Not All Hybrid Publishers
Are Created Equal
How Authors Should Evaluate Their Choices
BY JANE FRIEDMAN
Since 2013, I’ve been main- taining a chart on the key book publishing paths for authors. My goal is to help eople cut through the
confusion of the increasing number of
options available—from traditional
publishing to self-publishing, and everything in between.
It’s that in between part that’s vexing.
It’s become nearly impossible to categorize certain publishers and services;
some wish to avoid being labeled
altogether. They consider themselves
innovators, providing an important
alternative for authors. Some in the industry have been using the label hybrid
publisher for these services, but that’s
no help—not when every hybrid has a
different business model.
Authors need specialized knowledge
of the industry to evaluate these hybrids
effectively and to understand the underlying value of a service and whether it has
the power to make a difference in their
book’s success. Here are questions I use
to help authors evaluate their choices
(I will be using the terms publisher and
Will there be a traditional print run—
and who’s paying for it?
A print run equates to an investment—
someone is taking a financial risk on the
book’s success. Having a specific number
of books printed anticipates sales and
marks confidence that the book will be
actively stocked in bricks-and-mortar
stores. Authors shouldn’t pay for their own
print runs unless they know exactly how
and to whom those books will be sold.
Will the book be pitched to retailers
or distributors by a sales team?
This means that the publisher calls on
specific retail accounts and distributors
to secure orders for the book in advance
of publication. This step is very unlikely
unless there’s investment in a print run
as well as a marketing plan.
How will your books be distributed?
Anyone can get a book distributed through
Ingram and Amazon via print-on-demand,
as long as the files meet certain basic standards. If your book is listed via Ingram, all
book retailers can place orders for it. (That
doesn’t mean your book will ever sit on a
physical shelf, but it can be ordered
through a store.) If a publishing service
touts being distributed through Ingram,
that’s not necessarily a selling point—you
can do that on your own.
It’s rare for pay-for-play services to
actively sell and distribute physical copies
to bookstores, which is costly and requires
industry contacts. (A few are Greenleaf
Book Group, She Writes Press, InkShares,
But print distribution isn’t the only
reason to work with a hybrid publisher.
In the case of firms that focus on e-book
distribution, authors must assess their
own strengths and consider whether their
books would be more successful if they
had a service partner supporting them.
When evaluating a service, look for
What’s the editing process like?
signs that it will be a good business part-
ner and likely to produce a successful
book. Due to the extreme ease of publish-
ing and distributing books in digital for-
mat, anyone can put out a shingle and call
him- or herself a publisher. So here are
some additional questions to consider:
Some services will take exactly what you
give them and publish it, without any
editing. Even if that sounds appealing,
this shows a lack of professionalism. Virtually no manuscript is ready for prime
time without some editorial work.
What marketing and promotion sup-
port do their titles receive?
Ask what the service’s baseline marketing
plan is for each title. Does it send out
review copies? Does it write a press release?
Does it submit the book to media outlets
for coverage? Find out the bare minimum
it commits to, and if it does little more
than make the title available for sale,
rethink why you want to publish with it.
Can you speak to recent authors?
This can be the best litmus test of all. Are
other authors pleased with the publisher’s
communication and level of involvement? How much value did the publisher add to the process?
Finally, before committing to any service, get clear answers on costs, and read
your contract carefully. If things go
wrong, know when and how you can hit
eject (and at what cost) so you can pursue
a better path. ;
Jane Friedman teaches digital media and
publishing at the University of Virginia and
is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest.