What’s Next? The Hybrid Author

Three years ago, I wrote a book. I didn’t tell anyone outside my family about it until the novel was completed, and then I sat on it for a while yet. I needed to figure out how to get the darn thing published — which in my mind involved a traditional publishing deal. However, in those three years, the publishing world has experienced more changes than Franz Kafka’s main character in Metamorphosis. For some, the result has been just as intimidating.

It doesn’t have to be. We don’t have to end up as a cockroach.

For today’s Deep-Fried Friday, I grabbed my Magic Eight Ball and asked it a question: Will the publishing world continue to change at a rapid pace?

Well, there you go. Authors, agents, editors, publishers, and readers are still in a state of flux as we settle into new realities with the consolidation of companies, the rise of smaller presses, the development of the e-reader and tablets, the opportunities for self-publishing, the importance of social media, and much more.

So what does the future hold?

After doing quite a bit of research, reading numerous blog posts on the subject, attending workshops and having conversations on this topic at the recent DFW Writers’ Conference, as well as applying my own thoughts, I think there is a growing opportunity for the Hybrid Author. An author need no longer choose a single route to publication. While an agent may represent a whole author, publishers shop a single title at a time. Even with a two, three, or four-book deal, they can stick with a single novel and cancel the remaining contract if they wish. An author has no guarantee that his next work will be picked up for publication going the traditional route.

So what can an author do with that work that she loves but can’t sell through the “usual” route? Why not find an indie press, an e-publisher, or self-publish that title? The only caveat is that more than one agent at the recent conference stated that low sales numbers in self-publishing can make a traditional trade publisher wonder if you’re bankable. However, if the book is high quality and you do a good job of promoting it, doing your own thing with other titles is not a count against you.

Suppose that you write in two genres (which is currently my situation). In one genre, there is a good chance of a publisher picking up your novels. However, in the other genre, it is unlikely. I see no reason why you can’t pursue a traditional deal in the first case and go your own way in the second. For instance, you write book-club-type women’s fiction (a hot commodity right now apparently) and vampire romances (which publishers keep swearing are not hot anymore). You might rather get your women’s fiction into bookstores through the traditional route, and then throw your vampire novels up onto Amazon yourself and start collecting the royalties from them right away.

Indeed, self-publishing successfully is not a count against you if you do it well. Just ask Kait Nolan, whose agent sought Kait out after seeing how successfully she was writing and self-publishing. Others have signed traditional deals after using smaller presses or self-publishing. Authors are in a better position than ever before to negotiate contract details. Several successful authors have been able to retain rights in this fluctuating book world that they wouldn’t have been able to get before.

Indeed, this hybrid model might also work sequentially. Perhaps for a season an author self-publishes and them finds himself with an excellent offer from a traditional publisher. Or a traditionally published author chooses to self-publish works that are out of print or even move entirely into self-publishing. We might see movement back and forth over the course of a writing career, as the publishing climate changes.

Regarding of how exactly it happens, I believe that the way of the future for many writers is the Hybrid Author. Our grandmothers told us not to put all of our eggs in one basket, and our financial advisors encouraged us to diversify. Why not do that with writing as well?

For myself, this probably means that I will look into small press or self-publishing options for my mysteries and shop the middle-grade and young adult fiction through traditional channels. Tweens and teens still do not read most of their novels on e-readers, although I’m sure that will turn around with the kids who are in elementary or preschool now.

So what do you think is coming down the pike for authors? What options do writers have? What route have you chosen, or what routes have you considered?

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36 thoughts on “What’s Next? The Hybrid Author

  1. Still trying to decide, but I like the hybrid author idea julie! 🙂 There’s so much advice for all sides that trying both just might be a great plan.

  2. Hi, Julie,

    Good post, full of excellent suggestions. I think maybe I’ve heard Bob Mayer talking about this a lot lately, too. I know quite a few traditionally published authors who are now self-publishing as well or instead of continuing their trad deals. I’m doing both – trad for non-fiction and a couple of other titles that I don’t have rights to; my fiction is all self-pubbed now under my d/b/a publisher AugustBooks. It’s working well, but as always, the big question is: What are your goals? Some goals are more easily met in the trad world, believe it or not!!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Best,
    Diane

    1. Yes, I know that Bob Mayer was traditionally published and then went his own way. It’s clearly worked out for him! Thanks for sharing that your brand is AugustBooks. I was explaining to my husband today that the d/b/a is probably the way to go with self-pubbing. I agree entirely, Diane, that the question is “What are your goals?” One of my MG/YA goals is to have my book in libraries, so that helped me decide that route.

