The second edition of The Hybrid Author is a publishing guide for writers who would like to know what is going on in the publishing world without spending hundreds of hours scouring the internet to find out.
The first edition took a snapshot of our evolving industry on the edge of massive changes within the traditional side of publishing. This edition picks up where the first edition left off and covers what I consider the main issues and biggest innovations that took place in a rather tumultuous year.
Each chapter has been extended to include industry developments and changes to the different types of publishing so writers better understand their options. New results from the third Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Survey are compared with previous years.
Each chapter also provides additional information that you can put to work as an entrepreneur.
The marketing and discoverability section that was included as a part of the self-publishing chapter is now a chapter of its own and presented in a way that it is easier to use as a brief guide to get started in marketing. Other resources with direct links are included to give the reader more in-depth marketing information.
I’ve added a chapter on crowd funding to assist authors in understanding and exploiting this resource. This overview includes links to top websites used for this method of raising money.
The chapters about bestselling authors, their interviews and their advice to other authors all have updates. Each author’s section states what he or she has been doing in the last year and what their most recent book releases are. If they have any additional advice then I’ve added that to their interviews. I also added several more star-quality authors to the book.
The resources chapter has twelve new additions, and all the links are now “live” in the e-book edition.
Finally, I’ve included a bonus for each reader within the book – a special discount for The Hybrid Author Companion Journal link and a discount link for my other writing book, Tools and Tips for Writers.
Technology today is rapidly changing many of the things writers do to become authors. Typewriters have given way to highly sophisticated word processors and printers. Computers can perform complex tasks with graphics, layout and formatting. “Expert system” software puts powerful marketing and accounting software at our fingertips. The internet is an essential tool for conducting research and selling our work.
Of all the activities associated with writing books, perhaps the most profound revolution for writers has been in the area of getting their work published. Writers can now choose varied paths to publication and success in their literary careers, each path unique but all sharing common goals: to express our thoughts, tell a story and find readers. Two of these publishing paths have been around for ages, but only recently has the industry given those writers who publish both ways a name. We are called “hybrid authors.”
On February 12, 2013 at the first Author (R)evolution Day in New York City, the O’Reilly’s Tools of Change 2013 event began. Co-sponsored by Publishers Weekly, the conference was a full day of breakout sessions and discussions for authors, agents and independent author (or “indie”) service providers. The opening keynote speaker, Cory Doctorow, brought up the idea of multiple publication paths using today’s technology and evolving market, and he first coined the term “hybrid author.” Since then the term has received both increasing attention and greater respect. While this term originally applied to an author who chooses from both the traditional publishing path and the self-publishing path, I personally believe that there is much more to it than that and that there are more options for publishing written work today than ever before.
Twenty years ago a writer could seek a traditional publishing house through either personal query or a literary agent. If he used an agent then the writer worked through that agent to find a publisher for his book. At that time the only real alternative to a traditional publisher was for an author to pay a printer to publish his book, usually in small quantities, store the books in his garage and sell them out of his car. These companies who printed books in exchange for a fee became known as “vanity presses” because they printed anything that the client paid for, as opposed to the legitimate publishers who put the writer through an acceptance process and produced professionally-edited, (usually) high-quality products and sold them to the market.
We now live in a vastly different publishing world, one that is in constant flux – changing on a month-to-month basis the way things work and the way the industry looks. We live, write, publish and read in a 24/7 world. The internet explosion and its effect on the way people purchase books is the biggest change, making publishing more accessible internationally to both authors and readers. Amazon.com has emerged as the global retail giant for book sales. After the recent Amazon-Hachette dispute that lasted over a period of months, the final contract settlement left a significant change in the publishing industry.
I, myself, am a product of this publishing revolution. I’ve dedicated the past fifteen years to writing professionally, and I have successfully followed the paths of both traditional publishing and self-publishing. Other authors may be better-known today, but the books I’ve ghostwritten have sold thousands of copies and six of them have achieved “Best Seller” status. I am a hybrid author.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “hybrid” as something or someone “whose background is a blend of two diverse cultures or traditions; something that is formed by combining two or more things; something (as a power plant, vehicle, or electronic circuit) that has two different types of components performing essentially the same function.” Simply said, a hybrid is considered a cross or combination of two different things. Since we are only considering the term as it applies to writers and the publishing industry, I think it’s fair to say that our hybrid is a an author who combines two or more modes of publication.
