Hybrid Publishers: What are they and should you TRUST them?
Hybrid publishers are still a bit of a mystery to many authors. The term “hybrid” may mean different things to different people. To some, it's interchangeable with vanity publishing — which is understandable, as they both require the author to take some financial risk in order to get the book to market. Before an author chooses to embrace or avoid this model of publishing, a lot of questions need to be asked.
In this post, we’ll aim to cut through the noise and answer the most burning questions surrounding hybrid publishing.
What are hybrid publishers?
As the name hints, a hybrid publisher combines elements of traditional publishing and self-publishing. In most aspects, they function just like a traditional publisher, with the key exception that their authors will subsidize the cost of publishing and will not be given an advance on royalties.
Just like traditional presses, hybrid publishers tend to have editorial, design, and marketing teams. The idea behind hybrid presses is to give a traditional-style publishing option to authors who cannot (or prefer not to) work with a traditional publisher. Still, there are few ways this dynamic can play out.
What are the different types of hybrid publishers?
1. The partnership model
The most akin to traditional publishing, this is probably what that comes to mind when you think “hybrid publishing.” Hybrid presses that follow a partnership model will buy manuscripts they believe in and shepherd them through every step of the publishing process, from editing to marketing, just like any Big 5 or indie press. There's two crucial difference from traditional publishing. First, the author fronts much of their book’s production costs. Next, they won't receive an advance, earning a greater share of the royalties instead — more on that later!
2. The crowdfunding model
Like the name indicates, authors interested in hybrid publishing through the crowdfunding model model need to, well, raise funds to produce their book by appealing to the crowd. This signals to the hybrid publisher they're working with that their book is a good bet — after all, there’s already a readership willing to put money down for it. Once the authors reach a certain threshold in funding, the press will jump in to help them craft a high-quality product — making sure, in addition, to get it into the hands of everyone who preordered through the crowdfunding campaign. There is, of course, a catch: if the author doesn't manage to raise a certain minimum amount, the book is subject to cancellation.
3. The agent-assisted model
Sometimes, literary agents get their hands on promising manuscripts that they know will be tough sells to the major commercial presses — they might be beautifully written, but just a touch too quirky for mainstream success. In cases like these, they might approach the author with an agent-assisted hybrid publishing deal. That means the agent will produce the book themselves, leveraging their knowledge of the publishing industry’s best practices. They'll also try to sell the foreign rights to book.
These are the three rough categories of hybrid publishers, but the best of them have one thing in common: they maintain high standards — not only with producing and marketing books, but editorially as well. If they are willing to publish almost any author that is willing to pay them, then they’re not a hybrid publisher anymore — they’re a vanity press.
Vanity vs Hybrid: What’s the difference?
Functionally, there’s little to separate the business models of vanity and hybrid publishers. A lot of it comes down to their scruples. The ideal hybrid publisher will be selective when it comes to the authors they work with, and will truly want to help shape and market the books they take on. A vanity publisher knows it's very difficult to market a book, and will instead encourage the author to pay for add-ons and extra costs that will supposedly boost their book's success. If they’re particularly odious, they will also hold the author’s intellectual property ransom down the line.
To find out more about vanity publishing (and how to tell them apart from reputable hybrids), check out this post on avoiding scams in the publishing world.
What is a hybrid author?
To complicate things, the term ‘hybrid author’ means something entirely different. It describes writers who both traditionally publish and self-publish. The most prominent example of a hybrid author is J.K. Rowling, who has published the print editions of her Harry Potter books through Bloomsbury/Scholastic but sells her audio and ebook versions through her own Pottermore company.
What should you look for in a hybrid publisher?
In 2018, the Independent Book Publishers Association published their criteria for defining a reputable hybrid publisher — a set of standards any author can use to vet the companies on their shortlist. According to the IBPA’s criteria, a hybrid publisher must:
- Define a mission and vision for its publishing program. Translation: their selection criteria has to have some rhyme or reason beyond just “the author was willing to pay us.”
