What Is a Hybrid Publisher?

hybrid publisher

Over the last year, I’ve received more questions than ever—usually from journalists—asking me to explain “hybrid publishing.”

This is a confusing term to discuss, because you will hear different definitions or descriptions of hybrid publishing depending on who you ask and what their agenda is. The term has become popular among companies that wish to put a new, “innovative” face on a very common, age-old activity: charging writers to publish.

Here’s what I think most people can agree on: Hybrid publishers combine aspects of traditional publishing and self-publishing. Beyond that, however, it is challenging to define what such companies have in common. They have extremely varied business models, methods of working with writers, and approaches to marketing and distribution.

Making matters more complicated, “hybrid authors” are not authors who work with hybrid publishing companies. Instead, that term describes authors who both traditionally publish and self-publish. A good example is the thriller novelist CJ Lyons. So don’t confuse hybrid authorship with hybrid publishing—they’re two completely different trends.

Varieties of hybrid publisher

While is nearly impossible to generally describe hybrids, here are some rough categories you’ll find in the market today.

  • Editorially curated. While authors typically subsidize the costs of editing or publication, the publisher doesn’t accept every author who walks through the door. As a result of their selectivity, the publisher usually has better marketing and distribution. Examples include She Writes Press and Greenleaf Book Group.
  • Crowdfunding driven. Publishers such as Inkshares and Unbound require the author to raise a certain amount of money from their readership before they are granted a deal, which then closely adheres to a traditional publishing process.
  • Assisted self-publishing. Authors pay to publish, and there is little or no discernment in what types of authors are accepted.
  • Traditional publishers with a self-publishing arm. Some traditional publishers—usually small presses you haven’t heard of—may offer author services or assisted self-publishing.

These last two categories can be the most questionable in value. In the case of assisted self-publishing or publishing services (called “vanity presses” in the old days), these companies adopt the moniker of “hybrid publisher” to look more innovative or attractive to authors. They’re not really a hybrid publisher unless they can point to what they do that offers a traditional publisher’s value—such as selectivity in acquisitions, editorial guidance and vision, and distribution and marketing muscle that can’t be secured on your own as a self-publishing author.

In the case of small presses with a self-publishing arm—which may not offer great professionalism to begin with in their traditional operations—they may be using paid services to prop up their business and also to position themselves as progressive. These can be the most frustrating “hybrids” of all, since they might be identifying themselves primarily as a traditional publisher and be listed in market guides such as Writer’s Market, but could use that as a bait-and-switch: Oh, sorry, your work doesn’t meet our editorial needs for our traditional publishing operation, but would you like to pay for our hybrid publishing [or self-publishing] service?

I recommend running in the other direction if that happens.

How to evaluate a hybrid publisher

So how do you tell if you’re just being sold a bill of goods by a hybrid publisher? Here’s what to consider.

  • A good hybrid will have some method of curating or selecting what projects to take on. In other words: They consider the market potential of your work and its ability to succeed. If they appear to take anyone and everyone, then you’re better off evaluating the best self-publishing service to use. Don’t kid yourself about leveling up to a hybrid. (So-called hybrids aren’t averse to playing to your ego to get your business.)
  • A great hybrid offers the potential of bricks-and-mortar distribution—whether to bookstores or other retail channels. They might not be able to promise it, but if they’re actively working with a distributor or retailer—and they have a catalog of titles for marketing purposes—that’s a good sign. A self-publishing author can easily get distribution through online retail, via Amazon and Ingram (distribution fees are zero or little for online retail), so the more the hybrid invests in marketing and distributing print editions, the more they’re offering something you may not be able to accomplish yourself.
  • A good hybrid works with you both pre-publication and post-publication. The relationship doesn’t end once the book is done. (However, you may have to pay fees to continue the relationship.)

I further discuss what to look for here.

