Last Saturday I was assisting with a workshop on self-publishing run by Wrekin Writers, as part of the Wellington Festival, and the topic of Hybrid Authors was briefly discussed. So I thought I’d take the opportunity of posting my recent Writing Magazine feature where I chatted to two writers about being a hybrid author.
Traditionally-published or self-published? Simon Whaley chats to two writers with a foot in both camps.
A few years ago, a writer’s life was binary: either you sought a traditional publishing contract for your book, or you self-published it. Traditionally-published authors liked someone else picking up the costs of editing, proofreading, jacket design and production (in return for a reduced royalty rate), while independent authors were proud that they were in complete control of the whole process, despite having to finance it, in return for a higher royalty rate.
However, the business of writing is changing. No longer is it necessary to be one or the other. Some writers are choosing the hybrid route: having a mixture of traditionally-published and self-published projects. Why be pigeon-holed into one, or the other, when you can have your cake and eat it?
Leah Mercer (https://www.leahmercer.com/books), whose latest novel The Man I Thought You Were, published by Amazon imprint Lake Union Publishing, believes being a hybrid author offers many benefits. ‘Hybrid authors really have the best of both worlds,’ she explains. ‘By self-publishing, they have the freedom to publish what they want at a price they choose, and they can plug the gaps that often occur when publishing with major houses.’
This flexibility of production can really boost an author’s income, because it can take a long time for a traditional publisher to publish a book. Some of this is down to fitting your book into their existing publishing schedule. (Your book is one of tens, hundreds or thousands they are publishing each year.) It’s not uncommon for a book to be published some six to twelve months after the author has delivered the manuscript. Writers contracted to produce two or three books for a traditional publisher may find their deadlines for delivery of these manuscripts stretches over several years. This leaves them with plenty of time to work on other projects. Self-publishing your own material between these commissioned works keeps you busy, while also helping the business cashflow.
Hybridity can help you meet reader expectations. In some fiction genres, readers now anticipate a quicker release of new material. Retaining a loyal readership can be as much about giving them new content relatively quickly, as it is about engaging with them via social media between books.
Some caution is needed before you opt for the hybrid route, as Leah, who also writes romantic comedies under the name Talli Roland, explains. ‘You need to be careful that any contract you sign with a traditional publisher will still allow you to self-publish. It can sometimes be a little tricky managing timelines in terms of your own releases and those of your publisher, and you need to be careful that each book with your name on it has the same level of quality, both inside and out.’
There are several points to be considered here. Even if your traditionally-published contract does not prevent you from self-publishing, many frequently ask for first refusal on your next book. That’s not a commitment to publish; they merely want the opportunity to be the first to see it. But it can slow things down if you’d rather self-publish. Always seek professional guidance from a reputable contract vetting service (such as the Society of Authors, or similar writing organisation) if you plan to become a hybrid author.
And as Leah mentioned, readers of your traditionally-published material will expect the same level of production quality from your self-published efforts. This is why some publishers are wary of hybrid authors. Publishers invest a lot of time, effort and financial resources creating your author brand, so any poorly-produced self-published material could destroy and waste those efforts.
Complementary, Not Competing
Peter R Ellis, who blogs at www.ellifont.wordpress.com, writes in two genres. His science fiction and fantasy series is traditionally published by Elsewhen, and his Jasmine Frame crime novels are self-published. Peter’s traditional publisher was happy with his hybrid status. ‘Elsewhen knew almost from the start when I signed my contract for the trilogy, so it was never an issue.’
There’s another reason why publishers may be more relaxed about author hybridity, as Peter explains. ‘There are a lot of differences between my two series. They’re different genres and aimed at different age-ranges.’
This is important. His self-published material is not in direct competition with his traditionally-published science fiction and fantasy novels. There is no market overlap, and little chance of his self-published material affecting any of his traditionally-published work.
