition of Sell Your Book on Amazon for 2016, and the publication of my newest book, The Book Marketing COACH,  I was in the middle of a series of postings about our methodical transition to RWD (responsive website design), in which I outlined six milestones.

Those milestones were:

  1. Landings Pages
  2. Email Communication
  3. Newsletters
  4. Author Webpages
  5. Outskirts Press External
  6. Outskirts Press Internal

I covered milestones 1-4 as we completed them, finishing with the launch of the new Outskirts Press Author Webpages in glorious RWD.

That brings us to the 5th and most exciting milestone, the launch of the “external” Outskirts Press website, which is scheduled for August 1, 2016.

While current authors will continue to see the current version of the website (if they are logged-in), new clients who start publishing with us in August will see the all new Outskirts Press website, which will look like this on their desktops when it goes live:

And, as with all RWD sites, the new Outskirts Press website maintains its appearance and ease-of-use across all tablets and smartphone browsing, too.

August 1 brings with it more than just a modernization of our website. It introduces the brand *NEW* Outskirts Press, brought up-to-date in this fast-moving industry with all-new publishing services, all-new branding, and an even deeper commitment to helping our clients publish the book of their dreams with personal service and quality products. More on that in the near future.

But first, over the next several posts, I’ll discuss that “all new branding” component in further detail, beginning with what frequent readers of my blog may have already noticed — an updating of all our blog themes across social media, beginning with this one.  More on that next time…

Self-Publishing Newsletters in Responsive Web Design (RWD)

Over the past several weeks I’ve been discussing the milestones involved in migrating the Outskirts Press web presence and email communication to RWD (responsive web design), which I defined here.

page-2_img01-1Those milestones were:

  1. Landings Pages
  2. Email Communication
  3. Newsletters
  4. Author Webpages
  5. Outskirts Press External
  6. Outskirts Press Internal

We’ve already discussed the new RWD landing pages and the on-going process of migrating our various forms of email communication with our client-authors.  October 15 marked the first newsletter to be formatted online and distributed via email in RWD, and it was a great success. Today was the second such distribution (seeing how today is the closest business day to the first of the month).

The distribution of the newsletter is a three step process.  An email version gets sent out via email to the client-authors who have subscribed to it.  In the past, this email would contain the entirety of the newsletter content, and in HTML tables that were pretty rigid (non “liquid”) irregardless of device.  The result on a desktop monitor was fine, and even on most tablets it looked pretty good.  But if you were receiving our emailed newsletter on your smartphone (as more and more people are doing), it was challenging to read because the HTML tables forced the whole design (and therefore the fonts) to be too small for easy viewing.

So step one was to design a new RWD version of the emailed newsletter.  And, in doing so, we also truncated the sections so they were shorter (no one likes scrolling forever and ever on their phone), which encourages more click-thrus to our online website version to “read the full story.”

The second step, therefore, was creating that online website version of the newsletter, also in RWD.  And you can see that version by clicking here.  If you take your mouse and “grab” the corner of your browser window and “slide” it larger or smaller or wider or narrower, you can see how the RWD reacts dynamically to the size of your browser.

The third step is distributing the newsletter content through our various social media channels, which begins with posting it on the Outskirts Press blog, where it is picked up via RSS syndication for distribution to our Twitter and Facebook pages.

Done and done.

And that brings us to the fourth milestone in our full migration to RWD — the author webpages.  And I’ll start that (larger) subject next time.

What is Responsive Web Design (RWD)?

According to Wikipedia, responsive web design (RWD) is: “an approach to web design aimed at crafting sites to provide an optimal viewing and interaction experience—easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling—across a wide range of devices (from desktop computer monitors to mobile phones).”

Typically a site designed with RWD adapts to the layout of the device being used (including the orientation of how it is being held—either horizontally or vertically) by using fluid, proportion-based grids (think Windows 8-10), dynamically-proportioned images, and CSS3 media queries. As RWD layouts becomes more sophisticated, the “grids” of earlier iterations of RWD are becoming more and more “invisible” and what is left is an enhanced user experience that looks fantastic, and acts the same, across any type of device.

Naturally there are some design challenges, considering that a desktop monitor can be over 2000 pixels wide while a mobile phone in portrait orientation is as little as 200.  This is very apparent on sites NOT designed with RWD in mind, since smart phones will typically shrink the entire website proportionally, often rendering the text too difficult to read.

