If there’s one thing that’s certain about hybrid publishing, it’s that it’s here to stay. Unlike traditional publishing and self-publishing, the term hybrid publishing often feels to the publishers who occupy this corner of the publishing world like an imperfect fit. As a business model, it’s been around for decades. The simplest way to think about hybrid publishing is that the author pays some or more of the production and editorial costs in exchange for the publisher’s expertise—and for higher royalties.
Traditional publishers have, for years, cut these kinds of creative business deals with authors, and often at the authors’ behest, especially when they have big followings and much to gain by retaining a higher royalty. Because of the nature of their relationship with authors, some of the publishers spotlighted in this feature prefer the terms copublishing or partnership publishing, though there’s wide consensus that the term hybrid publishing has the most industry and public traction.
Some refer to hybrid publishing as the best of both worlds, because hybrid publishers draw from elements of legacy publishing, such as selective vetting and traditional distribution, and self-publishing, such as more author control and higher royalties. To be a hybrid publisher requires facing the challenges not only of the traditional industry, which is complex and competitive enough, but also of the general lack of awareness or regulation about what it is to be a hybrid publisher.
To bring clarity, integrity, and a unified ideology to hybrid publishing, the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) in 2018 codified nine criteria for hybrid publishers, each pointing to functions that a reputable hybrid publisher is expected to perform. This year, the IBPA is updating these criteria and adding two additional points. Though there is more work to be done in defining and refining this type of publishing, the fact that the hybrid model is a thriving space in the publishing ecosystem speaks for itself. In this spotlight, 10 of the most reputable and successful hybrid publishers share their journeys and highlight what sets their publishing companies apart.
Greenleaf Book Group, run by CEO Tanya Hall, brings 25 years of experience to the table and boasts an impressive backlist and equally impressive sales. With its own distribution and customized marketing campaigns, the publisher brings a wealth of experience and opportunities to the table for its authors. Morgan James, founded in 2003 by David Hancock, covers all the costs of production, printing, and distribution, requiring its authors to purchase at least 2,000 copies. In its estimation, this entrepreneurial setup empowers authors while also giving Morgan James more flexibility and speed to market. Morgan James has had multiple titles on the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestseller lists and has earned its spot as one of the most recognized hybrid publishers. Also founded in 2003, Amplify Publishing is home to six imprints, including Mascot Books. Founder Naren Aryal, like many of the hybrid publishers featured in this spotlight, began with a self-published book done well and started getting requests for support from other authors—so much so that it led to an enterprise of publishing companies, all of which put the author first. Köehler Books, spearheaded by founder John Köehler, has been very selective in what it chooses to publish since its outset in 2010 and has a traditional arm to its business, even offering traditional publishing deals to authors who sell more than 2,000 copies. Like many others drawn to the hybrid publishing space, the company prides itself on transparency and a comprehensive approach to publishing. She Writes Press and SparkPress publisher Brooke Warner (author of this article) has been a leading voice of advocacy for hybrid publishing since she cofounded She Writes Press in 2012. Two years later, She Writes Press joined forces with SparkPress, founded by Crystal Patriarche in 2013. The two imprints, defined by their strong editorial vision, have been laser-focused on leveling the playing field for authors. Page Two Books, based in Canada, launched in 2013 to help thought leaders, subject matter experts, and organizations publish leading nonfiction books. Like many of the other founders of hybrid presses, cofounders Jesse Finkelstein and Trena White got their starts in traditional publishing and sought to fulfill a need in the marketplace—and they’ve been going strong ever since. Founded as LifeTree Media in 2013 by Maggie Langrick, Wonderwell has an editor-driven acquisition process and works closely with the dozen or so authors it publishes each year to position them for optimal success. That more than half of its list is award-winning and/or critically reviewed is a true feat in this competitive landscape. In 2014, husband-and-wife team Rohit Bhargava and Chhavi Arya Bhargava cofounded IdeaPress to publish “outside-the-box” business titles—and they’ve never looked back. IdeaPress is highly selective, publishing only about 25 books a year, and prides itself on being a “no-bullsh*t publisher.” It’s a standout in the world of business books for its author-focused approach. The Collective Book Studio, founded by Angela Engel in 2019, prides itself on its high-quality design and packaging, and its books are standouts in the gift, lifestyle, and children’s markets. Engel comes from the sales side of the traditional industry and notes that sales are integral to the company’s success; the Collective won’t publish a book unless she knows she can sell it. Girl Friday Books became a full-fledged hybrid book publisher in 2020, but cofounders Leslie “Lam” Miller and Ingrid Emerick had been occupying an important space in independent publishing since 2006, supporting authors with every aspect of editorial and production and helping authors to find publishers or to self-publish. Their entry into the hybrid publishing scene is a welcome addition with their deep roots in publishing and strong track record for making beautiful books.
One of the IBPA’s slogans, developed to raise visibility around its criteria, advises us to judge books by their content, not their business models. It’s not difficult to know a good book when you see it, and especially when you read it. In the pages that follow, you’ll find a common thread in the ethos that drives these companies’ founders: author-first publishing. Many hybrid publishing companies were founded as a reaction—and solution—to what was and is still not working in the traditional publishing space. And with its ongoing consolidation, traditional publishing has become even more inflexible, the barriers to entry ever higher. Hybrid publishing models give authors the kind of market access, through distribution and sales channels and publicity and marketing support, that self-publishing still cannot provide.
The future of hybrid publishing is bright, but continuing education is essential. The model’s success all but ensures the proliferation of bad-faith entities using the hybrid name to offer high-ticket publishing deals with empty promises. Publishers Weekly is spotlighting the publishers in this issue as a nod to the fact that hybrid publishing is a force to be reckoned with. The success and, in some cases, longevity, of the 10 publishers featured in these pages is something that can be earned only through hard work, industry savvy, and commitment to integrity and transparency. Season after season, the books keep coming. Author satisfaction, along with the books’ quality and sell-through, proves the merit of the business model.