Why I’m suspicious of hybrid publishing

Reading time: Less than 4 minutes

Has the thought of hybrid publishing ever crossed your mind? Here’s why you might want to think twice….

We have hybrid cars, hybrid cuisines (think Japanese-American fusion) and, now, hybrid publishing. Those cars improve efficiency and reduce pollution. And that food is often innovative and delicious. So is hybrid publishing a new trend we should also welcome with open arms? 

I think we need to be a little more careful than that.

To explain why, let me give you a 100-word history of the book publishing industry. Forty years ago, if you had had an idea for a book idea, you’d have approached a big-name publisher like Random House or Simon & Schuster and tried to persuade them to give you an advance and publish your book. Now, it’s so difficult to get in the door of such places more authors have taken to self-publishing. As well, changes in technology (such as desktop computing and on-demand printing ) have made self-publishing much less expensive. And the relative frequency of self-publishing has removed some of the stigma formerly associated with the practice, which used to be known by the name vanity press.

As a result of these changes in society, companies have started springing up to help guide authors through the self-publishing process. These companies are generally called “hybrid publishers,” although let me be clear that each company is different with its own rules and standards. In fact, the term “hybrid publishing” may cover a range of different options.

In some cases, the company will publish virtually any manuscript that crosses their doorstep and they’ll provide you with editors, book designers and printers on a fee-for-service basis. In other cases, they will make you apply and evaluate your “saleability.” Then they’ll usually charge you a flat fee for their services (book designers, printers etc.) and will ask you to sign a contract. And, keep in mind that publishers in this latter category will also take a certain percentage of your book sales (usually, something like 40% of the cover price.)

Of course, there are a number of benefits to hybrid publishing. (The service wouldn’t survive if there weren’t!) Here’s my summary:

  • Hybrid publishers are more likely to accept manuscripts than traditional publishers. (Although, duh, it’s because you’re paying them!)
  • Hybrid publishers produce most books a lot faster than traditional publishing houses. The time will be measured in months rather than years.
  • Hybrid publishers will give you more time and energy to devote to your writing. This can be especially useful to people who don’t like collecting quotes from suppliers such as editors or book designers.
  • Hybrid publishers may be able to use distribution channels that are not available to self-publishing authors.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned book promotion. A few hybrid publishers may offer this service but, if they do, it will be expensive. Be aware that promoting your book is almost always the responsibility of the author. Even traditional publishers barely do any promotion any longer (unless your name is Stephen King or J.K. Rowling).

Now, here is my list of reasons why I’m somewhat suspicious of hybrid publishing:

  • Most of the hybrid publishers I know charge somewhere between $5,000 and $13,000 US for their services — and that’s where I start to get nervous. Common sense should tell you that whenever you hire a “middle-person” you are going to be paying at least a couple of extra percentage points for that.

But my problems go well beyond the issues of cost. 

  • Some hybrid publishers don’t honestly vet manuscripts for quality and marketability. As a result, you may end up spending a good chunk of money for a book that will never sell.
  • Some hybrid publishers will take away your artistic control. Depending on your contract, they may have the final say on issues like: cover design, title and layout. If you have a high investment in these aspects of your book, hybrid publishing may not be a good choice for you.
  • Most hybrid publishers will require you to use the editor they assign to you. Is this person any good? Are they compatible with you? Editing is usually the single most expensive part of the process (an editor can spend 85 to 110 hours editing a 100,000-word manuscript) and if your hybrid publisher has selected an immature or inexperienced editor in order to save money, you will be disappointed with the job they have done. I will never work with an editor I haven’t vetted myself.

My big message for anyone considering a hybrid publishing deal is the well-known phrase caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. Don’t sign a contract because you’re tired of living in limbo and you just want to get your @$#%$^& book published.

First, check references. You’ll want to speak to at least three people (and maybe as many as six) who have worked with this company. What did they think of the process? Was it easy-going and pleasurable or frustrating and fraught with drama? Did the company live up to its end of the bargain? How do these authors feel about the hybrid publisher now that their book is finished? And how have the copies been selling? Are they making any money (or, if not, have they recouped their cost in other ways, such as from speaking fees or increased business?)

Then, read the contract carefully. What are you required to do and what is the responsibility of the hybrid publisher? How much artistic control will you retain? And, if the publisher is taking a percentage of your royalty, figure out how many books you need to sell to break even. Is that number realistic and feasible?

Getting a book published may be your fondest dream, but whatever you do to achieve this highly laudable goal, do it with your eyes wide open.

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My video podcast last week aimed to help you wrestle the clichés from your writing. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel.  If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email,  Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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Have you ever considered using a hybrid publisher? How did you decide? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Oct. 31/18 will be put in a draw for a copy of the non-fiction book Why Time Flies by Alan Burdick. Please, scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest.