Fifteen years ago, I entered the publishing industry as an unpublished author looking for a book contract and unaware of the pros and cons of hybrid publishing. I started going to writers conferences and discovered there was more interest in my skills as a marketer and a web designer than there was in my book.
I started doing web design for other authors, but I still wanted to get that book published. During that time, I encountered several companies that told me everything I wanted to hear.
- They thought my book was amazing!
- They would publish it for me and get it in all the stores!
One even offered me a contract. It was an expensive proposition, but my website business was taking off, and I had some extra money.
I nearly hired one of these companies to publish and print 5,000 copies of my book for $30,000.
I Dodged the Bullet
Fortunately, I reviewed my financials with my CPA dad before I signed the contract. We found some errors, and my website business wasn’t as profitable as I thought it was.
So, I put off signing the contract and kept building websites for authors.
As I spent more time in the industry, I started to hear troubling things about that publishing company. It turns out it was run by an evil cult (not joking!).
Even if it hadn’t been run by a cult, signing that contract would have been a massive mistake on several levels. It turned out I needed the money I had made. Spending $30,000 on a co-publishing contract would have put me out of business and probably knocked me out of the industry altogether.
It was a mistake for two reasons.
First, while I couldn’t see it at the time, the book’s quality was not good enough to print 5,000 copies. If I had printed that many, I would have lost a ton of money and been stuck with thousands of books no one wanted to buy.
What can I say? I was in my 20s and lacked perspective.
Print on Demand vs. Hybrid Publishing
While Print on Demand (POD) publishing was new back then, it did exist and would have been a much better option. POD would have made the inevitable failure less expensive and would have been cheaper per book than signing the contract with that hybrid publisher.
But I had not yet learned the 9th Commandment of Book Marketing. “Thou shalt not publish thine first book first.”
Secondly, hybrid publishing (sometimes called co-publishing) is not a good model for most self-publishing authors, especially cash-poor 20-somethings. It is a trap I nearly fell into and one I hope to save you from.
However, hybrid publishing can make sense for some authors some of the time.
Hybrid Publishing vs. Hybrid Authors
Before we outline the dangers of hybrid publishing, let’s clarify the difference between being a hybrid author and working with a hybrid publisher.
What is a hybrid author?
A hybrid author is both traditionally published and independently published. Being a hybrid author is great. When done well, it can provide the best benefits from both indie and traditional publishing.
What is a hybrid publisher?
A hybrid publisher, on the other hand, is a publishing company who you pay to publish your book. You pay them to create the book, and then split the revenue with them after your book is published. Hybrid publishers make money no matter whether your book succeeds or fails. For comparison, traditional publishers only make money if your book succeeds in the market.
Most hybrid publishers are secretly owned by Author Solutions.
Paying a hybrid publisher to publish your book can become a worst-of-both-worlds situation. You bear the burden of paying all the expenses, but you have no control over the expenses and no access to the marketing data needed to make your book a commercial success.
Instead of giving you what you need to make your book succeed, hybrid publishers try to sell you marketing packages that don’t work.
The Pros of Hybrid Publishing
Before I trash hybrid publishing too much, I should tell you there are a couple of advantages.
# 1 Hybrid Publishing Doesn’t Require You to Get a Publishing Education
The biggest pro of paying a hybrid publisher is that you don’t have to learn about publishing, and as they say, “Ignorance is bliss.” You don’t need to learn about ISBNs or how to obtain one. You don’t need to know about typesetting or what POD stands for.
But being ignorant of the industry is also a con. Education is the key to success in publishing, as with most of life. Ignorance is rarely an asset, and it makes you vulnerable to predatory scammers. Forgoing education also means you make your own mistakes rather than learning from the mistakes of others.
However, not everyone is seeking commercial success for their book. Some writers simply want to leave a written history or memoir for their families.
You also don’t need to be educated about everything. We pay doctors to diagnose and treat illnesses so we don’t have the hassle and expense of getting a medical education.
#2 Hybrid Publishing is Easier
The second advantage of hybrid publishing is that it is easier. Hybrid publishers provide the typesetters, cover designers, and editors involved in creating your book. You don’t have the hassle of choosing an editor who is a good fit for your book or a cover designer who gets your story.
A hybrid publisher will match you with editors, typesetters, and designers. Hybrid publishing is “easier” in the same way that an arranged marriage is easier. You get to outsource the hard decisions and control.
The Cons of Hybrid Publishing
#1 It’s Expensive
The biggest and most obvious con of hybrid publishing is that it is expensive. Hybrid publishers turn a profit with every service they sell you. When you add on a marketing package or buy a Kirkus review, the cash register in the salesperson’s head sings “cha-ching!” To put it another way, you could buy those same services directly for far less money.
For example, you can buy a Kirkus review of your indie book from Kirkus for $575.
Or you could buy “Kirkus Premium” through Author House for $5,999. They moved the decimal on the cost without adding any more value. Kirkus reviews are barely worth it at $575, and there is absolutely no way they are worth $5,999.
Hybrid publishers use the same overpricing strategy when they assemble the team to create your book.
Hybrid publishers add a premium to the editor’s fee. An editor may charge $1,500 to edit your book, but the hybrid publisher may charge you $5,000 for an edit that only costs them $1500.
If you worked with your editor directly, you could save several thousand dollars or hire a much better editor for that same $5,000.
Most editors who charge $5,000 are worth every penny. You could also work with a $1,500 editor and use your leftover money for marketing. The same holds true for your cover designer and typesetter.
Hybrid publishers triple the cost of the professionals who work on your book, but most indie authors hire these professionals directly.
#2 No Marketing Data
The key to effective marketing is measurement. You’ll only know what works if you have access to the numbers. Real indie authors have a KDP sales dashboard that shows actual book sales in real-time.
As one Xlibris author explained, “I was never allowed to see how many books sold on Amazon. There was absolutely no transparency whatsoever.” This author thought Xlibis was ripping her off, but it is just as likely that her book wasn’t selling because her marketing wasn’t working. After all, she had no marketing data to determine what worked.
Traditionally published authors can accept this lack of visibility because their traditional publisher’s marketing team sees the data and uses it to make marketing decisions.
If you are with a hybrid publisher, no one is looking at the data! This is like driving a car with your eyes closed. A crash is inevitable.
While I am on this subject, this is my biggest critique of traditional publishers, especially small presses. Many don’t provide authors access to a sales dashboard that would inform their marketing strategies. The technology exists for them to do this, but they choose not to offer it.
#3 Poor Margins
To acquire readers, you must spend money. Advertising, promotion, and marketing all cost time and money. Each copy you sell must bring in enough money to buy the reader of the next copy.
In business, we call this the cost of customer acquisition. In publishing, we call it the cost of reader acquisition.
To afford new readers, you need good margins on your book. A traditionally published author may only make $0.80 per copy, but that’s ok because the publisher is paying to acquire the readers.
But if you are an indie author who is only making $0.80 per copy sold, you won’t be able to afford marketing, and you’ll be doomed to obscurity.
Some authors who pay hybrid publishers must raise their prices to improve their margins. Sometimes a paperback is priced at $30.00. The hybrid publisher takes such a large cut on each copy sold that the author must raise the price to be profitable. And remember, the author put up all the money to publish the book in the first place!
Real indie authors make $3.00-$7.00 per copy sold. With margins like that, you can maintain ongoing advertising campaigns and make a steady income.
#4 Poor Quality
I recently shared some examples of books with poor pitches. Do you know how I found published books with poor pitches? I went to iUniverse.com (a company owned by Author Solutions) and looked up their most recently published books. I found more than enough examples on the first page.
Since hybrid publishers make most of their money from the author, they do not focus on quality. The less they pay their people, the more money they make. iUniverse reportedly hires mostly non-native speakers for most of their book production and editing.