The reality is that writers today aren’t confined to just two paths to publication or limited formats in which to produce a book. Today’s technology has made viable at least four publishing choices, according to many in the publishing industry. When we add to these publishing choices those authors who are capable of taking advantage of all four paths, we have what the restaurant industry calls cafeteria options. We can have one entrée or several, one side dish or many, one dessert or all of them. It depends on what we want and how much time we are willing to dedicate to other facets of our craft. I believe that writing professionally is much more than just following a dream. It is a matter of learning the business side of writing and making informed business decisions about where, when and how our work is published.
The lines between traditional publishing and self-publishing are less distinct today. Between the spring of 2014 and the spring of 2015 self-publishing has become much more sophisticated than it ever was, and I believe that authors need to gain a broader knowledge of the way the whole publishing industry works.
The first step is learning about what publishing options exist and what differentiates them from each other.
Types of Publishing Choices:
- Traditional Publishing
This type of publishing is the most commonly known. The publisher receives manuscripts from aspiring authors, either through an agent or by direct submission, evaluates them and selects the most promising for publication. The publisher then offers a contract to the author and, if it is accepted, shepherds the manuscript from raw submission to the polished product that appears on the bookstores’ shelves.
- Subsidy Publishing
This type of publishing is very much like traditional publishing with two exceptions. First, the author usually retains more of the publication rights than traditional
publishers demand, and second, the author bears a part of the cost of producing the final work.
In this form of publishing the author publishes his own work. He retains all rights to his work, and he either performs all of the other tasks associated with publication, such as editing, layout and marketing, either by himself or through contracting the services of specific professionals.
- Vanity Publishing
This kind of publishing is targeted at those who are willing to pay all of the costs of production to see their book in print. The term “vanity publisher” may be a bit unfair, but the essential nature of this kind of publication is that even work that is not well-written can still appear with a real cover, real binding, and the author’s name prominently displayed.
We will describe each of these publication models, along with their advantages and disadvantages, in later chapters. In any case, it serves a useful purpose to keep these various publication paths in mind when considering just what a hybrid author is and whether you want to become one, yourself.
An Industry Look at Hybrid Authors
In 2013, Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest conducted their first author survey. Approximately 5,000 authors participated. The survey identified and divided participants into four groups: first were aspiring authors or those who had not yet published their work; next came self-published authors; then there were traditionally published authors; and last were the “hybrid authors.”
The survey described the hybrid author as one who straddles the lines and makes career choices between the traditionally-published and self-published book categories. Hybrid authors’ choices are based on building their writing careers and making enough money from writing so that they become self-supporting. To a lesser degree they consider writing what readers want and will purchase. A tertiary consideration is making time in their busy schedules to share their expertise with other writers through speaking engagements and other similar social activities.
A three-part follow-up article by Dana Beth Weinberg was published online by digitalbookworld.com discussing the results of the author survey, and the study has been referred to in the Writer’s Digest magazine, as well. The survey asked each author about the number of books he had written but which were not yet published. Second, the survey asked how many books each author had traditionally published. Third in this portion of the questionnaire, the survey asked each author how many books he had self-published. Even though hybrid authors don’t share as quick a turnaround time on all of their books as most solely self-published writers, hybrid writers appear to write more manuscripts overall.
The hybrid author is revealed as someone who is more focused and more likely to be prolific. The study further suggests that hybrid authors have an edge. The combination of traditional publishing and self-publishing allows the hybrid author to provide more books to readers than if he depends only on the traditional route.
One factor to consider in choosing a publication path is that when your publisher has twenty or thirty books besides yours in his production queue, you have to wait your turn. For example, if my publisher only publishes two of my books a year and I can write four books a year then why should I not continue to write four books? The hybrid plan becomes: my publisher releases two of my books a year, and I can self-publish two more books a year that may even be in the same or a similar genre. They aren’t necessarily in competition, even though many traditional publishers will view it as such. In fact, the books feed the sales of each other. This satisfies the readers who want more from the author, and the publisher gets more revenue from the books he has published without incurring the costs of new work.
A hybrid author can write and produce both print format and e-books and release a book for a particular date or event on a much shorter timeline than a traditional publisher can bring a single work to market. When your self-published books sell, the readers look for what else you’ve written. They don’t pay attention to how it was published. What readers care about is whether it was well-written and they liked it. Your traditionally-published books will send the reader looking for more books that you’ve written.
Both the indie and legacy books are listed together on Amazon or Barnes & Noble under the author’s name. The results are what you and your business partners are after – more sales.
Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest Author Surveys for the next two years evolved with similar questions, each with approximately 9,000 author participants. The questions covered author experiences and income. In the second year the gap between hybrid authors and traditionally-published authors narrowed. When you look at the information gathered, it indicated that few authors, regardless of whether they were indie, hybrid, or traditional, made very much money. There isn’t any information to support whether that is due to changes in general in the publishing market or changes in who responded to the second survey. However, there is still the indication that hybrid authors are more likely to report higher incomes than those who only publish using one path. Additional details for the surveys can be found at http://bit.ly/1kGOypS.
