Is Hybrid Publishing a Scam? Advice and Insider Insights

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A small trolley with money inside on top of a stack of books
Photo by Karolina Grabowska: https://www.pexels.com/photo/shopping-cart-on-top-of-books-5632401/

A whopping 86% of authors were adamant that you should never pay to publish full stop.

A measly 4% didn’t see a problem, and the rest believed it depends on the publisher.

Admittedly, this wasn’t some large national study (just little ol’ me donning my detective cap while running social media polls), but with 227 respondents, it’s still pretty telling: hybrid publishing has a bad rap.

And that’s a shame – a genuine (I repeat, genuine) hybrid press presents a fantastic alternative route for publication. One with all the bells and whistles of traditional publishing minus the restrictions.

Don’t get me wrong, trad publishing has its perks – prestige and validation, no upfront costs, and a strong chance of solid distribution, not forgetting the advance payment. But the snail’s pace of the process, near complete lack of creative control, and rejection letter after rejection letter can leave authors banging their head against the wall wondering if it’s all worth it.

Yet the widespread, automatic ‘avoid at all costs’ response at the mere whisper of hybrid leaves many to believe trad or self-publishing are the only valid options out there.

This post will show you why it doesn’t have to be that way.

But before I hand you over to my fabulous guest, a description is in order.

What exactly is hybrid publishing?

Self-publishing sounds exactly as it says on the tin – the author sources a mix of paid services and free assistance themselves. Hybrid publishing, on the other hand, combines parts of traditional and self-publishing.

The good kind of hybrid publishing charges a fee, a percentage, or both for quality services of the author’s choosing. They’re transparent from the get-go. You retain control over the title, the cover design, the editing, you name it.

If you’re wondering what the difference between shelling out for a hybrid company and hiring freelancers is, you’re asking the right question.

The main distinction is the comparative ease of the all-in-one approach; a reputable hybrid press has most, if not all, of your needs covered. But when self-publishing, you’ll have to vet everyone that comes your way: the editors, proofreaders, designers, marketers and so on. Many prefer it that way, but not everyone.

That’s the good kind. The bad kind? Vanity publishers, the practices of which are predatory, aimed at leeching maximum funds off newer, unaware authors and providing mediocre services in return.

What muddies the waters is vanity presses who often adopt the hybrid name to seem legitimate, giving hybrids a bad name.

Guest's wise words

Madison Johnson

Madison Johnson

Madison is Business Development Coordinator at Greenleaf Book Group and is often the first person new authors speak with about their publishing options. As head of submission review, Madison reviews every project submitted to Greenleaf while preparing them for feedback from the team. She also produces the monthly podcast Published by Greenleaf.

Learn more

Please introduce Greenleaf Book Group and what they’re all about. How do they/you support your authors?

Greenleaf is a full-service independent publisher, meaning they do editorial, design, production, marketing, and distribution all in-house — a one-stop shop. As a hybrid publisher, they combine the best parts of the traditional and the self-publishing world. Authors who work with Greenleaf get the traditional publishing experience of working with a team of experts to produce a high-quality book with robust distribution (including to brick and mortar retailers), but they keep their creative control, rights, and a higher rate of royalties. Our mission, above all else, is to empower authors. Our publishing model puts the power in the authors’ hands.

How do you vet authors and choose who to publish?

We have a thorough review process that includes meeting with representatives from every department and discussing whether the project is compatible with our model and sales channels. For example, the projects we’re most known for are prescriptive nonfiction books that build author brands, so those are the books we have the strongest sales channels for. We accept around 15% of the books submitted to us to ensure we have the resources to do the book right, and so that we’re only taking on projects we can deliver a strong return for. Some considerations are genre, quality of content, the author’s background (e.g. whether or not they’re qualified to write the book, if they’ve published in the past, etc.), and what they hope to accomplish with the book. If we feel we are not the right publisher to meet an author’s goals, we share resources to help them find one who is.

What would you say to sceptical authors who’ve either been convinced hybrid = vanity or are on the fence about whether it’s a viable option?

