"Hybrid" is a term that's been bandied about a great deal of late. I can be used to describe a type of author strategy or a type of publisher, but it's also being used by vanity publishers to mislead authors.
Let's take a look.
An author who is published by a "Big 5" or otherwise large publishing house, but also self-publishes.
- In this arrangement, the author sacrifices royalties per-book, hoping to gain a presence in bookstores and capitalizeson the visibility and established audience provided by the large publishing house to drive indie sales.
- Often, the the reality is that the traditional publisher offers very little and the indie author is living off of indie publishing, and the indie career actually boosts trad-pub sales.
- Contract terms, especially with Big 5 companies, can be problematic. If you're a successful indie, think long and hard before accepting a publishing contract that includes a restrictive non-compete clause.
Some consider any author who both self-publishes and is published by someone else to be a hybrid author.
- The strategy is the same as above: sacrifice a share of royalties in hopes of reaching that publisher's audience, perhaps reaching bookstores, and gaining some visibility.
A "hybrid publisher" charges the author money up-front in exchange for providing the services that a publishing house provides. (Editing, formatting, cover design, distribution.)Typically, the "hybrid publisher" will also take a cut of the author's sales for the life of the contract, but will argue that the author's percentage is much higher than a standard royalty. The company will often refer to this arrangement as "partnership publishing."
- Curated hybrid publishing. Some companies (if they can be believed) won't make an offer just any book, but will select titles they find worthy. Of course, they still charge the author for publishing services and there's no way of knowing if the company truly believes in the book or if that's simply a tactic to persuade the author to go with their company.
- Crowd-funded publishing. Some publishers require that the author crowdfund enough money to cover publication costs before the company will publish the author's book.
- Assisted self-publishing. Some companies will publish any book as long as the author pays them to do so. They might have a flat fee or they might offer a-la-carte services, so that the author can do some of the work a publisher would normally do and pay the publisher to complete other publishing tasks.
- Literary agencies with self-publishing arms. Some agencies, including some reputable ones, offer their clients the option of assisted publishing through the agency for manuscripts they've been unable to place. Also, some publishing companies, usually indie presses, offer pay-to-publish services in addition to a typical publishing arrangement.
What is not a hybrid publisher?
- Services that get your book into distribution channels are not hybrid publishers. (Kindle, Kobo, Draft2Digital, Createspace, Ingram Spark, Nook, Smashwords...)
- While most of these services do not require any upfront fees, companies like Lightning Source and Ingram Spark do charge setup fees to get your book into your system.
- In some instances, a publisher (usually a small press) might allow you to provide your own cover art if what you want exceeds their budget. It's a judgment call as to whether or not this is acceptable to the author, but I would not consider it "hybrid" as the publisher does have some budget for cover art and does not mandate that the author provide/pay for it.
Warning signs of a "bad' hybrid publisher
In general, I discourage hybrid publishing for reasons I will discuss later. The reality is, many "hybrid publishers" are the same old pay-to-publish vanity presses who have been out there for years. Some things to watch out for:
- The company defends the amount it charges by citing the "high price of self-publishing." Just today I read a post in which the company defends its prices by quoting someone in the industry who claims self-publishing "should" cost between £1500 to £5000 (roughly $2,000 to $6,500). This is garbage. According to the $100,000 author survey, the majority of authors earning $100,000 or more a year are paying $50-$250 for a book cover and $250-$500 for editing, plus, in some cases, a modest amount for formatting. If a company cites the high cost of self-publishing, proceed with caution.
- The company doesn't advertise, or considers Facebook posts and blog/website posts to be "advertising." I run Gryphonwood/Adrenaline Press. We're very small and don't have a large budget for advertising, but my authors get paid advertising: AMS ads, Facebook ads, discount ads promoted on sites like Book Barbarian, Freebooksy, etc...
- The company uses paid advertising to recruit new authors, but not to sell books. This is evidence that the company is making its money by selling services, not books.
- Bad publishing practices. Take a look at the company's books on a site like Amazon. What's the quality of the cover art? Use the 'Search Inside' feature. How does the interior formatting look? Is it well edited? How about the book's pricing, especially the ebook? Is it priced to sell in accordance with current indie pricing trends, or did the company set a high price in hopes to make a few bucks off of friends and family before the book sinks into oblivion?
- Their books don't sell well. Check the sales rankings on Amazon. Is the company offering the added value that a publisher should? If sales rankings are poor, it's another sign that the company makes its money by selling services, not selling books.
- The company sells hope. A company might offer pie-in-the-sky projections of your sales figures as a way of demonstrating that it's worthwhile to pay them to publish you. The problem here is obvious. If they truly believed your book would sell that many copies, they wouldn't charge you upfront.
- The company takes a defensive or condescending tone when discussing its business practices.I've seen this many times, sometimes on the company's own site or blog, other times when the company seeks out critical articles and responds.
- The company hides its prices or makes them difficult to find. Last year, I became aware of a pay-to-publish company charging prices that made even my jaw drop, and I'm a cynic who's seen lots of ripoff vanity presses. I (and probably others) reported this company to Writer Beware, who proceeded to share information about the company in question. An author with a huge internet presence also discussed it, setting off a firestorm. By the next day, the company had removed their prices from their site, and replaced it with a contact form.
- Exorbitant Prices. Take a look at the prices the company is charging for publishing. Do they align with what indie authors are paying? Check the services forum at Kboards. Do your research. Find out what it would really cost to do the things you can't or don't want to do.
- Watch out for "Hybrid publishers" giving advice on hybrid publishing. While researching this post, I discovered that a lot of the top search results come from these very same companies.
In general, I love the Hybrid Author model but don't care for the Hybrid Publisher model. A few thoughts:
- If you're going to pay to be published, learn the ropes, find professionals to do the work you can or don't want to do, and keep all your royalties.
- If a publisher truly believes your book has sales potential, that publisher will cover the costs of publishing. I'm skeptical when a publisher says, "We believe in you, but give us some money just in case."
- I don't care for crowd-funded publishing. If you can crowd fund your book, publish it yourself.
- Literary agents operating as publishers can be great or it can be problematic. I've seen some terrible books published by agencies. Also, it's a potential conflict of interest.
- Ultimately, if you don't have the requisite indie spirit needed for self-publishing, I recommend seeking out a publishing company. If not the Big 5, a reputable small press.