Image: Matthew Loffhagen
In theory, hybrid publishing is straightforward: it’s a cross between traditional publishing and self-publishing. In reality, navigating a rowboat full of clowns through a tempest might be easier than understanding the hybrid publishing circus. It can be a smart way to get your work out there, though, which is why so many authors are going that route, so let’s take a look at whether hybrid publishing is a fit for you.
Types of hybrid publishers
Publishing is all about risk. Different types of publishers distribute risk in different ways for different rewards. It’s like investing in the stock market, only you have control over the quality of your book and therefore more influence over the risk factors. Here are the rough categories of hybrid publisher:
Partnership companies typically have authors pay for the publishing process. If you are new to this game, you should know: it ain’t cheap. In exchange, they give authors higher royalties than traditional publishing and greater support than self-publishing. They typically handle the publishing process from start to finish, including design, print, distribution, and some marketing. (If you’re hoping to publish a book and avoid having to do any marketing yourself, fughettaboutit. In today’s world, to be an author is to be a marketer.)Hybrid publishing is malleable, but it’s a valid option for many authors.Click To Tweet
This is a little closer to self-publishing than most partnership models. Most of the time, the author pays, but some agents will cover or subsidize initial expenses and deduct expenses from the author’s earnings. The author retains rights, but the agent will take a percentage of sales for a predetermined amount of time.
À la carte publishing
There are several hybrid publishers that don’t fit any mold but their own. They may offer pay-per-service choices. They may offer funding after you’ve crowd-sourced the marketing process and secured a minimum number of pre-sales, for example, or maybe you pay for cover art but not marketing. They might offer print-on-demand services instead of traditional distribution (i.e., lots and lots of your books go to booksellers all over the world regardless of popular demand). Some handle all the marketing; others outsource to publicists; others have you outsource to a publicist.
This option offers flexibility but a lack of surety. You’re beating your own path, after all, and there may be lions in the grass.
If you went to the zoo, borrowed a monkey, put it in front of a computer for an hour, and submitted the results, a vanity press would publish it. They’ll accept anything (for money) and they don’t do you any marketing, formatting, or distribution favors in return. Some vanity presses have slick marketing and appear legit, but you’re basically paying for print-outs. Don’t get suckered in!If your publisher doesn’t gain from your success, why would they help you get it?Click To Tweet
Pros and cons of hybrid publishing
Using a traditional publisher, authors might expect royalties in the 10-15% range. If this seems low, bear in mind they fronted several thousand dollars for the publication of your book with no guaranteed return. Depending on the hybrid model, you might see up to 80% royalties as you cut away what your publisher has to do on your behalf.
You have more ‘say’
If you go with a traditional publisher, they often reserve the right to edit things into or out of your book. They might pick a cover you hate or recommendations from sources you wouldn’t have chosen – working with a traditional publisher means, in many ways, taking on a partner, and they’re going to have their own input (the kind that’s backed up by having all the money).With hybrid publishing, you trade funding for influence, but on an issue-by-issue basis.Click To Tweet
Actually getting published
Publishing costs a lot of money. If books don’t sell, that money doesn’t come back. That’s why publishers are so choosy. Look at some of the stuff they’ve rejected. Hybrid publishers displace some or all of the risk by having authors pay some or all of the cost. This means it’s easier to get your book out there. But don’t be so eager that you dive into the deep end with a vanity publisher. Good hybrids still vet what they accept. Your reputation is on the line.
More forgiving contracts
Publishers just may have you sign over your firstborn child if you’re not a) reading the fine print and b) able to translate the fine print. You not only give over your rights to your book – come what may – you may also inadvertently agree to not publish anything else for a long while so as to avoid creating ‘competition’ in the market for your book. Ridiculous? Yes. Also real.
You can avoid such contracts if you take a course in legalese or hire some legal assistance. Alternatively, you can contract a hybrid company that is much more likely to let you retain the rights to your work.
Pick and choose
You might not want or need all the perks of a traditional publisher while still not being ready to hack it alone. À la carte hybrids give you access to what you want – editing, cover art, printing, publishing, marketing, industry contacts, release publicity, distribution – without having to sign up for anything you don’t.
Traditional publishing can take over and leave you feeling trampled. Self-publishing can be a lonely and exhausting venture. With hybrid publishing, you have somebody else who believes in your book and is working on your team. That boost can be just the thing some authors need to see the process through to the end.
Watch out for companies that take authors’ money and run. You can investigate a hybrid’s reputation via reviews and social media, and by perusing manuscripts they’ve published.
You’ll assume some risk in exchange for services. Period. If you have good reason to believe your book is a winner, consider the liabilities associated with each model:
- Traditional publishing: slim chance of acceptance, and if they do accept, they run the show.
- Hybrid publishing: you pay big money and might not get your investment back. You still have some work to do on your own.
- Self-publishing: cheap, but you’re totally on your own. You have to figure out all your own marketing and you may not have access to distributors or booksellers.
Distribution and marketing
It’s true that hybrids will probably do a better job at this than you could do on your own. They have industry contacts and pre-existing relationships with bookstores. It’s also true that traditional publishers will do a better job at this than hybrids.
Standalone hybrid publishers are a relatively recent phenomenon, so their reputations and resources aren’t as strong. They are growing, no doubt about it, but think about it from the perspective of the bookseller: books are an increasingly tough market. You have to sell books or die (R.I.P. Borders). You want books from publishers that have a solid reputation, right? So the up-and-comings are gaining ground bit by bit, but they’re not all the way there yet.
Dos and Don’ts
Get an editor
Whoever you submit to, have your work edited (by somebody else) first. No matter how good a writer you are, you need those extra eyes. Submitting a polished piece increases your chances of acceptance immeasurably. This isn’t a shameless plug: you already know we’ll edit your book for you. But if you can’t afford editing services, I strongly encourage you to beg a favor from someone and have your book edited before you submit it to a traditional publisher/hybrid/agent/Amazon’s Book Baby. There’s a big difference between a piece that’s in pretty good shape and a piece that’s ready for a publisher.
Don’t let the anxiety of trying to get published or the euphoria of a possible offer blind you. Any company you’re considering working with, research them to death. Read what they’ve published. Check out reviews and websites and social media. Compare their prices and services to other similar companies. Ask a lot of questions.Before you sign up with a hybrid publisher, research them to death.Click To Tweet
In fact, compile your questions first so you don’t forget anything, and watch for evasive answers. Find out success rates, what kind of distribution they offer, if they also help with online publishing, how long their contracts last, if they support foreign editions, and who retains rights. Use this article as a guide, and remember that it’s not acceptable for them not to know the answers. Go in knowing what you’re looking for and overturn every stone. Don’t settle for anything less. You worked too hard on your book to see it fail for lack of research.
Sign anything you don’t understand
Never, ever, ever sign something you don’t 100% understand. If you’re in any doubt, hire someone with the expertise to make things crystal clear.
Pay before you know what you’re getting
See ‘research’ above.
Publishing the hybrid way
It’s important to go into the publishing process with eyes wide open and antennae up and running. It’s a brutal, brutal world. If you’ve learned anything about it in your own journey, share with your fellow authors below. As Anne Frank said, ‘No one has ever become poor by giving.’
For more great advice on this subject, check out Traditional vs Self-Publishing – The Fundamentals You Need To Know and What Literary Agents Do (And Don’t Do) For Authors.