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How to Evaluate the Best Hybrid Publishers—Criteria, Red Flags, Options

Hoca

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Anyone can call themselves a hybrid publisher, and here’s the short list of requirements. Really, there’s just one:

  • Buy ISBNs. Cost: $295 for 10 or $525 for 100.

Although the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) has set forth some criteria for hybrid publishers, it’s nonbinding and they do not vet the individuals that apply. All someone must do is agree to the criteria and pay a $220 membership fee.

There is no governing body that regulates whether you can call yourself a hybrid publisher. In fact, as of January 1, 2024, the IBPA hybrid publisher membership count was 430 companies, 31% of which have published five or fewer books. Seventeen “hybrid publishers” have not published a single book—zero.

The publishing industry is filled with nonstandardized and vague terminology that attempts to describe everything from types of publishers to types of books (is it “paperback” or “softback”?). Hybrid publishing seems to have evolved into a marketing term that anyone can use to start a publishing business.

Other publishing-path options you may have heard about are subsidy publishing, vanity publishing, author-assisted publishing, assisted self-publishing, traditional publishing, partnership publishing, co-publishing, indie publishing—and the list goes on.

One fairly well understood term, however, is author-services companies. Author-services companies, like hybrid publishers, manage the entire publishing process on behalf of the author.

Both charge the author a fee, but the hybrid publisher also keeps a share of your royalties. With author services companies, you keep 100% of your royalties.

To help you better understand what to look for in a hybrid publisher, we’re going to focus on:

  • The four most important criteria for evaluating a hybrid publisher
  • Seven hybrid publishers with traditional publisher capabilities
  • Four red flags to watch for
  • Ten evaluation criteria—questions to ask a potential hybrid publisher
  • Alternatives to hybrid publishing

Disclaimer: AuthorImprints provides author services like hybrid publishers do, except authors retain 100% ownership and control of their book, accounts, and royalties. However, we believe that hybrid publishing is worth considering in certain circumstances—most often when a book can benefit from proactive distribution support backed by an established imprint name, and managed by experienced professionals—and have referred authors to several of the hybrid publishers mentioned in this article.

Furthermore, we are not the only company that helps authors retain ownership and control of their book in this manner. An equally reputable competitor of AuthorImprints is Girl Friday Productions, the parent company of Girl Friday Books, linked in the list below. Do your homework and choose a service that is right for you, your book, and your budget.

The 4 most important criteria for evaluating a hybrid publisher​


The ultimate test for any publisher is this: did the book sell? Lots of things must go right to make that happen. A competitive cover, engaging writing, effective marketing. These are hard things to quantify. Plus, you would need to find all the books a publisher publishes and study the success of each, in order to complete that test.

In the alternative, our four criteria for evaluating hybrid publishers offer another way to focus on predictors of potential success.

1. Experience. Who is the founder or leader of the hybrid publisher, and what publishing experience do they have? Have they worked as an editor or publisher for a larger publisher? That means they have connections. It also means they have developed some level of judgment about what books sell, and how best to market them.

Google the names of the founders in the list below, or look them up on LinkedIn. You’ll find that they also surround themselves with similarly qualified individuals.

2. Distribution. Literally anyone can make their book available for bookstores or libraries to order, or sell a book on Amazon. You do not need a hybrid publisher for that. But how do you get bookstores, gift stores, schools, and/or libraries to place orders?

You need to actively reach out to those decision makers.

This can include using salespeople, catalogs, and mailers, and attending tradeshows and events—proactive outreach to these “trade buyers.” In publishing, this activity is called distribution.

The best hybrid publishers, noted in the table below, have relationships with book distributors such as Simon & Schuster, Publishers Group West (PGW), and Two Rivers, or they have their own sales and distribution team.

3. Reputation. Reputation is earned and built, over time, by consistently doing what you say you will do. The best hybrid publishers focus on types or categories of books. They know this is how you improve marketing and the potential for sales success.

Hybrid publishers don’t all begin with distribution agreements with Simon & Schuster, for example. They use their experience and reputation for success to convince distributors that they will be good partners.

Being selective in the books they publish is one way to improve their odds of success. Greenleaf Book Group says they reject 90% of the submissions they receive.

It makes sense that they want only those books that have sales potential, because not only are you paying a fee, but the hybrid publisher also receives a portion of the sales commission/royalty.

4. Book presentation. We’re referring to more than the book’s cover. At a minimum, a professionally presented book has these four characteristics:

  • A book cover that is comparable in quality and style to the bestselling books in its category.
  • A professional and pleasing interior design. Look up a hybrid publisher’s book on Amazon and use the Look Inside the Book feature to examine a paperback or hardcover edition. Does the inside look like other bestsellers? Does it look like a traditionally published book on your bookshelf?
  • After using Amazon’s Look Inside the Book feature, compare the rest of the information on this page—Amazon calls it the product detail page—to product detail pages for bestsellers.
    • Is the book description formatted and easy to read?
    • Does it look edited—free of spelling and punctuation errors?
    • Does it have A+ Content (promotional graphics) under the heading From the Publisher?
    • Is it available in print and eBook, and does the listing information for the formats match?
    • Are editorial reviews present and formatted nicely?
  • Anyone can sell a book on Amazon, but is it available from other online retailers? Visit Bookshop.org, BN.com, and BooksaMillion.com. While appearance in these stores isn’t a definitive test of broad distribution, it’s the next best thing.

