The growth of hybrid publishing, the business model where authors subsidize the publication of their books, was one of the major points of discussion at the Independent Book Publishers Association's (IBPA) Publishing University held April 6-7 in Austin, Tex. The event was a sellout with 300 publishers of all stripes—traditional independent publishers, hybrid publishers, and self-published authors—in attendance.
The more than 30 educational panels covered a range of topics with titles like "Content Development: Cross Platform Storytelling for Independent Authors and Publishers" (presented by Exit Strategy New Media's Zack Lieberman) and "10 Trends Shaping the Future of Indie Publishing" (presented by Smashwords' Jim Azevedo).
One session featured three women who have developed successful hybrid publishing companies. To help ensure the professionalism of hybrid publishers, IBPA recently created a list of standards that publishers must meet if they are to be considered in the category. All three panelists stressed the importance of adhering to these standards. To meet criteria, publishers must vet submissions, take responsibility for the design and editing of the book, offer active distribution, and attain respectable sales.
Brooke Warner, publisher of the hybrid house She Writes Press, was involved in developing the criteria. She explained on the hybrid panel that while "respectable sales" was a fuzzy term, hybrid publishers must work to achieve sales levels that are appropriate for whatever type of book they are publishing. Sales of a poetry book, for example, would not be expected to achieve the sales level of a popular mystery.
Warner stressed that while She Writes is paid up front, her company is heavily invested in selling its authors' books because its reputation is tied to the success of its titles. "We need to demonstrate we can get sales," she said. We want the industry to be impressed by these books." In addition, while the authors earn at least 50% of royalties under the hybrid model, She Writes also receives a cut.
Maggie Langrick founded LifeTree Media, in Vancouver, after leaving her job as a features editor at a newspaper. She said that for hybrid publishers to be respected "it is critical to establish quality standards." She has published 13 books in the four years the company has been in business, and expects to release between eight and 10 titles this year.
Gail Woodward, founder of Dudley Court Press, focuses her company's titles around people who have a message they want to deliver. Last May, Dudley Court released Yoga for Pain Relief: A New Approach to an Ancient Practice by Lee Albert. The author is regarded as an expert in in neuromuscular pain relief and the book, she said, has done well. Sales of the title got a major boost in March, when Albert was featured on the PBS special Pain-Free Living Survival Guide.
Imparting messages and addressing issues was the theme delivered by members of the "Where Mission Meets Market" session. Kathy Strahs, an African-American woman and founder of Burnt Cheese Press, said the mission for her publishing company "is one of inclusion." She went on: "I want kids to find in our books people who look like themselves." Her book, The Lemonade Stand Cookbook: Step-by-Step Recipes and Crafts for Kids to Make and Sell, won the gold medal in the Young Reader: Nonfiction (8-12 years) category in the Benjamin Franklin contest, IBPA's annual awards competition.
Warner, who also appeared on the "Where Mission Meets Market" panel, explained that by focusing mainly on works by women her press "gives a voice to women who could change the world." Independent publishers, Warner noted, help add to the diversity of voices that reach the public.
Karla Olson, who heads up the book unit at the outdoor retailer Patagonia, said her books are closely tied to the company's overall mission of encouraging people to take part in protecting the environment. Sales, Olson said on the "Where Mission Meets Market" panel, are only one measure of a book's success. She said one reason her company has a publishing unit is because it believes books can impact its consumers' knowledge about environmental issues. "Books," Olson said, "can go where our other products can't."