In the past decade, Maggie Langrick, CEO and publisher of Wonderwell, has become one of hybrid publishing’s most outspoken advocates. When she founded the company in 2013, under the name LifeTree Media, hybrid publishing wasn’t the fast-growing business that it is today. (She remembers Brooke Warner of She Writes Press being the only other publisher she knew of who used the term at the time.) For years, she had heard the same complaints from prospective authors, who liked the control that self-publishing gave them over timing, process, and finished product, but who also wanted their books to be sold in stores. “I thought, well, why can’t they have both?” she recalls.

Langrick became passionate about “bringing this emerging new model into the mainstream” and set off on a yearslong quest to do just that. LifeTree was rebranded in 2020 as Wonderwell, operating with the same fee-for-service business model as most hybrid publishers: authors pay the publisher to produce, distribute, promote, and sell their books in return for a higher royalty rate.

The way Langrick sees it, this allows authors to invest in their own books, which is both an opportunity and a risk. The main difference between traditional and hybrid publishers, she said, is that a traditional publisher “is also the investor in the development of their products and then earns most of the proceeds from sale, whereas, under the hybrid model, the author is the investor and main beneficiary from sales.” A hybrid publisher is “more like a creative agency that does this work in service of an author-investor.”

At Wonderwell, Langrick has assembled a team of five full-time employees, several of them veterans of traditional publishing. Sales and marketing director Jennifer Jensen and editorial director Eva Avery both worked at HarperCollins and, later, at Chronicle Books, where they cofounded the Chronicle Prism imprint, before landing at Wonderwell. “Since many of our staff came from the traditional world,” Jensen said, “we can offer almost everything a Big Five publisher does and more–including more creative control and bigger royalties”—emphasis on almost. One of the things Wonderwell can’t offer: “money for an advance or a marketing campaign.”

Within a hybrid model, “the gamble that comes along with investing in the book sits squarely on the author’s shoulders,” Jensen said, “which can be difficult for those who don’t have enough capital.” But for authors who already have large platforms and know they can sell enough copies to recoup their costs, “we are absolutely the right choice.”

Authors with built-in followings “stand to make a lot more money from hybrid publishing than under a traditional contract,” Langrick said. “So if they’re in a position to pay the up-front costs, they should go hybrid.”

Wonderwell’s biggest recent success is HumanKind by entrepreneur Brad Aronson. First released in April 2020, the book has sold about 60,000 copies across all formats, according to the publisher, and hit the Wall Street Journal bestseller list in late December following a holiday promotion.

The hybrid model is not one-size-fits-all. “An author whose book is a riskier bet, or who can’t afford to back it themselves, should try to find a traditional publisher that will shoulder the investment for them,” Langrick said.

One of Wonderwell’s goals for the future, according to Jensen, is to develop a fund, or a comparable grant or subsidy program, to support authors whose books Wonderwell wants to publish but who are unable to pay the publisher’s standard rates.

Ultimately, Langrick advocates for what she calls “ethical hybrid publishing.” In conjunction with the Independent Book Publishers Association, she has been vocal about why hybrid publishers need to “keep the bar high.” (Professional organizations such as IBPA, she said, are “absolutely critical” for hybrid publishers—“because most of them are new entrants to the industry.”) In 2017, she helped develop the IBPA’s criteria for hybrid publishers, and delivered a talk at IBPA Publishing University 2022 to help hybrid publishers “avoid conflicts of interest and combat false perceptions.” One of the basics to qualify as a true hybrid publisher is having a distributor for print books (Wonderwell’s titles are distributed by PGW).

For Langrick, ethical hybrid publishing requires, above all, a strong commitment to high editorial standards. “You have to be uncompromisingly selective, build your list intentionally, and turn away books that are bad bets, even when that means lost revenues,” she said. “You have to scope and price each project realistically to allow you to create predictable excellence, even if that means your bid comes in higher than that of your competitor.”

“These things are not easy,” she admitted, “but they’re essential to practicing ethical hybrid publishing.”