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  • Writer's pictureNicole Arch

Hybrid Publishing: Smart Solution or Sinister Scam?

There’s a lot of confusion and controversy about hybrid publishing. On the one hand, many authors have found the perfect home for their manuscripts with hybrid presses, which generally offer a combination of benefits from both traditional publishing and self-publishing. On the other hand, hybrid publishing is an expensive investment that may result in little to no returns, especially in the case of vanity presses and scams. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the pros and cons of hybrid publishing to determine when it could be a smart solution for your manuscript—and when it could be a sinister scam.

A cartoon woman stands thinking, with a computer with a positive growth chart behind one shoulder and a fishing hook with cash behind her other shoulder. The image is labelled "Hybrid Publishing: Smart Solution or Sinister Scam?"

So what is Hybrid Publishing?

Hybrid Publishing refers to a newer system of publishing that can be broadly described as a middle road between traditional publishing and self-publishing. In this model, the author pays for some or most of the costs associated with producing the book—such as production, editorial, or marketing—in exchange for the publisher’s services and industry knowledge. Hybrid publishers offer authors more creative control and higher royalties, much like self-publishing, while also providing guidance and publishing expertise, as in traditional publishing.


There are many pros of hybrid publishing that could make it a smart solution for some authors, including…


More creative control than traditional publishing

In traditional publishing, the publisher is usually the authority, possessing the last word on creative decisions. Hybrid publishers, in contrast, act more similarly to a business partner. Since you’re the one taking the risk and investing your money, you can work on a more equal field with your publisher when it comes to creative control.


Higher royalties than traditional publishing

In traditional publishing, the publisher takes most of the financial risk—and also most of the reward. Traditionally published authors typically receive royalties between 5 to 25% of their book’s selling price, with their publishing house taking the rest of the profits. In hybrid publishing, the author takes more of the financial risk and receives higher royalties as a result: up to 50% in royalties, according to Reedsy, or even as high as 60 to 80 percent, according to Executive Vice President Jennifer Scroggins of KiCam projects hybrid press.


More guidance and support than self-publishing

Of course, self-publishing offers more creative control and higher royalties than traditional publishing, or even most hybrid publishers. However, hybrid publishers offer industry knowledge and expertise that self-published authors may lack. According to Scroggins, “Working with a publisher, you have a partner that can help you learn about topics such as metadata, distribution, printing, and promotion—or take certain things off your plate as appropriate.” Thus, hybrid publishing can be a great option for authors who are intimidated by the self-starter and management components of self-publishing.


A faster publishing process

Many hybrid presses offer a faster publication cycle, shaving months or even years off the timeline offered by traditional publishers. Not to mention that hybrid publishers don’t require agented submissions! Before publishing with a hybrid press, award-winning author Barbara Linn Probst interviewed ten people to learn about their experience with hybrid publishing and why they chose their presses. According to Probst, these authors "didn’t feel they had the time (or desire) to embark on the long and highly uncertain path to agented publication… Some had watched friends, elated to find an agent after months or years of trying, sink into new despair when the agent couldn’t find a publisher for the manuscript—for reasons that might have nothing to do with its merits.” With hybrid publishing, you can skip the grueling process of querying agents and bypass these industry gatekeepers entirely, getting your book published faster.


However, there are also some sinister and even scam-like cons to hybrid publishing, including…


More expenses upfront

In hybrid publishing, the author makes an upfront investment and takes on most of the financial risk. According to Kotobee, “The average cost of hybrid publishing can be as low as $2.5K or as high as $30K,” depending on the publishing house and the services provided. The considerable expense of hybrid publishing can make this route toward publication less feasible for many authors. However, it’s also worth noting that if you want to self-publish a high quality book, you’ll also need to invest significant funds for professional services such as editing and cover design.


Limited returns on investment

Publishing with a hybrid press means taking on some or most of the financial risk of publishing. As Reedsy points out, “If all doesn’t go to plan, the author has very little recourse to recover their investment.” And while authors who publish with a hybrid press do receive higher royalties than authors with a traditional publishing deal, indie authors also take on the financial risk of publishing—while keeping much more of their rights and royalties.


Less prestige and recognition

Like indie authors, writers who publish with a hybrid press may not receive the same recognition or be eligible for as many awards as traditionally published authors. According to digital publishing platform Kotobee, “Some book reviewers are still skeptical about the hybrid publishing module, considering it the same as self-publishing.”


Sales and marketing efforts may vary

Many hybrid publishers lack the resources and extensive marketing teams of larger companies, and they take a much smaller percentage of royalties from sales. As such, hybrid publishers are generally less incentivized to focus on sales and marketing efforts, with some leaving the brunt of this work on their authors. However, as Reedsy notes, hybrid-published authors may not “earn enough on sales [compared to self-published authors] to be able to run ads or invest money into marketing.” Some hybrids will even charge extra for services like marketing and distribution, taking advantage of inexperienced authors who don’t know how much money these services would actually cost. For example, any indie or self-published author can easily distribute online through Ingram or Amazon for little to no fees, as opposed to the very expensive online distribution fees offered by some less than reputable hybrid publishers.


