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: 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?

Types of Publishing — Self Publishing

There are three kinds of publishing: traditional (or trade) publishing, self publishing, and vanity publishing.

SELF PUBLISHING

Did you know that in 2018 there were 1.6 MILLION books self published? Think about that for a moment. Over one-and-a-half million books in one year alone. And the number is growing every single year!

I think it’s fair to say that self publishing is a viable publishing solution.

Can you do it?

In self publishing the AUTHOR also plays the role of publisher. This means you are responsible for not only writing the book but also getting it ready for publication, making it available for purchase, and ensuring your audience knows it’s out there.

Here are some of the tasks you are responsible for: writing, developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, assessing when the manuscript is ready for publishing, formatting for ebook or print, cover design, making the book available to sales outlets, printing, storage, distribution, publicity, and marketing.

Can you do all those things? If so, you can self publish for very little money — possibly even no money. 

Even if you CAN do it all yourself, should you? It’s rare for one person to be good at everything. A crappy blurb will cost you sales. An unprofessional cover will cost you sales. A poorly edited manuscript will cost you sales (and result in livid, one star reviews, which cost you sales). An upfront investment can be the difference between selling 50 copies and selling 500 or more.

Here’s the reality: Most people can’t do all those things — certainly not at a professional level. Most people need help to self publish a professional-quality book that other people want to pay for. Creating a professional product can cost upwards of a thousand dollars.

Where to Find Help

Where do you find the help you need to create a professional product? You can either use freelancers who specialize in the specific task you need help with, or you can hire a company who will sell you packages of services. I strongly recommend the former over the latter. The packages that the latter sell are often overpriced and include services you don’t need to pay for. (The link above will help you find legitimate partners.)

Both freelancers and self publishing companies have to be paid up front. They are not paid only if the book sells. That means you may be making a large upfront investment with NO GUARANTEE that you will recoup your money.

Note: If a company both charges you upfront AND takes part of your royalties after publishing, that is a vanity publisher. I’ll talk more about these in a separate post.

Additional Info

Some other information about self publishing:

–Self-published books are very difficult to get into bookstores. If you want to see your book on bookstore shelves, go the traditional publishing route.

–Self-published books sell far better as ebooks than in print in most genres. Print is expensive, and it requires a hefty upfront payment that is almost never recouped.

–The people who excel at self publishing rarely do so with standalone books. Most write series, and they publish VERY frequently. If you have one book or if you write slowly, self publishing may not be the best solution for you.

–Self publishing requires a lot of marketing effort. Remember where I stated above that over 1.6 million self-published books hit the market in 2018 alone? Imagine your book was one of those. How would people find it in that sea of content? They won’t unless you do the work to make them aware of it.

I'm a huge fan of self publishing WELL. We'll discuss what that means in later posts.