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.
If you’ve finished a book or are working on one, then you’re probably thinking about how to publish it. There are two obvious choices: self-publish or try to get it published by a traditional publisher.
There was a time when self-publishing was a last resort, a final attempt after an author had accumulated piles of rejections. In recent years, technology has made self-publishing easy and accessible. As a result, reams of authors have elected to self-publish without even bothering with traditional publishing.
The stigma of self-publishing has faded but many authors still diligently query agents and publishers, hoping to get their books published by traditional means.
The good news is that now authors have a choice. It’s no longer a matter of choosing the better option but choosing the option that is right for you.
There are many factors to consider in deciding between self-publishing or traditional publishing. Let’s look at the benefits of both forms of publishing.
Benefits of Self-Publishing
- Creative Control
- When you go with a traditional publisher, they gain certain rights to your book. Contracts vary but as an example, they’re going to decide what cover and title go on your book. I’ve heard from authors who hated their book covers and/or titles. If you get a great agent and editor or if you’re lucky enough to get a cover and title you like, this may not be a problem. Publishers also own printing and distribution rights for a specified amount of time. Under the self-publishing model, authors retain all rights and creative control of their work.
- Agents and publishers cost a lot of money. Everyone gets a cut from the editors, proofreaders, cover designers, layout designers, distributors, etc… The list goes on and on. That means traditionally published books cost more, and that cost gets passed on to readers. The average self-published ebook novel is $2.99. Traditionally published: about $10-15.
- You’re sharing profits with everyone involved in producing your book, so you get a much smaller royalty. An average advance these days could be as low as $5000 and royalties are about 7-10% for a paperback and 25% for an ebook. When you self-publish, there’s no advance (in fact, you’ll incur some costs) but royalties are much higher. If you price your Kindle ebook at $2.99-9.99, the royalties are 70%. You set the price of your books, so you determine how much you make off each copy sold.
- I was sort of horrified years ago, when I learned that for most new authors, publishers don’t do a lot of marketing. You’re lucky if they send you on a book tour. Many traditionally published authors hire their own PR firms and marketing professionals and pay for these costs out of pocket. Again, this can vary depending on your contract but unless you have what they think is going to be a blockbuster (or if you’re already hugely successful), traditional publishers don’t usually invest a whole lot in marketing a new author. That’s not to say they won’t help with any marketing but from the authors I’ve heard from, when it comes to marketing, there’s not a lot of difference between traditional and self-publishing. Either way, most of the burden is on the author.
- After you finish writing your book, it can take months to get an agent (if you get one at all), and then it can take many more months to sell it to a publisher (if you sell it at all). From there, it’s usually about a year before the book hits stores. I’d say most authors wait 1-2 years (minimum) between finishing their book to seeing it in stores—and that’s if everything moves along on schedule. Some of that time is useful; you can start working on your next book and you can get your marketing plan going. Some authors don’t mind but others are frustrated, especially when that 1-2 years turns into 3-4 years or more.
- Up until a couple of years ago, agents and publishers acted as gatekeepers. They and they alone decided whose books got published. Some people say they prevented bad writing from hitting the market, but Harry Potter was rejected at least eight times, so they were obviously also preventing some good stuff from hitting the market. Lots of books that went on to be successful were originally rejected. What this tells us is that publishers don’t necessarily know what they’re doing when it comes to picking good or salable books. Also, and this is my personal opinion, I’ve come across some traditionally published books that I thought were terrible. Think about it: a book can get rejected because whoever read it that day was in a bad mood, didn’t like one of the characters, just read a similar story, or simply didn’t care for the tone, style, or voice.
Self-publishing has opened the gates and it’s true that a lot of low quality books have hit the market—poorly written manuscripts packed with typos and just plain bad storytelling (and awful covers). But readers are smart. They know how to read the first few pages, check the reviews, and filter the good stuff from the bad stuff.
Benefits of Traditional Publishing
- Even though they don’t always get it right, agents and publishers make a living choosing books that they think readers will embrace. Their job is to find the good stuff and get it to market. So traditionally published books do still have that extra stamp of validation and credibility. The question is: does the average reader check to see who published a book before they buy it?
- Editing, Design, and Formatting
- In the traditional publishing model, books go through several rounds of revisions as part of the deal whereas self-published authors take on the cost of hiring their own editors. The same is true for book covers: most self-published authors are not artists and have to hire someone to make the cover. As a rule, it’s fair to say that publishers know better than authors what cover or title a book needs. Some self-published authors also pay someone to format their books for print and electronic publishing. Many do it themselves (there are plenty of tutorials available online) but it’s pretty tedious work, especially if you’d rather be writing.
- Not only are publishers more experienced in the editing, design, and formatting steps in the book production process, they also have a team of professional editors and designers.
- Some authors, especially hugely successful authors, do get a marketing campaigns via traditional publishing. Marketing is half the work of selling books (the other half is writing them), so this is a crucial point: if your publisher helps considerably with marketing, it could save you a lot of time and money compared to self-publishing. But a marketing budget is not something new authors can count on. There may be downstream marketing disadvantages to self-publishing: for example, some reviewers who won’t look at self-published books and some bookstores won’t carry them.
- If you want to get your book into brick-and-mortar bookstores, it’s a lot harder when you self-publish. Traditional publishers already have a print-and-distribution system in place, so they’ll make sure your book is available wherever books are sold, online and offline. But if you self-publish, your books will primarily be available in the online space, which limits potential sales. Some self-published authors have successfully gotten their books into physical bookstores, but it requires a lot of legwork.
Self-Publishing or Traditional Publishing?