Concerning the survey results Dana Beth Weinberg stated, “Most astonishing of all, authors seemed similarly satisfied or dissatisfied with each publishing path. Hybrid authors … seemed best positioned to reap the rewards of both models.”
There have been some enormously successful indie and hybrid authors, and many of them have received huge support from Amazon as a business partner. While the percentage of authors who attain this status is small, it creates quite a stir in the industry when it occurs.
The results of these author surveys are consistent with other studies such as the Pew Internet Research Study on America’s print and e-book reading habits, a study of author earnings from the UK, and the U.S. Consumer Expenditure Survey.
I believe a third study, conducted by hybrid author Hugh C. Howey, must be included if you’re going to get what I consider a balanced view of the hybrid path. Howey’s study results were released in The Report, February 12, 2014, on authorearnings.com. At the time of its release it created some controversy in the industry, mostly centered on the fact that Howey gathered sales information from Amazon about only the top-selling authors across three genres.
This technique violates some of the assumptions that the field of statistics requires for validity. I’ve taken statistics and conducted studies in graduate school, so I understand the nature of the controversy. Since “statistics” measure attributes of “samples” to
permit accurate inferences about the “parameters” of “populations,” violating key statistical assumptions can lead to inaccurate conclusions. Nevertheless, Howey’s study is valuable even if his method of analysis is flawed, and my purpose in including this study is to provide another perspective to hybrid authors.
Howey’s position is that the sales and statistics supplied to us by the publishing industry are, themselves, flawed because they are incomplete. Traditional publishing sales figures do not include indie/self-published authors or the self-published works of those authors who are also traditionally published. Until recently The New York Times didn’t even consider self-published authors for their bestseller list. Barnes & Noble and Amazon don’t share their inside business figures with the general public, so we only have partial pictures of an industry going through major changes. Howey calls for more transparency from publishers about both sales and profitability, and I agree that all of us need such information in order to make the right decisions about publishing our work.
He also discusses the openness of other writers and their willingness to share their rankings and earnings. Armed with that information you can more easily figure out what someone is making by their rankings on lists. Of course, that’s only part of the puzzle. Howey received e-mails from countless other writers who shared their information with him. Further, he states “… a fellow author created a software program that can crawl online bestseller lists and grab mountains of data. All of this data is public—it’s online for anyone to see—but until now it’s been extremely difficult to gather, aggregate, and organize. This program, however, is able to do in a day what would take hundreds of volunteers with web browsers and pencils a week to accomplish. The first run grabbed data on nearly 7,000 e-books from several bestselling genre categories on Amazon. Subsequent runs have looked at data for 50,000 titles across all genres. You can ask this data some pretty amazing questions, questions I’ve been asking for well over a year. And now we finally have some answers.”
Before I go on with the results of his study, please note that the study only covers Mystery/Thriller, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and
Romance and all of the subcategories within these three main genres. The subjects covered in this study were the value the reader gained as compared to the amount spent applied to Indie Published, Small/Medium Publisher, Amazon Published (from imprints like 47
North), Big Five published, and Uncategorized Single-Author. This part of the study was not covered in the Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest study. Results of this part revealed that indie-published books cost less but, according to reviews, gave more value to the readers. Conversely, Big Five or traditionally-published books were the most expensive and received fewer stars or lower satisfaction ratings among readers when considering the 7,000 books included in the study.
The next section of Howey’s study concerned listening to readers’ comments, and it revealed that 35% of the Amazon bestsellers were written by indie writers, 15% published by small to medium-sized presses, 4% published by Amazon, 28% published by the Big 5 publishers and 18% published by uncategorized indie authors.
He then looked at daily unit sales. Indie-published books took up 39% of these sales, and 92 of the Amazon Top 100 bestsellers were Kindle editions. These figures definitely show where the market is going. Howey refers to those authors who are making a lot of money with their writing as “outliers,” which is a statistical description of rarity. Remember the percentages in the Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest studies? He agrees that writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Most of us have to work at it for a long time to achieve economic freedom.
When we get to the income information, Howey comes to similar conclusions as the industry studies. Although his study does not separate out the hybrid, the indies make more money on Kindle sales over the period of a year than if they published traditionally and signed those same Kindle rights over to the publisher. “ … [T]he breakdown of authors earning in the seven figures is: 10 indie authors, 8 Amazon-published authors, and 9 authors published by the Big Five. The much higher royalties and other advantages, such as price, seem to counterbalance the experience and marketing muscle that traditional publishers wield. This is something many have suspected to be true but which now can be confirmed.”
