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Hybrid Publishing 101

Interested in pursuing a hybrid publisher? Here's how to find the right fit for you and your book.

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When Dr. Tony Byers decided to write his first book, The Multiplier Effect of Inclusion: How Diversity and Inclusion Advances Innovation and Drives Growth (Publish Your Purpose, 2018), he knew he wanted to produce a useful product that would help people to incorporate more diversity and inclusion into the workplace. Editors at large publishing houses suggested he make the book much longer – advice that didn’t resonate.

“I could go back and provide longer anecdotes and present more theories, but I didn’t want to fill the book with more words that I felt were useless,” Byers says. “I wanted to write a book that was more instructive versus trying to be so theoretical. I had to find a way to create what I wanted to create and have it serve the purpose I had in mind.”

Previously head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Starbucks, Byers was new to the publishing industry. Still, he recognized the fact that a big publisher lends a book credibility. He needed a team that would offer him support with his project while allowing him to retain creative control of the work.

Enter hybrid publishing.

While a traditional publishing house pays the costs for producing a quality book and offers up to 15% in royalties and perhaps an advance, hybrid publishers ask authors to subsidize production costs in exchange for royalties of up to 85% on book sales.

Unlike vanity presses, hybrid publishers accept only manuscripts that align with their company’s particular preferences, and they oversee the editing, design, and distribution of a book.

While a traditional publishing house pays the costs for producing a quality book and offers up to 15% in royalties and perhaps an advance, hybrid publishers ask authors to subsidize production costs in exchange for royalties of up to 85% on book sales.

But all hybrids are not alike. Some offer basic copy editing, formatting, cover design, and publication – perfect for savvy marketers who already maintain a regular writing practice, as well as a knowledge of the industry and a marketing plan. Others include personal coaching and extensive advice on how best to promote one’s book – ideal for those who crave both accountability for writing deadlines and assistance with getting their work into the public eye.

Shop around for a hybrid that resonates

Byers interviewed several hybrid publishers to find a good fit for his book, likening the search process to one you’d do if you were making a major purchase or decision. He did a half-hour complimentary consultation with Jenn T. Grace, owner of Publish Your Purpose, and found that they had similar perspectives and values.

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Grace asked Byers why he was writing his book, and for whom, and he realized that she, too, was passionate about issues surrounding diversity and inclusion. He appreciated the emotional support her hybrid – now in its fourth year – offered as well.

“They assign you a ‘coach,’ someone who can provide you support, and you talk to that person every other week,” Byers explains. “You have someone checking in with you to get through the psychological challenge of writing, to help you get unstuck. They provided me with a timeline and helped me stick to that timeline.”

Grace also worked with Jennifer Brown, author of Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace, & the Will to Change (2017). “It sells really well because people are craving knowledge of how to be more inclusive in whatever environment they’re in,” Grace explains. “They want to know about how to be a better ally to any community that they’re not a part of.”

Another of her clients is Dina Proto, an RN and author of Identity Impact: When Society’s Expectations Collide with the Authentic Self (2018), about exploring ways to address identity development in children who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. In her initial consultation with Grace, Proto talked about the greeting card company she’d founded to serve LGBTQ+ families. But in discussion, Grace and Proto realized that as a lesbian with a background in healthcare, Proto had an opportunity to teach medical professionals, through writing a nonfiction book, about how to properly care for LGBTQ+ patients in all facets of physical and emotional wellness.

“The writing and publishing process can bring out complicated emotions, and we need our authors to be in one piece at the end of it,” Grace says. “I spend so much of my time listening and helping authors navigate whatever they’re dealing with. I’m not the CEO apparition that no one ever sees – my clients are family.”

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Proto published Identity Impact, started a health care consulting company, and now uses the book in health care training sessions for hospitals. However, not all Publish Your Purpose clients write about social issues. In 2017, Grace published Cathi Nelson’s Photo Organizing Made Easy: Going From Overwhelmed to Overjoyed, which includes perspectives from professional organizers on how to catalog, care for, and enjoy one’s photos. “She helps people break into the [photo organizer] career, providing resources and trainings. Her book sells super-well,” Grace explains. 

Bestselling books from hybrid presses

Author and publisher Lori Perkins had two specific audiences in mind when she founded the hybrid Riverdale Avenue Books. “I’m a feminist who believes very strongly in women’s erotic expression as part of the feminist journey,” she says. “I also love baseball.”

Reflecting these interests, Riverdale has several imprints that range from erotic fiction and memoir to sports and gaming, from mystery thrillers to science fiction and fantasy. “We’ve published nonfiction books about the Dodgers and the Yankees, and also a collection of baseball erotica,” Perkins says. “We’ve done extremely well at pop culture titles because everyone watches TV.”

