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Book Reviews, Publishing, The Writer's Life

Is Hybrid Just Another Name for Self-Publishing?

The publishing industry today could be described not so much as a landscape, but as an earthquake in process, as companies and writers continue to scramble to find solid ground[1]. The latest craze? The “hybrid” or “collaborative” publisher.

Unlike vanity presses and self-publishing companies before them, they are not just book mills that print any manuscript that comes in. Their submission processes require queries and samples, and it appears from their book lists they publish only titles they believe have literary merit and marketability.

But they are similar to self-publishing companies in that they charge for every service associated with publishing a book, from editing to cover design to publicity, and their agreements restrict authors from using outside sources for those jobs.

They are remarkably up front about their process and costs. One such hybrid I checked out recently calls the writer/publisher agreement a shared investment, with each side putting up a substantial amount. They boldly tell authors (on the home page, no less) that the amount averages $8,000. They do not, however, note whether the company’s half of the contribution is in cash or in-kind services. Do they spend $800 to pay an editor, or do they edit the book themselves and say that service was worth $800? (An in kind contribution, as any businessperson knows, can be assigned any value[2]).

Apart from the more restrictive acceptance rates, I don’t see how this business model differs from not-so-good, old-fashioned vanity presses.

But then, I see even “traditional” book industry pros employing some of the same practices. I know several authors whose works were accepted by agents, who were then told they had to work with an outside editor to improve the ms, and then had to pay, yes, thousands of dollars for the privilege.

Correct me if I’m wrong[3], but agents and publishers are supposed to provide those services for FREE, and recoup the expense on the revenues they make from successful books, not place yet another financial burden on the backs of writers.[4]

For the record, The Los Angeles Review, where I’m the Book Review Editor, has determined they are still self-publishing ventures, since writers must pay to have their works published. Such publishers and their authors seeking book reviews must query and provide brief excerpts through Submittable before we will consider them.


Oh, and apologies to David Foster Wallace[5]

[1] Yes, I know, a simile run amok.

[2] Also known in the business world as bullshit.

[3] I’m not. Trust me.

[4] Writers, who, by the way, often cannot bear that cost because they have put their art ahead of blind adherence to financial gain, and therefore work part-time or in low-paying jobs so as to be able to focus on their writing.

[5] …for all these footnotes. RIP, bro.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


5 thoughts on “Is Hybrid Just Another Name for Self-Publishing?

  1. Good points, especially regarding the in-kind services. As a former acquisitions editor for a tiny (extremely tiny) small press, I always assured anyone I worked with that although there wouldn’t be much of it, the flow of money would always go from the press to the writer and never vice versa. Of course, the press saw only minimal profits (befitting its 401(c) nonprofit status!) and scraped by with whatever publicity it could get (mainly reviews from kind bloggers), but at the end of the day, everyone walked away from the deal satisfied — artistically, if not financially.

    Posted by Marc Schuster | March 31, 2012, 1:22 PM
    • Artistic satisfaction–what a concept! Sure, we’d all like to make money doing what we love, but I see a lot of writers and “publishers” who approach art looking for the dollars first, creativity a distant second.

      Posted by jpon | April 1, 2012, 10:41 AM
  2. I’m very new to all this, which is why I’ll be gunning for an agent with this latest work. But I’ve published a couple of novels through a small e-publisher, and other than a free round of copy edits (with an editor who kept insisting on using ‘passed’ when I’d written the preposition ‘past’), I’m not sure what I got out of it. For me, the main services a publisher can provide are a) publicity b) a beautiful product and c) editorial services.

    I’m not familiar with the hybrid concept, but I do know that I would self-publish rather than give up control of my work without a substantial reward for doing so. After all, I can hire an independent editor, or trade edits with a writer-friend. I can design my own cover. The thing I can’t do is put dollars behind it for marketing–I can’t put it front-and-center at B&N. Or even back-and-left.

    It’s a strange time to be entering this business. It seems to me that publishing is shaking down to smaller and smaller pieces. We’re all going to end up self-publishing, and some clever young thing will create the next cyber-platform for organizing the chaos.

    Posted by Averil Dean | March 31, 2012, 1:56 PM
    • I think your take on publishing is dead on. The way the industry is changing, any writer can now accomplish almost anything that used to be exclusively a publisher’s domain. So an author’s first question to a publisher should be, “How will you market this book?” And if the answer isn’t satisfactory, look elsewhere.

      Ultimately, I believe as you do, that all books will be self-published. The traditional publishers will no longer take chances on talented newcomers, but will scan the Amazon sales reports, and offer book deals to writers who have a track record of sales. It’s why I support independent publishers, who still believe in talent over mass appeal. You won’t see any reviews of books released by the behemoths in the LA Review.

      Posted by jpon | April 1, 2012, 10:57 AM
  3. Thanks for this. Yes, this analysis looks spot on.

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | April 2, 2012, 5:56 AM

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