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Publishing Values For Indie Authors: Finding Your Framework As A Publisher

Publishing Values for Indie Authors: Finding Your Framework as a Publisher

In her monthly column on creative self-publishing, Alliance of Independent Authors founder and director Orna Ross addresses the question of publishing values for indie authors and why knowing your values as a publisher is so important 

Orna Ross

Orna Ross, novelist, poet and director of ALLi

It's not an exaggeration to say that for indie authors, publishing values are the foundation of your success. If you're feeling overworked and underpaid, if you're running around doing. all. the. things, as the latest creative community catchline puts it, getting clearer about your publishing values is certain to help.

Like your writing values, your publishing values are filters. They focus you, enabling you to avoid detours and distractions, doubts and dithering. They keep your creative energies flowing in the right direction and ensure what you offer is uniquely you.

They guide you to your readers, fans and followers, your team and tools, your customers and influencers, your genre, niche and micro-niche.

In the indie author community we often meet an assumption that the best way, even the only way, to self-publish profitably is to write fast and publish often. Yes, that is one way to succeed, but no, it’s not the only way and it's a model that's most effective with certain genres and certain book categories.

Yet we often see authors trying to fit into that model when it doesn't suit them or their books. The writer they are will never write two books a year, never mind a book a month (yes, that's happening!).

If they try, they'll quickly run to ground and may feel like they've failed (failed to be productive enough, failed to fix their mindset, failed to keep up with the latest best advice…) If there was a failure, it was a failure to understand that they have different values as a writer and as a publisher. That they shouldn't be organizing around a rapid release model at all.

The Value of Knowing Your Publishing Values

Our values give us our publishing principles and priorities, and that creates the framework within which we work, which helps us to choose the right business models and revenue streams.

Core to any creative project is selection. Most creative people find they can do lots of things rather well. Most creative people are attracted to new and interesting things. All fine and completely lovely if you're creating for yourself, but if you want to sell your books to readers, you have to focus.

Your reader needs to be crystal clear what kind of book(s) you're offering, what they can expect if they read, or they will ignore your books and move on to ones they trust to deliver. And you need to be able to balance your writing and your publishing tasks, if you're to reach enough readers to run a profitable publishing business.

How we write our books, how we produce, market, and promote them, how we organize our teams and set up for profit, how to choose premium products and services for our readers, how we sustain ourselves, and how we scale: our core publishing value affects them all.

When you work from your core values as an author and a publisher, you find your place among other people who think the way you do, care about what you care about, consume what you want to create.

Everything becomes clearer. You enjoy a burst of creative energy. You feel ready to face fears and take risks. You can work with intent focus without feeling drained. You feel everything has been leading to here. You see more clearly where you want to go.

The Three Publishing Values

From what I can see, from having observed thousands of ALLi members over the years, there are three core publishing values for indie authors to choose from:

  • productivity
  • connection
  • artistry

Of course, these are all interlinked. We won't produce many books if we don't harness our creativity. We won't attract readers if our writing or publishing craft is underdeveloped. We won't grow creatively unless we're producing words and books regularly.

We need to value all three to a fair degree, but the question is: which do we value most? Which is our core publishing value?

Publishing Values => Publishing Framework

Our publishing values tell us our priorities, forming the framework within which we work. If we don't know what framework works best for us or our books, it doesn't matter which business model we run, we're unlikely to succeed.

The frameworks that form around the three publishing values are volume publishing (productivity), engagement publishing (connection) and craft publishing (artistry).

  • Volume publishing: the number one value is productivity and the publishing priority is rapid release
  • Engagement publishing: the number one value is connection and the publishing priority is reader relations
  • Craft publishing: where the number one value is artistry and the publishing priority is creativity

Again, we all bring a mix of these values and priorities to publishing. We all want to sell more books, we all want to get better at our writing craft and publishing craft, we all know our readers are vital to our endeavors. But which is your number one?  Volume, engagement, or craft? Productivity, connection, or quality?

If you don't know the answer to that question, you don't know your publishing priorities. Which means you won't know which advice to follow, and which is meaningful for others, but not you. 

(Side note, by priorities here, I mean publishing priorities. As writers, the priority for us all is always getting the writing done.)

The Three Publishing Values and Frameworks

Let's look a little closer at each of the three publishing values and frameworks for indie authors.

Publishing Values 1. Volume Publishing

As a volume publisher, you trade as many books as possible, to price-sensitive readers, in “whale-reader” genres. You publish early (minimum viable product) and often, writing fast and often hiring other writers as ghostwriters or collaborators. You analyse data about the market and push advertising towards online retailers, most notably Amazon KDP and Kindle Unlimited, taking actions that influence the algorithms. Your publishing priority is rapid release.

Volume Publisher Example: Michael Anderlé and LMBPN

Volume publishing works best in the genres that attract what are known in the business as “whale readers.”

“A whale reader reads at least a book a week,” says Michael Anderlé, founder of LMBPN Publishing, who counts himself as such a reader. “We can read three to five books in a weekend. When you start feeding whale readers really quickly, they like what they see and they will get it fast.”

Anderlé and his wife Judith built LMBPN Publishing on that kind of reader, running a volume publishing model built on rapid release, using other writers to ghostwrite and to write within worlds Michael had created. Anderlé released his first book in November, 2015 and through his indie publishing company then five more books within the next 90 days, thereby crossing five figures in monthly income. Fast forward two years and he had released over 30 books and additional novellas and collaborated with over 15 other indie authors, to help them keep to a fast-paced publishing schedule.

Today, LMBPN Publishing has over 200 titles through actively encouraging fan fiction—where another author bases their work on Anderlé's characters, settings, or other intellectual properties. Their books have attained bestseller status on Amazon on multiple occasions, in multiple genres, and Anderlé himself ranks in Amazon's Top 100 authors, while running a team of writers and editors currently processes more than two million words a month.

Leaning in as a volume publisher:

  • You / Your Team: You build a streamlined, online marketing team that keeps your costs as low as possible through savvy automation. Ideally, you collaborate with and hire other writers to feed your rapid release model.

  • Social Media Focus: You are a broadcaster. You put out your updates, automated, on as many platforms as possible, and engage only when it suits you, if at all.

  • Sales and Marketing: Your focus on digital data, aiming to drive the algorithms, using pay-per-click advertising, discounts, and value pricing to win advantages over other publishers in bestseller lists, to give visibility.

Publishing Values 2. Engagement Publishing

As an engagement publisher, you trade in special offers and services to readers and a highly honed understanding of their needs and how best to communicate with them. You offer customized services and tailored products. Your publishing priority is reader relations.

Engagement Publisher Example: Brandon Sanderson

Everyone on planet earth must by now know about Brandon Sanderson and his $41 million crowd funder project on Kickstarter. What fewer have bothered to notice is how Sanderson built that achievement on decades of carefully managed reader engagement.

Sanderson runs regular events for his readers,on YouTube, alongside workshops and courses for writers. He invites fan fiction, within certain limits that he has carefully delineated. He provides a constantly updated Brandon Sanderson “knowledge base” on his website. He has not only dutifully answered all his fan mail since he started, but also publicly posted reader mail responses on his website for years–including listing the books and websites of his students and followers who have published themselves. He has an active Twitter account with almost 400k followers. He does regular giveaways and contests. And he loves to get out and about and meet his readers.
Sanderson's message on his newsletter signup shows his commitment to reader engagement. He invites subscribers to list the metro areas (or reasonably small states or countries) where they live. “General and unambiguous is better than specific, he says. “And avoid smaller cities with the same name as larger ones,” he warns, helpfully giving examples: “Utah Valley, Orange County, Bay Area, Washington DC. If you're in southern British Columbia, put Vancouver or Victoria. If you're in Vancouver WA, put Portland. For Portland ME just put Maine. For London Ontario put Toronto. In the UK, put the nearest large metro area: London, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Liverpool, Southampton, etc.”
Yes, Brandon Sanderson has published a lot of books over many decades. Yes, he now has an operation that keep the titles coming, fast and often, but the foundation of his success is prioritising  reader engagement alongside special offers, carefully focussed to meet his different reader groups' particular needs (adults, YA and children).
This engagement publisher has devised brilliant strategies that involve his readers in his world in ways that do not derail his writing and publishing process. It has all culminated in the most successful publishing crowd funder of all time.

Leaning in as an engagement publisher:

  • You / Your Team: Actively engaged, receptive to reader's needs, reactive and nimble in your responses. You set up a structure that allows you to communicate effectively with your readers.

  • Social Media Focus: High engagement, giveaways, contests, quizzes, providing answers to readers' problems

  • Sales and Marketing: Social media marketing and sales, online and physical events, hand selling, social commerce.

Publishing Values 3. Craft Publishing

As a craft publisher, you trade in unique books and experiences for readers who will pay more for something special. You offer high-end literary, art or design values in your books, or highly treasured products or services. Your publishing priority is creativity.

Craft Publisher Example: Rupi Kaur

Sometimes people assume craft publishers only operate in highly literary genres, but not so. You can be a craft publisher (or volume or engagement publisher) in any genre.
A good example is Rupi Kaur, poet, illustrator, performer, and the highest paid poet in the world. Most literary critics have dismissed her work as “not poetry” and no, her female empowerment aphorisms are not formally skilled in traditional literary terms.
A recent poem from Instgram runs:
I am water.
Soft enough
to offer life.
Tough enough to
drown it away.
This is “not poetry”, in any conventional sense, but look more closely to see how carefully Kaur has crafted her publishing mission and modus operandi.
Talking about why she chose self-publishing, she says:  “i wanted to design the cover. i wanted to lay the book out. it was my heart on paper. i wanted to pick the size. font. and colours. years of study in visual rhetoric and design led me to fall in love with print and graphic art.”
Kaur does not use capital letters, taking her punctuation style from her Punjabi heritage’s gurmukhi script in which there are no uppercase, only lowercase letters. She has spoken of how this “equality of letters” reflects her worldview. She illustrates her poems herself on Instagram, with a carefully honed aesthetic that matches her mission, and the meaning her fans are seeking from her work.
As an example of one of her campaigns: Some years ago, she posted a series of self-portrait photographs to Instagram during her period. In this challenge to societal menstrual taboos, she showed  bloodstains on her underwear and bed sheets. Instagram banned the photographs, emphasising her point, but she fought hard for their reinstatement, insisting that the series was “visual poetry” and pointing up the hypocrisy of a platform that hosted constant sexual images of women censored a universal female experience. Instagram brought back the images and apologised.
Her fans adore her empowerment message and her publishing reflects and constantly amplifies this. The following caption accompanied her water poem: i remember writing this poem after i thinking about how powerful water is. how beautiful it is. but also how dangerous. following those thoughts, an image of a woman came to mind and i immediately connected the two- thinking wow just like water women are soft and luscious. and just like water we are rough and determined. we have the power to be everything all at once within us.
Kaur's carefully honed publishing craft has won her a following of millions, and her book tours sell out world stadiums more commonly associated with rock stars.

