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The Three Models Of Independent Publishing: Creative Self-Publishing Podcast With Orna Ross And Howard Lovy

The Three Models of Independent Publishing: Creative Self-Publishing Podcast with Orna Ross and Howard Lovy

On the Creative Self-Publishing Podcast, ALLi Director Orna Ross and News and Podcast Producer Howard Lovy discuss the three models of independent publishing. They are volume publishing, engagement publishing, and craft publishing. Each model comes with its own priorities and values that affect every aspect of the publishing process, from production to promotion. Orna details how each model works.

The Creative Self-Publishing podcast stream is sponsored by Orna Ross’s guidebook: Creative Self-Publishing. You can purchase the book at selfpublishingAdvice.org/creative. ALLI members receive the ebook edition, and all ALLi guidebooks, free.

Find more author advice, tips, and tools at our self-publishing advice center. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at allianceindependentauthors.org.

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Listen to the Podcast: Three Models of Independent Publishing

On the Creative Self-Publishing Podcast, Orna Ross and @howard_lovy discuss the three models of indie publishing. Are you a volume, engagement, or craft publisher? Click To Tweet

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Show Notes

About the Hosts

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratizing, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website:  http://www.ornaross.com

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than thirty-five years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn, and Twitter.

Read the Transcripts: Three Models of Independent Publishing

Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy, news and podcast producer for the Alliance of Independent Authors, and you're listening to Creative Self-Publishing with Orna Ross, ALLi director, novelist, poet, and creative facilitator. Every episode, we discuss how to become a profitable self-publisher, while also retaining your unique creative voice. There are many paths to self-publishing, and we help you discover yours.

Joining me now is Orna Ross. Hello, Orna. How are you?

Orna Ross: I'm very well, Howard, thank you, and you?

Howard Lovy: Oh, I'm fine. Just a little update, I've written about 40,000 words in the last month or so on my work in progress, and some of that I owe to you.

A couple of weeks ago we talked about how to spend your time, energy, and money in your creative business, and you convinced me that I had too many things going on at once between journalism, podcasting, book editing and writing, and one of them had to go.

So, I chose to jettison journalism, and it was a tough decision because I've been a working journalist since 1985, but I've decided to quit and focus purely on writing and editing books. The process of pitching publications for low pay just wasn't sustainable anymore. So, I gave myself permission to write and it's made a big difference.

Orna Ross: That's amazing. Well, 40,000 words, I mean, that's just fantastic, and I think you've done the right thing. It's really hard though, when it's part of our identity sometimes to let things go like that. So, that's a huge thing to do. But yeah, I'm pretty sure it's the right thing to do. So, you're Mr. Book Man now. Only books.

Howard Lovy: That's not to say I don't use journalism skills in everything I do, especially in my editing work and even in my non-fiction writing work, but it's time to move on.

Orna Ross: Even in managing the podcast, I think, doing the headlines, and journalism is a great skill, for a publisher, it comes in useful in all sorts of ways. So, yeah, it won't go astray.

What do we mean by publishing model?

Howard Lovy: Right. Well, that brings us to our topic today, because I need to decide what kind of publishing model I want to use, and in an article you wrote last fall you identified three of them, which I think we'll link to in the show notes.

You identified volume publishing, engagement publishing, and craft publishing. Let's take those one by one.

Orna Ross: Yes, indeed. So, just before we get into the nitty gritty of what I mean by each of those terms, just to say that what I'm talking about here is not your business model.

So, you and I have discussed here on the Creative Self-Publishing Podcast, we've discussed before business models and that's, are you Amazon exclusive or do you publish wide? Do you license your rights? Do you publish other authors? These are business models. Are you running a creator business model where you do memberships on your website or patron or other kinds of creative model activities? They're the five basic business models for independent authors. That's not what I'm talking about today.

It's very easy to confuse them. Today I'm talking about publishing models. So, it's almost like the art and craft of your publishing as opposed to the business side of your publishing.

So, it's the art and craft that you bring to both your book production and your marketing and promotion, and that's what your publishing model is. When you understand which publishing model is right for you, and more importantly, right for your books, you know, different kinds of books fall into different kinds of models, when you get that right, everything becomes easier.