I am not including all of the information revealed in the studies conducted by Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest or of
this study by Hugh C. Howey, so I suggest that you read the full results in their reports for yourself. These basic results help explain what the hybrid author is and what the various publication paths look like by the numbers.
Other “Takes” on Hybrids
Thomas Larson, award winning author, journalist, lecturer and online memoir workshop teacher, refers to hybrid writers with a different definition. He considers it a mixing of genres. For example, in nonfiction the writer uses a cross-over between genres, such as memoir and history. Larson, himself, writes essays and articles and on his website discusses hybridization in writing as a “mosaic” style. Hybridization can also be considered as combining fiction genres. Crossing those lines and combining them has become quite popular among fiction authors and their readers. Romantic suspense flies off the shelves, as does historical romance. Sci-fi and fantasy have partnered, and so have sci-fi and westerns. You can find mysteries in cross-overs with almost every genre, and the readers eat them up like popcorn. By this definition these writers are hybrid authors just from what they pen.
Personally, I am not as fond of this definition for “hybrid.” I prefer to describe writers who “mix” genres as “crossover” writers. This kind of writing isn’t really new – it’s been going on for ages. Crossover writers also have not been significantly affected by emerging technology and so have the exact same publication paths available to them as “purists.” Crossing genre lines is, to me, more a matter of creativity than technology.
There is another version of hybrid writing that includes authors like myself. We have done freelance writing that includes ghost writing, copy writing, all types of writing for hire online, and imprint publishing; and it also may include speech writing, article writing, even journalism. This kind of writing makes you a hybrid
author by the broad definition that combines different kinds of writing in one career. It’s true that technology has affected this kind of hybrid author to a greater degree than “crossover” writers, but I believe it still ignores the most important distinction that the new technology creates.
There are those agents and editors, as well as multi-published authors, who will advise the up-and-coming writer, “Don’t spread yourself too thin. Pick one genre or type of writing and stick with it. Build your reputation in fiction and nonfiction, and don’t venture outside of that realm. You’ll lose your readers.” Like many things that are changing in the publishing industry, I’m not so sure that this is still true.
The Hybrid Author according to … me
What we will consider as a “hybrid author” is one who uses more than one path to publication – traditional, subsidy, self and vanity. Later we will address the advantages and disadvantages of each path, but for now I believe the important point is not to reject any particular path to publishing just because you think it is either unavailable or unworthy.
When you first begin writing I think it’s important to learn what you’re good at and what you enjoy. Don’t write suspense or romance just because that’s where the largest market share exists. Write what you love. Much of the process is hard work, and I believe it’s important that you love the stories and the story development. Fiction is creative, but nonfiction can use that same creativity. It doesn’t have to be dry or simply a collection of facts strung together. Style of expression can be every bit as important in non-fiction as it is in fiction.
Decide what type of writing you enjoy the most and dive in. Meg Ryan said something in the movie French Kiss that applies here. “Just get in and swim in it until your fingers get all prunie.” Let yourself get completely involved in the story you write – see it, feel it, taste it, hear it, smell it. If it’s that real to you then it’s that real to your readers. The rest of it is the mechanics of good writing and how you get your work to the reader.
Over the past several years it’s been said that people aren’t reading as much anymore. Large chain bookstores are going out of business. The publishing industry puts out articles that tell us e-book sales are leveling off and slowing down, and they give the percentages. However, the numbers they are working with don’t
include indie sales outside the industry. The truth is that authors are having a difficult time keeping up with the demands of their readers. There are actually more people reading today. The international markets are exploding.
There are still plenty of books in print through traditional publishing; but there are also a great many electronic devices on which books can be read, and they are everywhere. Today you can download a book in a matter of seconds and read it on your cell phone, iPad, personal computer, Kindle or Nook. By tomorrow you
may be able to read a book on your wristwatch or sunglasses. Many
books today are being released in e-book format first, and they only appear in print after their market appeal is established. Among those with e-book devices, the emerging trend is to download anywhere from 5-15 books a week and hoard them to read later. Once they’ve read the books and decided on their favorites, the readers go out and purchase print copies for themselves and as gifts for friends and family. So again, our biggest challenge as authors is to keep up with the voracious readers.
These patterns of publication/sales/profit encourage us writers to open our minds somewhat about the way we define ourselves. We can call ourselves “authors” even if we have one children’s book in our own name, but to be a hybrid author we must have produced at least two books under different circumstances – either different genres or writing styles – and there is merit in distinguishing our efforts in both of these ways. But to me, what really defines a hybrid author is the number of publishing paths she can exploit to bring her work to market.