Friday, March 12, 2010

This author loves Outskirts Press -- but he shouldn't.

Gang Chen is a "poster boy" for inept and dishonest vanity publisher Outskirts Press. Outskirts has crowed about the huge royalty payments ($111,000 in six months) that Chen has received, and Chen recently kissed the Outskirts asses on, a website for entreprenurs.

What follows are some of Chen's comments, and my responses.

When I went to publish my book, Planting Design Illustrated, I received lots of interest from traditional publishers. But they wanted to make a lot of changes including adding a co-author. These were changes that would have made me dislike my own book!

Maybe readers would have liked it better.

So, I turned to self-publishing. At the time, making a lot of money was not at the top of my priorities. I simply wanted to publish my own book, my own way.

Now that I have self-published my first books, things have changed.

Actually, you did NOT self-publish. You used a vanity publisher.

Yes, I still want to have full control and yes I want keep all of my rights to the book. But now the royalty checks have become a top priority, especially with the economic climate that we're in. That's why, when I self published my second book,

Again, you did NOT self-publish. You used a vanity publisher.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) AP Exam Guide with Outskirts Press (a print on demand publisher), I took a different approach.

My book had the benefit of being published at the right time, at the right price. I earned over $30,000 in royalties ($31,207.68, to be precise) in one month. I earned even more the next month. Within six months I had earned over $110,000!

Your book is highly unusual and your earnings are highly atypical. Other writers are wrong to think they could emulate your success.

I don't think I'm saying anything revolutionary when I say that publishing non-fiction is an easier proposition on the self-publishing front than fiction. But even fiction books are valuable if they provide the type of "escape" your reader is seeking. Whether you write non-fiction, fiction, poetry, or something else entirely, the book must deliver on its promise. You might do everything else on this list, and you might even find some short-lived success, but ultimately, the success of your book comes down to how valuable your book is to its readers.

That's why your situation is atypical. Your book is much more valuable to its readers than most books are, so you can charge a much higher price. But despite the high price, you made much less money than you could have.

(1) The book is highly specialized. It’s a study guide needed for professional advancement. It’s a very important book aimed at a very small audience for whom the book price is not significant. It’s like a college textbook that students must buy for $150 in order to take a course needed for graduation.

(2) Because of the small audience, it’s highly unlikely that the sales volume (about 1,000 copies per month) and royalty payments will stay at the recent high level month-after-month, year-after-year.

(3) Despite its small page size and mere 243 pages, it has a huge cover price of $69.95. Amazon discounts it by just 10% to $62.95.

I compliment you for filling a need and getting paid well for it. HOWEVER, if you became a real, independent self-publisher instead of using Outskirts, you probably could have made even more money.

According to the chart on the Outskirts website, if you paid $999 or more for an Outskirts “Diamond” package, you earn $28.18 per book.

If, on the other hand, you decided to do a little bit more work yourself, or hired a freelance designer and editor for probably less than what you paid to Outskirts, you could have had the books produced directly by Lightning Source (the same printer that Outskirts uses) for just $4.54 per book (plus a small set-up fee).
  • If you kept the $69.95 list price and allowed and other online booksellers the normal 20% discount, you could have made $51.42 per book — nearly twice the $28.18 that Outskirts pays you!
  • Alternatively, if you are satisfied with $28.18 per book, by being a real self-publisher, you could have reduced the list price of the book to just $40.95, instead of $69.95.
  • By using Outskirts Press, you are making less money than you could be making, or your readers are paying more for your books than they could be paying — or both.
When I chose my POD publisher for my second book,

If Outskirts Press is your publisher, then you are NOT the publisher. Therefore you have NOT self-published!

I was not considering how much my royalties were going to be. That only became important to me after the book was published. But they say hindsight is 20-20, so I'm going to share with you one of the main reasons my royalties are so high. The publisher I chose, Outskirts Press, pays me 100% of the profits of the book and lets me set my own pricing. iUniverse pays 20% of the profit. Xlibris pays 10% of the retail price. But by paying 100% of the profit, Outskirts Press allowed me to set the retail price to whatever I wanted, and now I earn the entire benefit of increasing my price.

Baloney! The only numbers you see are what Outskirts chooses to reveal. You don't get 100% of the profits. Outskirts makes a profit, too.

Here's another way to look at it: If I had published my same exact book with iUniverse at the same exact retail price, instead of earning $31,207.68, I would have earned approximately $5,300. If I had published my same book with Xlibris, I would have earned approximately $4,600. Yes, without knowing any better, I would have still considered myself a successful self- published author, but probably not enough to write this article.

You are NOT a self-published author. You used a vanity publisher. If you really were a self-published author, you could have made MUCH more money than you did.

As you can see, self-publishing is working for me.

No, it's not!

I've made over $111,000 in six months.

You could have made much more.

My royalties are increasing every month

It can't last. You have a very limited audience.

and I'm working on my third book, which I will also publish with Outskirts Press. If hindsight is indeed 20-20, I can only imagine what my royalties will be for book #3!

If you follow the steps above, you too can be on your way to earning $30,000 a month self-publishing!




  1. I thought it sounded too good to be true. New writers can be a little bit gullible when it comes to publishing and this just highlights the dangers in which they could get themselves into.

    CJ xx

  2. FANTASTIC response! Unfortunately, aspiring authors who haven't done their research would read Chen's article and think they, too, will reap similar financial rewards.

    My (truly) self-published book is now the basis of a one-woman show. Maybe I'll write an article telling writers all they need is a Vegas show for back-of-room sales.

    Bullshit. You're so right.

  3. I love the new profile picture!!!

    This is a great response, Michael. I actually feel bad for Gang Checn. He could publish with CreateSpace, use their cheap-o Cover Creator, and pay an editor about $500-$1000 for his next project and make double what Outskirts is paying him. So sad.