Are you a writer, daunted by querying, trying to snag both an agent and a traditional publishing contract? Are you concerned about your lack time or expertise to completely self-publish? If this applies to you, please keep reading this guide, which explores a lesser-known alternative: hybrid publishing.
What is Hybrid Publishing?
Hybrid publishing models blend together traditional publishing and self-publishing. Let’s compare all three publication avenues to help you better understand the positives and limitations of hybrid publishing. You’ll determine if hybrid publishing is a viable option for you.
Differences Between Traditional Publishers, Self-Publishing, and Hybrid Publishers
Obtaining a traditional publishing contract usually means you must query multiple literary agents to find one who believes your work can be sold to a traditional publishing house. Most traditional publishing houses (often referred to in the industry as ‘trad publishers’) only negotiate with agented authors. The agent will attempt, on the writer’s (your) behalf, to sell the writer’s work to a trad house, and obtain a book deal for the writer. Once a deal is secured, you sign a contract with the trad house. This is a significant risk and investment for the publisher.
What Do They Offer?
Trad houses cover the entirety of publication costs and assume primary responsibility to sell and market the book. They provide authors an advance for their intellectual property, prior to publication. The “catch” is that the advance isn’t considered “earned” until the author’s book sells enough copies to equal the advance.
Average advances for first-time fiction authors without celebrity status are somewhere between $5,000 – $15,000 (this varies considerably). Once that many thousands of dollars-worth of copies sell, the author begins to receive additional money. This is paid in the form of royalties (a percentage of total book sales). Both agent and trad house take a portion of those royalties.
Trad houses typically own the rights to authors’ work, exercising significant control over what and how the author writes. That’s because trad houses focus principally on what will sell based on their knowledge of the publishing industry. They also value their own expertise on how best to refine, package, distribute, and market those raw ideas. All this is done to ensure the books sell – so they can recoup their investment.
Once authors have a traditionally published contract, their job is simplified. They pay no money to publish their book. Rather, they receive money from the publisher, and that amount of money can be substantial. They can ignore editorial, production, printing costs, distribution, and other complicated publishing aspects. This they leave to the publisher, while focusing their efforts on writing a bestseller.
Although the traditional publishing model is risk-averse, few new authors manage to obtain a book deal. Only one book out of five ever earns back their advance. These considerations have led many authors to turn to self-publishing.
With self-publishing, the burden of the services provided for free by a trad house, are instead borne solely by the writer. The writer must not only write the book, but also prepare it for publication in terms of editing, cover design, layout, pricing, and much more.
The only alternative is to sub-contract out all (or parts) of the process, unless the writer possesses the capabilities to do it themselves. Perhaps, even more intimidating, once the book is published, the writer is wholly responsible to promote their work, without the enormous influence and advertising budget a trad house can provide.
Why Do it Yourself?
One advantage to self-publishing is the quick turnaround from book completion to publication. Publication times are as expedient as the author can make them. Your book will be out there significantly quicker compared to a trad house (which can take two years from signing a book to release).
Additionally, if the author becomes a high-volume seller (more than 30,000 copies), completely self-published authors will come out ahead compared to those traditionally published. Moreover, while there are no upfront advances received, there is no quest required to secure an agent through lengthy querying (which can take years). There are also no contracts to negotiate, and no agents or publishers taking a substantial percentage of your profits.
Finally, self-published writers have complete creative freedom to write what they want, how they want it. Without interference from a trad house focusing solely on book sales, the author focuses on what they desire. Sometimes, this works out just fine.
We’ve all heard of self-publishing successes, like Fifty Shades of Grey, The Martian, and Eragon, which have far outsold many a traditionally published bestseller. But these successes are rare. Many writers are exploring their options on how to achieve their dreams of both publication and profitability.
So is there a middle ground?
Hybrid publishers often offer the best of both worlds.
They don’t accept just any book, so you still have quality control. But the gatekeeping is less stringent (i.e. no need for agents). They too want to represent quality writing, which enhances their reputation and increases their share of any profits.
Just as with traditional publishing, not every work submitted is accepted by hybrid publishers. The book is first evaluated to see if it meets publisher standards and their business lines. But unlike trad publishing, there’s a cost.
What Will it Cost You?
Publishing fees with some hybrids can be exorbitant (averaging between $10,000-$20,000). You are paying them to do what you could do yourself as a self-published writer, but with the kudos of their name behind your book, and their expertise. Some people are happy to follow this route, but many writers get exploited. So research who you are working with before you sign anything.
Some hybrid publishers don’t charge direct, but you are expected to pay for your own editing and proofreading before submitting. You may forfeit some creative control. Each contract varies, so please be vigilant as to what you are expected to manage (and what they will) in exchange for a percentage of profits.
Is it Worth it?
Once your manuscript is accepted, the editing, printing, and other stages of publication mirror those of a trad house. This leaves writers free to focus on writing. Depending on the hybrid model, many hybrid publishers also provide some level of marketing for their authors’ books, as well as distribution.
