3 reasons hybrid publishing isn’t for everyone

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Having recently returned from Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference, I’ve been mentally downloading the myriad conversations I had with attendees. While many of the conversational topics are what you would expect, one took me aback. Several unpublished writers told me they planned on pursuing hybrid careers.

I wondered if they grasped what a gigantic undertaking such a plan is. I pictured someone trying to eat an entire pie by spie-50407_150tuffing it into her mouth all at once.

Here are three reasons I would hesitate advising anyone new to publishing to pursue this path.

1. Simultaneously self-publishing and publishing with a traditional house is like starting two businesses at once. Sure, you have to write a manuscript and market it in both instances, but to indy publish, you also take on the role of publisher. If you’ve never been through the publishing process, you’re having to learn a new business regardless which route you choose, but if you’re attempting both routes, you’re having to figure out how to run a publishing business as well as how to build your writing career. Considering how challenging it is to succeed at either type of publishing, to plan to divide your time, creative energy, and financial resources in half for each venture suggests you view your resources as vast–or you haven’t calculated the cost at all.

2. Each type of publishing requires a different set of skills. When you publish traditionally, your publisher brings to bear a team of experts, whose jobs are to do everything within their power to sell your book. You, as the author, bring your platform, creative marketing energies, and a product to that team, which in turn helps to direct you in the best way to make your unique contributions to the selling of your book. Self-publishing requires you to be the entire team or to be the person who hires and directs that team. These are very different tasks, requiring different skill sets.

3. You could end up competing with yourself. Determining when to release your self-pubbed books so they add to your oeuvre (and hopefully to your readers) is complex in light of the shifts that your traditional publisher might make to the release dates of your books. Will you find the right kind of covers for your indy-pubbed books to help to create your brand, or will the covers you use not be a good match with your traditionally published covers? Will your traditional publisher support your decision to be a hybrid author? Will the price you set for your self-published books create competition with your traditionally published books, rendering you an author whose low sales dictate the traditional publisher can’t  keep producing books with you?

I’ve had publishers ask me to intervene on their behalf as some of my established clients have done more harm than good in their self-publishing decisions. These are authors with much more of a context for how publishing works, yet they struggle to make decisions that feed their careers rather than drain them of momentum.

I want to be clear that I am not saying no author should ever attempt a hybrid career. For some authors, with serious business savvy, marketing skills, and a fan-base, such a plan might be just the antidote to stumbling sales. But these are authors who have considerable traditional publishing experience. They already know how to swim in the publishing world’s ocean. I would, on the other hand, hesitate a long time before suggesting to an unpublished writer that building these two businesses simultaneously is a sensible plan.

Why do you think new writers would view hybrid publishing as the perfect solution to building their careers?

Do you see additional reasons hybrid publishing might not be the best idea?


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Does a writer compete with himself when he chooses hybrid publishing? Click to tweet.

63 Responses

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  1. There’s another consideration, and that is that one cannot serve two masters.

    Eventually, one road will be favored over the other. If you favor the hybrid career, it’s something of an act of disloyalty to the traditional publisher who has made a financial and time commitment to your work.

    If you favor the traditional publisher, the indie works will stagnate – and may become the dead chicken forgotten in the trunk of your car. (Did anyone catch the allusion to an anecdote from one of James Herriot’s books there? Please say yes!)

    There may be a way to avoid this, and that is to hire someone to do the indie publishing and promotion…and do the indie pubbing under a nom de plume.

    But running parallel careers? Ugh. It would be kind of like bigamy.

    In the end, exhausting.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Andrew, thanks for mentioning the loyalty factor. I know writers who publish indy think traditional publishers aren’t loyal to THEM, but then we’re getting into the chicken and the egg issue, speaking of chickens.

  2. Michael Kelberer says:

    I think these points are well taken, but much of it can be solved by timing: since most writers turn out one or maybe two books a year, you can (with a little forethought) avoid most of the conflicts between the two “parallel careers”.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Michael, I sort of agree with you, but I’ve seen authors who publish hybrid not match their traditional publishing brand via covers and sometimes even genre or category they write in. And traditional publishers do change seasons a book releases in, which would create a situation in which the author would have to do some switching around his indy book. That’s doable, but not every author makes the switch.

  3. First of all, I’m a newbie. But Janet, I personally cannot imagine doing both intentionally.

    I heard a renowned author say that after publishing his first work, he totally dropped marketing it to work on his next project. Right or wrong, I can understand that. I’ve been working on my second work (fiction), and recently spoke on my first work (nonfiction) … it was really difficult switching gears – and being sick did not help matters.

