May 26, 2022

#AskMeAnything: What’s the Difference Between Traditional/Self-/Hybrid Publishing?

Books
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Book Publishing
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Hybrid Publishing
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Publishing
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Self-Publishing
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Traditional Publishing
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This month, I’m answering all of the questions you have about publishing! Quite often, I get asked some variation of this question:

What’s the difference between traditional, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing? Which one is better/best? Which one would you pick?

I still run up against authors’ perceptions that hybrid and self-publishing is “bad” or less desirable than traditional publishing. In many ways, the democratization of publishing is a beautiful thing, and I love that so many more people are able to share their stories and their wisdom with the world. The truth is that publishing is a game of risk. Every publishing model answers these questions in a different way:

  • Who bears the most financial risk for this investment?
  • Who contributes most of the work?

Each model has its pros and cons, so you need to understand how each works in order to make the best decision for you.

Traditional Publishing

Traditional publishing used to be the only publishing model, and it is still what most people think of first. There are hundreds of traditional publishing companies in the U.S. of all different sizes, but the “Big 4” own most of the traditional publishing space, especially for commercial trade fiction, nonfiction, and educational books. The Big Four include:

  • Penguin RandomHouse (with its recent acquisition of Simon & Schuster)
  • HarperCollins
  • Hachette
  • Macmillan

How It Works

To publish with a traditional publisher, you usually work with a literary agent to submit a book proposal. The book proposal gets reviewed by an acquisitions editor, who then takes it to the editorial board, a collection of representatives from every department in the publishing company who review the proposal and decide whether they can support the book. If the proposal makes it past those stages, the author is offered a contract, and often offered an advance on royalties. The size of the advance will depend on a variety of factors, but remember—it’s an advance on royalties, not a grant. The amount of your advance will come out of your royalties later.

After the contract is signed, you work on finishing the draft. You’ll likely have deadlines to turn in sections of the manuscript and the full draft to your acquisitions editor, who often will give you feedback and ask for some revisions. Once the final manuscript is approved, then the publishing company’s production team takes over, shepherding the book through copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, printing, and shipping.

Responsibilities

In a traditional publishing relationship, the author is responsible for:

  • Writing the book and responding to feedback from the editorial team
  • Turning in draft on time
  • Cooperating in a timely manner with the rest of the publishing team
  • Marketing the book

Hitting your deadlines is incredibly important in traditional publishing because publishers’ cash flow depends quite literally on when books publish. If you’re late, it could cost a publisher thousands of dollars and make them very grumpy.

  • Editing and production
  • Manufacturing
  • Printing
  • Contributing to marketing
  • Storage and warehousing fees
  • Distribution to bookstores
  • Managing metadata
  • Filing with the Library of Congress
  • Assigning an ISBN
  • Managing the sales of translations rights (unless your agent is doing that)

In traditional publishing, a publisher is taking on a much more significant risk if the book doesn’t sell—therefore, they also take a greater portion of the profits. The typical royalty for a new author is about 10% on the net revenue. Because they are bearing more risk, they also get final say in creative decisions, like the cover design and title of the book.

Pros & Cons for the Author

Pros:

  • You get to partner with a team of experts
  • You might get a nice advance when you sign the contract
  • You benefit from the publisher’s name and credibility
  • Never worry about administrative tasks or hidden costs that arise
  • Distribution to bookstores, conferences, etc.

Cons:

  • Less royalties
  • Less creative control
  • You are responsible for marketing
  • Requires a significant platform
  • Depends on a rigorous approval process

Self-Publishing

Self-publishing is probably the next most popular model—and more and more authors are choosing it as their first choice in publishing, for a variety of reasons, including more creative control and more financial opportunity.

How It Works

You have an idea, and you write the whole book! No approval process needed. Hopefully, you’ll choose to work with a book coach to help you plan the book and write it, but ultimately getting the work done rests entirely on your shoulders. After you write it, again, hopefully you get it edited. Then you are responsible for having it typeset, proofreading the pages, and uploading it to Amazon, Ingram Spark, or another self-publishing distribution service.

There are many self-publishing companies that will do a lot of this for you, for a fee. My favorites are Market Refined Media and Typewriter Creative Co. Expect to spend $5000-10,000 for a job well done, not including the costs for editing, which may be separate from the fees for the publishing and distribution itself.

Responsibilities

In self-publishing, you are ultimately responsible for every step in the process! Like I said, you might hire a self-publishing service to take on a lot of the work for you, but then it’s your responsibility to pay them for that help. But because you’re bearing all of the risk, you also get to make 100% of the decisions.

Pros & Cons for the Author

Pros:

  • Complete creative control over the end product
  • Keep 100% of the profits, minus whatever hosting fees Amazon, Ingram, or other distribution platforms may charge
  • Doesn’t depend on anyone’s approval to participate
  • Full ownership over the content

Cons:

  • Also 100% responsible for all of the work
  • Distribution to bookstores is much harder, if not impossible in some cases
  • You are responsible for marketing
  • Less credibility in the public eye

Hybrid Publishing

Hybrid publishing aims to combine the best of both traditional publishing and self-publishing, with the risk shared equally between the publisher and author. Unfortunately, there are “hybrid” publishers that are actually scams, but there are many legitimate, well-regarded hybrids that are doing great work. Those include the following publishers:

How It Works

You go through an application process, similar to a book proposal. Hybrid publishers will often specialize in certain genres, so they’ll want to make sure that your vision for your book matches what they do as well. You’ll likely need to select one of a few publishing packages that will vary in price and services. How the publisher and author divide responsibilities will depend on what package you choose, but usually the publisher is responsible for everything a traditional publisher would provide you, from editing and production to warehousing and distribution. Financially, you can expect to pay at least about $25,000 up front—but you’ll get to keep more of the royalties, too.

This incredibly detailed post on Jane Friedman’s blog shares more details about how hybrid publishing works!

Pros & Cons for the Author

Pros:

  • More creative control
  • Easier approval process
  • Higher royalty
  • Publisher handles most of the administrative and production work
  • Distribution to bookstores

Cons:

  • It can be hard to find a reputable company if you can’t afford to pay five figures.
  • You still have to do marketing!
  • Slightly less reliability and credibility

What would I choose?

As a first-time author, if I had the opportunity and the platform to traditionally publish, I would choose that in a heartbeat! In my opinion, the credibility from a traditional publisher will be of greater overall benefit to you, even if you don’t make as much money from your first book. If you don’t have the platform to warrant traditional publishing, then I would choose to hire a self-publishing service. That’s my two cents for you!