In recent years, a new form of book publishing has emerged on the market: the hybrid publishing model. Faster and more responsive than traditional publishers and with more guidance and selectivity than self-publishing, hybrid publishing gives authors control over their work without compromising quality in editing or book production.
In this post, I’ll explain what hybrid publishing is, how it differs from both traditional and self-publishing, and why you should consider it when publishing your next nonfiction book.
The 3 Common Types of Publishers
If you’re interested in publishing a book, or if you’ve published one in the past, you have three basic options:
Traditional publishing: This is probably the most familiar route for authors: you write a strong book proposal, possibly get an agent, and network with editors until a press accepts your manuscript. You may get an advance (if you’re lucky) and complete the manuscript, and then the press will send it out for review, edit, design, and publish it as a book. They’ll also distribute it to bookstores and, sometimes, help you organize events to promote it. In the end you’ll have a nice logo on the spine, but the process often takes more than a year from start to finish and you’re not looking at much in terms of royalties, since the publisher foots most of the bill.
Self-publishing: If you’d like to move through the process much more quickly and you’re not concerned about peer review or the cachet of a Big Five or university press, you might consider self-publishing. With this route, you’re in the driver’s seat: you can publish whatever material you like according to your own schedule, and you’re responsible for the entire process: from hiring an editor (or not), to designing it and submitting it to a platform like Amazon or Ingram. You get all the royalties, but your book is unlikely to get a wide audience since you’re solely responsible for all aspects of its content and distribution.
Hybrid publishing: Hybrid publishing combines some aspects of traditional and self-publishing. You’ll still need to pitch your idea and go through a selection process like with a traditional publisher, but you’ll see a faster turnaround and have more guidance than if you were publishing your book by yourself. As outlined in the criteria for hybrid publishers from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), hybrid publishing is subsidized by the author—meaning that the author pays for editing, design, and production—but the publisher takes a guiding hand in producing a professional-quality book and maintaining standards in terms of content and distribution. As a result, the author gets a much greater share of the profits from sales.
What is hybrid publishing?
At its most basic level, hybrid publishing differs from traditional and self-publishing in terms of who takes on the financial burden and who ensures that editorial and publication standards are met. With a hybrid press, you’ll share the financial risk and you’ll be guided through the process toward the completion of a professional-quality book.
According to the IBPA, hybrid publishers must meet the following criteria:
- Define a mission and vision for its publishing program
- Vet submissions
- Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs
- Publish to industry standards
- Ensure editorial, design, and production quality
- Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights
- Provide distribution services
- Demonstrate respectable sales
- Pay authors a higher-than-standard royalty
With a hybrid press, you’ll essentially be hiring a highly qualified professional to guide you through the process, which is why hybrids are often called “partner” publishers. In this model, you still have to have a great idea and solid writing skills, because the press is still vetting your book, but you must invest in the process along with the press by paying for editorial services like copyediting and proofreading, as well as production and printing, out of pocket.
According to Barbara Linn Probst, who interviewed many authors with experience in hybrid publishing, one of its chief advantages is that you retain control over your work at every level—from editorial to promotion. And, in the end, you receive monetary compensation for all of your efforts (and who doesn’t like to be paid to do what they love?)!
Is hybrid publishing right for your book?
Hybrid publishing has boomed in the past five years or so and has only become more popular as authors seek faster production schedules but don’t want to compromise on quality. It also offers newer authors, or those without much experience managing editorial duties, with a more distinguished option than self-publishing.
If you’re considering hybrid publishing, ask yourself these questions:
- Does it matter to you to have a name brand on your book, for example to advance in your career or for bragging rights?
While hybrid publishing isn’t as prestigious as a university press or one of the Big Five, many authors choose to publish with smaller presses for a variety of reasons. When choosing a press, you should also consider whether their mission aligns with your vision.
- Do you want to jump through hoops to gain access to traditional publishing, such as finding an agent and pitching your book, or are you committed to publishing your book no matter what?
The traditional publishing route can be time consuming from the start, and getting an agent doesn’t always guarantee publication. If you know you want to publish your book, then why not go ahead? Hybrid publishers also tend to treat you like you’re in charge, rather than the other way around: you stay in control of the process and make all of the decisions (with their professional assistance, of course!).
- Do you want to retain control over your work, including its title, structure, content, and rights?
Traditional publishers often take liberties with your work in order to ensure sales, including changing the title, choosing the cover design, and controlling decisions about how to use rights (e.g., issuing your work in a different format). With hybrid, you’ll get a say in all of these aspects of your book, and you’ll also retain ownership and agency.
- Do you want to publish your book quickly or are you willing to wait a year or more?
In comparison with the amount of time required to find an agent and/or get your work accepted to a traditional press or undergoing peer review with a university press, the timeline for hybrid publishing is quite speedy! You can begin the editing process as soon as the manuscript is complete and you don’t have to wait for a specific season to launch.
- Are you willing to pay someone to help you in the editorial and publishing process if it means that you’ll get a better product than doing it alone?
Your out-of-pocket expenses are a consideration: are you willing to shell out some money to retain control over your work, or would you rather allow someone else to take the financial risk? Hybrid publishing is more expensive than traditional publishing and self-publishing because it requires the author to pay up front for editing, design, production, promotion, and other costs. However, you’re guided through the process by a professional and, at the end, you’ll get a high-quality book that can be sold in bookstores.
- Do you want to get a significant share of the royalties from sales?
Let’s face it: we all want to be paid for hard work. Publishing a book should be no different. You can expect to make a much greater profit from book sales than traditional publishing if you go with a hybrid press, plus you’ll get better distribution than if you published your book yourself.
Once you’re ready to take the next step with hybrid publishing, do some research to find the best press for your book (check out this list of criteria for what to look for).
About the author
Cara Jordan is chief editor and president at Flatpage. She has spent her career editing academic and artists' writings, primarily as a developmental editor and copyeditor. She received her PhD in art history from the Graduate Center, CUNY.