We spoke last time about focusing your time, your money, and your energy, and that's what knowing your publishing allows you to do. It allows you to focus it in the right directions, because it's very easy to get this wrong, and particularly because you will hear successful authors talking about what they do in their publishing, and you will think, oh, that sounds really great, I'm not doing that, I should be doing that. If you don't know what your publishing model is and what theirs is, you could actually be adopting an activity, or a set of activities, or a whole wave of setting yourself up that isn't right for you and your books.

So, knowing your publishing model is actually very important.

For some people, if you know about it in advance, you can set it up in advance and you're set up that way from the get-go. For a lot of us, it's something that we understand over time. As we do the work, we understand our model better.

What are the three publishing models, and are they genre-specific?

Howard Lovy: Now, these models, they're not necessarily author specific, but they're genre specific.

Orna Ross: Any model can be used in any genre, but particular genres lend themselves better, sometimes, to particular models.

So, as you said earlier, the three different models are volume publishing, and that is where your top publishing priority is rapid release, and you are looking to put out as many books as possible in as short a period as possible, and that is your core activity. And for that, those genre where there are whale readers, who cannot get enough. So, romance in fiction, in non-fiction it tends to be self-help, particularly inspirational self-help, that kind of thing.

So, that can happen, but I think it's important to say that you can use a volume publishing model in any genre if you want to set yourself up in that way.

Then for example, craft publishing, when I'm talking about craft publishing, there your publishing priority is creative expression and creativity in the production of the work as well as in looking at the writing, but also how the books are put together, is what we're thinking about when we talk about a craft publishing model. That lends itself well to literary fiction or narrative non-fiction, those kinds of genre, but again, any genre can approach their publishing in this way.

You may have two different pen names, and one might be a craft publisher and one might be a volume or engagement publisher.

Engagement publishing is the third model, and the publishing priority there is reader relations. So, I think it's also important to say that any genre can fall into them. As I said, some genres fit into some better than others, but it's also important to say that all three aspects of these models are important to all of us.

So, we need to have these values and priorities in our publishing no matter who we are, and which model we choose. What we're talking about though, in terms of understanding your model is priorities, which one is your top one, which one is your second, and which is your third? When you understand that, an awful lot of your decisions become easier.

What is volume publishing?

Howard Lovy: Well, let's take it one at a time. For volume publishing, I remember interviewing, a few months ago, a romance author who's kind of this nerdy guy who you don't really think of when you think about somebody who's writing romance, but he has a team of ghost writers just cranking out these romance novels that I assume is an example of a volume publisher.

Orna Ross: Yes, that's a very good example. In the blog post that I wrote, I spoke about the example of Michael Anderle, who's well known in the indie community. He was the person who came up with this concept of 20 books to 50k. If you can write 20 books and you're only earning a small amount off each book, you will be at average wage, and the idea is the more books you write, the better off you are. When he started to use this model in 2015, within two years he had published 30 books and he had created these worlds, and like your author that you in interviewed, he had brought in over 15 other authors who were also writing in his world or writing some of his series directly.

Today, they've over, probably more even since I spoke, last October I think it was when I wrote the post, LMBPN Publishing, which is his imprint, had over 200 titles and was also actively encouraging fan fiction.

So, the whole thing is about getting as many books as possible out there and dominating your genre, if you like. Just the virtual bookshelves are crammed with your books, and it's almost impossible for the reader who goes on to Amazon, because the most volume publishers use Amazon, sometimes exclusively Amazon, sometimes wide, but with a heavy leaning towards Amazon.

Howard Lovy: Right. Now, what genre was Michael Anderle writing in, or was multiple?

Orna Ross: He's fantasy.

Howard Lovy: And so, like romance, people consume those books in bulk.

Orna Ross: Yes, and I think as we said at the beginning, this model works best if you are in that genre, and the thing is that it's a very visible model in the indie publishing space because the authors who use this model are on Amazon, and Amazon is watched by watchers of self-publishing. They are very visible, and they're seen, and because it is definitely a successful model in the right genre, particularly if you hire other people to do some writing for you.

