In the last twenty years there has been an explosion of new publishing models that take advantage of new opportunities afforded by the internet and advances in printing on demand. There’s also been a corresponding rise in scams. So what is “hybrid publishing” and how does it fit into all of this?
Hybrid publishing isn’t quite traditional publishing and it isn’t quite self-publishing. Essentially: A hybrid publisher takes on some or all of the functions of a traditional publisher, but the author shares in more of both the initial investment (in the form of fees) as well as the upside (in the form of higher royalties).
It’s tough to generalize about hybrid publishing because there are so many different models with so many differing levels of legitimacy. Many scam artists out there have taken advantage of the hype around hybrid publishing in order to put a glossy spin on exploitive practices.
One more reason for confusion around hybrid publishing is that a “hybrid author” is a totally separate term. This usually refers to an author who has been both traditionally published and self-published (such as yours truly), not necessarily someone who has published a book with a hybrid publisher.
Hybrid publishing is still viewed with quite a bit of skepticism in some corners of the publishing world, with some still viewing it as little more than vanity publishing by another name. But as publishing continues to evolve away from the virtual monopoly of traditional publishing, expect to see new upstarts continue to pop up in this zone.
In this post I’ll cover:
- Hybrid publishing models
- Who should consider hybrid publishing
- What to watch out for
- Resources for authors considering hybrid publishing
Hybrid publishing models
One helpful way to think about the book publishing process is as a collection of services, such as editing, design, and distribution. In traditional publishing, the publisher handles all of the services and pays the author an advance on top of that. In self-publishing, the author handles (or outsources) all of the services but receives more money per copy sold.
In hybrid publishing, the hybrid publisher usually manages these services, including distribution, but the author shares in the cost of production and an initial print run in exchange for royalties that are higher than traditional publishing but less than self-publishing.
In theory, hybrid publishers offer value by managing these tasks for the author, and some offer better design and print distribution than a self-published author would be able to achieve on their own.
Some hybrid publishers are selective in the authors they choose to take on, others are more like assisted publishing models that will take on all comers.
While it’s tough to generalize across the landscape, Jane Friedman helpfully breaks down hybrid publishing into four rough categories:
Editorially curated. While authors typically subsidize the costs of editing or publication, the publisher doesn’t accept every author who walks through the door. As a result of their selectivity, the publisher usually has better marketing and distribution. Examples include She Writes Press and Greenleaf Book Group.
Crowdfunding driven. Publishers such as Inkshares and Unbound require the author to raise a certain amount of money from their readership before they are granted a deal, which then closely adheres to a traditional publishing process.
Assisted self-publishing. Authors pay to publish, and there is little or no discernment in what types of authors are accepted.
Traditional publishers with a self-publishing arm. Some traditional publishers—usually small presses you haven’t heard of—may offer author services or assisted self-publishing.
Even within these categories there are varying levels of quality and integrity in the publishing outfits, but I agree with Jane’s recommendation to be especially skeptical of the last two.
Who is hybrid publishing for?
There are really two types of authors who should consider hybrid publishing:
- Authors with cash who are looking for a bit more upside than regular self-publishing.
- Authors with cash who don’t want to manage the publishing process on their own.
Notice the “with cash” part? Yeah. If you don’t have cash to burn there are more economical ways of getting your book out there. Traditional publishers will pay you to publish your book, and self-publishing tends to cost less than hybrid publishing, especially if you handle some of the tasks on your own.
Some authors might appreciate having the publishing process managed for them and are willing to pay to not have to get into the self-published weeds. Or you might come across a hybrid publisher who genuinely seems to offer a value add with their design or distribution.
At worst, a hybrid publisher is really just a vanity press or scam artist in disguise, taking advantage of the buzz around hybrid publishing and exploiting your ego to charge you top dollar for things you don’t need.
Be very, very skeptical of anything a hybrid publisher promises. You know how people say “trust but verify?” Yeah, no. Verify first, then trust.
What to watch out for with hybrid publishers
Considering hybrid publishing? Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Look for value add. Actually check out the books the publisher has released and talk to authors about their experience. Check out their past campaigns. Find out how their books are distributed. Check out the discussion about the hybrid publisher on Absolute Write.
- Don’t let a hybrid publisher play with your ego. We all want the validation that comes with someone investing in our work. Scam artists know this, so beware. Being able to throw the words “my publisher” into a cocktail party conversation isn’t worth having your pocketbook emptied.
- Know what you’re signing. What rights are you handing over? What costs are you committing to? How can you get out of the arrangement if things go south? Be absolutely sure of what you’re getting into before you commit.
- Be very skeptical of agents and publishers who use a bait and switch that steers you to their self-publishing arm. Many publishers, including some of the major ones, use extremely scuzzy services that are at best extractive of your cash and at worst wholly exploitive. Some reputable agencies have established legitimate hybrid publishing enterprises, but unless you’re already a pre-existing client, be very skeptical.
- Are you sure you don’t want to just self-publish? Self-publishing requires some entrepreneurialism, but at the end of the day, it’s not that hard and you retain maximum flexibility.
Hybrid publishing resources
Here are some more resources that will help you evaluate hybrid publishers and stay safe on the journey to publication:
- IBPA hybrid publishing guidelines – The Independent Book Publishers Association is a bit controversial because of their publisher membership policy (and I don’t like their attitude toward author royalties), but these guidelines for a hybrid publishers are a good general place to start to understand what to expect.
- SFWA guide to self-publishing – The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has some really fantastic resources to help protect authors. Also check out their guidelines on vanity and hybrid publishers.
- Not All Hybrid Publishers Are Created Equal – Jane Friedman has some really good questions to ask a hybrid publisher.
- Absolute Write’s Bewares, Recommendations & Background Check – The Absolute Write message boards are a good resource for gauging authors’ experiences with a particular publisher.
- The Author Exploitation Business – This post is a bit out of date as Penguin no longer owns Author Solutions, but the essential principles that David Gaughran articulates in the post still apply. Be wary. Unfortunately, not all publishers are out of the author scamming game.
Do you have experience with hybrid publishing? Anything I missed in this post? Take to the comments!
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Art: Oedipus and the Sphinx by François-Xavier Fabre