Hybrid publishers sell game tickets

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You may have written a good draft of your book, then wonder what’s next. Everybody suggests editing as a next step. Your vision for the book’s future could be more comprehensive. Yes, you probably want to write query letters, compare your book to other books to help agents decide — even start choosing agents.

If you want to move faster — or you decide your agent search is done — you could publish your book through a hybrid press. Hybrids deliver services that a good book needs. There’s usually a flat cost with extras. Many hybrids start at $4,000, though I’ve heard of one as low as $2,400. This fee includes editing and a cover and help getting the book into the Amazon sales empire.

You must be cautious about spending at the low end, where book promotion, or marketing, are only an idea you’ll tackle on your own. A good hybrid has plans for your sales. This service is sometimes an extra charge. I like to call these discovery services, helping your book get discovered. You have a chance of succeeding at discovery through a hybrid only if you’re ready to take on your fair share of that work.

Earning an investment back

Brooke Warner, who co-founded She Writes Press, told San Francisco Writers Conference attendees this summer that most She Writes books have an $8,500 publishing fee. Extra fees come up for promotion and publicity services. She Writes chooses books to publish and does about 100 a year. You’ve got to be a female author (or identify as one) to publish through She Writes. It has an allied press, SparkPress, with the same pricing and will publish books from authors of any gender identity.

Warner also said that the majority of She Writes books (as well as those from SparkPress) don’t earn back their investment. That depends, in part, on an author’s plan to get their book discovered. If you’re writing a book with a long tail with many years of sales ahead, you might earn back an investment like that by selling 10,000 books. What’s your plan for that?

She Writes is a hybrid with some author wins. “Three hundred SparkPress titles,” they say, “have been named winners and finalists across a range of indie contests and awards.”

Contests like IPPY and Ben Franklin and Foreword’s each have dozens of winners and finalists each year. IPPY alone has averaged more than 200 yearly winners. Ben Franklin (through the Independent Book Publishers Association) listed 54 categories each with a gold or silver medal last year. To get a lot of finalists in a hybrid’s win column, it helps to have many categories. Nevertheless, these contests help a book get discovered by some readers.

Where hybrid won’t help

Hybrid publishing usually doesn’t get authors a leg up on a traditional deal. Fifteen debut authors from SparkPress have gone on to sign traditional publishing deals. Those are debut authors, not its total of 1,000-plus. Even 500 debut authors would put your chances of moving up to traditional at 3 percent.

Hybrid expenses can add up. It’s the rare hybrid that has a traditional distribution plan like She Writes uses. Authors Guild members report a 65-cent return fee per book for unsold She Writes books being returned from retailers. Paying for an expanded press run will also cost extra. The number of books printed in a hybrid deal varies, so a bigger press run is something you can try to negotiate.

Authors with agents remind us they’ve never published hybrid (author-supported is the latest term). Famous authors have invested in their books across many eras. Lacking a publisher — but believing in your book — could let you invest in hybrid publishing as a way to keep your book on the way into the world. It’s especially true if you don’t want to learn to be a publisher.

You can also revise, query, and compare well to get a traditional deal. Publishing is complex. There are lots of ways to win at it. Hybrids help authors get into the game.

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