Leaning in as a craft publisher:

  • You / Your Team: You build a culture of creativity and quality and ensure your publishing team and assistants appreciate your mission to offer unique and prized products and experiences
  • Social Media Focus: Sumptuous book trailers and author explainers that show your work and your value proposition
  • Sales and Marketing: Special campaigns, premium products.

Publishing Values are Neutral and Equal

Publishing values, like all values, are neutral and equal–but we load them with meaning. Every human value has both denotation (its meaning in the dictionary) and connotation (the emotional meaning we attach to it). By definition, we value our values and think the things we value are the most important. This has distorted the traditional publishing industry.
People who work in publishing are often literature or humanities graduates who value high-level literary, art, design and production values more than the average reader. This leads many of them to think craft publishing and literary writing are “better” than the rest.
Books and imprints and publishing houses are categorised as “genre” (what most people like to read, boo!) and “literary” (what they like to read themselves, yay!). Mainstream press, prestigious review outlets and the academic canon all organize around these industry values.
Self-publishing has liberated into visibility those writers who sell the most books and earn the most money, who have traditionally kept the book industry (and most “literary” authors) afloat. Little wonder that they are now highly vocal about how they do things.
Of course, as creative artists we respect virtuosity in writing and publishing as in any art form, and as authors, we may wish for the validation of pleasing established influencers and taste-makers. As publishers, though, our job is to please readers. A saying in publishing claims that a writer can have popularity or prizes, but not both.
Like most aphorisms, it has some truth in it but is not universally true. Art is always pluralistic, defying binaries and boundaries. Many critically acclaimed and prizewinning books of the past have faded into obscurity, while many titles initially categorised as commercial gained a level of reader regard that drew the critics in.
The point, for indie authors, is to know your personal values, particularly your core publishing value.
The best known and loved third-party publishers and imprints also those with a clear sense of their core publishing value too, eg  Harlequin (volume publisher), Usborne (engagement publisher ), Faber (craft publisher). Large corporate publishing houses are volume publishers, using their economies of scale to survive the cut-throat margins of bookselling. They have craft imprints, of course,  but generally the more lucrative volume and engagement sides of the house fund those.

Publishing Values, Frameworks, and Business Models

Once you've established your publishing values and framework, your business model becomes clearer. In a previous post, we discussed the five publishing business models for authors and how they build on values.

  1. Exclusive Model
  2. Wide Model
  3. Rights Licensing Model
  4. Publisher Model
  5. Creator Model

Volume publishers may choose to use an exclusive or wide self-publishing model. Engagement publishers are more likely to choose a rights licensing or publisher model. And craft publishers often employ creator economy models with multiple income streams. But again there are no rules.

You need to test, experiment, and explore to see what's right for you, your books, and your publishing business.

I also run a patron program for authors who want to develop profitable. Creative Planning for Profit

Find out more about this and how it all hangs together in my book, Creative Self-Publishing

So what is your core publishing value? Which kind of publisher are you? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

Author: Orna Ross

Orna Ross is a bestselling and award-winning author of historical fiction and inspirational poetry, and a creativity facilitator. As founder-director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, she has been named one of The Bookseller’s Top 100 people in publishing. 

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This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I’m preparing to retire from a 20 year career as an Assistant Professor in Visual Communications at a community college. I have learned much about teaching, higher-education, producing, and I have things to say. I’m also a cartoonist and a web designer. That will fit into the mix somehow. Who doesn’t like a good cartoon?

    I love working with people, but the academic treadmill has left me no room for my own personal creativity. Why? Because I’m responsible for the design and development of 6 courses and teaching 10 classes in the school year. So, my time is taken… mostly. Next stop? Self-publishing. At this moment, I see myself as a creative and want a creator publishing model. Let’s see where life takes me.

  2. I think I’m in the craft category. I barely pulled off two books this year, I put a lot of time and money into editing and cover design. I have a small fan base from my fiction blog.

    I just have no desire to overcharge readers for my books. I also respect the work of writers in other the other categories.

    Thanks for writing this. It’s given me things to consider.

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