    My first work, nonfiction, was self-published. And the “only” way I have found that it sells well is when I speak. And I have my next speaking engagement lining up … I am thrilled about that! I am praising God for opening doors and answering prayer. This way can work for nonfiction, but it might be more difficult for fiction. Again, I’m a newbie. I could speak on my fiction work, but the only reason is because both my works parallel in topic … surviving hardships and finding contentment. I can still speak on/from my real life experiences regarding my fiction work … that is actually what inspired the work.

    And marketing through self-publishing for my nonfiction was out of my reach. I spent thousands to publish my book. I couldn’t spend thousands more to market it or hire a publicist, etc. That route and much needed help through my self-publisher was out of my financial reach.

    • Shelli, I appreciate you giving details about your own experience in self-publishing. It’s wonderful that you’re getting more opportunities to engage with possible readers by speaking.
      Will you seek a traditional publisher for your fictional work?

  4. I thought hybrid publishing was an option primarily for published authors, Janet. The idea of doing both, simultaneously, intentionally, is mind-bogglingly overwhelming to me. And my lawyer’s brain immediately hollered — watch out for noncompete clauses in that contract with the traditional publisher!

    I can think of two reasons to traditionally publish first. One, I don’t have the platform right now to sell many self-published books. Being traditionally published would increase my audience and create readers, hopefully, who are looking for more. Two, my writing is going to be vastly improved by the editing process of traditional publication. Yes, I could hire an editor and I see a lot of benefit to that, but then we’re right back to number one.

    Since I live in the Indianapolis area, couldn’t anything I do be considered Indy publishing? 🙂

    • Janet Grant says:

      Meghan, thanks for mentioning the noncompete clause in the traditional publisher’s contract. For those who don’t know, every traditional publisher has boundaries that you agree to that can include: white space around the release of your traditionally published book in which you can’t publish any other book length work (or some other definition of what you can’t publish such as no other nonfiction work), what would constitute competition with no time limit, and other restrictions.
      And, yes, your work could be considered Indy publishing. Ha!

  5. Thanks for giving us these things to consider, Janet. I agree with what others have voiced: the thought of trying to start out as a hybrid publisher sounds overwhelming to me!

  6. Wise advise!

  7. Great points, Janet. It is already difficult going one way or the other. As an unpublished writer, I can’t imagine trying to divide already precious time in two directions.

    I know of a few authors who are working the hybrid route. But, they have a well-established reader base already, and they know the ins and outs of both businesses.

    I’m guessing some writers see a hybrid plan as good because they think they might garner more income through going this route.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Jeanne, I suspect the financial part of it is a likely motivator, but it’s really hard to actually make significant money from self-publishing, based on the studies I’ve seen.

  8. Angela Mills says:

    I think a newbie writer might go to a conference hoping to be published, and then hear all these success stories about how easy it is to self-publish. It’s easy to start thinking, well I’ll do both!

    I would rather spend the time writing and get guidance from an experienced agent and publisher than try to go it myself, because there is just too much I don’t know.

    I also talked to a lot of unpublished writers who were pitching several different kinds of books, and I heard more than one teacher say that you probably need to stick with one genre until you’re an established writer. Maybe writers hoping to do hybrid are thinking they will have the best of both worlds and be able to write whatever they want.

    • “I think a newbie writer might go to a conference hoping to be published, and then hear all these success stories about how easy it is to self-publish. It’s easy to start thinking, well I’ll do both!”

      I think that too, Angela. You don’t always hear the tough stories or from the ones who never make back what they spent to publish the book.

      • Yes, Cheryl. I never expect to make back what I spent to publish my nonfiction book. Mostly because I give so many away! Every time someone approaches me with difficult situations, I just want to hand them a book. I looked at publishing my book as a ministry. And that is why I speak on it, etc. But my next work (fiction), I hope to go a different route … one that is hopefully more affordable!

        The last time I spoke, I gave five away as a door prize. I wasn’t allowed to sell my books at the hotel … I was so thankful to see that so many had purchased my book afterwards on-line. I felt that was a sheer reward from the Lord for being faithful to speak … to get the message out, regardless.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Good insights, Angela. As Cheryl mentioned, we seldom hear the self-publishing failed stories; so it’s easy to garner a false impression of how easy it is to be successful at it.

