If you’ve spent much time on this blog or researching your publishing options, you probably have a fairly substantial definition in mind for the terms “self-publishing” and “traditional publishing,” but can you say the same for “hybrid publishing“?  We use the term rather often here on Self Publishing Advisor as a catch-all for every company and business model that doesn’t fit neatly into the aforementioned binary––but what does it mean, really?  It’s not enough to define a thing by what it is not … we need some basis for a positive, holistic understanding of what hybrid publishing has to offer the indie author.

What qualifies as “hybrid”?

Biologically speaking, a hybrid is “the offspring of two plants or animals of different species or varieties, such as a mule (a hybrid of a donkey and a horse).” Most of us are familiar with a different kind of hybrid, which is to say the mythological kind, where different species find themselves mashed up into one single creature on a physical but not cellular level.  A centaur is a mythological hybrid between man and horse, the Sphinx between a woman, lion, and raptor.  Is a hybrid publishing company, then, the offspring of two warring traditions (self- and traditional publishing)––or is it some oddball thing that adopts the best or most distinctive features of other publishing traditions to serve an entirely different narrative?

Says Jane Friedman of Publisher’s Weekly, it has become “nearly impossible to categorize certain publishers and services; some wish to avoid being labeled altogether. They consider themselves innovators, providing an important alternative for authors.”  These companies self-advertise as providing a third way altogether, not just cutting the difference between the two established publishing modes.  This reality would seem to indicate that hybrid publishing shares more with a centaur than it does with a mule, but perhaps we’re splitting hairs.

Perhaps, when it all shakes out, we can safely define hybrid publishing on its own terms.  Brook Warner of Huff Post Books suggests  four categories that fit the catchall term:

Traditional publishers who’ve been brokering hybrid deals for years. […]

Partnership publishing models. […]

Agent-assisted publishing models. [… and]

Other assisted publishing models.

All four of these categories acknowledge “assistance” as a defining feature, but here’s the problem: assuming that self-publishing and traditional publishing don’t  offer assistance as a part of their mechanism creates a false dichotomy that does nobody justice, and many companies that Warner might call “hybrid” do in fact distance themselves intentionally from the term because it implies too heavy a reliance on paid assistance––or authors “taking the easy way out,” so to speak.  This just in: elitism may be the bread and butter of gatekeeping traditional publishing, but it doesn’t have to be the same for self-publishing!

This still leaves us with a problem, however: How to define hybrid publishing?  Let me suggest a new definition:

Hybrid publishing is any publishing model that allows authors to enter into direct, flexible, contractual collaborations with industry professionals that in traditional publishing would be indirect (they would be paid by the publishing house, not the author) and are not traditionally available to self-publishing authors.  This includes companies like Outskirts Press, which offers a range of collaborative services, and excludes the so-called “hybrid author,” or someone who has moved from traditional publishing into self-publishing or vice versa.

Playing the field:

As Friedman goes on to point out, each of the companies that might fit into the hybrid category operates on a different business model, making it difficult to compare them against each other.  She advocates asking a series of questions, such as “How will your books be distributed?” and “What marketing and promotion support do their titles receive?” before committing to a certain choice.  But this doesn’t exactly help new authors decide whether hybrid publishing and a “third way” is for them––and with so many options now available, narrowing the field is an important part of the decision-making process. Ultimately, the choice of whom to choose may rest on individual features such as those Friedman suggests evaluating … or it may rest instead on the complicated matrix of human need.  Hybrid publishing companies, despite their extreme differences, do seem to collectively meet authors’ desires for a human-driven, relational publishing experience.

In conclusion … for now:

The world of hybrid publishing is perhaps a bit too complicated to break down in its entirety within the constraints of an initial foray such as this one, but it is a world we will be returning to again and again here on Self-Publishing Advisor.  As the world of publishing evolves and diversifies, so too must the companies who serve to send our stories out into that world.

Thank you for reading!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings from one indie, hybrid, and self-published author to another. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

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