Most writers dream of being published by a major traditional publisher and becoming a bestselling author. It can take a while to realize that the number of writers with that kind of luck is vanishingly small. A small traditional publisher could be a possibility. But they may not have space on their list either, even if they love the book.
Self-publishing has gained in respectability in recent years—but doing everything on their own requires many new skills that a writer might not have time to learn. Cover design, interior formatting, distribution, and promotion are just the tip of the iceberg.
That leaves the option of a hybrid press. Hybrid publishing sometimes gets a bad rap because people think it’s just another word for vanity publishing. And there are some less-than-stellar companies out there. So it’s up to the author to do their research to find a hybrid that works for them. (At a minimum, check Writer Beware’s Thumbs Down Publishers List and the advisory ratings put out by the Alliance of Independent Authors’ Watchdog Desk.)
Reputable hybrids don’t publish everything that gets submitted to them. They have a reputation that they’d like to maintain, so they want work that’s already in good shape, but simply hasn’t found a publisher yet. But how do you know that you’re dealing with a company that will do you proud?
Here are some of the questions to ask if you’re thinking of going hybrid.
What services are included?
All hybrids offer design and distribution services. What differentiates companies is what they include in the basic package and which services will require an additional outlay from the author.
Ask about editing—at a minimum, you should receive a line edit and excellent proofreading. Some publishers provide a developmental edit, too, which can point up any places where your narrative sags or needs polishing.
You probably shouldn’t submit anywhere if you haven’t had your book professionally edited and beta-read. Otherwise, some less selective companies will accept it and print it as is, mistakes and all.
How do the books look?
Obviously, you’ve checked the website, to see what kind of work the publisher puts out, what kind of covers it produces, and how it presents authors. You’ve bought a copy of one of the publisher’s books to assess the quality of the product. You’ve inspected published authors’ Look Inside the Book features on Amazon. If you don’t like what you find, you may prefer a different publisher.
Who owns your book?
Some hybrids ask for rights to your paper, e-book, and possible audiobook for several years. Others let you keep all your rights, which can be especially useful if something happens to your publisher, such as bankruptcy or the death of the principal.
What’s the financial arrangement?
What royalties does the publisher take—and how often do they pay you yours? Do you have to buy a minimum number of books?
The percentage of royalties can vary, so it’s best to get this clear. Some hybrids don’t take any. Others say they don’t, but insist that you buy a minimum number of copies, which is where they make extra money. Don’t forget that if you contract to buy several hundred copies, you’ll also have shipping (both to you and to buyers) and possibly storage costs. And doing your own fulfillment can be a pain in the neck.
A good hybrid should pay your royalties quarterly, at least. Some stretch it out to six months. Make sure your contract reflects what you’re expecting.
Where will your book be available?
If a hybrid only offers their books on Amazon, they’re not providing you with anything you can’t easily do yourself. For best availability, your work should at least be on Ingram, Barnes & Noble, and Bookshop.org and available for bookshops and libraries to order.
Most bookstores are unlikely to stock hybrid-published books because they are print-on-demand these days, which means they can’t be returned. But they are usually happy to order them for customers—unless they’re only offered via Amazon.
What versions are included?
Are audiobooks and versions such as hardback and large print included in the price you’re paying? You may not need these print versions as the trend is away from larger, heavier, more expensive books. So, if you insist on them, find out about the cost implications.
You’ll probably pay extra for the audiobook, even if you record that yourself, because the publisher is going to handle the distribution for you. So, if they can help you publish an audiobook, ask whether it will only be available on Audible, or whether people will be able to buy it from other retailers.
What about book marketing?
Some hybrid publishers will sell your book via their website, and most offer marketing services at an extra cost. These should always be optional, and if you know how to market a book, you needn’t worry about them.
If you choose to go with your publisher’s marketing package, costs can mount up if you’re not careful, so ask whether they will offer certain services à la carte, if that’s what you prefer. You can buy some services yourself, including NetGalley distribution and submissions to review sites such as Kirkus and BookLife. In fact, you can obtain discounts on those if you’re a member of the Independent Book Publishers Association.
Finally, contact some of the authors published by the hybrid you’re considering and ask them about their experience. I’ve found that fellow writers are happy to answer questions. Nothing in publishing ever goes 100% smoothly, no matter which path you choose, but so long as you go in with your eyes open, you can avoid disappointment.
A cautionary note: the chances of making back the money you spend (including on writing classes, editors, joining professional associations, etc.) on publishing your book are small—unless your book is an exceptional seller. But you have a better chance of making money than you do if you don’t publish at all.
Gabi Coatsworth is a British-born writer, blogger, and author of the memoir Love’s Journey Home.