The publishing industry has gone through big changes in the last few years — and perhaps the biggest change has been the emergence of a new model of authorship.
What is a hybrid author?
A hybrid author is a writer who is published both traditionally and independently. Some of their work (books, articles, poetry, screen or stage works, critique) is released through traditional means, and some is self-published.
You’re allowed to do that?
Yes. It’s 2018 — people (even literary awards) are starting to realise that self-published books have legitimacy, and writers are starting to realise that they may need to diversify if they want to sustain a professional career. The publishing industry is in a state of flux as Amazon alters the literary landscape, and as movements like #WeNeedDiverseBooks and industry surveys like the Romance Diversity Report interrogate who gets published and why.
But authors should watch out for non-compete clauses in their contracts with traditional publishers, to ensure that they have control over the worlds and characters they want to self-publish.
Are publishers okay with the hybrid model? Does it disadvantage an author to have a foot in both camps?
Most publishers are aware that an author needs to earn money from their published work, and that if you’re an already-signed emerging or midlist author, you may need to expand your range of options to keep writing. Hybrid authors are actively raising their profiles with each new book released and extending their audience with click-through links to buy their other works, so trade publishers should see this as win-win scenario.
Indie authors can learn a lot from working with traditional publishing editors and teams. There have been cases where self-published authors with a proven track record have gone on to get deals with traditional publishers, but indie authors querying trade publishers are encouraged to be honest about their sales numbers (for print, audio and ebook formats) and explain how their business is run.
Be aware of your brand, too. If you’re publishing literary fiction with a trade publisher and erotic suspense fiction independently, you will need to talk it over with your publisher who might prefer a single recognisable brand. And honestly, your readers prefer a single recognisable brand, too! In this situation, a pseudonym might be a good solution. You’ll also need to discuss timing of releases, so you and your traditional publisher aren’t releasing simultaneously.
What do agents think?
This is an area that’s still ‘under review’ in Australia, so much of the advice comes from the US. Agents generally only earn money on contracts they’ve arranged for authors through traditional publishers, so it’s good to let your agent know if you’re planning to self-publish. But indie authors still need help with controlling, enforcing and selling their rights (local, world, media, etc.). Agents have a good perspective on the industry and what’s selling, so as US literary industry advocate Jane Friedman notes in her article ‘Literary Agents and the Hybrid Author’, there are advantages to having an agent if you’re a hybrid author.
Some agents work closely with their authors to smooth the self-publishing road (also called ‘assisted publishing’, ‘partnership publishing’ or ‘co-publishing’), lining up editors and designers, and helping with distribution or placement, and this is a model worth examining. But be wary if an agency asks for commission on work they haven’t had any part in publishing.
What’s the worst thing about being hybrid?
Greater responsibility can be a burden. You have to shoulder any additional financial risk on self-published titles, formulate a business plan and do all the back-end work, and without an agent, you’re the sole negotiator in trade publishing discussions. You have to be super-organised. You might find that wearing two hats — being both author and publisher — can be exhausting.
What’s the best thing?
The author has absolute control over the titles they release independently — from the words and the cover to the pricing — and this provides greater flexibility to promote both their indie and their traditionally published work. You aren’t exclusively at the mercy of publisher timelines — there’s nothing stopping you from publishing a book or novella in between trade releases, if you want to maintain career momentum and increase discoverability. If you’re judicious about your brand, you can jump between genres or categories, releasing stories that your trade publisher doesn’t want to take a chance on.
In a nutshell, you have true control over your career, more options to publish, and you don’t have all your eggs in one basket.
Hybrid authors: advice from the pros
‘Research is everything. Find great people (such as cover artists etc.) to work with, and stick with them.’— Kylie Scott, New York Times bestselling author of Trust.
‘I cannot overstate the importance of having someone who will call you on your bull***t, be it your editor with your publisher or someone you have hired on a freelance basis. So invest in good people. Hold yourself to a high standard. And keep your options open, because you never know what’s around the corner in this industry.’— Sarah Mayberry, USA Today bestselling author of Temporary.
This article was first published in Australian Self-Publisher on March 23, 2018. Ellie Marney is a teacher and hybrid YA author. She lives in Victoria, Australia, and her latest book, White Night (Allen & Unwin), was published in March 2018. Find her at www.elliemarney.com or on Twitter or Instagram.