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What is hybrid publishing?

10 September 2019

From Nathan Bransford:

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

  • 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.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

PG will second the warning about scam artists contained in the OP.

At this point in the self-publishing revolution, there are quality cover artists who are happy to work with indie authors for an appropriate fee. There are quality editors who are willing to work with indie authors for an appropriate fee.

Book formatting for most fiction books and many non-fiction books has become much easier to do on your own with Amazon’s Self-Publishing Resources, including Kindle Create. However, it’s not difficult to find a professional book formatting artist who will work with indie authors for an appropriate fee.

If you want help, email and online marketing service specialists are not difficult to find . . . online!.

PG thinks in all but very unusual cases, the author should be the boss and everyone else should be a contractor, providing a particular service. The author needs to be in the position to advance fees to the various specialists, but that relationship puts the author in control. If money is very tight, friends, acquaintances, high school or college art students looking for opportunities to build artistic résumés, etc., are possibilities.

The author is the one who publishes the book and receives all sales proceeds directly from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc. If accounting or business management help is needed, the author can send copies of royalty reports to those specialists providing assistance.

Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing

12 Comments to “What is hybrid publishing?”

  1. All kinds of ‘helpers’ want to do the easy parts of self-publishing for you – for a nice fee.

    They want to send a million of their followers a tweet, or write you a press release, or create some bookmarks for you to distribute.

    I think they see self-published authors as new easy sources of income. I’ve checked out many, haven’t signed on with a one.

  2. I have always maintained that there are people out there who can produce a decent manuscript who don’t have a prayer of taking it any further without help. It doesn’t really matter for them that all the tools are now available — they are not going to be able to step up to even supervising the work needed to take the book to distribution, much less doing all or some of that for themselves.

    They need help.

    This includes established authors abandoned by their trad publishers who are not going to make the transition to the indie world (too old, too sick, not techie enough, not entrepreneurial enough).

    Now that need makes them a prey to vanity presses.

    But that’s not the only model. Another model is simply a publisher who chooses to take them the rest of the way following the indie model of no investment in inventory, without requiring payments from the author, based solely on the model of a decent royalty that will cover both parties, along with limited-time contracts.

    That’s an investment on the publisher’s side (edit, format, art, distribution), so they have skin in the game and have to be choosy about whom they accept. And a constrained and limited time contract limits the potential risk for the author.

    I’m only surprised I don’t see more of this happening.

    • My Mother, bless her heart, used to make one of us kids drive a few hundred miles twice a year in order to “reset her clocks” for daylight savings time. She was not going to learn how, period.

      Really, “refusal to learn” is the one senior (and often not so senior) behavior that drives me right up the wall.

    • I’m only surprised I don’t see more of this happening.

      If a publisher is going to put up the money, it makes more sense to go for life + 70 than a limited contract.

  3. There is nothing inherently wrong in paying for publishing assistance…
    …as long as you’re not paying with ownership in the book.

    As DWS says, who gives an ownership share of their house to the painter?

    Want to know who’s an honest publishing services vendor?
    They charge cash.
    Want to know who’s an honest tradpub?
    They invest *their* money.

    Anybody in the middle?
    Run away screaming.

    A friend of mine is both a writer and an artist. She used to do her own covers. Then she figured the time spent doing a cover was better spent writing instead. Some wanted a share of copyright. She moved on until she found somebody who didn’t try to fleece her.

    Same problem with the audio version.

    If you’re going to be an Indie publisher, act like a publisher. You’re the boss. Pay cash or move on. Publishers invest cash, not IP.

    Think about it: Why would somebody prefer even a piece of copyright over cash? Because it’s worth more.

    The enduring problem with many (most?) authors is they don’t appreciate the value of life+70 copyright. Of their talent and creativity. Until they learn, they’ll be prey for hucksters all over.

  4. Richard Hershberger

    In my opinion, there is a bright shiny line between outfits with an acquisitions editor who accepts or rejects manuscripts, and those without. The former is, among other things, building on its reputation, so that its name in the front matter means something. For some sorts of distribution, this is important. The latter is a service provider, selling its services to all comers. This is independent of whether the terms of the contract are reasonable.

    • Curation can matter.
      But it depends on the product and the brand.

      Some brands are too scattershot or diluted to matter to consumers.
      Others are (or were) a selling point.

      Harlequin used to be a badge for good, cheap romance. One of the best places for readers to go. These days there are better and cheaper sources.

      BAEN has long been a reliable source for adventure SF and combat SF. Still is. A new author getting accepted there could count themselves lucky. Mostly because they are small and already fully subscribed.

      The business model has its merits but execution matters; as they say “your mileage will vary”. Care is needed not to end up in a self-dealing scam. It’s a tough business out there, not the friendly world of literary mythm

  5. Very helpful post and comments. Publishing is an ever-evolving field. One of the best options–but it requires the author to have invested time and effort in his/her writing and connections with fellow authors–is groups of writers joining together for projects. These are not formal publishing arrangements but loose associations, with or without a written agreement, who work together mostly for promotion but sometimes also to coordinate covers, formatting, etc.

    To participate, each author must be willing to step up as far as basic technology and social media, or hire an assistant to do so.

    Just figured some writers might find this of interest if they haven’t already encountered it. As to where you find these fellow writers, it can be from a longstanding critique group, through a writing organization such as Romance Writers of America, or in Facebook groups.

    • Writer’s Coops.
      A lot of those out there but running under the radar.
      Author Earnings discussed them because of how hard they are to tell apart from tradpub micropresses.

      Writers helping writers. 🙂

      • Richard Hershberger

        Co-ops are what brought my thinking around to the presence or absence of an acquisitions editor being the key. A co-op can look, from the outside, very much like a small traditional press. But really they are entirely different animals.

        • Which is what Data Guy was discussing.

          One report I saw discussed a co-op that had enough writers (8, I think) they could afford a full time employee and could keep a couple of cover artists busy regularly. With a shared imprint they looked on the Ingram catalog like a small press. Other than critiquing each other no curation was involved.
          They were doing quite well at the time.

          There’s room for many variations.
          It’s all a matter of knowing what you want.

  6. Curation is a useful tool when the publisher is putting up the money. He wants to max his chances of making money. He curates for himself, not readers.

    Curation doesn’t make much sense when a vendor is simply selling services. He sells to anyone. Turning away paying customers isn’t a path to success.

    Remember all the folks who told us Amazon couldn’t succeed unless they curated books, checked editing, ran spell checkers, etc? How did that work out?

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