As opposed to complete self-publishing, hybrid publishing offers a “one-stop shop”. You don’t have to slog to find editors, cover designers, and deal with getting your book onto various platforms. As well as all the other worries and expenses associated with self-publishing. And hybrid publishers can get your book published faster than trad too – often within six months. Not as quickly as one potentially could self-publish, but markedly quicker than one could ever be traditionally published.
With hybrid publishing, royalties are higher for the author than with trad houses. Yet, let’s be clear. Most hybrid companies are smaller and less prestigious than their trad counterparts, despite their ability to mass produce books. Sales will be lower and cover prices may be higher (so readership will be lower too).
Hybrid publishers seldom match the brand recognition and worldwide reading audience reach that a trad house can offer. It will be more difficult to get your book reviewed by elite reviewers if it doesn’t come from a trad house, and it’s challenging to make top bestseller lists outside of Amazon. One exception that stands out is author Laura Gassner Outing, whose book Limitless, published by hybrid publisher Idea Press ascended the ranks of the Washington Post bestseller list.
Different Types of Hybrid Publishers?
Now that you have a better understanding of what hybrid publishing is, let’s look at specific types of hybrid publishing, and which type may best suit your needs as an author. Some of the main hybrid publishing models include crowdfunding, assisted self-publishing, and partnership publishing.
As the name suggests, a Crowdfunding-based hybrid publishing model means authors campaign to raise funds by asking for donations from interested parties. The hybrid press must attain a certain level of donations to move forward with publication and will ensure distribution to those who have pre-ordered the project. Should the project fail to reach that level of donations, it could be cancelled. Unbound, alias United Authors Publishing Ltd, is perhaps one of the best-known crowdfunding publishers.
Assisted self-publishing, formerly called vanity publishing, is another hybrid model that has suffered from an unfavourable reputation in the past. Extremely high-end self-assist publishing companies have emerged in the last decade, where authors can feel confident – if they have the funds – that their work will be professionally published.
The self-publishing assist company I publish with, FriesenPress, is well-established, with a sterling reputation for professionalism. I retain full rights for my books and the royalties I receive are 50% higher than what I earn off Amazon, where my book is also published.
FriesenPress has their own virtual bookstore which exclusively sells and advertises their published authors. FriesenPress also promotes any awards received by their authors and their authors’ professional reviews on their social media pages. Downsides? Well, one is that authors are largely responsible for their own marketing as many hybrid publishers have very little reach. Another detractor is the cost – FriesenPress’ top-of-the-line package exceeds CAN$10,000.
Partnership Publishing most closely aligns to a traditional publishing system. This model means writers split marketing and production costs with the publisher. As the author, you are primarily charged with marketing, but both author and publisher lose or make money together. Thus the publisher is heavily invested in the author’s success, and will not accept just any book, if the publisher desires to remain profitable.
Top Hybrid Publishers
Some of the most reputable hybrid publishers we have found include Amplify, Forbes Books, Greenleaf Book Group, IdeaPress Publishing, LifeTree Media, Mascot Books, and Scribe Publishing. As with anything as monumental as making the decision as to where to publish your book, and how, do your homework. There are numerous hybrid publishers out there. Take your time to research and find the best one for you.
How Do I Select the Right Hybrid Publisher for Me?
We’ve discussed some of the potential pitfalls of hybrid publishing. Hybrid publishing is not for everyone, because of these pitfalls. Yet, it is fairly easy to avoid these drawbacks by choosing the correct hybrid publisher. Here are some aspects to consider when selecting a hybrid publisher.
What types of books does the publisher publish? Some hybrid publishers don’t have the experience publishing specific genres, possibly including the genre you write in. Look for one that has enjoyed success in publishing books relevant to the sort of book you write.
In the same vein, when you look at the books published, do they look professional, of superior quality? Could their books sit on the shelves of a major book chain, and look right at home beside traditionally published books, especially in terms of cover design? Speaking of major book chains, what sort of book distribution scope does the publisher have? Does the publisher have those critical relationships with outlets where you want to stock your book? Do they have their own bookstore, as another avenue to sell your books? Do they edit their books well? Does the publisher have a sterling reputation? Does the hybrid assist at all with marketing authors’ books?
If the answer is “yes” to the above questions, then you may wish to consider the hybrid publishing route for your book.
Apples and Oranges
Taking care of the complex and potentially confusing nuances of publishing, enhanced retention of creative control, increased royalty compensation, and other benefits combine to make hybrid publishing a potentially viable option versus complete self-publishing, or the traditional mode. Every hybrid publisher is unique, and some can curtail creative freedom in a manner like trad houses. Yet if an author can find the right hybrid publisher, they might find a more attractive method of getting their work out to the world more expediently, and ultimately, more lucratively than with one of the big five trad houses or going it completely on their own as a self-published author.
For writers who feel certain they will be consigned to self-publishing only, after lengthy unsuccessful querying trying to land a trad contract, the diversity of options available in hybrid publishing can be enticing.
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