Self-publishing has been around since the dawn of the printing press. But it took the internet—and Amazon—to create the range of publishing opportunities that gave birth to so many ways to publish.
This article talks about one of the more innovative yet misunderstood methods of publishing to arise in the past several years: hybrid publishing. I’ll cover how to evaluate hybrid publishers, reasons why hybrid publishing may not be right for every author, and the number-one advantage for considering hybrid publishing (and why it often doesn’t matter for most books!).
By the way, don't confuse hybrid publishing with hybrid authors. Hybrid authors are authors who both self-publish and traditionally publish.
Simply put, hybrid publishing is another a form of self-publishing, one where the author pays for the publication of their book.
Five criteria that define hybrid publishing
The most important distinction between hybrid and other types of self-publishing is that hybrid publishers do not accept every manuscript presented to them for publication. They are discerning. They have editorial standards about what they will publish.
Other differentiating characteristics include these:
- Hybrid publishers publish under their own imprint. That is, they use their own ISBNs. The author’s book is “published by” the name of the hybrid publisher.
- The author pays for most or all the cost to produce their book.
- The hybrid publisher offers book distribution capabilities that exceed what self-publishers can achieve on their own.
- The author will subsidize or pay the full cost to print quantities of their book. (More on this below.)
- Authors receive a higher royalty than they’d receive from a traditional publisher but a lower royalty than they would get if they self-published.
Bottom line: Does the book fit into the hybrid publisher’s strategy, and does it expect it can make money for itself and the author?
For more specific information about hybrid publishing, see the Independent Book Publishers Association's (IBPA) criteria. Business models of hybrid publishers vary, but these companies are notable examples of reputable hybrid publishers: Greenleaf Book Group, Ink Shares, She Writes Press, and Top Reads Publishing.
Why hybrid publishing is defined by the hybrid publisher’s editorial focus
As noted above, the single defining characteristic of hybrid publishing vs. self-publishing is hybrid publishers do not accept every book. They have a defined editorial mission and publishing strategy, and accepted books must fit that vision.
- Like all businesses, they have limited resources. They seek to invest those resources in books and authors that have the greatest chance for success.
- They have a reputation at stake. Their skills at selecting books to publish helps them build relationships, especially as it relates to distribution.
- They are financially motivated. They want to maximize the royalties they receive, just like traditional publishers do.
Hybrid publishing is still self-publishing
As noted above, hybrid publishing is just one branch of self-publishing. There are two others:
- Author self-publishing
- Subsidy, sometimes called vanity, self-publishing
The biggest difference between these two is that with author self-publishing, the author owns their ISBN and has complete control over the production and distribution of their book.
A subsidy press will use their own ISBN, and this typically carries with it control over how the books are produced and distributed.
For more information about the differences between the three self-publishing models (self, hybrid, and subsidy) and traditional publishing, download our free guide. No registration required.
Three ways to evaluate a hybrid publisher
Technology has enabled anyone to be a publisher so there is no shortage of creative business people ready to sell their services to new authors. If you are considering the hybrid publishing route, here are three ways to evaluate a hybrid publisher:
- Look at the books it has published. Does the collection look scattershot, or do the books share certain characteristics? Does its website speak to specialization? What is it known for? What are its editorial standards or requirements? Would your book fit with its editorial focus?
- What special distribution does it offer? Anyone can get their book into the Ingram catalog or listed on Amazon, the two companies that control the vast percentage of trade books sold to the public or available for ordering by stores.
- What is its track record for success? Given its ability to discern quality, position books, and achieve distribution, it should have some success stories to share.
The number one advantage of hybrid publishing
As we see it, the most important value a hybrid publisher brings to a project outside of editorial guidance is its success at distributing printed books to bookstores.
Not every book can benefit from this, and not every author can afford the print runs necessary to offer their book on consignment to bookstores.
A reputable hybrid publisher chooses books that have the best chances of success, because its reputation—and distribution agreements—are either enhanced or sullied by it.
Five reasons why hybrid publishing may not be for you
This leaves us with the question as to when hybrid publishing is the right choice. It depends on both the author and their book. Even if your book is of interest to the hybrid publisher, you are still paying to publish.
Ask yourself these questions as you consider hybrid publishing:
- Does your book have mass appeal? The broader the market for the book, the more helpful it is to have it available in brick-and-mortar stores “everywhere.” More than half of all print books are now sold online, and print books as a format (vs. eBooks and audiobooks) are an increasingly smaller share of all books sold.
- Do you have a printing budget? Books are sold on consignment to bookstores (and Amazon, for that matter, via their Advantage program). Be prepared to accept the risk of investing thousands of dollars to print hundreds or thousands of your book for distribution.
- Do you want to retain 100% of your royalties? Trading a portion of royalties may be a sound investment to get professional guidance and distribution services unavailable on your own.
- Do you want to build your own publishing brand? This assumes you buy your own ISBN rather than get “published by” another entity.*
- Do you want to have complete control over your book? Depending on the hybrid publisher and the terms of your agreement, you may be giving up certain rights, or at least have less say over key decisions such as how to price your book, who prints the book, editorial decisions, and marketing options.
*ISBNs are bought by individuals or businesses. The name used when buying the ISBN is the “publisher,” regardless of who pays to produce the book. Read more about publishing imprints here.
Are businesses like AuthorImprints considered hybrid publishers?
AuthorImprints is not a hybrid publisher, but we support the fact that hybrid publishing can be the right decision, depending on circumstances and budgets.
Instead, AuthorImprints helps authors establish their own publishing brand. We know the potholes, obstacles, and bottlenecks in self-publishing and ensure our authors avoid them.
- Every book is professionally produced, following industry standards and best practices.
- Our authors’ books receive broad distribution and are available to brick-and-mortar bookstores.
- Authors receive 100% of their royalties.
We help authors professionally self-publish books using their own publishing imprint. Contact us about your book.
Author Barbara Linn Probst, twice published by a hybrid press, shares her thoughts here on Jane Friedman's blog.
Photo credit: David Wogahn [The Last Bookstore, Los Angeles]