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Hybrid Publishing: Fantastic Opportunity or Risky Business?

Hybrid publishing has caused quite a stir within the publishing industry. Born in recent times from the struggle of writers wanting to keep their online royalties but still benefit from signing with a publisher, this controversial style of publishing is the resulting response to cater to a predominantly virtual audience. In this article we'll be exploring what hybrid publishing is, the four different types, pro's and con's and what to expect for your pocketbook.

What Is Hybrid Publishing?

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, hybrid publishing is exactly as the name implies. It's a cross between self-publishing where authors keep 100% of the royalties gained in online sales mixed with the support of having a traditional publishing team who divides the spoils of physical book sales with the author. It is also known as author-assisted publishing, indie publishing, partnership publishing, copublishing, and entrepreneurial publishing. The term hybrid publishing is an umbrella term used to describe a newly emerging publishing option that is still growing and being defined.

While this new publishing model is supposed to address the needs of authors looking to have more of a say in where their royalties go and to help them connect with audiences across a variety of mediums, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding exactly what hybrid publishers do or don't do. The culprit behind this is that it's still in development. It's a recent notion cropping up to fulfill a modernizing need, and due to its immaturity many of those in the industry don't know what to make of it yet. The standard regulating these publishers is still being established and authors in general don't know if they can trust these publishers in their infancy or not. Basically, nobody in the literary world currently entirely understands what hybrid publishing means.

As time passes and these publishers mature, they will become more established and authors will eventually understand all that they have to offer. For now, here is the general gist of what a hybrid publisher could potentially bring to your pen and your bookshelf.

Where Does Hybrid Publishing Fit In?

Good question. If you're a black and white thinker when it comes to publishing, then this concept might be difficult for you to grasp. Hybrid publishing is, at it's core, a creature of the gray area. It used to be that there were only two different ways to publish: Traditional publishing and Self-publishing. One you are paid to publish whereas the other you pay to be published. The truth is it's not quite as simple as it sounds, but for the purpose of this article we'll keep it at that.

Essentially hybrid publishing breaks the mold and provides the structure of a traditional publisher with the freedom of a indie author journey. It differs from a vanity press in that it functions more like a traditional publishing company. Meaning that it retains that traditional business structure internally. They typically have a submissions process, control their own cover design and editorial process, and have publishers calling the shots and curating the lists.

Where it starts getting complicated is that there are different types of hybrid publishers, which we will be breaking down further in this post. Not to be out-done, traditional publishers are also modernizing and creating hybrid deals with authors that they publish, which again is a separate entity but also falls into the umbrella category of hybrid publishing. Cue the confusion.

The Benefits Of Hybrid Publishing:

Bottom line a hybrid publisher is supposed to give you, the author, more control. While it does require some investment on your part, the overall costs that an author must pay to publish is minimal in comparison to those paid when you self-publish. You're able to invest in your work and raise funds through crowdfunding initially, but ultimately the payout in royalties will cover those expenses. This is due to the fact that any revenue made through sales will predominantly go back into the pocket of the author, as opposed to the publisher, which in the past has been a major downfall to traditionally being published.

Another benefit of publishing this way is the amount of creative control you'll have. Authors who hybrid publish retain creative control and are treated more like partners in the production process. Instead of being at the whim of a publisher, they have the right to make choices for their books that previously decided for them.

The drawbacks depend on which type of hybrid publishing you sign up for, explored below.

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What Are My Options?

Hybrid publishing can be broken down into four different categories.

Brokering A Deal

Traditional publishers have been making hybrid-style publishing deals behind-the-scenes for years. They've been known to do this in the negotiation phase with an author, but it largely depends on how the author negotiates their contract. It's not something that they typically offer up-front, so don't expect this type of deal unless you're ready to fight for it or go into your initial publishing meeting with your expectations mapped out. These types of deals are also known as "distribution deals," "hybrid publishing arrangements," or "copublishing ventures".

