Once upon a time, knowing what you needed to do to become a published author was easy. You had to write a book that would get past the gatekeepers. To do that, you needed to find an agent and then that agent needed to sell your book. You typed up your manuscript, made it as publication as ready as possible, shoved it into an envelop and then sent it on its way. Then you waited, praying each time the mail was delivered for good news. Those were the good old, bad old days.
Then along came indie publishing. Smashwords started the movement but it was Amazon that really broke the industry open by offering authors the chance to take their books directly to the reading public. We are still seeing the reverberations of the loss of complete control shuddering through traditional publishing. It isn’t just publishers who have been impacted. Agents have as well.
I’m not going to rehash the history or many of the responses. You can search our archives for that information.
However, there is now a newish development in traditional publishing’s attempt to survive these newly choppy waters of an industry it used to dominate and control. That development is the rise of “hybrid publishers”. Now, hybrid publishers are not the same as hybrid authors. Hybrid authors are those who publish both traditionally and have indie works out there. Hybrid publishers are, in my opinion, little more than glorified vanity presses. At least they have the potential of becoming those boils on the ass of publishing.
Back in February, the Independent Book Publishers Association not only recognized the existence of these so-called hybrid publishers but published a list of 9 criteria that must be met to be deemed a “reputable hybrid publisher”..
Define a mission and vision for its publishing program. A hybrid publisher has a publishing mission and a vision. In a traditional publishing company, the published work often reflects the interests and values of its publisher, whether that’s a passion for poetry or a specialization in business books. Good hybrid publishers are no different.
Standard boilerplate. This isn’t going to tell a writer , much less a reader, all that much. This is along the lines of “we aim to publish the most engaging flights of fancy in the realms of sword and sorcery and goth magic.”
Vet submissions. A hybrid publisher vets submissions, publishing only those titles that meet the mission and vision of the company, as well as a defined quality level set by the publisher. Good hybrid publishers don’t publish everything that comes over the transom and often decline to publish.
That last sentence is what should help separate the “reputable hybrid publisher” from the vanity press.
Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs. A hybrid publisher is a true publishing house, with either a publisher or a publishing team developing and distributing books using the hybrid publisher’s own imprint(s) and ISBNs.
This is where my radar starts going off. These hybrid publishers are being subsidized in some form or fashion by their authors. It might be in payment for different packaging options or for editing levels. It might be for cover design, etc. But money is flowing not only to the author but from her. Yet, the publisher is registering the ISBN and, unless I miss my guess, copyright. That means you need to be very sure you are not only aware of the reversion rights in your contract but what steps you will have to take to reclaim those rights.
Publish to industry standards. A hybrid publisher accepts full responsibility for the quality of the titles it publishes. Books released by a hybrid publisher should be on par with traditionally published books in terms of adherence to industry standards, which are detailed in IBPA’s “Industry Standards Checklist for a
Professionally Published Book.”
Again, this doesn’t really say much.
Ensure editorial, design, and production quality. A hybrid publisher is responsible for producing books edited, designed, and produced to a professional degree. This includes assigning editors for developmental editing, copy editing, and proofreading, as needed, together with following traditional standards for a professionally designed book. All editors and designers must be publisher approved.
And this is where I would want much more information about how the author subsidizes the process. The “as needed” language bothers me. Who determines what editing is needed? And, if the author has to pay for the level of editing, how do the prices compare with hiring a freelance editor? Who oversees these hybrid publishers to make sure they aren’t upselling whenever possible?
Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights. A hybrid publisher normally publishes in both print and digital formats, as appropriate, and perhaps pursues other rights, in order to reach the widest possible readership. As with a traditional publisher, authors may negotiate to keep their subsidiary rights, such as foreign language, audio, and other derivative rights.
Pardon me while I laugh hysterically. This is a rights grab. Publishers got bitten in too many cases when e-books became a viable market. They hadn’t included language in their contracts that would cover e-book rights. So now they are trying to draft their contracts to cover any advance/change/alteration in delivery method that might come down the line. Just like they want to grab your copyright, they want to make sure they are the ones to profit from your work above and before you do.
Provide distribution services. A hybrid publisher has a strategic approach to distribution beyond simply making books available for purchase via online retailers. Depending on the hybrid publisher, this may mean traditional distribution, wherein a team of sales reps actively markets and sells books to retailers, or it may mean publisher outreach to a network of specialty retailers, clubs, or other niche-interest organizations. At minimum, a hybrid publisher develops, with the author, a marketing and sales strategy for each book it
publishes, inclusive of appropriate sales channels for that book, and provides ongoing assistance to the author seeking to execute this strategy in order to get his or her book in front of its target audience. This is in addition to listing books with industry-recognized wholesalers.