  9. Jim Lupis says:

    You have me thinking, Janet, which is not always that easy to do. The biggest advantage to self-publishing is the time factor. It is just quicker. But it is also expensive, and marketing becomes even more time consuming than the writing. Not to mention also very expensive.
    The most important part of traditional publishing is that it comes with a team that is knowledgeable and “forces” you to put out a better product.
    A new writer would be wise to choose one or the other, and prayerfully go forward.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Jim, well, I’m glad I revved up your brain’s engine. Self-publishing is way faster than going the traditional route, but I wonder how important it is for individual authors to get their books published fast. Certainly there can be compelling reasons (ill health, an event tied to your book that will help publicize your work, etc.), but for the most part, those who choose indy publishing because of its speed are simply eager to have their book in hand.

  10. I don’t think I would even consider hybrid publishing until I was a well-established published author. And even then, I’d probably have a loooong discussion with my agent about the pros and cons before I did anything like it. 🙂 Thanks for the insight!

    • Janet Grant says:

      Your agent would be thrilled to know you’d talk over the decision with her. I hate to discover one of my clients self-pubbed a book but failed to mention it to me. That decision seldom goes well for those clients and creates major roadblocks for me as I work to get the next traditional contract for said client.

  11. In some cases, I believe impatience could be the impetus behind self-publishing. Don’t get me wrong, some authors, such as Jim Scott Bell, have contagious enthusiasm for hybrid publishing, and they’re doing it well.

    I’ve entertained the self-pub route for a few, fleeting moments because I have a loving, small-scale crowd of people who would like to read about the story world I’ve researched and created. My friends and family do not understand the time it takes to ready and publish a novel. They regularly, with wonderful intentions, ask when my book will be out so they can hold a copy and peruse it’s eloquent paragraphs. 🙂 I know they want to support me and my efforts, but my response is falling into the broken record category. “It takes a long time to traditionally publish. I only have one chance to debut, and I don’t want to shrivel up into a despondent ball of despair because I rushed the process and delivered a less than stellar manuscript.” Admittedly, I don’t drone on for that long because their eyes would glaze over, but you get my drift.

    All that to say, self-publishing for my small community of cheerleaders would not be a perfect solution for my long term writing career. At this stage, I would much rather work with a team of experts who can help me further my reach, and who can be a rudder for future decisions.

    • You are probably right, Jenni. But I also think discouragement might be a reason, as well. I know for me … I had been told that traditional publishing was out of reach for one who wasn’t already an established author.

      • Janet Grant says:

        Jenni and Shelli, I think you’re both right. Some writers just don’t want to mess with traditional publishing; it’s an agonizing way to go and takes forever compared to self-publishing. And if you’ve tried the traditional route but couldn’t find any open doors, self-publishing becomes the default position. But hybrid authors are trying to take advantage of the pluses from both sides of the equation, and they can end up not succeeding at either.

    • I had that conversation just the other day, Jenni. That’s why we writers hang out together…understanding, encouragement, honesty. 🙂

  12. Carrie Padgett says:

    My husband and a few friends have encouraged me to self-pub but the thought of it exhausts me. I have no idea where/how to market something. I’m not opposed to it in the future, but I know I need more experience to do it and be successful.
    I did self-pub a collection of short romance stories and I learned a lot. But if I’d gone ahead and self-pubbed a novel, I’d be ineligible for a lot of contests. Like the RWA Golden Heart, 😉

    • Janet Grant says:

      Carrie, thanks for mentioning a downside to self-publishing: ineligibility to some highly desired writing awards. I’ve also had conversations with traditional publishers who want to know the sales history for any self-published books. And those publishers have decided to look at the author’s work based on those sales numbers. That means the risks of self-publishing are even higher when your sales history follows you everywhere like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe.

    • Carrie, yes, having self-published would make you ineligible to enter the Golden Heart. But did you notice how many RITA finagling books this year are self-published? 🙂

      • Carrie Padgett says:

        Ha! Yes, Autumn, I did see several self-pubbed titles. Which is why, I presume, self-publishing makes you ineligible for the GH, since you may enter the RITA. 🙂

  13. Terrance Leon Austin says:

    Thanks Janet.
    Interesting topic. Hybrid publishing does seem exhausting. But then, it is possible. In the end, the readers decide what they want weather the author goes traditional, indie, or both. In my opinion, it is always what the writer wants to do and what he/she see as “success”. The main key for any writer of any genre is to keep writing, hire a good editor, and then proceed with marketing your work. Actually, marketing your work before it’s finished isn’t such a bad idea either. Thanks for the information Janet. As always, agent blog post to me, is a form of representation. Bless you and all at books and such.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Terrance, I’m glad you find our blog so helpful to you, but one part of being represented that you don’t get is personal career counsel. I can’t speak about your writing career decisions because I don’t know what they are. I will say that traditional publishing can add to your reader base by getting your book in bookstores (where a majority of a book’s sales still take place), having sales reps sell your book into bookstores and mass market outlets such as WalMart, and using their marketing muscle to tell others your book exists.