I would say that it is impossible to run a sustainable volume model without hiring other writers. So, if you're talking now about people putting out a book a month, and these are short books, and they're not necessarily books that take a huge amount of time to put together, obviously, but still, if you are trying to put out books at that sort of rate, sooner or later you're going to run the creative well dry, and definitely to keep up that sort of intensity is punishing for most people. You might be the exceptional creature that is just stimulated the more you write, the more you produce, the more you put out there, the more ideas you get, and you're energized by it, and if that is you, then fantastic. You are a natural volume publisher, but for most people, in terms of building the business and if you want to grow it quickly, hiring a team makes a lot of sense.

Also, there's a lot of advertising often behind the books in order to dominate in these very competitive genre. In order to dominate there, a lot of money is spent on advertising. So, you can quickly grind yourself down if you don't set yourself up well for volume publishing.

What I was going to say there as well is that if you hear the advice from some of these very successful volume publishers who are talking about write more books, write more books, write more books, being the best form of marketing, you may take that on board, but if you are not a volume publisher then that may not be your best thing to do.

So, you need to think about, am I a volume publisher before you lean in this direction.

Howard Lovy: Right, and that's not for beginners either. It sounds you have to have a well thought out plan and a lot of help.

Orna Ross: I think there's a bit of writing to market as well, but it's like every other kind of business in our sector. You start small and you grow. So, even Michael Anderle started with one book. It's the first book that allows the next thing. But yes, having a plan.

Writing to market is something we also see in the volume publishing model. So, working out, what is most likely to sell at volume is another thing that happens. So, just to advise, to give people advice if they are leaning in that direction and want to be a successful volume publisher, leaning in, what does it look like?

For your team, you want to build a very streamlined online marketing team that keeps your costs low. So, you won't be doing a huge amount of personal social media, you're likely to collaborate with other writers, and you're constantly keeping that rapid release model going.

So, you're feeding the beast all the time. That is your main focus. If you are on social media, you mightn't even be there at all, you might just be selling through with ads and through the platforms, and skip the social media thing. If you are on social media, you're likely to just be a broadcaster putting out your updates, they'll be automated, you'll be on as many platforms as possible, and you'll just engage as a fun thing to do because you like to do it, if you engage at all.

The other thing is, from a sales and marketing perspective, your focus is going to be on digital data. You'll be testing what works, you'll be aiming to drive the algorithms, you'll be using paper click ads, discounts, and also value pricing and maybe free, to win over readers through the platforms. So, that's the sort of structure. That's what it looks like for a volume publisher.

What is engagement publishing?

Howard Lovy: Okay. Well let's move on to sort of the middle ground here, the engagement publisher.

Orna Ross: Yes. So, as an engagement publisher, the reader comes right in and is very central to what you do. There will be perhaps some writing to market, maybe not though, it might be about focusing on special offers and services that you're giving to them. You will have a really highly honed understanding of your reader's needs and you will know how they like to be communicated to.

You'll offer maybe customized services or tailored products. Your priority, your publishing priority all the time is your reader relations. The example I gave in the blog post that I did was Brandon Sanderson. Now, he was Mr. Famous last year for his $41 million Crowdfunder, and since then, so many authors have jumped on Kickstarter and other Crowdfunder platforms inspired by what Brandon was able to do.

So, I took a very close look at his Crowdfunder to see how he had done what he had done, and I assumed, because Brandon has written a lot of books, he has been writing for a very long time, I assumed he was a volume publisher, but what I found was a very thoughtful engagement publisher.

So, he runs regular events for his readers on YouTube with workshops and courses. He invites fan fiction, but he has laid out very carefully how you are allowed to write in his world. He has a knowledge base on his website that he's constantly updating, and he's answered every single email, or fan mail letters he used to get in the beginning, since he started, not only directly by answering directly and privately to the person who has written to him, but he has also publicly posted, he's got permission from his readers and publicly posted their responses on his website now for years.

He lists the books and websites of his students and his followers and his readers who publish themselves. His Twitter account is really vibrant. He's got about 400k followers on Twitter, and he does lots of giveaways and contests, and he also loves getting out and about in a physical sense to meet his readers, and you can see that commitment to reader engagement in his newsletter sign up. He invites subscribers to list, in the US, he's very US focused, to list the metropolitan areas or the small states and countries where they live. So, he gets really specific in how he tells people to list that, avoid smaller cities with the same name as larger ones, he said, Utah Valley, Orange County, Bay Area, Washington DC. He gets really specific about it; you can tell he really cares. He really wants you to turn up to the right place and he really wants to meet you if you are a reader of his.

