Encounters with “hybrid publishing”

When I was in the throes of writing my novel, I can’t say that I gave the question of its publication deep, analytic thought—although I can remember parroting the common line that it is difficult to get published.

The novel was completed early in 2018, and I steeled myself to enter the world of submissions and rejections, all the while remaining hopeful and believing in my book.

I was elated when I submitted my manuscript to a publishing company (one whose name most people interested in writing and publishing have heard) and a month or so later received a large envelope containing a contract. They found my work “an evocative and intriguing read.” However, it would need some editing. They appreciated my previous publishing history (many short stories, essays, and poems) but were “unable to ascertain the commercial success” of my work. Thus, they would offer me a contributory-based contract. In other words, I would have to pay a partial sum toward the costs involved in publishing and marketing my novel. Upon reading the contract, I found that I could choose among options the cost of which ranged from 2500 to 4300 British pounds. That is, I would have to pay THEM to publish my book.

It smelled of a scam. I was embarrassed. Were they offering to publish my book as a “vanity” project? I should have done more research on the company before sending my manuscript.

That was my first encounter with what I came to know as “hybrid publishing.”

According to an article by Brian A. Klems in the Readers’ Digest (“What is Hybrid Publishing? Here are 4 things all writers should know”, August 11, 2016), hybrid publishing “occupies the middle ground between traditional and self-publishing and therefore includes many different publishing models— basically anything that is not self-publishing or traditional publishing.” The author pays for a publishing package that might include editing, proofreading, cover design, marketing, and distribution.

As I understand it, the main difference between hybrid publishing and vanity publishing is that hybrid publishers are discriminating in what they accept, while vanity publishers are not. In other words, hybrid publishers are more concerned about the quality of the writing and might turn down a project, but vanity publishers will publish most things as long as the author pays.

My second encounter with hybrid publishing came after I copyrighted my novel and it appeared in the LC Copyright database. Within a few days, I was contacted by three publishers who were interested in considering my book for publication. I had not submitted my manuscript to them. Apparently, they monitor the copyright database for new entries. By that time, I was savvier. I ignored their sales pitches, determined to find a traditional publisher (concentrating on independent publishers who will accept agentless submissions) or to self-publish via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP, formerly Createspace) and possibly use a distributor like Smashwords or draft2digital.

Still, a third experience with hybrid publishing was not exactly an encounter. It was an awareness that developed out of curiosity about people involved in running an Ohio writers’ group. In researching their backgrounds, I found that they also administer a hybrid publishing company. I went to a presentation by one of the people on the different types of publishing. I should hasten to say that he seemed to do the presentation as a service to writers and not to market his company. (I assume that he probably mentioned it in his introduction, although I was about 10 minutes late and missed the intro.)

So, do I have conclusions to make about hybrid publishers? Some comments that I’ve seen online dismiss them as scams. I do not think all of them are scams, but I do think writers should evaluate a hybrid publisher carefully before taking that route. Given the difficulty in getting a book published in a competitive marketplace, it may be a good option for some people. I can also see the viewpoint of publishers. After all, there are costs and risks associated with publishing a book.

As for my novel, it remains unpublished, but I have learned a lot about the different options and have become more objective in my evaluation of publishers. I was offered a contract by a publisher (who stresses that authors do not pay for publishing with them). However, upon looking more closely at what they offer, I am not sure that they would market and distribute my book as I would like. I am inclined to decline. If I do not find an independent publisher, self-publishing remains an option. I like the idea of higher royalties and creative control, although I realize that self-publishing would require a great deal of effort on my part to market the book. I have learned that the problem is not so much that it is difficult to get published but that it is difficult to find a publishing deal that I really want.

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