Digital publishing has drastically changed the landscape of the publishing industry, opening up new paths to success. Once upon a time the only way for an author to get their books into the hands of readers was to land a deal with a publisher and allow them to distribute your title. This took a lot of time, and many authors were turned away time and time again. Out of the invention and rising popularity of ebooks rose the self-publishing industry which allowed authors to bring their books into the world themselves. For a time it seemed that there would be two separate sides to the publishing industry, with indie authors on one side and traditional authors on the other. Hybrid authors proved that hypothesis to be false by embracing both paths. We reached out to some of our hybrid authors to learn more about hybrid authorship. Below is what we found:
What is a Hybrid Author?
A hybrid author is an author that has titles published both independently and through a contract with a publishing house.
“I believe hybrid authors have the best of both worlds. The traditionally-published books help us reach a wider audience so we can then self-publish books that publishers aren’t ready to take a chance on.” –Gayle Trent (Amanda Lee)
There are pros and cons to each path. Hybrid authors get to experience the perks of both paths. As we consider the story of hybrid authors, let’s take a look at the elements of traditional publishing and indie publishing side by side.
A hybrid author has published at least one title through indie (self) publishing and at least one title through traditional publishing. Thus, a hybrid author is in the unique position of having experienced all the elements above from both columns.
How does one become a hybrid author?
Becoming an author by any path is never easy. There is no “right” way to be an author. Both paths are valid ways to make a living as an author. Pursuing hybrid authorship means pursuing two parallel paths at the same time, which is why many authors pursue one path first, and the other later.
The paths of hybrid authors go in both directions. There are many authors who began their writing career writing under contracts with publishing houses and then branched into independent publishing. Then there are those who began their authorship career as independent authors who gained enough of a following that they were approached and signed by a publishing house (Hugh Howey is one of the most well-known examples of the latter.)
In order to become a hybrid author, obviously, one must first be an author. This means that the first step in this process is to write a book. Making sure that the book is a professional quality work (particularly when it comes to editing) is necessary before you travel down either the self-publishing or traditional publishing path.
If the primary goal is to get a novel out into the world, then the easiest of the two paths to begin with is self-publishing. It can take years to land a publishing contract, and there are lag times of 6-18 months between a title’s acquisition by a publishing house and its publication. On the flip side: the author is in control of the timeline when independently publishing.
Once an author has a finished, edited story, here are the boiled down steps to self-publishing:
- Get a cover. We recommend having it professionally designed to make sure that it’s as engaging as possible. We wrote about 4 ways to hack your book cover design here.
- Format the eBook. A .mobi copy for Amazon and an .epub version for all other online retailers is necessary for uploading and distribution. Be sure to flip through a copy of the exported title before making it available to readers. Online retailers will penalize and upon occasion remove a title if it is poorly formatted.
- Decide where and how to sell. Will this title join the ranks of those enrolled in KDP Select, Amazon’s exclusive publishing platform? Or will the title be offered “wide”, making it available across all platforms? Many authors make a living going both routes, so it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons.
- Digitally distribute the title to the retailers at which you’ve chosen to sell. It is possible to upload the eBook files directly to each retailer, or authors can use a service like Draft2Digital to assist with distribution.
That is all the easy part. Independent authors are not only the author but also the marketing branch of the publishing operation. Once the book is up and ready it’s time to start getting it in front of readers around the web by:
- Setting up an author website. This is where authors can share their story, collect reader’s emails for email marketing, and highlight all of their titles. You can find the 7 must-have features for all author websites here.
- Being active (as an author) on a social media platforms for marketing purposes. platforms for marketing purposes.
- Planning a marketing budget and calendar.
- Market. Market. Market. Be sure to check out our tips on how to make your book free, plan a price promotion, and email marketing.
When authors decide to follow the traditional path first, this is how to get started (again, a very paired down list):
- Decide where the book belongs. What genre is the title? Is it appealing to a broad popular fiction audience or a niche audience? How marketable and saleable is the book?
- Research appropriate agents and publishers. Jane Freidman lists some spectacular resources to aid in this research here.
- Assemble application materials which consist of your Query Letter, Synopsis, Novel Proposal, and Sample Chapters.
- Query. Query. Query. Querying is the term used to describe the process of submitting your application materials to houses.
There are a lot of great resources out there that give detailed tips and steps for both paths.
For how-to’s on the indie process, Joanna Penn has a great collection of resources here, and Jane has another great post. There is also a great community on the Writer’s Cafe section of the KBoards forum.
Why do authors hybrid?
The publishing industry has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. The introduction of eBooks was a huge change in itself: a book was no longer always a paper object, reliant upon printing presses and mass production. It became something one could carry in one’s pocket on one’s phone.
The rise of the digital format led to the self-publishing movement. When it was possible for a book to be an object that existed solely online, with no necessary printing costs and physical placement in bookstores, many people who had always dreamed of publishing a book did just that, by themselves, using the new technology available. As the self-publishing movement began to pick up steam, a whole industry grew around it: freelance editors and designers, assistants versed in the book world, promotional sites that assist with marketing. With a little research and some upfront investment, publishing one’s own book became a fast, effective way to share one’s stories with the world.
