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Hybrid Writers vs. Hybrid Publishers

I want to talk about some confusing terms. Intentionally confusing. Hybrid writers vs. hybrid publishers.

Hybrid Writers

In the 2000s when self publishing came into its own, some writers who had been traditionally published found that switching to self publishing could be very lucrative. Some stuck with traditional publishing new work, but self published their back lists. Some started in self publishing and then chose to publish traditionally later.

These writers who chose to traditionally publish some work and self publish other work became known as hybrid writers. Hybrid writers use traditional publishing to build a large, wide audience, and then maximize their income via self publishing.

Being a hybrid writer is, by and large, a good choice. Not surprisingly, when asked about their publishing goals, writers commonly say “I want to hybrid publish.”

And that’s where the confusion starts to creep in.

Hybrid Publishers

Hybrid publishing is a publishing model where the writer “shares” publishing expenses with the publisher. It is also called partner publishing and contribution-based publishing. In exchange for chipping in on the upfront costs, the writer gets higher-than-industry-standard royalties.

Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, the amount the writer has to chip in is WAY overpriced. These companies sometimes charge more than the straight up vanity publishers. In my opinion, the upfront cost for hybrid publishing makes even the “reputable” companies nothing more than high-end vanity publishing.

Intentional confusion

It’s easy to see where writers can get confused and misled. Being a hybrid writer is a good thing; hybrid publishers are, more often than not, pay-to-play vanity publishers.

So frustrating, you might say. Why didn’t the hybrid publishers simply choose a different name?

Because they WANT to mislead writers who don’t know better. They only benefit from the confusion.

Hybrid Writers vs. Hybrid Publishers

Before You Publish: Learn about the Industry

Do you want to maximize your chances of becoming traditionally published? Then take time to learn about the industry! This involves approaching publishing as a professional and learning as much as you can, both about the industry itself and about the craft of writing.

Ways to increase your knowledge

Below is a list of different ways to expand your knowledge. Some are free; some are not. Do what you can when you can, and save for the bigger things.

  • Read. Read widely in your genre. Read widely among the newly published books in other genres, particularly the best sellers. Read to know what’s selling now and how it’s being written.
  • Read industry blogs. There are lots of agents, publishers, and writers who keep regular blogs where they discuss the state of the industry, what they’re looking for, and insights into the publishing world. I’ll do a resources post that lists some of my favorites.
  • Follow agents, editors, and writers on Twitter. Follow hashtags like #WritingCommunity and #MSWL.
  • Read books on craft. Practice what you learn.
  • Consider a membership to Publishers Weekly or The Hot Sheet. Neither is cheap, but they give you industry insights. Publishers Weekly focuses on traditional publishing deals. The Hot Sheet covers news about the industry (traditional and self publishing) as a whole.
  • Classes. You don’t have to get a degree in Creative Writing, but classes can be a good thing. They expose you to different ideas and give you the opportunity for feedback and networking.
  • Attend conferences. Some cater more to writing and some more to publishing. Read the descriptions and splurge on the one that best fits your current needs. Save money by attending local conferences. If you have to travel, try to split expenses whenever possible. Some conferences have scholarships or contests that cover the cost of conference fees.
  • YouTube. Both authors and agents have made a plethora of information free.
  • Participate on online forums. 
Learn about the industry

Before Your Write: Developing an Idea

A novel starts with an idea. It could be a character, a title, a scene, a general premise. It could be anything that makes you think, “This could be a great story!”

That idea, though, is just that — an idea. You need far more than an idea to craft a novel. Developing an idea is a critical part of novel writing.

Brainstorming

The initial phase of developing an idea is brainstorming. For me, this phase happens over a long period of time while I’m writing another novel.

Even though this shiny new idea is compelling, I don’t let myself get too distracted. I create a folder for the project on my computer and create a file for notes. You don’t have to get fancy. I use Notepad. Some people use Scrivener. There I collect ideas as they come to me.

All of the ideas won’t be in the finished book. The finished manuscript may not even resemble the ideas in the early notes. But one idea leads to another and to another.

Research

This is also the time I do research, which can lead to new paths, new ideas.

This is fiction — is research important? Generally, yes, particularly if the book is set in the real world. While writing the book I’m getting ready to query, I researched Mississippi, retriever field trials, comminuted fractures, recovery from femur fractures, and injuries to the inner ear in dogs.

Research impacts story development greatly, closing some paths as not realistic but opening others you hadn’t dreamed of.

Getting Organized

As you take notes and do research, don’t be afraid to have as many document files as you need. Put research about setting in one, ideas about characters in another, and ideas about plot in a third.

The important thing at this stage is that you capture your ideas, whatever they are. Don’t limit yourself — even if an idea doesn’t fit with what you were thinking yesterday, write it down anyway. You can pick and choose later!

In my next Plotters Guide post, I’ll talk about developing a premise.

Before you write: Developing an idea

Before You Publish: Write a Great Manuscript

The first step on the road to publishing, regardless of whether you traditionally publish or self publish, is to write a great manuscript. Unfortunately, this is the step that many people overlook. They’re so excited to have written something that they immediately begin dreaming about publishing it and making loads of money. 

Rather than googling agents and publishers, they should be figuring out what they need to do to make their novel shine! To write a great manuscript takes a lot of hard work!

How to write a great book

I’m going to talk a lot about the craft of writing a great novel in this blog. At a high level, however, the basic steps to write a great novel are:

  1. Write a first draft. If you’re writing a trilogy or series, note that the first book should stand alone. Seriously, agent, publishers, and READERS hate cliff hangers. It’s one thing to have a large arc that will stretch over the series; it’s another to have a story that is not satisfactorily resolved. Each book needs to be a satisfying story unto itself.
  2. Get chapter-by-chapter feedback. Not Wattpad feedback. Not feedback from your mom, your teacher, or your friends. Objective feedback from skilled writers. I strongly recommend that you find long-term critique partners. Before that, you might try a site like Critique Circle.
  3. Evaluate the structure of your manuscript. Do key events happen when they should? Do plot lines and character arcs unfold and resolve as they should? How’s the pacing? Are there too many characters? Are there unresolved storylines? Are there subplots that can be tightened or removed entirely?
  4. Rewrite based on 2 and 3 above. If necessary, rewrite again. And again.
  5. Work with beta readers who will read and critique your manuscript as a whole. These are commonly readers in your target audience. Have them note where they got bored, where they skimmed, where they were confused, what they liked, what they didn’t like.
  6. Rewrite as necessary based on feedback. Yep, again.
  7. If you’re planning to self publish, consider hiring a professional editor at this stage. Don’t hire a professional editor if you’re planning to traditionally publish.
  8. Edit and polish. Tighten up the writing. Trim the fat. Cut the unnecessary words. Smooth the flow. Correct the grammar and the spelling.

When the manuscript is technically perfect — when the story is as good as you can make it and the writing flows and is free of grammatical and spelling mistakes — you are ready to move to the next step.

What that step is depends on whether you’ve decided to pursue traditional publishing or self publishing. I’m going to focus mainly on traditional publishing in this blog, because it’s the path I’m following for myself right now.

Before you publish: write a great manuscript!

Traditional or Self Publishing — Which is Better?

There is no simple answer to the question of “Which type of publishing is better?” Neither is right for every author or every book. Each has its pros and cons. You have to weigh the pros and cons against your unique situation to determine which solution is better for you.

Traditional Publishing

TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING might be the better choice if you…

  • Have one standalone novel.
  • Plan to write only this one book.
  • Plan to write a series or multiple books, but write only one book a year or so.
  • Write picture books, chapter books, or books for young YA readers, because it’s difficult to get self-published books in front of this buying audience.
  • Have no money to invest up front.
  • Want an advance.
  • Want to get your book on bookstore shelves.
  • Dream of having a movie made of your novel or want to win prizes or get chosen by Oprah.
  • Would like some (limited) help with marketing, especially at and before launch.
  • Want the validation of success on the traditional publishing stage or just the reassurance that your book was one of the few good enough to make it through the gauntlet of gatekeepers.
  • Are willing to invest the time it takes to query agents, get the manuscript ready for submission to publishers, and produce the final book.
  • Can handle the rejection, criticism, and rewrites that come with working with agents and editors.
  • Have written a book that falls cleanly into one genre AND meets the narrow word-count guidelines for that genre.

Self Publishing

SELF PUBLISHING might be the better choice if you…

  • Have written this book just for fun and want to make it available to family and friends.
  • Are writing a series.
  • Write prolifically, producing several publication-ready manuscripts per year.
  • Write shorts, novelettes, or novellas.
  • Write erotica, particularly types that appeal to niche audiences.
  • Have written a book that might be deemed hard to sell because it crosses genres or is in a genre not selling well commercially.
  • Can afford to invest money in professional editing, a quality cover, or other service.
  • Know who your potential buyers are and have a solid plan for reaching them.
  • Want to publish quickly (or NOW).
  • Cannot handle the rejection, criticism, and rewrites that come with working with agents and editors.

A word about money…

Self publishing pays a significantly higher royalty percentage, but there are potentially high upfront production costs if you want to put out a professional-looking product. It’s a risk either way.

  • If you don’t invest, you likely won’t sell many copies because your book will LOOK amateurish.
  • If you do invest, you may not sell ENOUGH copies to make back that investment.

Traditional publishing pays a small royalty percentage, but you have NO upfront financial investment (or risk), and the publisher covers all production costs.

  • Self published books *tend* to sell only a few copies. The average is 50-100 copies, mostly to friends and family. The risk of not recouping your investment is very high.
  • Traditionally published books sell an average of around 5000 copies.
  • Books that are self published “well” tend to sell more copies.

So, really, which should I choose?

I’m a huge proponent of “self publishing well.” However self publishing well takes a fair amount of money, excellent craft, and a LOT of business knowledge.

I strongly believe that writers should FIRST traditionally publish — for several reasons:

  1. Being accepted for traditional publishing gives you external validation that your writing is READY for publishing. (Hint: Professional editing does NOT ensure that!)
  2.  Traditional publishing gives you a wide fan base that you can leverage for self published books in the future.
  3. Traditional publishing will introduce you to the business side of publishing, and do so with a much easier learning curve than you’ll face if you self publish first.
  4. If you self publish first, you’ve blown your debut status. If you want to traditionally publish in the future, you have to show them that your published books have good sales. They don’t care if they were self published — low sales mean no one wants to read your books. (There are ways to mitigate the damage, namely using a pen name for future books — but you will have to be honest with agents and publishers upfront, and they may choose not to deal with the hassle.)
Which type of publishing is best for you?