So significant was/is this problem that most websites have “mobile versions” solely for the purpose of looking good on smartphones and/or tablets.  Of course, the challenges of designing something to look equally good at 2000 pixels as 200 often means the mobile versions look significantly different from the “normal” versions.  Good-bye branding.

page-2_img01-1An RWD website offers the solution to this issue by ensuring that the website looks as similar as possible across all devices.  It also eschews the need for an entirely different “mobile version”, which can save on development and on-going maintenance costs over the long haul. Developing and maintaining one RWD website is more efficient than developing and maintaining both “normal” and “mobile” versions of a website.  Additionally, Google “rewards” mobile-friendly (and particularly RWD-enhanced) websites by improving their organic search result rankings.

So what does any of this have to do with self publishing with Outskirts Press?  We are deep in the process of migrating our website to RWD to further enhance the publishing experience for our clients; so you could say it is on the top of my mind.  Over the next several posts, I’ll get into more details about that migration.

Incorporating a small business on Legal Zoom – Pt 2

… Continuing from where we left off yesterday as we incorporate a small business on Legal Zoom step by step…

6. Select your state. I’m choosing Colorado. You have to choose the state either from the drop down box or by clicking on the graphic (if you know your geography), followed by clicking the orange Continue button.

7. Next you see a Progress Bar, some information about the process–including the claim that most people complete it within 15 minutes–and the first two questions.  Personally, I’m finding this interesting due to some similarities with our publishing site at Outskirts Press, which demonstrates in some ways that internet site best practices are not industry specific.

For instance, before our Version 4.0, we had a “progress bar” for the pre-production process.  For a variety of reasons, we removed it, but I’ve always wanted it back.   We also notify authors of how long the pre-production process will take, by saying “most authors complete it in X amount of minutes.”  In our case, we say it can be done within an hour.  That’s probably as realistic as Legal Zoom’s 15 minutes, but I digress.

8. The first question it asks is: Would you like to form a new corporation, or convert an existing business to a corporation, and the default answer is “Form a new corporation” which is the one I’m choosing.

9. You also get a chance to re-confirm your state again.  It may seem repetitive, but this is actually a trick of website design. What this site has done is introduced the process with the “fun” (and easy) exercise of clicking on a big map.  They could have just come straight to this text-intensive screen and not missed any steps, but their user-tests probably informed them that people seeing THIS screen first bailed on the entire thing.  People like clicking on graphics. They don’t really like reading websites.  This is why our Version 4.o website design at Outskirts Press has icons for every option/service we offer. But… I digress again.

10. Next question: What is the proposed name of the corporation? Please type it in EXACTLY as you want it to appear. (The name must end with “Corporation,” “Incorporated,” “Corp.” or “Inc.”)  – Here’s where you get one of the benefits of using an online service. They’re going to “test” the availability of your name.

11. It also asks for two different alternative names to the Proposed Name of the Corporation question it asked above.  Personally, I wasn’t prepared to have to have 3 total company names — I had a hard enough time coming up with one!   So I just attempt to hit the SAVE AND CONTINUE button without supplying any alternatives, and it works.  I guess if my name isn’t available, I’ll cross that bridge when it comes…

… to be continued…

What is different about Version 4?

The fundamental difference between Version 4 of Outskirts Press and every version preceding it, is that we are now offering our writing and marketing services/products to all writers on an a la carte basis, regardless of where they publish their books.  After all, we have the broadest scope of marketing services and products… why not offer those services and products to authors who, through no fault of their own, published their book with an alternate publisher and then discovered only after the book was published that their publisher doesn’t offer any marketing support to speak of.   Already some of our current authors, who published their first books elsewhere before discovering Outskirts Press, are anxious to finally be able to apply the same marketing support to their first books that they have been able to apply to their OP books.

Yes, this means with Version 4, we are going to help authors sell more books even if they published with our competitors.  And since some of those competitors actually take up to 80% of the author’s profits, they can thank us later. 

We’re also going to help traditionally published authors market their books, shortly after those authors come to the disillusioning realization that not all conventional publishers invest the same amount of marketing dollars on all their authors equally.