An effective copywriter or editor must be fluent in the language they’re working in, not merely proficient.
#5 Deceptive Marketing
Hybrid publishers like Westbow Press appear to be an arm of a traditional publishing house like Thomas Nelson or Zondervan. But Westbow is actually part of Author Solutions, the most notorious hybrid publisher still in business.
Westbow Press is the worst possible hybrid publisher because it has all the problems of Xlibris or Author House, but it charges an even higher price! While Westbow is not actually part of Thomas Nelson, they do pay Thomas Nelson a commission for sending them customers, and that commission comes out of the author’s pocket.
#6 Pushy Salespeople
Hybrid publishers hire armies of salespeople who use a combination of flattery and pressure to push people into spending massive amounts of money to make their publishing dreams come true. Their website may say it costs $4,000 to publish your book, but somehow the proposal ends up costing you all the money you can afford.
As I was researching for this episode, I reread emails I received from the hybrid publisher I almost signed with. The salesman’s pushiness was my first red flag. He gave me a fake deadline on the contract. I remember thinking, “I don’t do that when I sell websites. Why are they doing it to sell publishing.”
Sadly, none of their flattery about your writing is sincere. Ask the salesman about any detail in your book, and it will become quickly apparent that he didn’t read it.
Who should use a hybrid publisher?
You may think I am 100% against hybrid publishing with all those cons, but I’m not. (I’m 100% against Author Solutions.) There are major pros of hybrid publishing for certain people.
I’ve been in this industry long enough to discover that some people are a good fit for legitimate hybrid publishers.
#1 Wealthy Memoirists Who Plan to Write Only One Book
Some people simply want to write a memoir to leave to their grandchildren, and they are wealthy enough to hire a legitimate hybrid publisher. They want to be published, but they don’t plan to write a second book, and they don’t want to learn about the publishing industry.
For these folks, a hybrid publisher provides exactly what they want. The author ends up with a book that only costs them one trip to Paris.
Another example would be someone who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Their time and energy are limited, but they want to publish a book before they die. If they can afford a legitimate hybrid publisher, they can preserve their precious time and energy and let the hybrid publisher do the work. It may be their only option.
#2 Professional Speakers Who Plan to Write Only One Book
If you do a lot of public speaking but don’t have a book to sell at the back of the room, you are leaving money on the table.
If you make $20,000 per speaking engagement, you can pay a hybrid publisher to create a book you can sell in the back of the room after you speak. It may cost you $20,000, but your margins on back-of-the-room sales are so good that you won’t mind the hybrid publisher skimming their share off each sale.
Most professional speakers plan to write multiple books, so they educate themselves about indie publishing and save a lot of money. But for speakers who only plan to write one book, hybrid publishing can make sense.
#3 Busy CEOs
If your company spends millions of dollars on advertising, a book about your CEO can be a valuable marketing asset for your company. Your salespeople can hand it to potential clients, and customers can buy it in the checkout line in your stores. Hybrid publishers like Scribe Media cater to that type of author. They charge $100,000 to publish the book, but for certain CEOs and high-net-worth individuals, $100,000 can be a profitable investment.
Hybrid Publishers I’ve Heard Good Things About
To clarify, I am not endorsing any of these hybrid publishers. I haven’t worked with any of them, but I have heard good things about them.
If you’ve had good or bad experiences with these or any other hybrid publishers, feel free to let us know in the comments of this post or at authormedia.social.
What to Do Instead of Hybrid Publishing
Most authors don’t fit into the above categories. Authors who listen to the Novel Marketing Podcast want a publishing education. You probably want to write multiple books, so what should you do instead of paying a hybrid publisher?
#1 Invest in Your Education
Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a hybrid publisher, invest in yourself.
- Read Books About Indie Publishing (Affiliate Link)
- Take Courses on Book Marketing
- Attend Writers Conferences
- Subscribe to the Novel Marketing Podcast!
Hybrid publishers want you to believe that independent publishing is insurmountably difficult, but that is not true. Millions of writers have figured out how to publish independently without the help of a hybrid publisher.