If only I could talk to them all! Unfortunately, many authors who believe hybrid = vanity have heard scary stories from people who have encountered bad actors in the industry, or have been victims of scams themselves, and they may have made up their mind that you should never pay for publishing, period. The thing is, every publishing model requires an investment from the author; hybrid is just the most transparent about it. Traditional publishers don’t provide anything beyond what they project a return on, meaning most traditional authors wind up using their advance on their marketing, and oftentimes having to start after their book has already launched and lost momentum.

The pieces that go far beyond what the average author can do for themselves through self-publishing are marketing and distribution. Retailers, as a habit, rarely deal directly with authors. Having a distributor means they handle the warehousing, shipping, and fulfillment (no boxes of books in your garage), and it also means a commissioned sales force actively pitching to the stores they have connections with, to get your book in buyer’s hands.

Hybrid publishing is simply the best way to produce a book that can compete with any traditional book in quality and in reach, without having to compromise on your vision.

What are the advantages of going hybrid over trad/self?

Hybrid publishing gives authors more power from every side, period. Hybrid publishing is a response to the traditional world, which is highly selective and may include contracts that take rights from the author. Authors who publish with hybrid instead get to keep the rights to their work, meaning they can repurpose it however they like, whether that’s going to a different publisher for the second edition, optioning the film rights, or converting parts of the book into online content and live presentations. They get the final say on every creative decision, including the changes that traditional publishers would insist upon in order to make a book more market-friendly. Because authors are investing in their work, they also get to choose exactly what kind of services they think their book deserves, rather than whatever resources a traditional publisher is willing to allocate for them. The difference in royalties is huge, as well.

There’s more power compared to self-publishing, as well, because a better-quality product is taken more seriously and performs better. Self-published authors have to source an expert for every step of the process and vet the individuals themselves; hybrid publishing provides a team of experts who are in conversation with each other, and guarantees quality and delivery.

What should authors expect when approaching a hybrid/small press?

In general, hybrids and small presses do not require representation from an agent. Instead, you’ll get to be your own advocate and submit your work, usually along with an intake form that gives the publisher more context about you and your goals. You should be able to find books the press has published, success stories, and what the press offers to authors in particular on their website. You should also be able to get in contact with the people who work there; one of the many benefits of going outside of traditional publishing is the warm, personalized experience.

So, should you pay for publishing?

It depends. The ‘hybrid’ part is simply a payment model (one that isn’t exclusive to publishing) – there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. The mention of fees likely sends those alarm bells ringing.

It’s easy to see why when the vast majority will advise against paying a penny. Disappointing (or downright nightmarish) experiences will have caused authors to spurn the idea of paid publishing services, and understandably so. Yet, many, I suspect, conclude ‘hybrid = scam’ because the idea gets spread often enough that it must be true.

What should be scrutinised is not the involvement of money – producing a book is never free; someone always foots the bill – but how the potential publisher uses that money and whether they’re putting it to good use to benefit you, the author.

As the Alliance of Independent Authors says, ‘Too many indie authors, and those embedded in traditional publishing, see all assisted services as problematic. If I invest money, will I make more money? With vanity services, the answer is no. With good assisted services, the answer is maybe. It’s your responsibility to see whether that service is likely to deliver a return on investment for you, or not’.

The key is research, research, research.

Below you’ll find some resources to help you with that.

Let’s not forget that most authors don’t write for money; ROI and profits – while nice, of course – are usually secondary to getting their story out there and having it produced at the standard it deserves.

If you have the means, don’t dismiss hybrid presses. Of course, only consider them if you can afford it. Be aware that while it’ll be extremely difficult to recoup costs, regardless of whether you’re self-publishing or going hybrid, the chances of a high-quality book are far greater with a hybrid than with a vanity press.

Resources

  • the Alliance of Independent Authors have a self-publishing ratings database free for anyone to consult. Membership offers access to legal and business advice, a private forum with an outstanding community, discounts on services offered by Partner Members (including me!), free resources, and more. By signing up using the following link, I’ll earn a small commission: https://allianceindependentauthors.org/?affid=18287. Check them out!
  • the Independent Book Publishers Association has a list of criteria which all hybrid publishers are expected to meet
  • Writer Beware offers a ton of advice and up-to-date information on book-publishing scams. Their socials regularly expose fake agencies and share news on independent publishing and are well worth a follow
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