By the same token, Version 4 will offer pre-publication writing services to help writers start, finish, and edit their manuscripts, even if those same writers, for some reason or another, elect to publish elsewhere.  Of course, authors choosing to publish with Outskirts Press will receive discounts on many services (sometimes in excess of 40% off), so that’s one reason to continue to publish with Outskirts Press. Another is a matter of convenience; keeping everything under “one roof” makes an author’s life easier.   There are many other reasons, of course, like the fact that our authors keep 100% of their profits, 100% of their rights, and 100% of the control of their book.

Next I’ll expand upon the Version 4 offerings in a little more detail.

Self Publishing Version 4

My recent posts have briefly touched upon the new website Outskirts Press launched over Memorial Day weekend, which we are lovingly referring to as  Version 4.  Is this the 4th “version” of the site we’ve had? No; we’ve had more than that.

Version 4 comes from a convoluted history of enhancement-naming conventions.   When I was single-handedly programming the first few versions of the Outskirts Press website in CGI and Perl (way back in 2002, 2003 and 2004), it went through a number of different “looks.”   As the number of books we published exploded from 51 in 2004 to 220 in 2005, it started to become apparent that the site I had programmed was not sufficient for all the books we were publishing. In other words, it was bending under the quantity and demands we were putting on it.

So, the IT department was taxed with rebuilding the site from the ground up. This involved a migration of the programming and data to SQL.  They started calling that first SQL version of the website SQL 1.  Very little changed aesthetically with that first migration. It was a daunting enough task simply migrating all the author records and data into the SQL databases.

Once the foundation was in place to handle our growth, and once SQL 1 was working, we immediately began working on some aesthetic improvements that leveraged the new, faster advantages resulting from the SQL databases.  These improvements became known internally as SQL 2.

Last year we launched SQL 3, which was a combination of some database improvements and aesthetic improvements, mostly involving the internal Author’s Center portions of our website. In other words, we were using resources to improve the experience for our core group of customers.

Even before SQL 3 was launched, I was already working (at least in my mind) on the next leap forward for our website and our company. This fundamental change was known as SQL 4 by our IT team, but since “SQL” has very little resonance outside of the IT world, we decided from a marketing & branding perspective to call it “Version 4” instead, more akin to software releases and operating systems.

So that’s the genesis of the name. With the next posts we’ll talk about the fundamental differences and improvements with Version 4 of the new and improved Outskirts Press, along with some hiccups along the way.

Migrating a website

Any entrepreneur, business owner, CEO, or manager knows that running a successful business is hard. People with conflicting personalities push and pull, motivated by their department’s agendas. Fortunately, most of these internal struggles remain where they belong–inside, away from the microscope of the customer/client’s eyes.  The goal is to keep these struggles internal even when the product instigating the struggle is for “public consumption” like a new consumer product, or a piece of software, or a new website. 

The world is filled with examples of these internal struggles if you look hard enough. You might periodically notice a movie poster or advertisement announcing the date the movie opens, only to discover later that it was moved to a different date altogether.  Or you might be waiting anxiously for a new computer game based upon its release date and then become frustrated when the game is postponed another six months.

The two opposing forces in all these cases are usually the same:  the marketing (creative) people VS the business (financial) people.

They are each motivated by their own agendas, albeit for the overall betterment of the company. They just have different perspectives. Creative people want to broadcast their accomplishments with marketing and PR. After all, what’s the point of working so hard on something if no one knows about it?

On the other hand, business people want to manage risk (what’s the point of bringing a whole bunch of people to something if it “doesn’t work?”).  There are a variety of different definitions of something not working.   In the case of the movie example above, the definition of “doesn’t work” usually falls into one of two camps to motivate a release date reschedule. Either the movie is literally not completed yet, or a different, potentially better, movie is “getting in the way” – which might dampen box office receipts.

In the case of the computer game example, the definition of “doesn’t work” is typically quite literal. The release date might be moved simply because the game does not run– or does not run properly.  Ironically, in many cases, the business (financial) people can be responsible for releasing a piece of software like a computer game too early, even if it doesn’t work properly. After all, they are also motivated by quarterly revenue projections and stockholder expectations, etc.

We have four  main departments at Outskirts Press, and the launch of the Version 4 website involved all of them. We have two “creative” sides, i.e. the sales/marketing side and the book production side.  We also have two “business” sides, i.e. the technical (website) side and the accounting side.   Sure, there are technicalities involved in properly producing a book, but when compared with the technicalities involved in creating a dynamic, database-driven e-commerce website, producing a book falls squarely into the “creative.”

