March 31, 2017 by Steven Spatz, President of BookBaby, excerpted and adapted from The Hybrid Author Game Plan: Self-publish Your Way To A Traditional Publishing Deal.
There are many ways to approach a hybrid publishing strategy, but the premise is simple: take the elements from the traditional and self-publishing models that best suit your situation.
Not long ago, BookBaby exhibited at a writers conference, and I spent a weekend with authors from all over the country. Many had journeyed thousands of miles and spent hundreds of dollars hoping to pitch their manuscripts to agents attending the event.
Most of these same authors passed my table without so much as a look.
Why? Because they had decided to put all their efforts towards pursuing a traditional publishing career. The few I did manage to coax into talking told me the same story over and over: self-publishing wasn’t part of their plan.
My response to them? “You need a different plan!” I told them there was a different way to accomplish their goal. Traditional publishing vs. self-publishing is not an either/or endeavor. You can do both; in fact, you should do both. That approach is working for thousands of writers just like you.
It’s called hybrid publishing, and authors of all kinds – experienced New York Times best-selling writers all the way to first-time authors – are using this approach. In my book, The End. Now What? I spend a chapter discussing the pros and cons of traditional and self-publishing. But, what if neither feels quite right? You like some aspects of both models. What if you want to do both?
That’s the answer: do both. Try as many things as possible to jumpstart your writing career. This dual model combining self-publishing and traditional publishing empowers authors and publishers alike.
Hybrid publishing is difficult to pin down because it’s dynamic; there are many different ways to approach this kind of strategy. There are clear steps, benefits, and drawbacks to the distinctly separate models of self-publishing and traditional publishing. By pursuing a hybrid publishing strategy, authors take the things from each model that best suits their own situation.
The more recent development to the hybrid publishing approach is that most publishers encourage and applaud this course. Traditional publishers gain from writers’ trailblazing efforts, making for a tailored, innovative approach to publishing.
Your hybrid publishing game plan
Hybrid publishing is difficult to define because there are so many possible variations. That’s the beauty of this approach, because every author’s situation is different.
One more bonus: This approach can be applied to a single project or an entire career. Take a look at some of the most common examples of hybrid publishing strategy.
Author A’s career started with traditionally published books, but watching the rise of self-publishing, he decides to try it for himself. From there, the author publishes some books traditionally and self-publishes others. Hugh Howey is a perfect example of this strategy.
Author B has self-published several books and is picked up by a traditional publisher. She established an author platform and attracted the attention of an agent and/or publisher with her own marketing and sales. We’ve seen this happen first-hand within our building. Scott McCormick and Robert Lazzell signed a four-book contract with Puffin Books after self-publishing through BookBaby.
Author C gets a traditional book deal for printed book publishing, but continues to self-publish eBooks, retaining all digital rights and royalties. More commonly, authors – or even estates of authors – are using ancient pre-Internet contract language to assume digital rights. Recent court rulings have favored these “jailbreaks” away from the grip of legacy publishers.
And there are a dozen other possible scenarios that can employ both models at once. Simply put, these new hybrid models are changing the face of publishing. So what are the benefits?
The benefits of hybrid publishing
I’ve mentioned how hybrid publishing is a win-win for all concerned, including the traditional publishers. Traditional publishers benefit because they can sign authors who have already self-published and have established an audience. It’s like the National Football League depending on the college system to vet the next stars of the game. That’s a lower-risk investment for the publisher because they know the books should sell to existing readers and fans. Even if the sales aren’t spectacular, they can better judge the appeal of a book’s premise or topic when it’s a real, tangible product and not just a pitch letter.
You may have noticed how the movie studios showing the latest films at the local Cineplex tend to like sequels, or movie premises that seem like a “can’t miss” proposition. Nowadays studios are less likely to experiment with new, untested leading actors or actresses or try to cover subject matter that’s far from traditional movie plot formulas. They simply can’t risk $100 million misses.
On a much smaller scale, every new author is a risk for a publishing house. There’s no way to tell which books will make the bestseller lists and which ones will bomb. Mind you, we’re not talking about $100 million dollar losses here, but as traditional publishers are getting weaker in this new publishing climate, they cannot afford losing efforts.
Meanwhile, authors who self-publish are honing both their writing and marketing skills on a smaller stage, so if and when they’re picked up by a publisher, they have the proper experience to reach out to the broader audience that the publisher will expose them to.
Like I said: “It’s a win-win.”