Over the last year, I’ve received more questions than ever—usually from journalists—asking me to explain “hybrid publishing.”
This is a confusing term to discuss, because you will hear different definitions or descriptions of hybrid publishing depending on who you ask and what their agenda is. The term has become popular among companies that wish to put a new, “innovative” face on a very common, age-old activity: charging writers to publish.
Here’s what I think most people can agree on: Hybrid publishers combine aspects of traditional publishing and self-publishing. Beyond that, however, it is challenging to define what such companies have in common. They have extremely varied business models, methods of working with writers, and approaches to marketing and distribution.
Making matters more complicated, “hybrid authors” are not authors who work with hybrid publishing companies. Instead, that term describes authors who both traditionally publish and self-publish. A good example is the thriller novelist CJ Lyons. So don’t confuse hybrid authorship with hybrid publishing—they’re two completely different trends.
Varieties of hybrid publisher
While is nearly impossible to generally describe hybrids, here are some rough categories you’ll find in the market today.
- 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.
These last two categories can be the most questionable in value. In the case of assisted self-publishing or publishing services (called “vanity presses” in the old days), these companies adopt the moniker of “hybrid publisher” to look more innovative or attractive to authors. They’re not really a hybrid publisher unless they can point to what they do that offers a traditional publisher’s value—such as selectivity in acquisitions, editorial guidance and vision, and distribution and marketing muscle that can’t be secured on your own as a self-publishing author.
In the case of small presses with a self-publishing arm—which may not offer great professionalism to begin with in their traditional operations—they may be using paid services to prop up their business and also to position themselves as progressive. These can be the most frustrating “hybrids” of all, since they might be identifying themselves primarily as a traditional publisher and be listed in market guides such as Writer’s Market, but could use that as a bait-and-switch: Oh, sorry, your work doesn’t meet our editorial needs for our traditional publishing operation, but would you like to pay for our hybrid publishing [or self-publishing] service?
I recommend running in the other direction if that happens.
How to evaluate a hybrid publisher
So how do you tell if you’re just being sold a bill of goods by a hybrid publisher? Here’s what to consider.
- A good hybrid will have some method of curating or selecting what projects to take on. In other words: They consider the market potential of your work and its ability to succeed. If they appear to take anyone and everyone, then you’re better off evaluating the best self-publishing service to use. Don’t kid yourself about leveling up to a hybrid. (So-called hybrids aren’t averse to playing to your ego to get your business.)
- A great hybrid offers the potential of bricks-and-mortar distribution—whether to bookstores or other retail channels. They might not be able to promise it, but if they’re actively working with a distributor or retailer—and they have a catalog of titles for marketing purposes—that’s a good sign. A self-publishing author can easily get distribution through online retail, via Amazon and Ingram (distribution fees are zero or little for online retail), so the more the hybrid invests in marketing and distributing print editions, the more they’re offering something you may not be able to accomplish yourself.
- A good hybrid works with you both pre-publication and post-publication. The relationship doesn’t end once the book is done. (However, you may have to pay fees to continue the relationship.)
To summarize: The best hybrid publishers conduct some level of gatekeeping, offer value that the author would have a hard time securing on her own, and should also pay better royalties than a traditional publishing deal. (Fifty percent is common.) If the hybrid publisher presents itself as little more than “Here’s a package of services you can buy,” then it’s most likely a dressed-up self-publishing firm.