Hybrid Publishing: The Best of Both Worlds

hybrid publishing

Use hybrid publishing to your advantage.

We’ve talked about how to decide whether self-publishing or traditional publishing is right for you, but what if neither feels quite right? What if you want to do both?

The newest model of publishing to have emerged is hybrid publishing, a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing that empowers both authors and publishers.

Hybrid publishing is dynamic. While there are clear steps, benefits, and drawbacks to the distinctly separate models of self-publishing and traditional publishing, hybrid publishing allows authors and publishers to take what they want from each model in order to create a tailored, innovative approach to publishing, which offers mutual benefits to all parties involved.

How Hybrid Publishing Works

Hybrid publishing is difficult to define because there are so many possible variations. It’s safe to that say that it’s neither self-publishing nor traditional publishing but any combination of the two, and this approach can be applied not just to a single project but to an entire career.

Here are some examples of hybrid publishing:

  • An author whose career started with traditionally published books decides to try self-publishing. From there, the author publishes some books traditionally and self-publishes others.
  • An author who has self-published several books is picked up by a traditional publisher.
  • An author might get a traditional book deal for print publishing but continue to self-publish e-books, retaining all digital rights and royalties.

These new hybrid models are changing the face of publishing. So what are the benefits?

Benefits of Hybrid Publishing

Publishers benefit from hybrid publishing because they can sign authors who have already self-published and established an audience. That’s a lower-risk investment for the publisher because they know the books will sell to existing readers and fans. Currently, every new author is a risk for a publishing house. There’s no way to tell which books will make the best-seller lists and which ones will bomb. Under this model, it’s less likely that a book or author will suffer low sales because there’s already an audience ready, willing, and able to buy.

When authors self-publish, they earn a larger percentage of royalties as long as they price their books accordingly. With Amazon Kindle, for example, if you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99, your royalties are 70%. That’s an awful lot compared to traditionally published authors, whose royalties are about 7-10% for a paperback and 25% for an e-book. Authors who have already published traditionally can leverage their existing audience by self-publishing a few books and enjoying larger royalties on their self-published titles.

Recently, breakout author Hugh Howey got a print publishing deal and was able to keep his digital rights, which means he will continue to collect larger royalties on his e-books (up to 70% for Kindle sales) than most traditionally published authors receive. The expense of printing, distribution, and storage is non-existent for e-books, so it makes sense for authors to keep a larger share of the royalties.

Is Hybrid Publishing the Future?

Think about the process of publishing a book by a new author from the publisher’s perspective: they have to hire a staff to read query letters, book excerpts, and full texts. They pay editors to review selected texts and decide whether they’re worth publishing. They pay a team of editors, cover designers, book layout designers, printers, and distributors, all with absolutely no way of knowing if the book will find its audience. From a business perspective, that’s a pretty risky model, especially when you consider the fact that most agents and editors admit they have no idea why some books make a splash while others sink to the bottom of the bargain bin.

There must be tremendous savings in paying someone to peruse self-published books online instead of using the traditional query process. Recruiters can sift through ratings and reviews, look at samples of texts, and determine the likely success they’ll enjoy with certain authors. Meanwhile, authors who self-publish are honing both their writing and marketing skills on a smaller stage, so if and when they’re picked up by a publisher, they have the proper experience to reach out to the broader audience that the publisher will expose them to. It’s a win-win.

Does it really make sense for publishers to continue footing the expense of publishing new authors? I don’t think so. Does it really make sense for authors to go through the grueling process of querying agents and editors when that time could be spent getting their books to market and building the foundation of a long-term career? Probably not.

Hybrid publishing offers authors and publishers the best of both worlds. By lowering the risk for publishers and raising the earnings potential for authors, it’s an ideal model.

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


13 Responses to “Hybrid Publishing: The Best of Both Worlds”

  1. No question hybrid publishing is going to be the model for the future for all the reasons Melissa outlines. I have a non-fiction book coming out in February in hardcover and I’m talking to the publisher about bringing a novel of mine related to the non-fiction book out as an ebook. Royalties are all over the place, which is part of the new model. And an author needs to bear in mind that if you self-publish, you can’t get Amazon and B/N “deals”, promotional advantages that publishers can finagle. So the situation is very fluid. Plus there are a number of self-styled “hybrid publishers” cropping up which I’ve found to be close to updated “vanity” presses. They promise ebook and traditional publishing for substantial royalties but the author needs to upfront a bunch of costs.Stay tuned, it’s a wild and wooly scene out there!

