Welcome to Hybrid Publishing

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Nature is simple! So are its laws. And Economists must have borrowed from nature the law that there is equilibrium in pricing only when demand is equal to supply. There are distortions when one side of the balance tips. Higher supply than demand causes prices to crash, while the reverse results in price hikes. In the later case, when prices are forced by legislation or the authorities, what you have a thriving black market, as we have in the foreign exchange market in Nigeria. This simple law of nature is also at play in the publishing industry worldwide

All over the world, authors and manuscripts are far in excess of the capacity of traditional publishers. In the good all days, all a writer needed to do was to finish a manuscript and send to a publisher, whose bit in the publishing chain was edit, polish accepted manuscripts for market suitability, print copies, sell them and pay royalties to the author. Some publishers even paid advance royalty.

Not so now! Overwhelmed with book queries, most publishers depend on agents to do the sorting for only exceptional manuscripts. Most manuscripts are rejected! As a way out, many authors have resorted to self-publishing.

But there is a middle way, a third option. Welcome to hybrid publishing! Hybrid publishers look to combine the best of traditional and self-publishing.

In a review of this option, Publishers Weekly notes that it fuses aspects of traditional publishing with self-publishing, often for an up-front fee. The weekly continues: “Hybrid publishing is an often-confusing term,” says Mark Lefebvre, director of self-publishing and author relations at Kobo. “You could be talking about a type of assisted self-publishing, where a company that has in-house expertise gives authors the ability to pay for those services and will publish virtually any manuscript that crosses their threshold; or referring to a model where the author might invest up front but there is editorial evaluation and input, and publishing projects are chosen based on their merit as a sellable product.”

Further creating confusion is the fact that a “hybrid author” has nothing to do with a hybrid publisher. The former is, as Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords, points out, “an author who publishes books both with conventional publishers and who also self-publishes.”

Also complicating matters is the fact that publishers once called vanity presses—those that offer supported self-publishing services and will publish whatever manuscripts come their way once the authors’ checks clear—could technically be called hybrid, because they leverage traditional publishing aspects along with the pay-to-play method of self-publishing. Author Solutions has a number of supported self-publishing imprints, including AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford Publishing, Wordclay, and Xlibris, all of which fit the definition of hybrid. The company also has partner imprints in alliance with traditional publishing houses.

Though it may be fair to call all of the above hybrids, they skew more toward self-publishing because almost any author can publish with them. The hybrid publishers that stand out more clearly are those that screen submissions and have a strong sense of branding.

The Major Players
“What defines a hybrid publisher is not being made clear, and I am not sure that it can be, [but] when I look at what defines a hybrid publisher, [I see] a level of curation,” publishing industry consultant Jane Friedman says. “Not everyone who walks through the door can get published.”

Amy Edelman, president and founder of IndieReader, says the “better” hybrid publishers are the ones that “vet the books before agreeing to take them on.” She Writes Press, Evolved Publishing, EverAfter, and Inkshares follow this model, though they all operate very differently from one another. SWP, which publishes books for, by, and about women, charges a fee of $4,900 per title for a bundle of services that includes distribution, e-book file preparation and upload, proofreading, and custom design, among other services. Authors retain 60 per cent of the net profits on print books and close to 80% of the net profits on e-books.

“Our authors pay, but they have creative control and keep more of the financial reward by getting most of their royalties,” says Crystal Patriarche, CEO of SWP and its parent company, SparkPoint Studio, adding that authors also go on national press tours twice per year and have access to webinars and other educational tools. They are strongly encouraged to hire publicists, either on their own or through BookSparks, SWP’s sister public relations company under the SparkPoint umbrella.

With Evolved, which publishes mostly fiction and some nonfiction, authors are not required to pay an up-front fee, though they can pay for services such as editing or cover art, enabling them to maximize their retailer royalty rates, which are up to 81 per cent. “We pride ourselves on offering the highest royalty rates in the business, but authors must recognize that this comes with trade-offs,” says Dave Lane, managing publisher and editor. “We offer print books, but we utilize the print-on-demand services of Lightning Source. As a division of Ingram, they’re able to make our books available everywhere in the world, and their quality levels are good, [but] those print books do not go into broad distribution in the way they would with a traditional publisher.”

4 Things All Writers Should Know
Brooke Warner, author, publisher of She Writes Press, and president of Warner Coaching Inc., has identified four salient things writers should know about hybrid publishing.

Traditional publishers have been brokering hybrid publishing deals for years: The precedent for hybrid models goes back years and years. A number of publishers have cut deals with authors for what might have been qualified as “distribution deals,” “hybrid publishing arrangements,” or “copublishing ventures.” All this means is that the author pays up front in some capacity. This might be for part or all of the print run or the cost of production. In exchange, the author is usually negotiating a higher royalty rate, since they’ve invested in their own work.

The only downside to this variation of hybrid publishing is that it’s not transparent. Most of the traditional publishers who do it don’t talk about it, because the concept of authors paying to publish is so heavily stigmatized. In fact, it’s still the case that authors who subsidize any part of their work are barred from submitting their work to some reviewers and to many contests. These authors do not qualify for membership in certain writers’ associations. (Thankfully, many review outlets, contests, and associations are changing their tune on this, but not enough of them and not fast enough.)

Partnership publishing models: Models like these include my own publishing company, She Writes Press. Our authors absorb the financial risk of their publishing endeavor in exchange for high royalties. We offer traditional distribution (which we’ll explore in detail in Chapter 6) and all the benefits that brings. Partnership publishing models like She Writes Press are exciting in that they offer authors access—to review sites, to a sales force selling their books into the marketplace, and to a partnership with a publisher that has a strong reputation with booksellers. The downside, however, is that there’s a real financial risk.

Publishers mostly don’t earn out their investments on books they acquire, and partnership publishing is no different. You are assuming the financial risk for access and for the possibility of a high reward. However, it’s a competitive marketplace out there, and I always encourage authors to go into this option with their eyes wide open. It’s not a foregone conclusion that your investment will be recouped.

Agent-assisted publishing models: Many agents are starting their own publishing companies in order to publish the works of authors whose books they cannot sell. For the most part, these efforts are valiant. Agents feel strongly about the work they’re seeing and want to find an outlet where these authors can be published. They’re hybrid because the authors are being published under the agent’s imprint. What these models lack to date is any kind of effective distribution method. Where they excel, and what makes them like the other two models above, is in understanding publishing and putting out quality books that their authors can be proud of. One asset here as well may be on the foreign-market side. If your agent continues to represent you and has published your book, it’s likely they will make strong efforts to sell foreign editions of your work, so be sure to ask.

Other assisted publishing models: What makes assisted self-publishing models different from the partnership and agent-assisted models is that they may or may not be run by someone who knows about books. In these cases, you are paying someone to help you publish. You are not working with a team that is going to publish your work under their imprint. This model really qualifies more as self-publishing than as hybrid. However, I believe it’s important to include these models here, more as a caution to aspiring authors than anything else.

Just because you are working with a company does not mean that it is a good hybrid company with services that will help your book succeed. The market for book publishing has exploded, and as a result a number of companies have cropped up to deal with the pain points unique to authors—namely, that getting a book from manuscript to publication is a complicated process. Many of these companies have given the word “vanity” some propulsion because they’re not vetting and they don’t care about editorial quality.

QUOTE: You could be talking about a type of assisted self-publishing, where a company that has in-house expertise gives authors the ability to pay for those services and will publish virtually any manuscript that crosses their threshold; or referring to a model where the author might invest up front but there is editorial evaluation and input, and publishing projects are chosen based on their merit as a sellable product