Gathering of the Ghosts – January 22, 2024

Straight Talk for New Authors: What You Need to Know About Hybrid Publishing

If you have followed our work, it’s no secret that we at GG are big fans of the democratization of publishing, and in particular, the rapidly expanding premium version of independent publishing known as hybrid publishing. As we discussed in our publishing path webinar series, the hybrid model can be a great option for a growing universe of authors – especially in the business and thought leadership space – who want more control over their IP, higher speed to market, and no part of the gatekeeper goose chase the traditional path demands.

At the same time, like any other publishing option, the hybrid route presents its own challenges, limitations, and potential pitfalls. And from our conversations with prospective clients, it’s clear that many authors considering this option lack even a basic understanding of how the hybrid model works.

So, for those of you leaning towards going hybrid, we thought it would be helpful to offer a candid primer on things you need to know about this space to go in with your eyes open.

To start, hybrid-curious authors should understand the main factors that make it distinct from traditional models. 

On the one hand, there are many advantages, including:

      • Time. Traditional publishing takes a lot of time — at least 18 months from conceptualization to publication, if not longer, as Brooke Warner, founder and publisher of She Writes Press, reminded us at our Gathering of the Ghosts conference earlier this year. And that’s after you’ve taken the time to write a brook proposal and secured an agent. Hybrid publishing, on the other hand, doesn’t require these extra steps and has a much quicker go-to-market timeline – most top hybrid companies can have a book out in as quickly as 4-6 months after the manuscript is completed.

      • Access. In addition to the time it takes to write a book proposal and query an agent, there’s the obvious (yet, for most, elusive) step of not only attracting an agent, but persuading commercial publishers they can make money from your story. Most hybrid publishers don’t require authors to submit traditional book proposals or have agents. You are hiring them as a partner, not persuading them to buy your content. This means you are guaranteed a book at the end of the process, rather than being reliant on some third party to bless your story.

      • Control. When authors enter the traditional publishing process, they relinquish authority over not only the intellectual property of the book — including text, cover design, and title — but also its total sales revenue. Hybrid publishing allows authors to maintain total control of their IP, capture almost all sales revenue, and have the final say over the product itself. Hybrid authors can also control the marketing around their book and more easily update their content in new editions based on their readers’ feedback or new research.

    But with these advantages come some significant tradeoffs. Chief among them:

        • Cost. To be very clear, hybrid publishing is a fee-for-service model, so authors will have to make a substantial upfront investment. How much you will pay depends on factors including production expenses — how many copies are published in the print run, whether you’re using color and/or photographs, etc. — and the other services you are contracting for. On the low end, you can expect to pay around $10,000. On the high end, you could pay more than $50,000. 

        • Commitment. Hybrid publishing does not demand the same level of time and attention that the indie DIY route requires, where the author typically functions as CEO, COO, CMO, and creative director all at once for a pop-up business. However, hybrid authors must still be prepared to be far more active partners in the process than if they sold their work to a commercial publisher. You not only have to take on the core functions of an agent – negotiating terms, making sure the publisher is living up to its obligations, etc. – but you also have to be closely involved in making all the key creative and business decisions.

      Once you have a good working understanding of hybrid publishing in general, it’s then important to recognize that the sector is not a monolith. Indeed, there are some significant variations within the hybrid sector in how different companies operate and the services they provide, and authors should be aware of these differences when they are evaluating potential hybrid partners.

      For example, while some companies will publish most authors willing to write a check, others have a submission process with certain standards authors must meet – such as sales potential. So, it’s incumbent on authors to think critically and honestly where their book fits in this food chain and proceed accordingly.

      Also, some hybrid publishers offer ancillary services like marketing support and PR, while others do not. And some have distribution arrangements with major trade publishers like Simon & Schuster or through Ingram, while others can’t help beyond getting your book set up on Amazon. So, if having a one-stop shop for production and promotion and/or having your book on sale in airport bookstores are priorities, make sure to check whether the hybrid partners you are considering can deliver on them.

      Beyond the differences, there are some dangers to know about as well. The author services marketplace has evolved dramatically over the last decade, moving beyond the predators and scam artists who dominated the space to become much more professionalized, transparent, and trustworthy. But the reality is that there are still a number of bad actors out there who make bogus promises and employ bait-and-switch tactics.

      The key way to suss out the good partners from the grifters? We recommend reviewing the Independent Book Publishers Association’s (IBPA) Hybrid Publisher Criteria, which provides a handy checklist for evaluating reliable companies. We also have good relationships with and are happy to endorse hybrid publishing partners with a proven track record of treating their authors well, including Amplify Publishing Group and She Writes Press (which were represented by their CEO and publisher, respectively, at our recent Gathering of the Ghosts conference), as well as Forefront Books, Girl Friday, Greenleaf Book Group, and Page Two Books. The bottom line: Just like hiring a ghostwriter, there’s not a one-size-fits-all formula for choosing a hybrid publisher. A lot of it comes down to an author being very clear about their goals and needs from the publishing process and then choosing a publishing partner they can trust to help them succeed on their terms.

      Stay tuned for upcoming installments of Ghostwriting Confidential: Straight Talk for New Authors to learn more about what to expect from this process.

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