What the heck is a hybrid publisher, anyway? And how do you know if you’ve found a good one?
At its best, hybrid publishing offers many of the benefits of being published by a traditional publisher — including access to market (i.e. brick-and-mortar bookstores), high quality editing and design — as well as the benefits of self-publishing, such as higher royalties, ownership of rights and creative control. I founded LifeTree on this model because I wanted to offer authors the opportunity to have the best of both worlds. But not every company that calls itself a hybrid publisher delivers on all these criteria.
Because hybrid publishing is a relatively new and emerging model, different firms use the label in slightly different ways, which understandably leads to a lot of confusion among authors about what it is, how it works, and who it’s for. If you’re wondering whether hybrid publishing is right for you, you’ve probably Googled it and discovered some inconsistency in the services offered, which can be a frustrating experience.
It’s hard to shop around for something if you don’t know what you’re looking for. So how can you tell a quality hybrid publisher from a time-waster? When speaking to J.S. Leonard on his Bleeding Ink podcast, I mentioned that there are three essential questions to ask. Now I’ll also give you the best answer you can hear for each of the three, as well as the worst answer.
1. How is your distribution handled?
Best answer: “We are distributed to the book trade, which means that we have a national (or international) team of sales reps who will actively sell your book into stores. We supply these reps with a full set of sales materials relating to your book, including cover art, a sell sheet, excerpts from the text, and sometimes Advance Reader Copies (ARCs), which are also referred to as ‘bound galleys’. Each season, we meet with our distributor to present our upcoming titles to the sales team. In turn, the reps meet with buyers at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, airport stores, specialty retailers, libraries, and all other sorts of booksellers. Through our distributor, retailers sometimes offer us the opportunity to participate in ‘co-op’ arrangements, in which your book is given special placement in the store such as the front table, in exchange for a fee. We also handle warehousing, shipping, order fulfillment, and the processing of returns, as well as calculation and payout of royalties.”
Worst answer: “Your book is available to order in any local bookstore.” Some hybrid publishers and self-publishing companies claim to offer “worldwide distribution,” when really what they mean is that your book is listed in the catalogue of a book wholesaler such as Ingram. This means that, although a customer could technically walk into a store and order your book, they will never find it on the shelf there: no sales reps are presenting it to retailers, so no retailers are stocking it. This is not true trade distribution.
2. Do you do developmental editing?
Best answer: “We sure do! In fact, we consider developmental editing the most important part of the book creation process. This is editing at the bird’s-eye level, in which we examine fundamental aspects of the book such as its topic focus, structure and tone. What are its core messages, and are they clearly expressed? Have new ideas been introduced in the right sequence so that each one builds on what has come before? Is anything missing from the book, and does anything need to be taken out? Is the book geared to appeal to its target market? These are critical questions to resolve before the manuscript can be revised and copyedited. Our editors are industry-seasoned book publishing professionals who will bring sound, informed guidance to your collaborative relationship.”
Worst answer: “We will copyedit your book to make sure it is free from typos and grammatical errors.” Many vanity publishers and self-publishing companies tout their copyediting services to authors, who may be unfamiliar with the various levels of editing. Yes, copyediting is essential to any book – but only once the deeper developmental work has been done. Otherwise, you’re icing a half-baked cake.
3. Who owns the rights to my book?
This one’s a bit more complicated, because it depends on whether or not the hybrid publisher jointly invests in the book’s production with you, or whether you have put up all the money. If you’re the sole financial backer of your book, then you should own all the publishing rights, now and forever (as you would under LifeTree’s model). If your hybrid publisher is jointly investing with you, then there are a number of different ways the deal might be structured, but be wary of any hybrid publisher who insists on acquiring your rights without making a financial investment in the book.
Of course, there’s much more to know about hybrid publishing. I covered a lot of it in my conversation with J.S Leonard, when he interviewed me for his Bleeding Ink podcast. Click here to listen to it.
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