    • Diane Hall says:

      Hi Tony,
      A lot is made of the decline of traditional publishing but I actually think the only business within the publishing industry under threat is the vanity publisher. Self-publishing progression and increased popularity has left even new authors far more savvy than ever before. As someone who first published their first book via Lulu because upfront costs were out of my reach, my company’s version of a hybrid publishing model addressed the concept of upfront fees and vanity as requisite. It’s a submission-based alternative, but our costs, from the intervention of our expertise in all areas of production and beyond, are recouped post-release, from the sales of the first 75 copies. After that, from copy 76 and beyond, we pay a royalty of 30% of the book’s list price – well above the traditional publisher’s average of 10% – 17.5%, and nearer the self-publisher’s return after printing and production costs. Most people have friends or family that will buy their first copies, so sale 76 comes round pretty quickly! And, of course, as a business within the industry, we vet the submissions to books we believe will sell. We’re carrying an awful lot of risk for the expertise we’re investing in the author, but we hope that this nurturing, fair hybrid solution will encourage them to stay with us for book number two, and three, and so on.
      We just want to provide a home for the square pegs and new/alternative genres traditional publishers stay away from; although we won’t publish poor quality books, we’re definitely more open-minded and accepting of topic. The only thing we won’t budge on is the quality of what we publish. We’re only six-months old as a company, but we’ve big plans and a wholly author-centric approach. 🙂

    • Many of the vanity publishers are rip-offs or scams, especially when charging a huge fee for boxes of printed books instead of print-on-demand (which Amazon’s CreateSpace offers). However, I think it’s reasonable to provide services like editing, cover design, layout design, formatting, and marketing packages for a fee. These companies can offer such services for either an up-front fee or for royalties.

      However, I don’t think it’s reasonable for them to get lifetime royalties for providing one-time services. In traditional publishing, the royalty sharing makes sense because the publisher handles distribution for the life of the book.

      I’d like to see companies that offer those one-time services (editing, cover design, marketing, etc.) where they author can either pay up front or choose a royalty option that earns out. For example, if an author chooses $5000 worth of services, the “publisher” would get royalties up to $5000 (plus interest).

      I think we’ll see some interesting new business models in the coming years–not to mention lots of opportunities for self-employed editors, cover designers, etc.

  2. Lanny says:

    Melissa, this is a brilliant post and one of the best ever! Yes, I think this is the trend of the near future; using both traditional and online publishing sources makes a lot of sense, especially for new writers seeking a new market.

  3. Chris Janson says:

    I think this is a really sensible approach that benefits all parties and I’m surprised that traditional publishers have been slow to “cream off” the best of the self-published digital market considering the obvious advantages to them in terms of likely success of a new author.

    What kind of impact it will have on literary agencies (if it has much impact, that is) I’m not sure, but there will always be a loyal traditional publishing market, both authors and readers.

    However, it does make sense for publishers to look at the best of the digital market and tailor deals of maximum financial benefit to authors, publishers and readers alike. It’s a simple, logical idea, let’s hope there aren’t any flaws in it.

    Chris Janson

    • I think there will still be a place for agents but their role will change slightly. Of course, as long as there are traditional publishers and contracts, agents will be necessary. And writers will always need agents for getting their books into foreign markets and for selling the rights to film studios.

      But agents could also act as consultants who help writers take a manuscript to publication. They could recommend editors, formatting specialists, cover designers, and help writers set up websites and marketing campaigns. I guess it wouldn’t be accurate to call them agents, but the point is that for every agent job that goes away, there’s another job opportunity somewhere else within the industry.

  4. Diane Hall says:

    Hi Melissa,
    As a publisher who offers our own hybrid publishing model it’s inevitable that I agree with all you’ve said. Because we’re authors as well as publishers, we believe that we’ve not just created a new model for innovation’s sake, but in doing so, we’ve also eradicated a lot of the flaws from either side – which is the very reason our model exists.
    We also offer an alternative to the ‘self-publishing-with-no-upfront-costs’, which is the market Createspace, Lightning Source and Lulu populate. At the moment, there’s little to rival their offering to the publishing industry and to authors, though the template-based systems they use have many drawbacks. If we bring hope to those self-publishers who have no initial budget yet feel it’s against their soul to write, then our perceived risk will be worth it.

    • Diane Hall says:

      **against their soul NOT to write….! Sorry, so passionate about this subject, my brain’s going too fast for my fingers!

    • I think we’ll see lots of interesting new business models related to publishing in the coming years. Hopefully, those that offer the fairest opportunities for authors will rise to the top.

  5. Donna says:

    What makes this ‘hybrid’ anything? This is just using different publishing platforms for different things. If a person switches from one trad publisher to another, are they ‘hybrid publishing?’ Honestly, this makes no sense. Most of these companies billing themselves as ‘hybrid publishers’ are just small presses. What’s up with the jargon?

    • The word “hybrid” means anything derived from heterogeneous sources, or composed of elements of different or incongruous kinds: a hybrid of the academic and business worlds. Hybrid publishing is not at all small press publishing; it’s a combination of traditional and self-publishing. This article doesn’t mention small presses and is not about small presses, so I’m not sure how you brought small presses into the equation. “Hybrid publishing” is simply the term being used for a combination of different types of publishing within a single model. I certainly didn’t invent that term but it’s pretty obvious to me that it’s definitively accurate.