  14. I have to admit I’ve considered self-publishing. Part of that is frustration with waiting for my books to be released (I never claimed to be patient.) In the end, self-publishing is so intimidating, I’m not sure I could do it.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Cheryl, the good news is that you’re weighing the cost and asking yourself if you have the wherewithal to pay that price. And you’re considering hybrid publishing as a solution.

  15. I’ve been researching the indie field lately, hanging out with and listening to Christian indies who are making a living out of this. And what I’m hearing is that hybrid doesn’t appeal to them. Some have turned down traditional publishing to keep going indie because it’s working so well for them.

    So I think, Janet, that you’re right here. People do find one method more appealing than the other and the two combined don’t always make sense.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Sally, I understand why, if you’re successful at indy publishing, why add traditional to the mix? Each type of publishing has its challenges, and if you’ve solved them in one venue, why move to the other? Well, now that I think about it, we’ve all heard of highly successful self-pubbers who just got tired of doing it all and went the traditional route because they wanted to concentrate on writing.

  16. It seems silly to me to invest so much work and money in something that might do more harm than good.Well known authors like James Scott Bell can get away with things newbies can’t. But maybe a new author would want to do e-books if their traditional publisher doesn’t handle those, or write something in a completely different genre than their traditionally published work. Then if they can afford it, hybrid publishing might be a reasonable option.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Janet, good thoughts on why some writers turn to self-publishing as a hybrid. Only a small traditional publisher wouldn’t create an e-book at this point. I would hope the author who wanted to write something completely different (and therefore outside of her brand) would use a pen name for the self-pubbing effort or that would be a terrible mistake.

  17. Becky Jones says:

    Maybe it makes sense if the self-published product is a smaller thing, a significantly shorter work, like mini e-books for your audience…something to hold them over till your next major product release?

    But you’re right, the quality has to be pretty darn perfect, so it hangs with your traditional body of work…I recently read an “e-book” only product from someone published the old way, and it was rife with errors…I ran out of fingers to count. Which is a shame, because I’ve liked a lot of her other stuff.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Becky, thanks for an example of why self-pubbing something even short can be disappointing to readers. It takes a financial investment in each production step to end up with a great product. Also, sometimes writing a short piece, such as a novella, disappoints readers if they have to pay for it because they didn’t notice it was shorter and expected to get a full-length book for whatever price they paid. (The industry has taught readers they can get any book for free at some point.)

  18. Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    I love that this blog gives writers vital information that would be so hard to discover without a good deal of trial and error. Thank you. This post really lays it all out for us to analyze.

  19. I’m friends with Cynthia Hickey. She’s one of the most successful hybrid authors currently writing in CBA. She started making enough that she was able to quit her day job and she writes full time.

    Her traditional stuff is historical romance. Her indie stuff is mystery and suspense. Because nobody in a traditional house will touch her mysteries and suspense. No idea why, because it’s where she shines. She had a drawerful of mystery and suspense from when nobody would touch her and she started building her indie fan base with these novels.

    It can be done, and done well, even by someone with no track record to speak of. She had two books out with the short-lived Heartsong Presents Mystery and then nothing for almost eight years. She never quit writing and never gave up.

    It’s not easy, but she loves it. And she loves the freedom being hybrid brings.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Rachel, thanks for this example of someone who is succeeding at hybrid publishing.I checked Cynthia out on Amazon, and she’s producing a lot of self-pubbed books. How great that many of these must have been stuffed away in a “drawer,” awaiting publication. She has strong covers and great titles (I love the Nosy Neighbor series idea). Did she start out publishing traditionally or self-pubbing? I’m curious about her path to becoming hybrid.

  20. Roger H Panton says:

    The idea of doing both at the same time scares me. Perhaps after finalising my current book with a different ‘selfie’ than the first, I’ll be in a better state of mind. Sounds good though!

