Hybrid Authors: The Best of Both Worlds

I’ve been exclusively published through a small press. I’ve been exclusively self-published. I’ve been exclusively traditionally published. But I’m about to go “hybrid” and I think it offers the best of both worlds, and, like me, many more are going the same route.

For those who don’t know what a hybrid author is…it’s one that releases books both through a publisher as well as self-publishing. Thanks to the success of the ebook revolution, self-publishing is now a viable option and savvy writers are learning to utilize all the tools in the box to maximize their careers. For the record, I don’t think it matters which way you come to hybrid. You can be….

  • A self-published author who catches the eye of a traditional press (like me)
  • A traditionally published author who sees the financial benefit of self-publishing (like Terry Goodkind)

In either case the results are the same.  You get:

  • Traditional: Credibility and the ability to penetrate multiple venues (bookstores, libraries, large retailers) 
  • Self: More money, greater flexibility, total control and the ability to offer an economically priced lead-in to your works

To me, the best possible way to go hybrid is to have a large publisher release the print books while the author keeps the ebook rights.  This is the holy grail, and unfortunately only a few have managed it (and all of those are at the top of the bestselling authors): Hugh Howey (author of Wool), Bella Andre, and Colleen Hoover (two are distributed through Simon & Schuster and one from Harlequin) . Brandon Sanderson has also done this, but he did his by utilizing smaller presses (Tachyon Publications and Subterranean).

Recently, Forbes did a survey of nearly 5,000 authors and of that group abut 700 of them were hybrids. This group made more money from book publishing than any other categoryof author (aspiring, self-published, and traditionally published). The report also noted that they had more success building their author platforms (via social media and blogging) and were more savvy in general about their views toward the publishing industry. The conclusion of the report was that they know how to make money publishing books, even without the help of a publishing company.

For most hybrid authors this means taking one or more of your titles and self-publishing it.  For those with their roots in traditional, this often means taking a back list title that has reverted and re-publishing it.  Or it could mean self-publishing a title that either wasn’t picked up by their publisher, or one that the publisher wanted to release but the two parties couldn’t agree on price. It pains me when I hear authors bemoan how they took a year (or more) to write a book and then shelved it.  It’s a new world now, guys and gals, a title in a drawer earns you nothing…get it out there and let the readers decide if it was worthy.

Many authors stuck in “purely traditional” cite the following as reason why they stay:

  1. They don’t have the upfront money required
  2. They want an advance
  3. They don’t want to do their own marketing
  4. They have no idea how to do covers, editing, or other book production tasks

Believe it or not, each of these can be addressed by following the examples of others.

#1 & #2 It seem to me, what is needed is some ‘start-up capital.’  Well luckily there is this thing called ‘crowd funding’ and organizations like Kickstarter and Indiegogo designed to help you with this.  And the good news…you already have an established fan base to tap, so it’s just a matter of getting the word out.  Here are some examples of some authors (even myself) who have funded projects:

#3: As for doing your own marketing. Most marketing that is done by publishers is to corporate book buyers, not readers. Yes they do send out ARC’s to bloggers, but if you are already traditionally published, then they already know who you are, so it’s just a matter of reaching out to them. If you are afraid it will take too much of your ‘writing time’ then hire a student with some of your Kickstarter money.

#4: Do you know that most traditional publishers use freelancers for cover design, copy editing, and book layout?  Guess what…these freelancers are just as happy to work for you as they are for people in big offices in New York. What’s more, you’ll get a cover exactly like you want.  If you’ve seen some other author’s cover and love it…it’s easy to find out who the cover artist was and look them up.

As for the self-published authors out there, consider taking one of your higher selling books and knock on some doors. Yes, you’ll receive lower per book sales, but hopefully you’ll get exposure to readers who would never consider reading a self-published book.  Plus you can put to rest all those people who say, “Well if their writing isn’t crap, why hasn’t some big publisher picked them up?”  I personally expected to lose $200,000 – $300,000 by switching my Riyria Revelations books to traditional.  As it turns out that didn’t happen, but that is due in large part to foreign language contracts and  a strong sales profile even a year out. Remember, it’s just one book (or series of books) and you can always write more.

Remember, diversification is a good thing. Publishing is in great flux at the moment and having some books on either side of the fence is a good strategy. Plus having the best of both worlds isn’t such a bad thing either. So no matter what you are “exclusively” in at the moment, consider making the switch to hybrid, I’m sure you’ll find it a good way to go.

Avatar of Michael J. Sullivan
Michael J. Sullivan

I’m a fulltime fantasy author whose debut series, The Riyria Revelations was published by Orbit as three volumes: Theft of Swords (Nov 2011), Rise of Empire (Dec 2011), Heir of Novron (Jan 2012). I have a new series, The Riyria Chronicles which will contain: The Crown Tower (Aug 2013) and The Rose and the Thorn (Sep 2013).

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar of Michael Webb
    March 20, 2013, 11:18 pm   / 

    An interesting read. I don’t have any publishing credits yet but I’m working on my first book. I doubt kickstarter would work for me yet, but I have thought that I’d try to find ways to promote my first ebook and get some sales, and maybe use crowdfunding to try to publish a paper version later after I’d gotten some exposure.

    It’s a strange new world in publishing. Things are changing so fast that I have no idea how things will look in awhile.

    • Avatar of Michael J. Sullivan
      March 24, 2013, 6:25 am   / 

      Yeah, kickstarter is best if you have a following already. But if you have a really compelling idea, and a means by telling others about it, then it is “possible” to make it work, but it will take a great deal of effort.

      As to things changing – you are so right – it opens up all kinds of opportunities.

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