The best hybrid publishers meet the above criteria​


Here are seven hybrid publishers that are frequently mentioned in news articles, reviews, and industry publications.



How to use this list​

  1. Read the founder’s/CEO’s bio.
  2. Study the firm’s book distribution, who they partner with.
  3. Google the name of the firm and the founder/leaders.
  4. Compare the firm’s books to similar books from traditional publishers.
Key takeaway: compare these hybrid publishers with other hybrid publishers you come across.

Red flags to watch for​


There are hundreds of hybrid publishers to choose from, if one is convinced this publishing path is right for them. So, besides the four key criteria—founder experience, distribution, reputation, and book presentation—what are some red flags to watch for when evaluating a hybrid publisher?

Unclear or suspicious fees​


Be wary of publishers that charge high upfront costs without providing a clear breakdown of services. These fees may cover everything from editorial and production services to sales and marketing initiatives. However, if the publisher is not transparent about these costs, you may end up paying for services you do not need or that are not delivered to a satisfactory standard.

“Packages” of services are easy to sell, but rarely do they serve the interests of the author and their book. Buy only what you need.

Unethical/unfair contracts​


Always read any publishing contract thoroughly before signing. Be on the lookout for contracts that trap authors into signing away the copyright to their works indefinitely, require authors to buy a minimum number of books, or offer low royalties.

If possible, request ownership of the publishing files—not just the PDFs. You paid to have these produced, so why shouldn’t you own them?

False promises​


Be wary of publishers that make grand claims about your book’s potential success. Or imply that they are highly selective. Remember, no publisher can guarantee a bestseller. Similarly, promises about extensive distribution networks and major bookstore availability should be taken with a grain of salt.

Another common tactic is bait and switch. A publisher may say they will consider your book for traditional publishing (no fees charged), and later decline and offer a hybrid publishing arrangement.

Unsolicited or aggressive sales tactics​


If a hybrid publisher—really, any publisher—approaches you out of the blue expressing interest in your book, be cautious. Reputable publishers rarely, if ever, solicit authors in this way. Such approaches often signal a business looking to make a quick profit by preying on an author’s understandable desire for others to like their book.

It’s even more concerning if one of these firms continues to hound you to sign a contract.

Evaluating a hybrid publisher-Red flags to watch for-the Authors Guild

Evaluating a hybrid publisher: 10 key questions to ask​


Before you decide to work with a hybrid publisher, arm yourself with the right questions. Here are some essential queries to make:

  1. What services are included in the fees? Ensure you’re clear on what you're getting for your money. This could include editing, cover design, formatting, distribution, and marketing services.
  2. Who owns the rights to your book? Some hybrids may ask for rights to your paper, eBook, and possible audiobook for several years. Others may allow you to keep all your rights. Understand the implications of both scenarios before making a decision.
  3. What’s the financial arrangement? Understand the royalties the publisher takes and how often they pay you. Also, inquire if you need to buy a minimum number of books.
  4. Does the contract specify a right to audit? The Authors Guild’s model trade-book contract states,
“Author, or Author’s representative, has the right, upon reasonable notice to Publisher and during regular business hours, to examine Publisher’s books and records relating to sales of the Work” for the purpose of verifying royalties.
  1. Where will your book be available? Your work should be available on major platforms such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Bookshop.org, and available for bookshops and libraries to order from Ingram.
  2. What versions are included? Are audiobooks and versions such as hardback and large print included in the price you’re paying? Understand the cost implications of various formats.
  3. What about book marketing? Ask about the marketing services offered and whether these services are optional or included in the package.
  4. What is the process for ordering author copies, and is there an upcharge from the wholesale price when you do?
  5. Do you have to use an editor from the publishing house? If so, what is the process of editor selection/assignment and do they mark-up this fee?
  6. What is the expected timeline from finished edits to a published book available for purchase?

Considerations if you are planning more than one book​


Authors planning a series, or several books, will generally want more control over their book’s distribution, listing information, and creative design.

For example, when it comes to marketing, the ability to change prices, put books on sale, and revise covers can be critical. And what happens if you want to update the book, address errors or changes, or update the first book with information about subsequent books?

How easy is it to accomplish these things?

  • Are there change fees (for example, fees to change the listing information, the price, or the cover, or to add an award or blurb to the cover)?
  • Will a second book cost as much as the first?
  • How long does it take to make those changes?

In today’s digital publishing world, books are no longer static, or set and forget. You can adjust them post-publication. And if you have your own publishing accounts, changes may be fast and free to make.

Alternatives to hybrid publishing​


No single publishing path is right for all authors. In fact, some well-known traditionally published authors self-publish, and when they do, they are called hybrid authors. Examples include Colleen Hoover, Andy Weir, and Sara Rosett.

When they pay their own money to publish, they buy their own ISBNs, which means they own and control their books and publishing accounts.

As noted at the outset, remember that some businesses use the term hybrid publishing as a marketing tool.

Otherwise, for the same investment required by a hybrid publisher an author-services firm can manage the entire process while you retain control of all your rights and options. There is no need for lawyers or accountants to create an imprint, and you’ll keep 100% of the royalties.

For more pros and cons, and advantages and disadvantages of hybrid publishing, check out these articles:​

 
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