by Will Viharo
In previous columns I’ve explored the most popular platforms when it comes to DIY publishing: Lulu, Amazon, and Smashwords.
But others, like Outskirts, are fast catching up in terms of notoriety, if not always quality of service.
More options mean broader chances of eventual success, even if it also poses another challenge to the beginning author: how to choose?
As this article rating the various platforms shows, the variety of platforms available to indie authors nowadays is increasing by the year it seems, in tandem with the exponentially growing pool of ambitious, proactive clients. This is healthy competition, good for both the industry and the individual writer looking to publish and promote his or her own work to the public, bypassing the traditional gate keepers.
For my pieces on Lulu and Amazon, I was in a position to relate my personal history with each platform, while for my Smashwords investigation, I was able to share some valuable second hand experience.
But again, these posts are merely anecdotal and essentially subjective. I always recommend leading your own Internet safari in search of the perfect platform for your particular needs. My columns are intended to inspire and inform your journey, not replace it.
Here are some simple steps I suggest for your own research, following the same path I took while looking into Outskirts, a company I have no experience with whatsoever, and in fact had never even heard of before embarking on this series.
Each step of the process begins with a basic question:
How easy is it to use?
Since I am completely unfamiliar with this company, and have found both Lulu and Amazon to be extremely user-friendly, this was the first question I wanted answered.
I have to be brutally honest: maybe it’s just due to my impatience, but their home page is so busy that it immediately turned me off. It looked like the front page of a scam site. It definitely is not, since Outskirts’ professional reputation and ranking are pretty solid, but first impressions count. If I were in the market for a platform, I would’ve given this one a cursory glance, then bookmarked it for future reference.
How much will this cost?
This is probably the first question for many authors, since hardly any of us are rich, or expect to become wealthy slinging words around the alphabet soup known as cyberspace, so I went to this page, and then this one, and…wow. Things have apparently changed a lot since I published via Lulu five years ago, when I remember paying around $300 total per book, from interior formatting to global distribution. It seems they have since adjusted their rates, as well as how they arrive at these charges, but still remain pretty competitive and economically viable in the marketplace.
Outskirt’s fees for editorial, design, printing, promotional and distribution services – available as part of different packages or a la carte, like Lulu - may be industry standard these days, but remain cost-prohibitive for most users, especially given the fact you can upload a Kindle eBook completely free of charge, and keep 70% of the profits to boot. One would need some serious investment capitol to make your book everything it can be with this service, though the $35 “down payment” plan at least acknowledges that fact.
Me, I would immediately start shopping around again as soon as I saw this, though.
There is a brand new startup called Pronoun currently attracting positive attention, largely due to the fact it’s free. But then so is Kindle, as long as you provide your own cover design and editing.
It also belatedly hit me that Outskirts is basically a vanity press, which is why it’s so expensive. I strongly recommend avoiding those, for reasons both financial and practical, not to mention the matter of prestige.
How good is the communication with the company?
This is much more important than it may initially sound, since the autonomy is a big part of the attraction for self-publishers, anyway. But trust me, you will run into roadblocks and technical issues will arise that can’t be easily explained or solved by reading through an online manual.
Poor communication was my biggest complaint when dealing with Lulu, but it appears they have since upgraded that aspect of their services.
I poked around the Outskirts site, but did not find a direct phone number, much less an email. There was only a FAQ forum, which can often be much more frustrating than enlightening. Maybe there’s some direct contact info somewhere on the site, but if not on the page designated for such, it’s too hidden to matter. When I clicked on the “Help Desk” link, it just took me back to the home page.
Strike three. I’m out.
Dig a little deeper…
But to be completely fair, one would need to seek out anecdotal evidence of Outskirts’ overall appeal. As usual, you can easily find both positive and negative user feedback.
But it does seem the negative outweighs the positive. For instance, during my search for “the truth,” I stumbled upon an entire book about how horrible Outskirts Press is. Curious, I checked out who published a book trashing another publishing company. Turns out the author did, via his own “company.” I also discovered most of his “selfies” are tirades against a variety of targets. He definitely has his own agenda, so I would carefully consider his opinions in that context.
Then again, Michael J. Marcus is also a bestselling author and renowned expert on the subject of self-publishing. So you could take that fact into consideration when assessing his opinions as well.
Bottom line, it’s all subjective. Ultimately, you’re on your own. But at least you’re your own boss. That’s the trade-off.
“DIY” applies not only to the writing and publishing aspects of the business, but also to all the steps in between – and after.
Have you ever used Outskirts Press and if so, how was the experience for you?
IMAGE CREDIT: WILL HART