So, yes, he produces a lot of books and he obviously has an operation that keeps those titles coming year after year, but the foundation of his success is definitely around prioritizing reader engagement, and so when it came to a Crowdfunder, he was ideally situated with his big email list and his understanding of what his readers want and how to put together special offers for them, how to focus to meet his different reader groups; that's why it was such a success.

Howard Lovy: So, that didn't come out of nowhere? He put a lot of work into it. It sounds exhausting the way you described his various strategies of reader engagement.

Orna Ross: Yeah, and again, if you're a natural engagement publisher. I think that says, the fact that you said exhausting and kind of pulled back from it, it says to you, engagement publishing's probably not your model.

But if you are a natural engagement publisher, you'll be energized by all that. You'll set your team up to be actively engaged and receptive to your reader's needs, and to be very nimble in reacting and responding to what they want. You'll also have a structure that will allow you to communicate effectively with them, while still getting your writing done.

That is very often the core challenge for engagement publishers, you can just get swept away with the social, with the engagement.

On your social media, you will engage with people. You will want to answer their questions, do giveaways, contests, quizzes, the kind of thing that Brandon does, question and answers, all that kind of stuff. And social media, marketing and sales is likely to be very important for you as an engagement publisher. Online or physical events, or both, hand selling, social commerce, all these things are core to the engagement publisher. So, you can see how it's different from a volume publishing model.

Howard Lovy: Now, you mentioned a team. Does he have a team or is it just him?

Orna Ross: I think we all have a publishing team, and I think it's important that we think about it in that way. So, your editor is part of your team, your designer is part of your team. Anyone who helps you with your marketing is part of your team. Anyone who helps you with any aspect of your publishing, your administration, your bookkeeping, your, your VA, these are all part of your team. So yes, undoubtedly Brandon Sanderson has a team. There is no way he could do everything he does as one individual person. But again, he started in trade publishing, actually.

He just started writing and had publishers who did the rest back in the day, and then he slowly took on more and more of that because only he can engage with his readers in the way that he does. But I'm 100% sure he has a team. I don't know him personally at all, but I just know from the output there is a team behind that, and I think it's really important to think about your team as you think about the kind of publishing model that you want to use.

So, you might not be able to afford a team in this moment, but you are thinking about what you would most like to hand over and you are thinking about, I can only do this part, as soon as I can afford to, I'm going to get somebody else to do that part.

But what that part looks like is going to be very different depending on whether you're a volume, engagement, or a craft publisher.

What is the craft publishing model?

Howard Lovy: Well, let's move on to craft publishers then. Is that more of a lone person putting out his or her art, or is there a team involved there too?

Orna Ross: Yeah, I think the team comes in around size and how much you're doing, how much content you can put out, how well you can do things; that's where the team comes in.

We all start with ourselves in each of the three models, but as soon as you can get a team together, you will probably find that you are getting paid more and they're getting paid as well, because once you can get up and running as a publisher, then you'll begin to see that inflow, which allows you to build the team and you get into a positive cycle.

So, for craft publishing, you may or may not have a team, but it isn't a lone endeavour ever. No good book is a standalone, one-person operation. So, self-publishing is in some ways a misnomer. We all need, at a minimum, an editor, and a designer, at an absolute minimum. So, that's three people straight up, but we also, as we grow our publishing and as we become better publishers, we are likely to hire some help.

So, the craft publisher, what does that look like? Well, you're trading in sort of unique books and experiences for your reader, so you're not focusing so much on engaging with your readers as much as absolutely delighting them in the book itself and in maybe other experiences that you're also offering around the book.

So, high-end literary art or design values in your books, and treasured products and services. So, you're likely to spend more time putting your actual books and products, other products and services together, and your publishing priority is creative expression. So, you want it to be something unique and something wonderful.

The example I gave in the blog post was Rupi Kaur, and Rupi, as anyone who's into poetry will know is probably the highest paid poet in the world, if not the highest she's certainly one of them, and that is down to her publishing as much as her poetry. People would say that her poetry is not particularly craftful in terms of the writing, but the publishing is very craftful.