What It Means: In a traditional publishing deal, an author will receive a certain upfront amount in royalties and then will have to sell x number of copies to pay back that advance amount before they earn more. To give you an idea of what that looks like, typically the royalty rates are 20-30% of the publisher's revenue for a hardcover, 15% for a trade paperback, and 25% for an Ebook. In a hybrid deal this changes slightly. In this type of deal, an author is agreeing to pay for a portion of the publishing costs (this might be for part or all of the print run or the cost of production) in exchange for a higher royalty rate.

The Downside: This type of deal is still seen as taboo within the publishing field. As unfair as it may seem, there is still a heavy stigma associated with self-publishing and it has to do with the bias that if you have to "pay" to publish, your work isn't good enough. This is ridiculous, of course, but unfortunately a reality that affects writers everywhere. Indie authors are still being denied access to certain reviewers, publishers, and literary contests. While the climate of the industry is slowly shifting, there's still very little transparency regarding these types of deals due to this stigma. This means that it's virtually impossible to figure out which publishers are open to these opportunities in advance. You won't know if a publisher is willing to negotiate until you're already negotiating, and that puts authors in an awkward position. Many find themselves in this situation and wind up accepting less than what they wanted or feel pressured to accept what is offered because they're afraid they won't get another chance to publish. To avoid this, be straightforward and clear about what you want to negotiate for and accept going into your meetings that it may take time to find one who is willing to work with you.


Image Credit: The official Curtis Brown website. Accessed 7/26/21.

In this model, literary agents will sometimes choose to publish a manuscript they love but know will be a difficult sell. It could be a hard sell for a variety of reasons, but typically it's because it's a little too quirky or the topic is slightly too niche for mainstream readers to gobble up. That being said, this type of deal requires you to a) already have an agent who loves your story, and b) have said agent want to take on the work behind publishing it.

What It Means: In this type of deal, the agent takes on the role of publisher using their knowledge of the industry to help them. They fall under the hybrid category because an author is being published under the brand of an agent rather than a publishing company. This option provides authors with another outlet for their stories with the added support of an industry professional. It ensures that their book will be both high quality and will meet industry standards, which will result in higher levels of sales. An agents connects also assist the author in securing much needed marketing resources such as interviews, services that require outsourcing, and high quality promotional materials. It allows them to publish outside of the sphere of royalty pinching while still providing the structure and benefits of an industry-backed reputation. Another benefit of such hybrid publishing is that agents tend to focus more on foreign marketing than established publishers do which means your work has the potential for higher sales and a larger audience to cater to. An agent who publishes you does so because they are passionate and loyal to your work. That they attached their own name to it means that they will work harder to try and sell it.

The Downside: The biggest downside is that it lacks a large-scale distribution system. Unlike publishing houses, where all the resources of publishing are already predetermined, agents lack certain resources. There are still many aspects needing to be outsourced such as the physical side of production. This means that the money for said publishing costs still has to come from somewhere, meaning you as the author will still be paying the majority out of pocket. Again, how much depends on the deal negotiated between the two parties.

Examples: Examples of agent-assisted publishing include Reputation Books (a division of Kimberley Cameron & Associates) and the Curtis Brown Group out of the UK.

Partnership Publishing

Photo Credit: The official Ink Shares website. Accessed 7/26/21.

The most like traditional publishing, this is what we think of when we hear the word hybrid publishing. In this scenario, the publisher provides the resources and support team that authors need to publish while the authors themselves foot the bill. This allows them to have full creative control while still gaining all rights to royalties. It's the middle ground between getting the professional services you need without sacrificing your income.

What It Means: What you gain from partnership publishing is access to publishing doors you wouldn't be able to open for yourself if you self-published. Mainly access to review sites, to a sales team who knows how to sell books, and ties to a publisher that has a strong reputation with booksellers. It takes a lot of the work that comes from independently publishing and lifts it off the author's shoulders.

The Downside: While it may sound like every author's dream come true, understanding the reality of publishing is crucial. Even with the ability to gain full royalties does not guarantee that your book will sell astronomical amounts. The chance of gaining a small fortune off a book alone, even one produced by a traditional publisher is monumentally small and the same goes for a hybrid publisher.