Amazon was the company who capitalized on the self-publishing movement the most. They not only allowed independent authors to sell their titles on their site, but created programs to help independent authors market their titles while offering authors a royalty rate well above any that a publishing house would offer. They launched print on demand services, plugged directly into their already widely used retail platform, which allows independent authors to sell printed copies of their books without investing in a huge print run. At this point, Amazon is a keystone of both the independent and traditional publishing businesses. Their Kindle and Kindle app ranks as the most popular eReaders and they have maintained their status as the largest eBook retailer for years now.
It has always been difficult to land a publishing contract, but the recent changes in the industry have led to decreasing revenue which in turn has led to a change in the way that publishing houses approach perspective authors. Publishing houses need to be sure that a book will sell and make a profit, so authors that already have a following are getting more attention from editors. It’s harder than ever for an unknown author to burst into the scene.
Yes, you read that right; authors that already have a following are getting more attention from editors. This is where hybrid authorship begins for many, and why so many authors take the independently published route first.
Why do some authors choose to go hybrid, giving up some of their freedom and control by entering into a publishing contract? Hybrid authors often end up getting the benefits of both options. Their contracts are on a per book basis, so they retain the right to self-publish while writing books under contract. This means that by becoming hybrid, authors are reinforcing the foundation of their personal publishing business.
For example, the writing and editing help that a publishing house’s editor applies to an author’s traditional titles will be internalized and help the author with all of their future books, traditional and indie alike. Additionally, readers and fans gained through the publicity and marketing efforts of a publishing house will go on to read the author’s indie titles as well. The most notable perk that our hybrid authors noted was the credentials that they were able to acquire with the help of a publishing house. Reviews in major publications are difficult to land on your own, but publicity arms of publishing houses can help get your book in the door.
“It wasn’t until I became a hybrid author that I started earning a living wage as a writer. In fact, I’ve reduced the number of traditional books I write per year after discovering that at least 80% of my earnings came from my independent books, while 80% of my time went to writing my traditionally published books. As a hybrid author, I am able to conduct more trial and error experiments, utilizing various advertising mechanisms such as Facebook and BookBub ads and offering freebies, in order to increase sales.” –Farrah Rochon
How does hybrid authorship impact an author’s marketing strategy?
Hybrid authors have additional avenues available to them when it comes to marketing their titles. Publishing houses don’t always help an author with their marketing if it isn’t in their budget, but that doesn’t mean that having a contract doesn’t help.
“Together, we compliment one another’s experience and high powered creativity. I let them know what I’m doing on my end to push the Wind River Valley books and they, likewise, send me pages of a PR schedule of what they’re going to do, so that we work together (date, time, what type of promo, what they need from me to support it) so that we’re not at odds with one another’s efforts.” – Lindsay McKenna
Here are the ways that hybrid authors leverage their traditional contract to assist their marketing strategy:
- Leverage the publisher’s brand. An author gains credibility when they are picked up by a publishing house (they are the gatekeepers after all), so it is important to own it. The author can also leverage their publisher’s followings. Tagging the publisher’s accounts on social media posts will often result in re-tweets and shares to their larger audiences.
- Use advances wisely. Advances that are paid out for traditional titles can be invested into indie marketing and publishing efforts, meaning that this upfront investment no longer needs to be out of pocket.
- Double up on releases. Plan an independent book release for the time around a traditional book release (say around a month apart). This way the marketing that the author does for the indie title will merge with the marketing that publisher does for the traditional title and turn into an effective mega promotion that should lift your entire backlist.
- Diversify the audience. Traditionally published titles are always distributed wide, so the author has the opportunity to diversify their portfolio by enrolling some titles in KU to get some of the monthly fund and gain new readers.
- Share best practices. Authors can share data and insights from indie promotions to help their publisher market their traditional books. Going the other way, publishers have access to and can share demographics and marketing statistics that authors may not.
What does the future hold for hybrid authors?
We chatted with author Dean Crawford, an author who began his career writing for a publishing house and is now hybrid, about his experiences. This is what he had to say about the future of hybrid authorship:
“The future for all hybrid authors remains very bright, as in any business ensuring the maximum visibility for your brand is essential. The smart hybrid will trade off the publicity of traditional releases to bring attention to their Indie titles, maximizing revenue wherever possible. I think that publishers will continue to try to restrict authors in new contracts as they attempt to hold on to talent, but it’s only a matter of time before some of the big names abandon their publishers and go fully independent. When a genuine “big” name goes solo it will likely open up the floodgates as many authors continue to search for publishing deals because of the comfort zone they provide. Most have no idea that they could earn more being independent on even relatively modest sales… Being a hybrid continues to give any author the greatest chance of building that all-important fan base without which none of us would make a living, and that’s what any author should consider when thinking about adding independent titles to their backlist: can you afford not to reach more readers?”
There are more options for publishing and marketing books available than ever before. Whether you are a traditional author who wants to take a walk on the indie side, or an indie who would like to add the clout of a traditional deal to your name, the future is looking bright for authors on all paths.
“I would recommend it, but only to those who believe they can handle the time and stress that comes along with being hybrid.” –Farrah Rochon
Hybrid authorship, the practice of publishing titles both independently and through a publishing contract, allows authors to experience the best of both worlds. The creative freedom and monetary perks of independent publishing make that route highly appealing for many authors, but it would be remiss to discount the credibility and additional resources that a publishing deal adds to an author’s toolkit. Being hybrid does mean splitting focus between two parallel projects, which can become grueling, but for those authors looking to take their career to the next level, a hybrid authorship can be highly beneficial.