You may feel that you know what a traditional publisher is, and what a self-publisher is, but what is a hybrid publisher? How do you know a good one from a rip-off vanity press?
The publishing model makes the difference
A “traditional” publishing model works like this: A publishing house derives all its income from the sale of books. That income is spent on editing, design and production, printing, marketing (both to bookstores and to consumers), and authors in the form of an advance payment against future royalties. If the book “earns out” (earns back the advance), royalties are then paid on sales over the amount of the advance. The author does not pay any money to the publisher. The traditional publisher takes on the entire risk of whether or not the book will make a profit over its cost; therefore, they are highly selective about what they publish.
The opposite end of the spectrum is the self-publishing model in which the author assumes all the risk and pays for all of the above costs. This can mean that authors go the route of custom printing books and selling them directly or through some means of distribution to stores. Most often, this means using a print-on-demand company, which often includes distribution online or in stores as well as ebooks sold online. The two most well-known companies in the United States are Amazon KDP and IngramSpark.
What about “hybrid” publishing? The true hybrid publishing model is a combination of traditional and self-publishing in that both the publishing company and the author take on part of the economic risk of producing and promoting the book. These publishing agreements are structured in many different ways.
For example: A publisher may assume most of the costs of production and the author may agree to buy a set number of books at wholesale to cover part (or most) of the printing costs. (These are books that the author may sell themselves.) The publisher will pay the author royalties on the books that the publisher sells, usually at a higher rate than a traditional publisher. In another model of hybrid publishing, an author may be charged for the production while the publisher will pay for the printing/distribution and some marketing efforts. These are “cost-sharing” arrangements, and they can get tricky—and expensive.
A good hybrid publisher will not accept every book, choosing only those with which it has a reasonable expectation of achieving a profitable level of success. It is unlikely that a debut author with little to no following would provide enough profit, but one who has a large mailing list and possibly has been traditionally published would be a very good risk indeed.
And just for contrast—a “vanity” press does something similar but will take ANY book and charge very high fees for everything. Often they will make promises that they cannot deliver and then blame the lack of success on the quality of the author’s content.
Profits are never guaranteed in publishing of any model, but a book published by a vanity press is almost certain to never make a profit for the author.
Taking the leap into self-publishing
You’ve decided to take the plunge and self-publish your book. Terrific! There’s never been a better time to take advantage of all the “infrastructure” and professional services available to indie authors. Perhaps you’ve been traditionally published in the past, or you’ve shopped your book around to publishers and agents but just haven’t found the right fit or willing takers. Maybe you just can’t face spending months, or possibly years, waiting for the traditional publishing train to leave the station (at glacial speed). All of these reactions are understandable.
Embarking on the self-publishing journey can be fast and relatively easy—but it’s also fast and easy to make mistakes—sinking your book’s chances in an incredibly crowded, competitive marketplace. You may go blithely ahead if you don’t actually know you’re not proceeding in a professional manner. The ease of self-publishing means anything can and does get published—all you have to do is browse Amazon for evidence of that.
Maybe you’ve done some homework and you ARE aware of the complexities of doing this right. And maybe you’ve decided that you need help. Well, there are service providers who can help you with any level of editing and others who can design and produce the book files and get them placed with printers and online sellers. Many of these independent contractors have worked previously for traditional publishers and they understand and uphold the standards expected of books produced in the industry. These qualified and experienced pros can advise some courses of action and give suggestions for what to do leading up to release; some can offer ideas for boosting your sales after release.
However, keep in mind that they are not the publisher; you are! So those pre- and post-publishing actions, decisions, ongoing monitoring, research, picking and implementing strategies, pricing, and making changes to your strategy all along the life of the book (which is now—forever)—that stuff? That’s all you.
But what if you’re not ready to take on the SELF of self-publishing?
The other option might be a hybrid publisher. You can actually Google “hybrid publisher” and find a list—but note that just below the “hybrid publishers list” in the auto-populated suggestions comes “hybrid publisher complaints.” There be dragons! So, how do you know which is a trustworthy firm from one that will take your money (lots of it) and not perform professionally—helping your book in all the ways that a traditional press would—but with a slightly different business model?
As we discussed, there are many ways hybrid publishing can be structured. Even traditional publishers may sometimes enter into hybrid-type agreements on certain titles for various reasons. It’s strongly advised that you have an attorney review any publishing agreement and doubly so if it is a hybrid agreement that requires you to pay any significant sum or portion of any future profits.
IBPA has developed industry standards for hybrid publishers
Publishers Weekly reports that the IBPA (the Independent Book Publishers Association) has developed standards for these types of publishing agreements and for the services that these types of publishers provide. Here is the 9-point list of criteria that the IBPA says you should expect from a reputable hybrid publisher. I’m presenting here just the heading of each point. Do click through the link above and read the criteria.
- Define a mission and vision for its publishing
- Vet submissions
- Publish under its own imprint(s)
- 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
Does that sound an awful lot like what a traditional publisher should do too? It should, because they are essentially the same; the only difference is the publishing agreement—which defines royalty share and some fees to help subsidize the production of the book. The criteria statement spells out additional information about the above and how some agreements are structured, royalty rates, fee agreements, etc. They have also published a detailed Checklist of Industry Standards for a Professionally Published Book.
Even (or maybe especially) if you decide ultimately to self-publish and use professional publishing service providers such as freelance editors, book designers, and publicists, this checklist will give you the information you need to assure that your book is presented professionally. It matters.
The efforts of IBPA to hold hybrid publishers and independent service providers to the same standards we expect from industry publishing professionals are to be commended—because that’s what they are supposed to be—professionals.
Use the links above to read the IBPA documents but also download them to keep as reference in your research and vetting of your own partners in your publishing journey.
You can also find additional information and a much longer treatise about hybrid vs. vanity publishing at: https://www.sfwa.org/other-resources/for-authors/writer-beware/vanity/.
Also, read this excellent article by Jane Friedman: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/66658-not-all-hybrid-publishers-are-created-equal.html.