In 2012, I cofounded She Writes Press with a clear vision for what our press would be, but without a clear definition. We were creating something that combined self-publishing and traditional publishing, curating the books, and placing a strong value on editing and design, but without author platforms or a particular sales threshold driving our publishing decisions. Because our model is author subsidized, we were decidedly not traditional publishing, but we were not self-publishing either.
In our first season, I realized that in order to make real headway we needed traditional distribution, so we signed with Ingram Publisher Services just after our first anniversary, pushing us even more toward a traditional model with tip sheets, preselling books, a sales force, and offset print runs. It was a game changer.
During this time, our authors were defining us in all sorts of ways: copublishing, partnership publishing, and hybrid publishing. For me, hybrid publishing has always been the term that most resonated. The definition of hybrid is “something that is formed by combining two or more things,” and that’s exactly what we’d done. We’d taken the best of traditional publishing and self-publishing, with our authors as collaborators—but those authors also carry the financial risk for the possibility of greater financial gain, given our high royalty payouts.
Some people I talk to—including some of my fellow hybrid publishers who define themselves using other terms (like independent, and even sometimes traditional, thoroughly confusing everyone)—don’t like the term hybrid, especially because of the widely accepted term hybrid author. A hybrid author is someone who doesn’t publish exclusively through any one model or method of publishing. These are authors who are traditionally published, self-published, and anything in between. Sometimes they have their own imprints, or they’ve experimented with nontraditional models. But hybrid publishing and hybrid authors are not the same; they don’t even overlap, unless a hybrid author has published on a hybrid press.
The publishing world is changing fast, and terms are being tried on and adopted. The in-between space doesn’t have a term we all agree upon yet, but I will continue to advocate for hybrid publishing and use this term because it feels the most true to what we’re doing. It is and will continue to be a blend of the two polar extremes in publishing: traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Within hybrid publishing there exist many creative models, defined largely by what we’re not. Hybrid publishers are not paying advances, or locked into one specific way of doing business, or bound by P&Ls where their publishing decisions are concerned, or self-publishing, because they have multiple authors under their imprints.
As more hybrid publishers continue to enter the market, we need to start to define ourselves more by what we are, which requires certain standards to be adopted and certain industry practices to change. Hybrid publishers ought to be meeting the standards of their traditional publishing counterparts—both editorially and in design. Hybrid publishers ought to have traditional distribution, or to find better inroads into the marketplace than currently exist in the self-publishing sector. Hybrid publishers ought to qualify to submit their books to be reviewed traditionally and to enter contests without being barred because of their business models. Their authors ought to qualify to join any professional organization they want without facing the discrimination that currently exists against any author-subsidized model.
As a hybrid publisher, I firmly believe that the books should speak for themselves. Because readers don’t care who published the books they read, what does matter is the quality—but also equal opportunity. The rise of both hybrid publishers and hybrid authors is creating a more level playing field. We’re tapping on industry doors and witnessing some acceptance and some pushback, but, since we’re here to stay, we’ll just let our books do the talking.
Brooke Warner is publisher of She Writes Press and SparkPress, president of Warner Coaching, and author of Green-Light Your Book (June) and What’s Your Book?