The answers to your indie publishing questions can almost always be found with a Google search. Type “How do I get an ISBN number?” into Google, and you will find several helpful articles to walk you through the process. You’ll learn that buying an ISBN number takes 15 minutes and $125. Now that you know, you do not need to buy a “$1500 ISBN package” from a hybrid publisher.
#2 Connect with Other Authors
People who get sucked in by Author Solutions imprints don’t typically belong to a community of authors. Author Solutions has a terrible reputation, and the author community knows it. Authors are constantly saving each other from what we call “vanity publishers” like Author Solutions.
When I was almost scammed years ago, my community of authors told me the truth and saved me from that hybrid publisher who almost bamboozled me!
If you don’t have a community of author friends, I have great news for you. We have a free online community of authors at www.AuthorMedia.social, where you can ask questions and get answers from some of the kindest and most knowledgeable authors on the internet.
Many authors in the AuthorMedia.social community are students in one of my courses, but it is also currently open to the public. I may charge for AuthorMedia.social in the future, but it will always be free for people who join the community before we move to a paid platform.
#3 Hire Professionals Directly
When you hire a professional directly, you typically get higher-caliber work than you get from a hybrid publisher. With hiring decisions in your control, you can shop around to find an editor or designer who is the right fit for your specific book.
For example, my brother’s book, Pilgrim’s Progress Reloaded, needed a Christian sci-fi cover design. The best designer for that micro-genre is Kirk DouPonce. He designs most of the covers for Enclave Publishing, and I interviewed him on the podcast.
My brother hired him directly to design the cover for Pilgrim Progress Reloaded. There was no charge for a middleman, and Kirk did an amazing job. Hiring the best designer in the world for a micro-genre was cheaper than buying a cover design from a random designer through a hybrid publisher.
Many professional editors and designers hired by large publishers can also be hired by indie authors. You can probably hire the editor of your favorite book to edit your book. It might cost less than what you would have paid a hybrid publisher.
To find out who edited your favorite book, check the acknowledgments section, and then Google the name of the person you want to work with. If the book doesn’t list the name, just ask around in the author community. It’s a small industry, and you probably won’t have much trouble finding the answer.
We have a Job Board on AuthorMedia.social where you can find professionals to work with. You can post a job listing or offer your services, and neither posting will cost you a dime. I love seeing authors connect and help one another through the Job Board.
The Rest of My Hybrid Publishing Story
Three years after I passed on that hybrid publishing contract, I wrote another book.
I followed the advice I give on this podcast. My second book started as a series of blog posts with over a million page views. Then, I put the book on Kickstarter and raised $11,000 in preorders from my blog readers. The Kickstarter presales paid for the editing, cover, audiobook, printing, marketing, and promotion.
I published the book with my own LLC directly on Amazon and joined the ranks of indie authors.
I had my own KDP dashboard, and I hired my team directly. My book was profitable from day one. Since I had done my research, educated myself, and tested my ideas with my target readers, my book produced the change I wanted to see in the world. Some of my biggest critics read it, and one of them changed his view on the topic.
Indie publishing is easier than you might think. I have dozens of free episodes and blog posts at NovelMarketing.com that will teach you how and point you to resources that will save you money.
You don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars paying someone else to self-publish for you.
Where to Get Help Indie Publishing Your Book
If I just saved you thousands of dollars, would you consider becoming a Patron? Patrons who support this show on Patreon keep these free episodes coming every week. Plus, I host a live Q&A with patrons every month, where I answer all kinds of publishing questions.
Many patrons use the patrons-only Q&A to lead them through the indie publishing process from start to finish.
You can become a patron for as little as $4.00 per month.
If you can’t afford to become a patron but still want to help the show, you can! Share this episode with one writer you think might be tempted to pay a hybrid publisher.
We had a lot of new patrons join last month.
New June Patrons:
- Claire Cain
- Carol Graft
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