Riverdale’s biggest seller is Gaby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath (2016), a young adult novel about a Puerto Rican teen from the Bronx who comes out to her family and relocates to Oregon to intern with a beloved feminist writer as she grapples with issues surrounding race and identity. The book won an Independent Publisher Book Award for Best LGBTQ Fiction in 2017; noting its popularity among readers. Rivera’s agent resold the manuscript to Dial Books where it benefitted from additional publicity and media attention. People Magazine named the reissue a “Best Book of Fall 2019.”

“It’s been a very successful book for us,” Perkins says. “We hope to do the same thing for another title in September – Luna Park – a Latinx Chinese American coming-of-age lesbian novel that takes place in Brooklyn in the 1980s.”

Patricia Marshall, founder of the hybrid Luminare Press in Eugene, Oregon, says one of her most successful books is Danuta Pfeiffer’s Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine (2015). Pfeiffer is the former co-host of Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club and owner of Pfeiffer Vineyards; Chiseled follows her experiences as a television evangelist turned Oregon winemaker.

Luminare also published Vicki Krohn Amorose’s Art-Write: The Writing Guide for Visual Artists (2013). “Amorose is both a visual artist and a writer, and she published that book to start a new career,” Marshall says. “The book is part of college curriculums, and she does workshops all the time.”

Luminare publishes multiple genres – everything from children’s books to nonfiction how-to, from poetry to coffee table books. “We have clients in their 30s and clients in their 90s,” Marshall says. “We work very closely with our authors to make sure they understand the editing process and ensure that they’re happy with the cover design. We help them every step of the way.”

Be prepared to promote

Marshall notes that some publishers promise too much in terms of marketing and publicity. She advises her clients to develop a smart marketing plan and prepare for outreach both in person and on social media. “I had someone call me and say, ‘I don’t mind doing author readings and book signings, but I don’t want to promote my book on social media.’ You’re going to have some problems if you don’t do the work,” she says. “You can’t just leap right to the fun stuff – the crowds at book signings. You have to have a plan and a platform, and be realistic about your goals for your book.”

Author Kate Kaufmann knew the importance of a marketing plan and platform before her agent, April Eberhardt, sold her nonfiction manuscript Do You Have Kids?: Life When the Answer is No to the hybrid publisher She Writes Press. Kaufmann turned the work, which had been her MFA thesis, into a community-building guidebook for those without children. She references Do You Have Kids? in the workshops she leads and in the talks she delivers across the Pacific Northwest.

“My book is doing exactly what I hoped it would do, which is opening conversations between parents and nonparents, within families and friendships, and with strangers,” she says. “The book could have sat as a stack of manuscript pages in my closet, which would have been a tragedy. I want the message and the content out in the world.”

Do your due diligence

Kaufmann suggests that authors get a legal review of the contract proposed by a hybrid publisher as well as clarifying what potential charges to expect beyond a flat fee for publishing. “There are further charges that are small but definitely add up,” she says. “Hybrid is like any publishing route. It’s so hard to make any money. Fortunately, my agent has been selling foreign rights to the book, which provides an additional source of revenue.”

Like Byers, she advises those interested in hybrid presses to conduct informational interviews with several publishers. “Reach out to writers who have published with the hybrids that interest you and ask them off the record what their experience has been like,” she says. “Having ethical confidence in your publisher is important. You’re hiring this person to deliver your product, and it’s first and foremost a business partnership.”

Byers plans to work with Publish Your Purpose again when he’s drafted his new book about how to turn behaviors of inclusion into habit. “If you’ve never published before, you typically have some thoughts about what the process should be like. You’re going to work with this giant publisher and write your book, and you’re going to sell a certain number of books in the bookstore,” he says. “When you get into the process, you start to see that there are other ways of publishing. If you’ve done a good job of choosing the right publisher, you know that they’re aligned with how you see things; they share your values and believe in your product.”

 

Questions to ask your potential hybrid publisher

  • Do you publish well-designed books that have generated reviews from reputable publications?
  • Are you willing to put me in touch with several of your authors for a candid informational interview?
  • What edits do you suggest for my particular book? (Beware of a publisher who requires no editing process.)
  • How much am I expected to pay upfront for publishing services, and what types of charges can I expect post-publication?
  • What marketing plan do you envision for my book?
  • How many of my books do you anticipate printing, and how will they be distributed? Will the distributors work with Barnes and Noble and Amazon as well as with independent bookstores?

 

—Melissa Hart is the author of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens (Sasquatch, 2019). Twitter: @WildMelissaHart

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