  3. Interesting post. I think this is definitely the best option going forward – but there’s some pushback. When I was at the Writer’s Digest conference in January – many agents there said they wanted to represent everything you write and would be hesitant to sign someone open about wanting to self-publish on the side. Perhaps that was a small segment of the market – but that was the feedback at the time.

    1. Lisa, thanks for sharing what was said at the Writer’s Digest Conference. I have also heard some pushback, but it seems that many agents, editors, and publishers are realizing that they must adapt to a new climate. Additionally, some agents recognize that they can still make money with self-pubbed authors by representing other rights (international, movie, etc.) and future titles that might go the traditional route. I doubt the dust will settle for a while yet, but we’ll see. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Well outlined, Julie! You got to all the important stuff on a very BIG topic. I’m Indie published and a total DIYer. I’m having decent success and can see my business growing well over time as long as I can keep producing quality new material and keep pace with the demands of marketing and promoting.

    I’m not adverse to the idea of publishing traditionally, but it would be a challenge to give up the independence I enjoy so much about this process. it would also be a bummer giving up those 70% royalties and the immediate gratification/feedback of tracking my sales on a daily basis. I’ll never understand how an author could know what is working and what’s not in regards to their marketing strategies without that information. The things that appeal to me in the traditional publishing world are having access to high level professional editors, the mass distribution channels for hard copy sales, and the possibility of foreign rights and movie deals. Of course none of that is guaranteed these days, but the assumption is that those are the caveats to choosing the traditional route.

    I do think there are many changes yet to come and that anyone getting on board is in for a wild ride no matter which way they choose to seek publication. I’m strapping on my jet pack and ready to fly:-)

    1. PJ – I think it’s important to know what kind of person/author you are to decide which route/routes to take. Since you’re a DIYer, self-pubbing is great for you, and you’re obviously doing well with it! As you noted, however, the traditional publishing world still has access to avenues that self-pubbers typically don’t. That’s might change in the future, but. . .

      I think it’s a matter of knowing what you want with your career and with each book you write; your goals may determine which way to go. Thanks so much for your valued input!

  5. Well said, Julie!
    That’s what I’m aiming for, you know, to be an hybrid author in ways of publishing and in genres 😉

    1. Should we have a club, Juliana? The Hybrid Author Club (aka, the “HACs”). LOL. Best wishes for choosing your route and making it a success!

  6. I think modern authors have an excellent opportunity to take control of their own writing careers. No longer are we bound to trends of publishing and to attracting the attention of overworked literary agents. No longer are we a lost cog in the big publishing machine, which seems to only be a big deal if the author is a huge seller.

    I do think that there is an issue within the self-publishing world with authors publishing books that either need professional editing or perhaps should not be published at all. However, both Nook and Kindle give readers the option of sampling a book. And, usually, it is a large enough sample to really see if the book is worth your time. Some part of me thinks that these poorly written books taint all indie authors and cause readers to be less willing to give indie authors a chance.

    All that said, I think we are in the pioneer days of the new publishing paradigm. I think things are going to work themselves out. There are a ton of great opportunities out there for authors. And having a career writing books is within reach for anybody who is willing to work their butt off.

    1. I agree entirely, Catie, that some self-pubbers have given the whole lot a bad name. However, I have found this to be true in traditional publishing as well. Haven’t we all, at one time or other, picked up an unreadable book that somehow made it through all of the traditional publishing hurdles to get it into print? At those times, I feel the need to pull out Dorothy Parker’s famous quote: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Of course, I do think the percentages are skewed toward more unreadable books when people can throw their works up willy-nilly without regard to craft or even grammar.

      Your last paragraph is dead on, in my opinion! Hopefully things will work themselves out, and there are opportunities. Then and now, though, a writing career involves working your butt off. Which, perhaps, explains why mine isn’t all that big. 😉 How about you?

  7. Nicely put Julie. I agree that diversification is probably the best way to go. I know some authors who are doing well with putting their work out themselves but they said they feel part of the success of these works comes from being past published books and now have the rights to. I’m sure that helps.

    I also agree with Catie in that with self publishing there are works that should not be published. It’s a short cut for some who either don’t want to put in the time and effort or don’t have the talent.

    1. Self-pubbing can certainly be a short cut. Thankfully I know quite a few self-pubbers who do go the extra mile to put out a quality novel. I think those are the pioneers Catie mentioned. Thanks for your comments, Donna!

