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Publishing Models: Are You A Volume, Engagement Or Craft Publisher?

Publishing Models: Are You A Volume, Engagement or Craft Publisher?

Independent authors need to know about the three publishing models, the three kinds of structure within which self-publishing writers write, produce, and promote themselves and their books.

This is different to your business model, which is how a publisher organizes sales and distribution and getting paid. (You can see the five main business models for indie authors here.)  Your publishing model is the creative, rather than the commercial side, of your publishing.

Formed around our values as a person and as a writer, the publishing model we choose gives us our top priority as a publisher. This influences every decision we make–how we set up our writing and book production processes, our marketing and promotion campaigns, our communications with readers and influencers.

With clarity about your publishing model in place, we spend our time and money budgets on the right channels, and streamline our publishing team and tools. We know how to direct and hone your production and promotion campaigns and your business planning.

Consolidating a publishing business means having production and promotion processes that you have gained knowledge from, and can repeat. Once you know your model, with each new publishing project, you gain more knowledge–about your writing, about your readers, about your preferred ways to do business– that you'll then take into the next project.

The Three Publishing Models

The three publishing models are volume publishing (top value = productivity), engagement publishing (top value = connection) and craft publishing (top value = artistry).

  • For volume publishers, the publishing priority is rapid release
  • For engagement publishers, the publishing priority is reader relations
  • For craft publishers, the publishing priority is creative expression

These values and priorities are not mutually exclusive. We all bring a mix of values and priorities to our publishing. We all want to sell more books, we all want to improve our creative expression, we all must please our readers to stay in business.

But which is your number one?  Volume, engagement, or craft? Productivity, connection, or artistry?

If you don't know the answer to that question, you don't know your publishing priorities. Which means that when you come across publishing advice, you won't know if it applies to you, or if it  is relevant for another, different kind of publisher.

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

Publishing Models 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 Models 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 Model 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 creative expression.

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 as follows: 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 show your work, your values and mission, your value proposition
  • Sales and Marketing: Special campaigns, premium products, hype.


Trade Publishing vs. Self-Publishing

These publishing frameworks apply for third-party publishers too. Large corporate publishing houses are generally volume publishers. They use economies of scale to survive the cut-throat margins of bookselling. While they have craft imprints, which release the books that get submitted for prizes, generally the more lucrative volume business funds their more literary offerings. What big publishers cannot do as well as indie authors is engagement publishing. For readers, the writer not the publisher is the brand. The indie author is both and has a great head-start as an engagement publisher.

In the self-publishing sector, it's the opposite. 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 in certain book categories.

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. Problems may arise, however, for authors who are trying to fit into that model when it doesn't suit them or their books.
Many writers won't complete a book 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 follow advice…) If there was a failure, it was a failure to understand that they are an engagment or craft publisher and shouldn't be organizing around a volume model at all.

Finding Your Publishing Model

The sooner you understand and begin to work from your model, the better. Deciding on your publishing model is ideally one of the first tasks you undertake as a publisher but many of us stumble upon our model eventually through trial and error.

And things can change, over time. Some craft publishers turn to a volume model, when they work out how they do what they do. Some volume publishers switch to a long-held passion project, with a craft publishing model. Multi-passionate authors may run different models for different pen-names.
All good.

So what is your publishing model, right now?

Orna Ross runs a Ten-week Workshop based around discovering and planning a campaign based on your publishing model. Find out more here and sign up here: SelfPublishingAdvice.org/10weeks

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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