It’s an interesting fact that in today’s publishing world, it’s both harder and easier to get published than it’s ever been before. The barriers to traditional publishing are so high that an author without a national platform has scarce hope of getting a book contract, while the rise of self-publishing has made it possible for aspiring authors to bet on themselves, assuming the financial risk but also reaping the profits when a book works.
The mind-twisting part for people who care about books and good writing is this: an author’s platform says nothing about writing ability. Beautifully written books that might have had a fighting chance in the traditional publishing world five or six years ago are now routinely rejected, while the Duck Dynasty crew, the Cake Boss, and Lauren Conrad sign multiple-book deals based on amazing platforms alone. Plenty of writers are fed up with traditional publishing, and they’re sometimes happily, sometimes halfheartedly, self-publishing their books. But self-publishing presents its own set of problems—the primary one being that there’s no easy way for the reader, at first glance anyway, to separate the junk from the gems. Because I work with writers who want to get published, I also know that many harbor the belief that they’re somehow not worthy of being published unless they get that stamp of approval from the traditional world. Mix what traditional publishing can’t offer and what writers are craving, and you have a perfect storm that’s ushering in the rise of hybrid publishing.
I am the publisher of She Writes Press, which is branding itself as a “third-way” publisher. We are author-subsidized, which is where the similarity to self-publishing ends. In every other way, we’re modeled on a traditional press, with a strict vetting process (author craving #1), traditional distribution (author craving #2), and authors who bring strong marketing plans to the table (which authors now need to do regardless of how they publish). She Writes Press qualifies as both a traditional publisher and a self-publisher, and we are redefining the middle ground as part of an ever-growing landscape of hybrid publishers.
Perhaps the most important thing we offer our authors is our vetting. Authors want—and need—to know that their work is good enough, and our reputation hinges on our deciding what’s publishable. Unlike subsidy publishers (who publish anything), we are mission driven and are determined to publish books that align with the values of She Writes and its community; we have a publisher at the helm; and we foster relationships with our authors. Traditional distribution is another important factor. We present our titles at sales conferences, talk up our new books to our reps, and help our authors to understand what it takes to succeed once their books are out in the marketplace.
Hybrid publishing encompasses quite a few models. We call ours “partnership publishing.” I’ve seen other models labeled “team publishing,” “copublishing,” “crowdfunded publishing,” and more. This middle ground is fast growing, and its popularity stems from savvy aspiring authors who realize that in order to publish well, they need to have a team in place who know about books and knows how to navigate the industry. Many authors I speak with have already written off the option of traditional publishing. As former executive editor of Seal Press, a house that’s always prided itself on accepting and publishing unsolicited manuscripts, this makes me sad. Traditional publishing has so little flexibility that it’s wedged itself into a creative void, and I think the long-term cultural impact will become evident.
I left traditional publishing because I was tired of having to reject wonderful books, both from agents and over the transom, because despite the fact that I loved them and they were well written, they had no platform. With She Writes, that model doesn’t apply. I firmly believe in author meritocracy, and that outstanding books should be published. First-time authors need a chance, but the new reality is that authors today must take a chance on themselves. Hybrid publishing makes this possible, and gives authors a sense of confidence, knowing that there are professionals backing them to publication and beyond. The polarization of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing is waning, and as more authors move to hybrid publishing as a first choice, this third way will be the future.