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.
Publishing Models 1. Volume Publishing
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
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.
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
Craft Publisher Example: Rupi Kaur
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.
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.
So what is your publishing model, right now?