  8. Great post. So true. Although this new publishing world can be daunting, it’s giving authors options. And options are always a good thing. I write in two different genres, too (women’s fiction and YA), so I guess we are hybrids in several ways.

    I think the lines are blurring, especially since unproven authors (no matter how they are published) are responsible for marketing either way. So even if you get the agent, then the deal… you are going to be blogging and building an author platform with the rest of us. 😉

    1. Great point, Tia! Traditional and self-published authors are responsible for their own marketing — unless you’re a HUGE name and get a marketing budget. I follow great blogs from self-pubbers, indies, and traditional authors. They all understand the importance of quality and platform.

  9. GREAT post. From attending last year’s DFWcon and this year’s, I’ll tell you what — the agents’ tunes have changed about self-publishing. Last year, agents said self-publishing prior to signing with an agent was the kiss of death pretty much. This year, agents said that if self-published authors sold 5,000-10,000 copies of their e-books, an agent would be interested in them. How the tides turn. I definitely think there is a BIG future for the hybrid author. 🙂

    1. That’s EXACTLY what I picked up from last year to this year at DFWCon as well! I attended an agent panel in 2011 and they were saying that self-pubbing was like agent-repellent. This year, it was a different story. I think it will continue to evolve. Like it or not, we’re all being dragged into a new paradigm, so why not figure out how to adapt and make the best of it? The authors and agents with staying power will likely be the ones who step out and take advantage of new opportunities. Fabulous point, Tiffany!

  10. I think eventually that’s what most authors will become. Keeping their rights but then parcelling off their subsidiary rights. At least I hope so!!

    1. You’re another Exhibit A for the successful self-pubber, Jillian! Writers like you are a wonderful model for others. May THAT BOY and THAT WEDDING keep doing great!

  11. Great job! I think the hybrid author is the author of the future, and it’s an exciting time. I’m hoping to publish stand alones through small press (for now) and then shorts and possibly my series on my own. Love the way you broke this down, Julie.

  12. I just think it’s a wonderful time to be a writer. We have more opportunities than ever before. And like you, I think the idea of a hybrid author is pretty much the ideal. Excellent post, Julie!

  13. Great topic, Julie. I see myself as a hybrid author, both in genres and in my paths to publishing. What an exciting time to be a writer and reader. 🙂

  14. good post, Julie and a fascinating topic. I can’t wait to see what the future brings for pubishing – like Diane Capri said I’m publishing fiction on my own but when I’m ready to publish some non-fiction, I will seek out a traditional publisher. isn’t it fun to be watching a new industry evolve in front of us?

  15. I don’t know what the future hold, but you are right… things are wide open for a writer to choose his/her own path these days.

    As I began to take my writing more seriously, I originally only considered the traditional publishing route. Mostly because I knew little about the other possibilities. But, after meeting authors from both camps, and spending a lot of time researching my options, I made the decision to self-publish my Y/A fiction. I’m not in a hurry. I’m not making big plans to rake in boat-loads of money. I just want to make sure I have a well-edited product to put out there. My plan is to release my first novel around Spring of 2013.

    Thanks for a great post!

  16. I like the concept of hybrid authors. I see too many authors picking sides in some sort of “traditional publishing vs. indie/self-publishing” battle. In my opinion, the focus should be on finding the best way to get your work into the hands of interested readers. Depending on the author, work and situation, the best way may be traditional publishing, self-publishing or some kind of combination thereof.

    Good article. Nice to see that not everyone views publishing as some sort of war in which they need to take sides.

  17. For a long time, I wondered if I would ever find myself a market for my first WiP because of the nature of its content (many houses have issues with some of the topics approached in the book, despite the fact that they were included to not glorify them but to show how such tragedies could affect a person). My newer WiP however is classic romantic fantasy. Both are set in the same “world” (the later is the pre-history or rather the story of the parents of the protagonist in the second)…

    I love the concept of being a hybrid author, but I doubt my own promotion skills.

    Isn’t that what always makes self-publishing seem like a jump?

  18. Julie, great post and I LOVE the idea of a hybrid author. It allows for flexibility and change and growth. I have my adult suspense novel with a small press but am now looking for an agent for a large press for my middle grade novel. I am writing the sequel to my suspense novel, and not sure i will attempt an agent for that – probably small press again or even self publish. I know I can commission an artist for a great cover and already have a fantastic editor. The rest is knowing how to produce and market. Love these changing times! It’s not all black or white.

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