The creative sides wanted to start announcing the new website a while ago, to build excitement for new authors as well as inform current authors of the functionality and navigation changes.  The business sides wanted to wait until 4-6 weeks after it was live, to put it through its paces and make sure everything was working flawlessly.

Like all business relationships, and most relationships of any sort, a compromise was reached. We let our current authors know about the changes over Memorial Day weekend, but are holding out any big announcements for a few days, not withstanding some brief mentions of it on my blog — this one and a few early mentions of it in the past (I just couldn’t help myself; it is all I’ve been working on for months).

So why do we feel Version 4 of Outskirts Press is so special? We’ll get to that in an upcoming posting…

Outskirts Press Version 4.0 is here

Hooray!  After about a year of development, we launched version 4.0 of the Outskirts Press self-publishing website over Memorial Day weekend.   The whole operation went smoother than we expected, thanks in large part to our amazing technical team, headed by our Chief Technical Officer, Lynn.

For anybody involved in website and/or softare development, you already know that migrating a large website or software platform from one version to the next is fraught with difficulty and potential potholes.  Luck favors the prepared, as they say, so we took great precautions to make the transition from Version 3 to Version 4 as seamless as possible for our authors.

This meant running a parallel version of 4.0 on an alternate test server for a month before launch as we continually tested and revised it for final release.  This also meant a full-blown “test launch” on the Tuesday before Memorial Day to see if the data migrated successfully.  The first test launch presented some unforeseen problems, which the developers resolved over the course of the next couple of days.  We ran another test launch on Thursday and this one was successful, thereby green-lighting the live migration on Saturday evening. We purposefully aimed for the middle of the Memorial Day weekend when our anticipated web traffic would be relatively low.  One of the “perks” for people in IT and website development fields is that they rarely get holidays off for this very reason — holidays are the best times to make large changes to B2B and B2C platforms.

Our IT team worked throughout the night to ensure that the “scheduled maintenance” message on our website was up for as short of a period as possible.  The new site went live around 7am mountain time Sunday morning, giving us Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend to collect any dust that had gathered from the reconstruction. 

Our website development and enhancements are an on-going function– or perhaps catalyst– of our continuous fast growth, so the live launch of Version 4 didn’t necessarily mark a “welcome relief” in IT’s eyes. But it certainly was a big step, marked by many long nights, and now we’re happy to finally introduce it to our current and future authors.

In the coming posts I’ll discuss many of the improvements that come with Outskirts Press 4.0. I’ll also discuss some of the additional complexities that such a large migration can add to operational processes, and how one can overcome them…

Version 4 of self publishing

When I write this blog, I make every effort to avoid falling back on a topic involving my “day to day grind” because, frankly, the day-to-day grind isn’t all that interesting. Instead, I prefer for these blog postings to stay a little more strategic.  But when I’m involved in large, time-consuming and complex projects every minute of every day, it becomes difficult to shift gears and talk about something else.

And currently, all my time and effort has been devoted to one of a number of large, complex projects. One being: Version 4.

Hey, look at this! Here’s another “insider” tidbit I can share… revealing some details about Version 4 of our website. 

Last summer we launched Version 3, which was largely devoted to streamlining the pre-production and production process for authors self publishing their books through the services of Outskirts Press. Among the improvements were the online proofing process and the dynamic recommendations that help authors create custom packages that benefit from the experience of our previous authors. 

Version 4 is tentatively scheduled to launch this summer and will piggy-back on many of the aesthetic and graphical improvements introduced in Version 3. With Version 4 will also come the “Wider” website.  Up until now, our website has been designed for one of the lower native monitor resolutions of 800×600.  Nearly no one uses that resolution anymore and as a result, our website sacrifices “real estate” that we could otherwise use to improve our author’s online experience. 

Everyone has a theory about what the most common resolution is nowadays (it often depends upon the demographics of the website compiling the statistic or asking the survey question) since, in general, Mac users tend to use higher resolutions than PC users while “younger” users tend to have higher resolutions than “older” users.

But a common belief, also supported by our own personal user statistics, indicate that the vast majority of Internet users can receive website widths of 1000 pixels or wider.  I’m not positive of the precise increase, but I think the width of our website will increase by roughly 200 pixels with the release of Version 4, and this gives us an opportunity to improve the pages “outside” of the Author’s Center also, something we didn’t do much of with Version 3.

There are some other exciting elements to Version 4 but it’s too early to reveal those…