- Vet submissions. Translation: same as above — they can’t just be willing to publish anything that lands on their desk.
- Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs. Translation: they can’t hide their back catalog from future authors.
- Publish to industry standards. Translation: if their books are missing copyright pages and the layouts are unlike any book you’ve ever read… then you’re not dealing with a good hybrid.
- Ensure editorial, design, and production quality. Translation: no cutting corners on editorial or design work. If their books have awful covers and typo-ridden copy, then beware!
- Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights. Translation: they should have a vested interest in the success of your book — not just publish it and forget it.
- Provide distribution services. Translation: they can’t just make your book available for bookshops to buy (any self-publishing author can do that). They need to actively work to place your book with retailers.
- Demonstrate respectable sales. Translation: if they’ve never managed to sell anyone else’s book, what makes you think yours will be any different?
- Pay authors a higher-than-standard royalty. Translation: if you, the author, are going to invest in the publication of your book, you better get a bigger cut of the proceeds than a traditionally published author would.
If you have determined that you’re dealing with a reputable company, the next thing to consider is whether a hybrid publisher is indeed your best option.
What are the benefits of hybrid publishing?
1. They might have good industry connections
As we mentioned above, some hybrid publishers are subsidiaries of larger presses and may have access to their marketing resources. If you're lucky, they might make your title available in their parent company’s catalog, leading to greater prestige — and more sales.
2. They can take care of the publishing tasks you have no interest in handling
Self-publishing is not for everyone. If you’re a writer whose only interest is to write books, then you might want someone else to handle the editorial, design, and marketing work — especially if all these professionals are used to working as a team on book launches. If you're willing to put money down for access to expertise, then hybrid publishing might be the right choice for you.
3. They’ll give you a bigger share of royalties than traditional publishing
Like self-publishing, hybrid publishing allows authors to rake in a far bigger share of the royalties for every copy of a book they sell. To put things in perspective, a typical book deal with a traditional publisher nets authors 10-15% in royalties for a hardcover, 8-10% for a paperback, and 25% for an ebook. Hybrid publishing, on the other hand, can let the author rake in up to 50% in royalties.
4. They offer you a fair amount of input at every stage of the process
If you opt for hybrid publishing over a more straightforward self-publishing route, you’re probably interested in getting an in-house team of professionals to work on your book — otherwise, you’d just do everything yourself. That said, you might want a bigger voice at the table than you’d be afforded by a traditional publisher, where design and marketing efforts often proceed apace without authorial input. If you want access to experts but don’t want to be steamrolled by their expertise, hybrid publishing might be right for you. It'll let you hit the sweet spot between the freedom of self-publishing and the structure of traditional publishing.
What are the drawbacks of hybrid publishing?
1. The publisher might struggle with marketing and sales
A hybrid publisher’s editorial and design departments might have incredible standards — and be able to deliver a great product. But without the marketing might of a larger company, they will likely struggle to secure publicity and get your book placed into the right stores. Like a self-publishing author, you might have to take the lead when it comes to generating sales.
2. The author assumes a fair amount of financial risk
At the end of the day, the author is going to be footing a significant portion of the publishing bill. And in exchange, they will have to trust that the hybrid press is doing what’s best for their book. If it all doesn’t go to plan, the author has very little recourse to recover their investment.
3. Another route might be more appropriate
If the book you’re writing has great commercial potential, you might be better off securing an agent and pitching to traditional publishers. Similarly, you might find that self-publishing offers the same perks and more: you can still work with professional editors and designers, and you’ll get an even bigger cut of the royalties. If you’re willing to learn about the basics of book marketing (and put them into action), you might find that you can reach a wider audience than if you leave it all to a hybrid publisher’s marketing department.
If you want to learn more about self-publishing a book, take a quick look through our guide.
Have you worked with a hybrid publisher? Or do you have any questions about them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.