Someone wrote to ask me, “How do you define a ‘hybrid’ author? (Isn’t it simply an author who is self-publishing but still has books with traditional publishers?) And do agents work with authors who are basically self-publishing?”
I’m frequently asked about the notion of working with “hybrid authors” because I seem to be a bit in the minority– a literary agent who actually encourages his authors to become hybrids. But you see, I used to make my living as a writer, so I understand what it’s like to try and make a living creating words. And the changes in the industry that have taken place means there are new opportunities available to writers that were never available in the past.
Let’s define our terms: A hybrid author is one who is self-publishing AND traditionally publishing. There are plenty of people who insist one method or the other is the “right” way to have a writing career these days – that you either “get an advance and publish your books with a legacy press and ignore the badly-edited self-published crud on Amazon,” OR you “self-publish your title via Amazon and Smashwords, and reject those money-grubbing publishers in New York who only want to enslave you as a midlist author.” Um… I tend to think there’s another way.
A hybrid author gets the benefit of an occasional advance check, professional editing, great distribution, and access to marketing professionals from his or her publisher. PLUS there’s the benefit of having complete creative control, book price control, and the chance to do more titles that generate immediate earnings from his or her self-published titles.
Of course, there’s also a down side. A hybrid author really has to set up his or her writing life as a small business, since everything from cover choices to copyeditor payments are the responsibility of the author. He or she has to stay up on trends – which e-tailers are selling your books? What formats are selling best? What price points? What changes do you have to make to stay current? How do I line up my self-published books with my traditional releases? And for most hybrid authors, marketing becomes a full time job. With that sort of to-do list, simply finding time to write can be difficult.
So the decision to become a hybrid author is really the decision to start your own company – one where you’ll be making the decisions, handling the problems, and charting your own strategic direction.
And that’s where I see myself fitting in. I’m a multi-published author, a former publisher (with the old Time-Warner Book Group), and a longtime agent (16 years and counting). A hybrid author often needs help with the technical side of things (reading contracts, setting up release schedules), the business side of things (dealing with editors, arranging to get all the vendors paid), the selling side of things (contracting foreign rights, talking with Hollywood producers), and the marketing side of things (crafting a marketing plan, connecting with a magazine on a press release). Most importantly, a hybrid author needs an experienced person to go to for career advice. A good agent will probably offer some practical help with several of those issues, and free you up to focus on your writing.
Each author is different, so your needs won’t be the same as someone else’s, but some writers really need help with editing, others with managing the business, still others with handling all the marketing responsibilities. A good agent ought to be able to help an author manage relationships, coordinate with publishers, and troubleshoot the difficult issues you face. He or she may be able to help with vendor coordination or marketing planning. Most importantly, an agent really ought to be able to help you clarify your long-term goals and create a plan for reaching them.
But authors aren’t limited to simply publishing with a huge New York house or self-publishing their manuscript on their own. The changes in technology and the advent of ebooks has created a brand new world of indie publishers – smaller houses who are sometimes doing e-only titles, and sometimes doing ebook and print-on-demand books, often marketing them to a niche audience. This has greatly expanded the options available to authors, as companies step in to assist authors with reaching their readers.
If you’re a writer pondering what steps to take to become a hybrid author, let me suggest a few simple things to consider. First, look at the books you already have scheduled, and the manuscripts you’ve completed and want to self-publish. Begin to map out a schedule of releases that gets you out there on the market, but doesn’t have you competing with yourself. You’re going to do best as a hybrid author if you have several titles to sell to the same readership, in you can keep creating new works, and you decide to sell them at a price the market will support. So start by creating a publishing plan for your titles.
Second, begin to create a list of people in your world who can help you move forward – editors, marketing professionals, cover designers, and people with the technical experience to assist you in the process. You may need to be talking to someone who can help with foreign rights, or with someone who can help with dramatic rights. You may need to sit down with a business manager or accountant to assist with the financial picture.
Third, determine right now that you’re going to invest a lot of time into marketing. That’s the most important skill you’re going to need if you plan to set up a self-publishing business, so that could mean investing in some training or resources, or deciding to link up with some experienced marketing types who can assist you in this new venture. Most authors get into hybrid publishing having done some publicity, but with little experience mapping out a marketing plan, and almost none with advertising. To boning up on those areas by taking classes or talking with experts in the field can help you move forward.
One author I represent, Vincent Zandri, decided several years ago he was going to become a hybrid author. He has worked with traditional publishers, and currently has created a handful of bestselling books with Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. But he has also worked with some smaller houses (his latest release is with Down & Out Books), and has successfully self-published some titles, so that he has maximum exposure to readers. The result? Over the past four years, Vince has sold hundreds of thousands of books, landed on the New York Times bestseller list, and made a good living as a writer.
Hybrid publishing isn’t for everyone, but it might be an avenue to consider if you’re an entrepreneurial and prolific writer with a knack for marketing.