Ultimately, each author has to decide which model is right for them. The decision between self-publishing or traditional publishing is fraught with considerations, mostly dealing with time and money. Are you in a hurry to get your book out? Self-publishing is going to be a lot quicker. Do you lack design skills and can’t afford to hire a cover designer? Traditional publishing would probably be a better option for you.
Have you ever published a book? Did you choose self-publishing or traditional publishing? Why? When you do publish a book, which model are you more likely to use?
Publishing used to be simple. A writer wrote a proposal or manuscript and then found an agent who was willing to represent the book. The agent shopped it around and sold it to a publisher. The writer received an advance and then the agent, publisher, and writer worked together until the book appeared in book stores about a year later.
That model hasn’t gone away. You can still find an agent to help you get published and you can still aim for selling your book to a publishing house, but technology has opened more doors for writers.
Terms get thrown around, like traditional publishing, legacy publishing, self-publishing, vanity publishing, and indie publishing. But what does it all mean? What’s the difference between self-publishing and indie publishing? Is there a difference? Why should we care?
Types of Publishing Companies
Most writers hope to eventually publish a book. While many writers already have their heart set on traditional publishing or have their minds made up to self-publish, it’s helpful to take a close look at all available options before making a final decision.
As a writer, the sooner you start studying the publishing process, the better, because the type of publishing you choose can affect how you write and what you do while writing. For example, if you decide to self-publish, you might want to start building your marketing platform months before your book is finished.
To get started, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the types of publishing companies that you can choose from. This isn’t an definitive guide; it’s meant as an overview to introduce various types of publishing companies and the options that are available to you as a writer.
Traditional publishing is exactly what it sounds like: the traditional way to publish books. Nonfiction writers submit a proposal (which often includes a few sample chapters) and fiction writers submit a manuscript to agents until they find one who is willing to represent them. The agent then sells the proposal or book to a publisher. Once the book is sold, the author receives an advance (sum of money). At this point, nonfiction writers write the rest of the book. Writers work through revisions with editors at the publishing house. The publisher handles the book cover, printing and formatting, and distribution. The publisher may also handle some marketing. Traditional publishers are also called commercial publishers.
Traditional publishing is sometimes called legacy publishing, a term that is slightly controversial because it has conflicting connotations. I’ve heard people describe legacy publishing as literary or highbrow, outdated and inefficient or dignified and respectable. I’d say the jury is still out on what legacy publishing implies, so my recommendation is to stick with the term traditional publishing for this model.
Further reading: Nine Reasons Authors Still Choose Traditional Publishing
Vanity publishing has a fairly bad reputation in the literary world. In this model, the writer pays to have a book published. Whereas traditional publishers pick and choose which books they send to market, vanity publishers don’t require an approval or editorial process. Whereas traditional publishers are in the business of selling books, vanity presses are in the business of printing books.
Some vanity presses may offer services in the areas of editing, formatting, and cover design. Vanity presses can be used for self-publishing; in this sense, the vanity press provides printing and binding. The author is responsible for all editing, design, distribution, and marketing. The bad rap comes from vanity presses presenting themselves in a somewhat misleading way, often making authors feel like their books are being published traditionally. Writers who are not knowledgeable about publishing have felt scammed by vanity presses. However, these publishers do have a role in our society. For example, many people use vanity presses to publish books of a personal nature, such as family trees and family bibles, works that would not be publicly distributed and would only have a small print run.
Futher reading: Where Publishing Gets Practical
Subsidy publishing falls somewhere between traditional and vanity publishers. Subsidy publishers enter a partnership with authors. Under this model, authors keep most (or all) rights and ownership of the work. Whereas traditional publishers pay authors an advance, in subsidy publishing, authors must make a financial investment in the cost of publishing. The publisher handles production and distribution and provides funding for sales and marketing. Authors start earning royalties immediately since the books don’t have to earn out an advance. It’s easier to get a subsidy publishing deal since these types of publishing companies aren’t as selective as traditional publishers. Whereas vanity presses earn profits from printing books, subsidy publishers (like traditional publishers) earn profits from book sales.
Further reading: Subsidy Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
With self-publishing, the publishing company is the writer. Self-published authors are solely responsible for writing, editing, proofreading, cover design, layout, distribution, and marketing. That’s not to say self-published writers do it alone. Self-published authors with business savvy know their own limitations and hire out different aspects of the production process. They may work with freelance editors and cover designers and will usually publish their books on platforms that include distribution. For example, Amazon provides print-on-demand publishing through Create Space and distributes e-books online. Authors are solely responsible for all publishing costs but also retain full creative control and all ownership and rights to the work.
Further reading: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (Joe Konrath is an advocate for ebooks and self-publishing; this site is packed with articles and information on self-publishing)
A Few More Terms You Should Know
There are a few other types of publishing companies and publishing-related terms that all writers should know:
Print-on-Demand Publishing: Once a book is completed, copies are printed as they are ordered.
Indie Publishing: Indie publishing has taken on two meanings. It can refer to a small press publisher or it can refer to self-publishing. I imagine that in the coming years, it will settle into one definition or the other, depending on how we all use it.
Small Presses: Most commercial publishers are big businesses or are owned by larger, corporate conglomerates. Small presses are small businesses that usually specialize in certain genres or topics and produce and distribute in smaller quantities than big publishing houses. Many small presses work directly with authors and don’t include agents in the process.
University Presses: These presses are nonprofit, usually print academic works, and are run by universities and colleges. They often publish literary magazines and journals as well as textbooks and creative works.
Publishing is an Evolving Business
The world of publishing is currently undergoing dramatic changes. The companies are changing and new models are emerging. There’s no telling what publishing will look like when the dust settles. In the meantime, we writers must do our best to stay informed about standards and trends so we can make the best decisions when the time comes to publish our own work.