The path to publication is no longer a simple choice between traditional publishing and self-publishing. Many successful Christian romance authors (and others) are choosing a hybrid route, continuing to secure contracts from publishing houses and going through the standard process for some of their titles, while also independently publishing others.
Melody Carlson has written in a variety of genres, including romance, and going “hybrid” was the logical next step to sell her out-of-print books. “My early novels that were contracted without electronic-rights clauses eventually went out of print, and publishing rights were returned to me. I sat on these titles for a number of years, but occasionally readers would inquire about unavailable titles. Re-releasing these novels as e-books to begin with and then print books later was a wonderful way to satisfy my readers, as well as bring in some additional royalty income.”
Margaret Daley, who has had 85 romance novels traditionally published, says of her self-publishing efforts, “I love knowing exactly how many books I’m selling on any particular day. I love receiving money monthly, and I love the freedom I have with my self-published books.” She carefully picks the most popular books from her backlist to reissue.
The Steve Laube Agency has a number of hybrid authors, and Laube advises authors who are thinking of self-publishing to find out what’s involved in the process before taking the plunge. “Like all authors wanting to go indie, they have to determine their competency in many areas, especially in marketing. Also, [authors who self-publish] must invest in editing and cover design, both of which should not be done off the bargain shelf. If the authors are entrepreneurial and there is a clear window of sales opportunity that does not bump against their traditional releases, then the strategies are in place.”
Bestselling suspense author Brandilyn Collins recently joined 1Source for her first Seatbelt Suspense indie, Sidetracked. Says Collins, “Believers Press gives indie publishers who already have a readership the chance to join a press that does have the distribution. It will be interesting to see what kind of a difference that makes in paper sales.”
Finance plays a major role in choosing to self-publish. Collins notes the two most rewarding aspects: “One: I am no longer selling my assets, I own them. Two: I am paid monthly and can track sales daily.”
Bestselling Christian author Angela Hunt’s decision also was largely a matter of financial stability. “The publishing industry has tightened up in all areas, and I’ve found myself scrambling to pay the mortgage. I had a wealth of titles to which I owned the rights, so it seemed silly to let them sit and molder. I will still publish with traditional publishers because I can’t match their level of distribution—and they can pay an advance, which is a boon to any writer. But the ability to publish a book I feel strongly about within days instead of months is thrilling.”
Pursuing both publishing routes becomes complex when contracts are involved. Literary agent Janet Kobobel Grant, who represents several bestselling Christian authors, asks, “If you produce the same types of books for both conventional publishing and self-publishing, what distinguishes one from the other? How do you steer clear of noncompete clauses in your traditional publishing contract?” She adds, “Those who do better with the hybrid model are authors who are willing to take seriously the role of being a publisher. They have a more entrepreneurial spirit and bring strong marketing abilities to bear on their careers. Unfortunately, this type of author is rare, which makes successful hybrid publishing unusual rather than the norm.”
Still, the siren song of self-publishing can be so compelling that some established authors are switching business models completely. Award-winning and bestselling romance author Tamara Leigh has seen her readership and sales grow after transitioning to self-publishing. “Since my first self-published book went up on Amazon 20 months ago,” she says, “I’ve seen my sales rise with each successive release and my connection with readers grow. It’s been—and continues to be—a wonderful, hair-pulling, rewarding, frustrating, exciting, groan-worthy, profitable, budget-stretching experience.”