However, because the two genres are completely different it does have a downside. ‘The cons for me,’ says Peter, ‘is deciding which of my series to prioritise at a marketing opportunity – the self-published one or the independent publisher’s.’
Not only has Elsewhen traditionally-published his science fiction and fantasy series, they have also helped with self-publishing the Jasmine Frame crime novels, giving Peter the confidence that his self-published material is published to the same standard as his traditionally-published work. ‘In another guise, the people who run Elsewhen copyedited, typeset and prepared for publication my second and third Jasmine Frame novels ( and The Brides’ Club Murder).’
Some traditional-publishers embrace hybrid authors because they’re more clued-up on the business-side of selling books. Leah suggests that progressive traditional publishers appreciate how self-published authors can benefit their work too. ‘I think traditional publishers are much more amenable towards hybrid authors these days. They understand that each release by an author, whether self-published or not, can boost sales of their backlist. I feel that traditional publishers now are not as ‘threatened’ by self-publishers as they used to be. They recognise that many have valuable knowledge and skills to create and market a product that readers will buy, and they see hybrid authors as valuable business partners.’
In some respects, smaller, independent traditional-publishers have a lot more in common with self-published authors. As Peter says, ‘They have almost as big a struggle to sell books, as I do as a self-publisher.’
You may have no plans to go hybrid, but opportunities can arise when you least expect them. Until 2009 all of my book contracts had been with traditional publishers. However, my second book, One Hundred Muddy Paws For Thought, originally published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2004, fell out of print. The terms of my contract entitled me to ask for my rights back, so I did. With those back under my control, I was now free to do what I liked with my text. I opted to self-publish the book in print format. However, the rights revision also gave me an opportunity to exploit other rights, enabling me to self-publish it in eBook format, a format Hodder & Stoughton had not taken advantage of.
Ironically, this has helped both me and Hodder. I know from the relevant Amazon pages that people who bought my self-published Kindle version of One Hundred Muddy Paws For Thought have also bought the still—published-by-Hodder Kindle version of One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human. And vice versa.
My hybrid status means the Hodder-published first dog book is helping to sell my self-published second dog book, while my self-published second dog book continues to add sales to my first traditionally-published dog book.
I’ve since gone on to self-publish many other books, including a collection of articles that have previously appeared in this column. My The Business of Writing book also leads to sales of my other traditionally-published books for writers (The Positively Productive Writer and Photography for Writers.)
Being a hybrid author not only frees you to publish more material, but it can also re-invigorate backlist sales.
One Book, Hybrid Publication
While that’s all going on with different books, canny hybrid authors are now exploring new avenues. It’s possible to self-publish and traditionally-publish the same book project, by licensing subsidiary rights, in completely different markets.
This can become useful when dealing with different countries. While we might successfully self-publish and promote our books in our home country, a better way to explore foreign markets might be to sign a traditional publishing deal with a publisher based in that foreign market. If you control all of your rights to your work, this is a distinct possibility.
This means you can self-publish your work in print format in the UK and, as long as your self-published material is not available in North America (and platforms like Amazon allow you to pick which territories you’d like your self-published work to be available in), you could sell the North American print rights to a traditional US publisher. This is because you’re only be granting them the right to produce your book on the other side of the Atlantic in print format.
This doesn’t merely apply to print rights. Some authors now self-publish in eBook and print formats, but use traditional publishers for audio book and large-print production.
The world of the hybrid author is changing. No longer do we have to make a decision as to which one of two routes is best for us. The two routes are merging. Hybridity might be the answer to monetising more of your writing business.
Business Directory – Top Tips
Leah Mercer: ‘Make sure your contract allows you to self-publish, and that every book you release has the same level of quality. Readers don’t care who publishes you, but they do want an engaging, well-formatted story.’
Peter R Ellis: ‘Never self-publish books without asking for third-party advice. Although it adds to costs, the editing and design work ensures your book is as professionally published as possible.’
© Simon Whaley