To summarize: The best hybrid publishers conduct some level of gatekeeping, offer value that the author would have a hard time securing on her own, and should also pay better royalties than a traditional publishing deal. (Fifty percent is common.) If the hybrid publisher presents itself as little more than “Here’s a package of services you can buy,” then it’s most likely a dressed-up self-publishing firm.


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Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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23 Comments on "What Is a Hybrid Publisher?"

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Ernie Zelinski
You say, “The best hybrid publishers . . . . should also pay better royalties than a traditional publishing deal. (Fifty percent is common.)” What do you mean by “Fifty percent is common”? Is this fifty percent of retail price or fifty percent of net proceeds or fifty percent of something else.” Although I have a traditional publishing agreement that pays me 30 percent of net proceeds (about 15 percent of retail price) for the tradeback edition my “The Joy of Not Working”, this is unusual. Most traditional agreements with major publishers for tradebacks are in the range of 7.5… Read more »
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[…] Defining a "hybrid publisher" is difficult; you will hear different descriptions depending on who you ask. Here's what you need to know to evaluate one.  […]

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[…] Read more on hybrid publishing here. […]

Susan Wittig Albert

Jane, here’s another “hybrid” you might want to add: Traditional literary agency with a self-publishing arm. I’ve worked with one of these since 2012: Levine Greenberg Rostan, a large (and well-respected NY agency) which began developing a “digital rights” section about 5 years ago. http://lgrliterary.com/ebooks/ What I like: informed assistance throughout the entire publishing/marketing process, subrights (large print/audio/film) sales, and account management. LGR is currently handling my third author-published book, and I have only good things to say about the process.

Lisa Roettger

Thanks for giving some more details on this topic. I know it is something many writers ask about.

Frances Caballo
Wonderful post, Jane. Over the years I learned about all the hybrid publishers by attending conferences and meeting a lot of them but I have greater clarity about the differences now that I’ve read your post. I agree with you: run from the companies that make you put up all of your money up front. They won’t have your best interest at heart. I understand from colleagues that She Writes is a worthwhile organization and the authors that I know who’ve used She Writes have been pleased with the results. I met representatives from InkShares a few months after they… Read more »
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[…] What Is a Hybrid Publisher? (Jane Friedman) Over the last year, I’ve received more questions than ever—usually from journalists—asking me to explain “hybrid publishing.” […]

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[…] What is a hybrid publisher? […]

Audrey Pflugrath

I’ve been looking for a good definition of hybrid publishing. Thanks, Jane, this was a really helpful explanation.

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[…] Is a Hybrid Publisher? (Jane Friedman): It’s extremely important for aspiring authors to understand that hybrid publishers can vary […]

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[…] be very careful of signing with agents who have a track record of sales to hybrid publishers, publishing services, and other small outfits that almost no one has heard of. Such agents may […]

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[…] presents What Is a Hybrid Publisher? posted at Jane […]

M. Lachi
Hi Jane! I put together a list of hybrid publishers. So far it reaches around fifty, but would encourage anyone who knows of any others to add to the list (here: http://mlachi.com/blog/hybrid-publishers-a-growing-list). I find it interesting that hybrid publishing has been around for over seven or so years, but is still struggling to solidify a legitimate foothold (still has no wikipedia definition). I am curious as to where the unspoken push back is coming from re the medium. If the author and publisher are together throwing in the same expenses a trade would invest, would they not receive the same… Read more »
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[…] the business models for these ventures varies, Jane Freidman describes them in four broad […]

Sarah
Very interesting and informative page regarding ‘Hybrid Publishing.’ In June last year, I submitted my manuscript for a children’s book to a publisher called Austin Macauley (AM), heard of them? Well, to cut a long story short they said they would get back to me within 6 weeks, however, they only took 3 weeks to reply, why? Because they wanted fees ranging from £1900, £2400, and £4400, depending on which route I wanted to take with getting my book published. Of course, I didn’t reply to them as I cannot afford such fees. Their website states that they ‘follow traditional… Read more »
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