*This is an excerpt from Elizabeth's latest book, Write the Damn Book Already: Tell Your Story, Share Your Message, Make Your Impact. Content may not be duplicated or redistributed without written permission from the author.
Hybrid publishing is a model whereby an author pays a publishing house to do the publishing legwork--including editing, cover design, interior formatting, and distribution channel setup--while retaining final say over the edits, title, cover design, interior layout, and retail price.
The cost to work with a hybrid publishing house is likely to fall somewhere between $1,500 and $50,000. I consider my publishing house, Finn-Phyllis Press, to be a hybrid publisher. Several of the bigger, more well-known traditional publishing houses offer a hybrid model: Hay House has Balboa Press, and Simon & Schuster has Archway Publishing.
Some publishing houses take no profit off sales, while others take 15 percent (or more). Some houses pay author royalties every month; others pay them every quarter. Some make it easier than others for authors to order books for events or promotion, but almost all of them upcharge when an author does so.
Some will claim that their services are “free” in exchange for 50 percent of sales, but also require that at least 2,000 (or more) copies are ordered within a certain period of time. If that doesn’t happen, the author is required to purchase that number of books (including the publisher’s markup) to ensure that the publisher profits from the arrangement.
However, the lynchpin is that the sales often have to come from the publisher’s website directly, not from another distributor such as Amazon. It’s not easy to get 2,000 people to purchase a book at full price (plus shipping) from a publisher when she can purchase it from Amazon and have it in two days (with no shipping and sometimes less expensively than retail price, as Amazon often plays with pricing to find the sweet spot where the most books are selling. When you make money, Amazon makes money!).
When you don’t meet your publishing contract’s sales quota and you’re on the hook to purchase a truckload of books (that you now have to store somewhere), the bill can be five figures. So in the end, their service wasn’t truly “free” after all.
Again, this isn’t to suggest that this model is “bad.” Some business owners are happy to invest in 2,000 copies of their book to sell at events or give away to media or use for other promotional activities. What’s important is simply that you understand exactly what you’re signing up for with each publishing model and know what questions to ask each publishing house so your expectations are set and you aren’t blindsided later on.
One of the reasons people work with a hybrid publishing house (beyond their experience and know-how when it comes to taking a book through the paces to publication) is to have that house’s imprint on the back cover (the imprint is the name of the publishing house, such as Simon & Schuster).
Having what feels like a “real” publishing house’s imprint on their book gives a lot of authors an initial sense of validation. However, it’s important to note that very few readers pay attention to who published the book, and even the Big Five houses have so many divisions these days that few people recognize any of those divisions as part of a “big house.”
A strong pro of the ethically operating hybrid publishers is the fact that they’re typically more selective about what they publish. They don’t accept any and every manuscript that comes across their desk. They are clear about the services they provide to authors while believing in the books they bring to market, and they value partnership with their authors. They do the heavy lifting to ensure that a book is produced professionally while allowing authors more control over time to market and creative assets (cover design, title and subtitle selection, and final edits).
They also typically do not proactively solicit authors, claiming to have discovered their book (or the book they are about to publish) and offering to publish it (for a fee).
If you receive an email or other correspondence from a publishing house soliciting your business, it’s a huge red flag, in my opinion.
When I began publishing other authors’ books through Finn-Phyllis Press, I put in place the business model that I would’ve loved to have available to me when I started publishing. We are all about authors being empowered to usher their books into the world as they see fit, not as we see fit.
We therefore don’t handcuff our authors to us for the long term. We upload an author’s book to his or her own KDP (Amazon) account, so when they want to order author copies at their author pricing, change the sales price of the book, or alter their book description, they can do so without having to contact us (and there is no upcharge when they order author copies for events, promotion, or to be stocked by indie bookstores).
We take no percent off the backend of sales, and because the books are loaded into the authors’ KDP account, their royalties are deposited directly into their bank account each month, not ours. Finally, we retain zero rights to our authors’ books. Should our authors ever want to sell the translation rights, audiobook rights, or film/TV rights, they can do so without us having to be in the middle (but we’re of course happy to help with the process if asked!).
The cons to hybrid publishing tend to show up only when an author doesn’t know what questions to ask and, therefore, makes incorrect assumptions about how the process with a particular hybrid publisher works when it comes to who controls the KDP account the book is loaded under, whether a percentage of sales is retained by the publisher, how often royalty payouts are made, and what kind of marketing support the author will receive.
To that end, there are 7 critical questions to ask a hybrid publisher before signing on the dotted line.
1. What is the process for ordering author copies, and is there an upcharge from the wholesale/printing price when I do? If so, what is that upcharge?
2. If the publisher offers website creation, is that a private website or simply a page on the publisher’s site?
3. Do I have to use an editor from the publishing house? If so, what is the process of editor selection/assignment?
4. What is the expected timeline from finished edits to published book available for purchase?
5. Where is the book uploaded for distribution?
6. Is the book loaded to the publishing house’s account on KDP (or other distribution channels) or the author’s?
7. If the book is listed under the publishing house’s distribution account, what is the process for changing the price of the book post-publication if desired for sales or promotions? Also, what is the process for changing the book description, categories it’s listed under, or keywords?
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