  21. Janet, It seems to me that candidates for “hybrid” publishing are sometimes authors who have been published traditionally, then, through conscious decision or because a traditional publisher turns them down, decide to self-publish. I can’t imagine trying to keep all those balls in the air and write for publication in both venues at once. I’ve compared the writing life to juggling, what with writing, marketing, and other activities. For the true hybrid writer, I wonder if those balls don’t turn into chainsaws (and they’re running).

    • Janet Grant says:

      Richard, your analogy is scary, but unfortunately turns out to be apt for many authors. I also wonder if authors hurt sales on both fronts but don’t even realize the lack of momentum is due to the decision to go hybrid. Publishing has so many moving parts it can be hard to figure out what affects sales (both positively and negatively).

  22. This is such an interesting topic, Janet. And my opinion on it changes depending on the day of the week and sometimes the weather.

    I’m indie published right now (and I’m a CPA, which matters only to say that I’ve spent 20 years studying what works and what doesn’t in business), but I’m strongly considering querying a stand alone novel (within the same chosen genre I’m already published) after I’ve indie published the third in a series, which I’m writing right now.

    I think many people would consider my indie published books to be successful (but what = success?). I’ve built up an extremely loyal audience who is cheering me on as I write Book #3 in the series, which is what I set out to do. While I think I would do just fine continuing on the self-pub route, I also believe traditional publishers have a lot to offer authors.

    I have never been an author with a belief that one way is better than the other, only that writers should take advantage of good opportunities when they come along. And as business goes, I like the idea of learning everything there is to learn in this ever-changing industry.

    I will respectfully disagree with one popular belief that is mentioned in the comments. I don’t think the hybrid author is only for traditional authors wishing to also self-publish. There are many smart, successful indies who see themselves as hybrids.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Heather, thanks for adding your perspective to the conversation. Of course you’re absolutely right that some authors have started out self-publishing and then added traditional publishing to their resume. We’ve all heard about the major deals a tiny handful of them made with traditional publishers.
      If you’ve found a loyal fan-base as an indy, I’d say you’ve done a great job of making yourself potentially attractive to a traditional publisher. I wish you the best in that venture, if you decide to go that way.

  23. Thanks for the post, Janet. As you know, my decision to publish independently was a difficult one, and I can testify to how demanding indie publishing can be. Doing it right forces the author to wear all hats or outsource (for a price) key duties that a traditional publisher would spearhead. The same is true of pursuing both at once. Demanding X 2. I also recommend Rachelle Gardner’s book, How do I Decide?

    • Janet Grant says:

      Michael, and the rest of your story is that you’re not trying to publish independently and traditionally at the same time. Thanks for mentioning Rachelle’s book on deciding between the twain; it’s an excellent resource.

  24. Kirk Lewis says:

    I appreciate the thoughts. I made an effort to find an agent and/or publishing company, but experienced the frustrations of not reaching a publisher without an agent and not reaching an agent unless I had already published. I published my first book using a hybrid publisher. The initial experience wasn’t all that bad, it’s just that you get no real help in marketing the book without paying a premium. While I’ve managed to break even after 6 months, getting the book to the next level is difficult…and I have a background in marketing.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Kirk, thanks for sharing your experience with us. I certainly understand turning to other options besides traditional publishing if you can find neither publisher nor agent. I do wonder about the hybrid publisher you worked with; generally the term “hybrid” is used to refer to authors who publish both independently and traditionally. But it’s confusing since lots of publishers mis-label themselves, either because they don’t understand the terms or because they don’t want to use terms they view as less legitimate. What a world we live in!

  25. Kirk Lewis says:

    “Hybrid” was the term they used…spoken of as if they were providing some services of a traditional publisher. I suppose they do, if the price is paid.

    Any advice on the best way to find an agent?

  26. . . . it’s kind of like trying to catch a Frisbee and taking a nap at the same time.

    Although, a few of us can dream about catching a frisbee in our sleep.

  27. Kirk Lewis says:

    Thank you very much. The information is helpful.

  28. Katie Robles says:

    Reason One: Patience. Or lack of it. If you’re new, you’re being told by traditional publishers to build a platform, but it’s hard to create fans when they can’t read your book. Self publishing seems like a quick solution to that. Which brings me to Reason Two: cluelessness! We newbies have NO idea how much work goes into publishing a book, only writing one. I can understand why people would consider it. Is it a good idea? Probably not. But when you just want to start your career NOW, I can see the appeal.