Jane Friedman

What Is a Hybrid Publisher?

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.

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.

I further discuss what to look for here.

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.