Of course, good, trustworthy hybrids will still be invested in the sales of their books. According to Jane Friedman, publisher of "The Hot Sheet" newsletter and Digital Book World's 2019 Publishing Commentator of the Year, “a great hybrid offers the potential of specialized or hard to get distribution” with “books physically placed on shelves in stores… if they’re actively placing books at bricks-and-mortar retail outlets—and they have a catalog of titles for marketing purposes—that’s a good sign.”


Literal scams

Unfortunately, not every hybrid press is reputable. Many vanity presses and scammers will use the “hybrid” label to misrepresent their business model and appear more legitimate to authors. According to Reedsy, such vanity presses may “pressure the author to pay for add-ons and extra costs that will supposedly boost their book's success” or even “hold the author’s intellectual property ransom down the line.”


To help authors avoid these scams, the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) has published a list of eleven criteria defining reputable hybrid publishers:

  • Define a mission and vision for its publishing program.

  • Vet submissions.

  • Commit to truth and transparency in business practices.

  • Provide a negotiable, easy-to-understand contract for each book published.

  • Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs.

  • Publish to industry standards

  • Ensure editorial, design, and production quality.

  • Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights.

  • Provide distribution services.

  • Demonstrate respectable sales.

  • Pay authors a higher-than-standard royalty.

Freidman puts it more simply: a press isn’t “really a hybrid publisher unless they can point to what they do that offers a traditional publisher’s value—such as selectivity in acquisitions, editorial guidance and vision, and marketing muscle that can’t be secured on your own as a self-publishing author.” Like a traditional publisher, a hybrid press should be invested in their books, considering the commercial potential and likelihood for success of each project they acquire. As Reedsy reminds authors, if a press is “willing to publish almost any author who is willing to pay them, then they’re not a [reputable] hybrid publisher… they’re a vanity press.” If you’re considering hybrid publishing, make sure you do your research and ensure your publisher follows the IBPA guidelines!


Final Thoughts

Hybrid publishing can offer a smart solution for authors seeking a middle road between self-publishing and traditional publishing. However, hybrid publishing can also pose sinister cons, including the likelihood of scammers or less than reputable “hybrid” presses. Still, hybrid publishing may be the right fit for you if…

  • You don’t want to manage all the work of self-publishing. Indie authors have to shoulder all the work involved themselves and/or hire others, like a graphic designer, to complete this work. Hybrid publishers, like traditional publishers, allow for a more hands-off approach, with the publisher providing services and expertise throughout the publishing process.

  • You seek more creative authority and ownership. Whereas the final say in traditional publishing goes to the publisher, hybrid publishing gives the author a higher degree of creative control and higher royalties, much like self-publishing.

  • You have the budget for the initial investment. Hybrid publishing is primarily funded by the author. If you can afford the upfront cost, or if you have a Kickstarter plan in the works, then investing in hybrid publishing may be much more feasible for you.

  • You’ve already built a platform. While having an audience isn’t a prerequisite for hybrid publishing, if you already have followers or email list subscribers, you’ll have a much stronger starting point for your marketing and sales efforts!

  • You’re on a tight timeline. If you want to publish your book quickly, without waiting on queries or the longer publication cycles of traditional publishing, then self-publishing can offer you a faster turnaround.

  • You’re struggling with querying agents or traditional publishers. Some authors may decide to work with an industry professional to adjust and perfect their query materials, but querying is still a difficult, time-intensive process. Hybrid publishing allows you to publish your story without needing an agent (though reputable hybrids will still vet their submissions). Authors who find success with a hybrid publishing house, like successful indie authors, may also have an easier time finding an agent or publishing deal later, should they choose to pursue traditional publishing down the line.

  • Most importantly, you’re willing to do the work of carefully investigating your publisher. The biggest risk of hybrid publishing is that scammers and vanity presses misrepresent their business model by calling themselves hybrid publishers. It’s important to do your research to ensure the publisher you’re considering is trust-worthy and reputable—and that they’re a good fit for your manuscript!

If hybrid publishing still feels like the right fit for your manuscript, you can start exploring specific presses through trusted sources such as the IBPA. Just remember to use IBPA’s eleven criteria, listed above, to ensure that your press is reputable.


Or, if hybrid publishing isn’t for you, consider reading up on traditional publishing and self-publishing to learn more about alternative paths to publication.


Just remember—there’s no one “right” way to publish. It’s all about what’s right for your manuscript and your needs as an author!


Still have questions?

Let me know! I'm always happy to answer comments, or you can reach out to me at my contact page.


Sources

Barbara Linn Probst.

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