Examples: Ink Shares, BQB Publishing, She Writes Press, and Turning Stone Press.

Crowdfunding Model

This approach is unique in that it requires the author looking to publish to raise funding in advance. Crowdfunding means that you are raising support funds through appealing to a potential audience. It means you'll be engaging with your readers and relying on the charity of those readers to bring your dream to life. This is similar to what indie authors have to do to help gain the resources to publish. Places like Indie GoGo and Go Fund Me are two examples of ways this can be done.

What It Means: The crowdfunding model is unique in that you are building your readership before your book is ever published and you have to convince a hybrid publisher that there is an audience interested in buying it before they agree to help. This also means that the amount of work you put into promoting your upcoming novel will directly affect whether your novel comes to fruition or not.

The Downside: Depending on how you view it, this could be good or bad. If you can't raise the funding required to prove to your chosen hybrid publisher that your book is worth producing, well you're fresh out of luck. Your book won't be picked up by the hybrid publisher unless the agreed upon amount is reached no matter how hard you plead. But, on the flip side, there's probably a reason why your crowdfunding campaign didn't work. Knowing how to promote your book is a huge deal for hybrid and self-publishing authors alike. Chances are there could be something that needs tweaking with your story or (more often than not) your marketing strategy.

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Authors Beware!

Here are a few things you need to know before you sign on with a hybrid company:

  • Due to the immense need for this type of publishing, the market for hybrids has exploded. This unfortunately means that not every hybrid publisher is reputable. It's important now more than ever for you to do your research before deciding which avenue you choose. Just because you pay a hybrid to assist you, doesn't mean that they have the credentials and experience to back it. When in doubt, trust your gut. If something isn't adding up, save yourself the pain and go in a different direction. A company infamous for this is Author Solutions (home of iUniverse, Balboa, WestBow Press, and Archway). This tidbit of advice came directly from Writer's Digest, so you know if the experts are saying that something isn't worth it, then it's better to stay away from it.

  • This is where the term vanity press comes into play. A Vanity Press refers to a publisher who is more interested in making money than in producing quality books. Some hybrid publishers that have popped up are falling into this category as well. Steer clear of any publisher who seems to accept any or every submission that falls into their lap. If it feels too good to be true, do some research and see what the quality of the other books they've produced are like. That'll give you a good indication of the caliber of the publisher.

  • You may be required to use the editor assigned to you. This isn't that unusual from traditional publishing, but the key difference is the quality of the editor. With a traditional publisher you know that your editor will be high-quality, experienced, and the best of the best. With unregulated hybrid publishing, you don't have this guarantee. If your editor is inexperienced or under-qualified, your book quality will suffer.

How Much Does Hybrid Publishing Cost?

This is the main reason why there's concern coming from professionals in the industry. The range for hybrid publishers is so vast that it seems too good to be true, and in many ways that seems to be the case. On average the range appears to be between $5,000 and $13,000 up-front and out-of-pocket for authors. Now, if you know anything about self-publishing you'll know that to produce a single book of quality you're looking at about $2,000-$5,000 out of pocket. Add in the marketing, promotional materials, etc. and you'll probably invest another $1,000 easily, if not more. Now you see why this is a little odd.

Common sense tells us that you get what you pay for. Realistically a hybrid publisher offering a $5,000 contract for an entire book production, marketing team, and book promotion campaign is most likely not going to give you the quality and results you're looking for. When it comes to publishing a novel that sells, expect to invest a lot of money. There are no short-cuts or ways to minimize costs to that would result in large amounts of savings.

Why Should You Pick A Hybrid Publisher?

Far from discouraging authors from choosing to work with a hybrid, we encourage you to do your homework. This is an exciting new avenue that opens up the doors to publishing in a way that directly benefits authors. Not every hybrid is "bad" or a scam and many do excellent work despite it being a new trend in the industry. Like everything in this business, you need to find out whether this option is the best for you and your book.

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