So, she chose self-publishing when she started out, because she wanted to have that sort of crafty hands-on thing. She wanted to design her own cover. She wanted to do the layout of the book. She was very particular about how her words were written. She doesn't use capital letters, it's to do with her Punjabi heritage, the script that they use doesn't have an upper case, it's only lower case. But it was also a political statement around the eye, the individual eye, which is very much a western male kind of construct, and her poetry was very much about undermining that, if you like, and giving voice to young women, and she's open about how the quality of letters reflects her worldview.

So, what I'm saying is that these are publishing decisions made from a craft perspective, and everything that she has done since then has been drawn into that vision. She's done a lot of really out-there sort of Instagram campaigns and her fans absolutely adore her and her work and her empowerment message, and her publishing is constantly recognizing that and reflecting it back to them and amplifying it. So, she is sending out subliminal messages in the covers of her book.

She also does, she's an illustrator and does a lot of her own illustration work on Instagram and in her books, and so for her it's very much about craft.

Now, it's also about selling a lot of books, and it's also about putting yourself out there in a certain way. Back to what I said at the beginning, these things work hand in hand, but you need to know or decide what's your priority, because if you are going to lean in as a craft publisher then you and your team are going to be looking at building a culture of creativity and quality. It's not going to be about putting books out as fast as you can, or talking a lot to readers about the books, engaging in that way online, though you might do some of that certainly as a promotional thing, but it's very much going to be about making sure that everyone around you understands the mission, the unique nature of whatever it is that you're offering, the prized products and experiences that you want to give your readers.

Howard Lovy: Well, it's good to hear that a poet has this this kind of rockstar quality about her. It sounds like it's not just about her poetry, it's about selling a message.

Orna Ross: Absolutely, and for all craft publishers, I think that is the case. There's the mission and passion that's embedded in the words, in the book, is very much also embedded in the publishing, in the covers and everything that goes around the book.

So, on social media it will be about sumptuous book trailers and explainers that will show the work and your values and your mission of what you're trying to do, the value proposition that you're presenting, because you're probably going to be charging more.

That's the other thing about the craft publisher, you're selling to readers who are not so price sensitive. If you're a whale reader in a volume genre, you're buying a lot of books and how much a book costs is important to you. If you are a reader who appreciates high-end literary and craft values, then money is not the first thing in your mind.

So, the publisher has to take that on board. It's really important that you don't start trying to compete on price, you're competing in with something completely different, your creativity essentially. So, your sales and marketing will be about special campaigns, premium products.

You could do hype kind of things. One of the things that Kaur did was she challenged a whole thing around menstrual taboo in her own society, but in all our societies, and she actually did these pictures of herself lying in bed with blood-stained underwear, which caused a {inaudible}, but got her a huge amount of attention in a very short space of time.

So, that kind of hype is something that a craft publisher will take the time to do.

So, you can see that the three approaches are really quite different.

When should an indie author decide which publishing model to use?

Howard Lovy: Right. Well, we're almost out of time, but let me just ask, you wrote that it's important to have some kind of clarity about the publishing model that you want to use, but that doesn't always start right away. Do you ease into it, or do you decide, before you begin, which one you are?

Orna Ross: I think in any given moment you need to make a call, and that's not to say that you can't change that later, but I think you need to look at the three and think, which is my favourite, even if I don't love any of them, even if they all feel like a lot of work, which one do I like least? Which one, one do I like best? Then begin to publish from that model and do so in a spirit of experimentation and exploration and looking at what's coming back to you and modify accordingly.

Ideally, you should be able to prioritize one. I know that some people listening to this will straight away go, I know what I am and that's what I'm going to be, and other people may be not quite so sure. So, the thing is, pick one, go with it, and you'll soon know if it's the right one for you because you'll feel it.

Howard Lovy: Well, thank you as always for your insights Orna. I'll be thinking about these three publishing models and hopefully our listeners will too.

Orna Ross: Great, I hope you find one and one that works for you.

Howard Lovy: Okay. I'll talk to you again in a couple of weeks.

Orna Ross: Thanks, Howard. Take care.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and now amplifies the voices of independent author-publishers and works with authors as a developmental editor. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads.

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