Hybrid publishing: AKA author-assisted publishing, indie publishing, partnership publishing, and co-publishing. It’s an umbrella term for an emerging sector of the publishing game with which every author should become familiar.
These Q&As were inspired by discussion in the most excellent Discover Your Path to Publishing webinar hosted by Gotham Ghostwriters (details below). The webinar featured three panelists:
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress. She currently sits on the boards of the Independent Book Publishers Association, the Bay Area Book Festival, and the National Association of Memoir Writers.
Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in business strategy for authors and publishers. She’s the editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential industry newsletter for authors, and has previously worked for Writer’s Digest and the Virginia Quarterly Review.
Dan Gerstein is President of Gotham Ghostwriters, the country's premier ghostwriting agency. He is also a part-time political consultant and commentator.
1. First, the hybrid elephant in the room: what the heck is hybrid publishing?
Hybrid publishing occupies the middle ground between traditional and self-publishing. It’s a label that refers to pretty much anything that is not self-publishing or traditional publishing. It spans many different publishing models.
The term “vanity publishing” was once used to describe any company that charged money for authors to have their works published. What sets hybrid publishers apart from vanity presses is that they’re run like publishing companies. Many have a submissions system, control their own cover design and editorial process, and have publishers calling the shots and curating the lists. Some traditional publishers are also cutting hybrid deals, in which authors pay for some services in exchange for higher royalties.
2. For a nonfiction work, how can I find the best match in a hybrid publisher?
Jane Friedman: ”If you have special production needs (e.g. illustrated book) see if they have expertise there. Find out if they have experience in your genre, so you know they understand the market and distribution for your sector. Order up some actual copies. Were they produced well? What does the author say on social media—were they happy?
Brooke Warner: “Contact several authors and ask them – don’t rely on the happy testimonials on a publisher’s website. Do your due diligence.”
ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) has a list of vetted providers.
3. What red flags should an author look out for with a hybrid publisher?
A common sales tactic is to praise your work to the skies. Authors are susceptible to that, but TRY to take a clinical perspective.
Beware of upselling, e.g. taking author’s work to Book Expo. Brooke tends to do the opposite, providing prospective authors with a firm reality check!
If you’re talking to a sales force and getting pulled into a sales funnel, and you can’t talk to a publisher (or there isn't one), that’s a red flag.
Pressure to decide quickly is a red flag.
Understand what you’re buying—if there’s a print run and it’s getting shipped to your garage, think about how you’re going to sell them! Moving copies in the hundreds or thousands is a bigger task than many authors think. It’s like they’re handing you the keys to your new car and wishing you luck …
4. How much is too much to pay for hybrid publishing?
Jane Friedman says: “It’s kind of like asking how much is too much to pay for a house or a car. It’s a personal thing, but on average, I’d expect to pay $8K-$25K.”
Brooke says most of their authors at She Writes Press invest around $20K: the SWP package is $8.5K, plus marketing, publicity, and other requirements.
5. When paying a hybrid publisher, do we need to pay a book publicist too?
Brooke says: “We do recommend it!” [See also Brooke’s note above on how much to pay.]
6. If the authors are paying, then the publisher doesn’t have as much (if any) skin in the game. Doesn’t that lessen their incentive to actively market a book?
Brooke says: “At She Writes Press, we know and care that our reputation is at stake. Find a publisher that’s really invested in the industry, maintaining good relationships with booksellers etc.” It’s hard to assess that from the outside, so be prepared to work hard at doing the due diligence.
7. If you’ve invested $15,000- $20,000 for services and print runs and marketing, and your print run is 2,000 or 3,000, how does an author break even, must less show a profit?
Brooke says: “Print copies are not the only profit-making piece … it’s not always the book; yes, it’s difficult to make a direct profit, but your published book opens up avenues to write professionally, speak, teach – for a career pivot it will supplement that possibility. See it more holistically.” If an author insists on a break-even, Brooke advises them not to publish with She Writes Press.
Dan says: “Think of it as an investment. The book is less the product than YOU—your ideas, your story. But if your bottom line is breaking even, you need a strategy based on that.”
You can access the full recording of the Discover Your Path to Publishing webinar using the following link: https://vimeo.com/678364811. For more information on Gotham Ghostwriters, visit their website or find them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Coming in 2022: my new online course on writing book proposals! In the meantime, check out my current offerings:
How to Write a Successful Nonfiction Book (self-paced course)
Build Your Author Platform (self-paced course)
How to Write a Book Proposal for Your Memoir (live webinar)
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