Another point where you should look very closely at not only the contract but the monies the author has to “subsidize”. Here is the key, at least in my mind. “At minimum, a hybrid publisher develops, with the author, a marketing and sales strategy for each book it publishes, inclusive of appropriate sales channels for that book, and provides ongoing assistance to the author seeking to execute this strategy in order to get his or her book in front of its target audience“. In other words, if you want anything beyond being listed in the catalogs and on our website, you will pay for part of the price involved and we expect you to do the donkey’s share of the work. Not that the latter is much different from traditional publishing these days. Most authors get nothing more than catalog listing and website mentions. Any other promo they pay for.
Demonstrate respectable sales. A hybrid publisher should have a record of producing several books that sell in respectable quantities for the book’s niche. This varies from niche to niche; small niches, such as poetry and literary fiction, require sales of only a couple thousand copies, while mass-market books require more.
I hate such general language. Again, who makes this determination? How often should sales be reported and royalties paid? What is the appeals process, if there is one, with IBPA if a publisher claims to be a “reputable hybrid publisher” and they are not?
Pay authors a higher-than-standard royalty. A hybrid publisher pays its authors more than the industry-standard* royalty range** on print and digital books, in exchange for the author’s personal investment. Although royalties are generally negotiable, the author’s share must be laid out transparently and must be commensurate with the author’s investment. In most cases, the author’s royalty should be greater than 50% of net on both print and digital books
While I like the “greater than 50%” language, it is still too vague. To start, it says “in most cases”. What are the exceptions? Why are there exceptions? Does the amount paid upfront by the author impact the amount of royalties paid later? So many questions and no answers.
Remember, all this is in exchange for “the author’s personal investment.” That means you open your wallet and give the publisher–hah!–money. There is a reason for the old adage, “money flows to the author”. If you are going to pay someone for a cover or editing or marketing your book, shouldn’t you get substantially more than 50% of the royalties? More than that, should you not be the one holding the ISBNs and copyrights?
Publisher’s Weekly hits the nail on the head, sort of, with its discussion about hybrid publishers. “We’re hybrid. We meet most of the criteria,” some of these so-called hybrid publishers say. When it says “most isn’t enough,” PW is exactly right. But only up to a point. If someone is going to claim hybrid publisher status, they must live up to all 9 criteria. But there must be more. There must be some sort of enforcement, enforcement within the industry, Until publishers are willing to police themselves, the “most” argument will prevail.
And let’s face it, publishers aren’t going to open the can of worms that comes with self-policing. Why? Because then they open the door to the possibility of someone with integrity calling out those publishers who aren’t paying what they should be in royalties. Heaven forbid one of the inner circle actually admit where their words can be used in court that Bookscan numbers are a scam that rip off authors by estimating the number of books sold.
But that is a post for another day.
If you are an author, ask the hard questions not only of yourself but of the publisher. Then ask yourself if it is worth giving up your copyright, possibly long after you die, for benefits you can hire out on your own while still maintaining control of your brand. Indie publishing isn’t for everyone but hybrid publishing sounds like it could be a quick way for publishers to not only use your money to subsidize their expenses upfront but to also keep from paying you royalties down the road.
Note, too, the lack of language about advances. That means the money you would get upfront from a traditional publisher is missing in a hybrid publisher. So, you help pay the bills, you don’t get your royalties until after net is figured. Hmm, I smell a rat approaching.
I’m sure there are legit hybrid publishers but is it worth the risk? There is too much danger for them to become the vanity presses of the modern age. Don’t fall victim to the predators. Do your homework and be prepared to walk away if necessary.
Now for a bit of promo. I have a new Christmas-themed short story set in the Eerie Side of the Creek universe. Christmas Magic is available for download now.
Christmas is a magical time, especially in Mossy Creek, TX. Quinn O’Donnell can’t wait to share such a special time with her six-year-old daughter, Ali. But this being Mossy Creek, nothing is ever as it seems and the holiday season promises to be the most magical ever.
Join Quinn and Ali as they enjoy Ali’s first Christmas in Mossy Creek where dreams can come true if you believe and are willing to fight for them and for the people you love.
Featured image via Pixabay.