A Writer’s Life: My take on Hybrid Publishing

I had meant to write this yesterday, but I’ve been busy.

The latest news is that my novel, Tiny House, Big Mountain, was (sort of?) rejected by Rootstock, a so-called Hybrid Publisher located in Montpelier, Vermont. I liked the look and sound of the publisher, but I’m also very wary of publishers that blur the line between traditional and vanity presses. I know from past experience that I just don’t have the interest or inclination to be my own publicist. It’s not that I’m unwilling to promote my book, but I don’t want the book to succeed or fail according to my own ability to publicize or market. That’s a real job, like being a good writer, and I know my limits. Does the author want to be marketing the book he’s written or writing the next book?

I’ve been reading a number of web sites that discuss hybrid publishing and many of them state that the difference between a hybrid publisher and a vanity press is that the latter will publish anything while Hybrid Publishers are choosy. To me, that’s mostly a difference without a distinction. If an author is going to spend thousands of their own dollars to publish a book, who cares whether the one they’re paying is “choosy”. A hybrid publisher will offer you an almost complete package—usually starting at around $5000—that includes professional editing; professional book design and layout; the purchasing of ISBN numbers; “promote” the book in the “Ingram Advance” new-release catalog; and make the book available through independent booksellers and online outlets like Amazon and Kobo. But you can accomplish the same thing through a vanity press by hiring your own professional editors and book designers. You can purchase ISBN numbers yourself—they’re easy and cheap. Listing a book with “Ingram Advance” appears to be something vanity presses also offer.

But anyway, I write almost because the one thing they won’t do is market or promote your book unless its “in partnership“. And here’s how I interpret that: I hybrid publisher doesn’t have any (or very much) skin in the game. It’s the reason they can afford to be so generous with royalties. If your book doesn’t sell all that well, then they’re not the ones out $5000+. You are. Everybody but you, the author, has made money—the editors, the book designers and the hybrid publishers themselves (have all taken a cut of your $5000+). To the extent that they will make more money if your novel is a bestseller, it’s in their interest that your book succeed; but the less money they invest (gamble), the lower their risk and the higher their potential reward. Think of it this way, hybrid publishing is like investing/gambling with someone else’s money. There’s little to no downside for them if they lose so long as they don’t risk their own money. That is, inasmuch as it’s in their interest that an author’s book succeeds, it’s even more in their interest not to gamble on the book if it fails. That’s why they say they will partner with you. By partner they mean that they will guide you in how to best spend your money—not theirs. That guidance may or may not be effective, but here the difference between a hybrid publisher and a vanity press, in my judgment, grows exceptionally thin. If you think you’re a good publicist and marketer, then partnering with a hybrid publisher may be a great choice, that needs to be stressed, but then the same might be said of a vanity press.

My own preference, at this point, is to work with a traditional publisher who has some skin in the game. They have presumably invested thousands in getting my book ready for the shelf, have paid me some kind of advance (if small), and are not going to get that money back unless they publicize and market my book. That is a true partnership. I’ve taken a risk and so have they. I’ve given them exclusive rights to my book and they’ve paid me money for those rights. Now it’s in both our interests to see the book succeed.

But getting back to my sort of rejection by Rootstock. They suggested I needed a significant developmental edit—of the entire book—based on only having read roughly 6% of the novel—or the first 30 pages. They further stated that at just under 109000 words, the novel was too long (again, without having read the actual novel). So, they’re objection to the word count is not based on any structural knowledge of the novel but simply because they don’t like the word count. Period. So, they’re less concerned with the novel’s integrity than with publishing exigencies. I don’t take that as a good sign. I write “sort of” because they then recommended some affiliated editors and possibly re-submitting.

Now I found that curious.

Here’s why: As part of their package Rootstock offers professional editors.

  • We provide a professional editor for your book, as an essential step to a quality publication.
  • We provide a professional proofreading of the final manuscript.

So why are they suggesting I hire an editor, presumably the self-same editors they offer as part of their package deal, before re-submitting the book? My guess is that they either don’t want the book or are ambivalent; but they’re not opposed to feeding business to editors they already work with. They want me to pay an editor or associated editor X hundreds of dollars so that it doesn’t come out of their $5,500 publishing budget. What that suggests is that they’re making money from authors rather than readers.

Needless to say, the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

But, take what I write with a grain of salt. If you’re looking to publish your own novel, you should do your own investigating and come to your own conclusions.

9 responses

  1. But great information!! Everyone’s journey is different. I myself would offer to publish it for you, but as you mentioned, there’s that desire to have them invest financially in you the way you invested in them. (Which for me isn’t possible.) So a lot of the marketing has to come from the writer. Honestly, no matter WHO you go through. Even traditional publishers (big house) are requiring more of their authors to do the majority of the legwork. I’ve personally talked to several authors who are moderately successful but again, they work really hard at it because the publishers just don’t.

    I see why some don’t want “vanity” publishers … but they (we) have their place too.

    Excellent thoughts and conclusions here! Thanks for sharing.

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    • Well let’s see what happens.

      I’m not closed to “vanity” publishers, and if that’s the route I need to take, you’re first on my list. I have been visiting your site, Raw Earth Ink, and I do like your taste in retro cover art. Used book stores are my favorite places in the world. :)

      Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Thanks. Everyone has different tastes and opinions. For me, the important thing is that the AUTHOR is most happy with it. My opinion, whether I “love” the cover or not, is less important. As a matter of fact, I am currently working with a client, I disagree on their choice of cover but ultimately, it’s their decision, it’s their book. It’s my pleasure to be allowed to work with the authors I work with.

      That said, I look forward to hearing more along your journey of publishing. (And for when I get to own your book!)

      Like

  2. Or you might consider an “affinity editor” to start, a creative writing professor or alumnus of your alma mater, say. Tell him/her what you’ve been told by Rootstock and that you’d would welcome a frank second opinion, and go from there. I’m partial to shorter forms (novellas) myself, as they force compression and keep the character compelling. Length, for example, killed Infinite Jest (and maybe its author too). On the other hand, if you are part-Russian go for it…The Brothers Karamazov, War and Peace…but still a ten-year read for the average American.

    Btw, I’ve been looking for a press around NC—or, more accurately, some outfit with a $800K book printing machine for rent on site—whereby I can totally command the publishing process. How does “Freedom Books” sound for an imprint? I’ve also come up with an artifice to make my pending book of sometimes deathly, offbeat poems fun to read and perhaps more marketable, but I’ll run that by you via an email.

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    • I don’t make a lot of money and can’t afford to put food on somebody else’s table just because another somebody read the opening pages of my book and decided the entire novel needed an overhaul. I just don’t trust their opinion.

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  3. That’s why I would start with “affinity readers” or “affinity editors”—they may take six months to a year to read a novel but they don’t typically charge anything. Meantime that would provide you time to rest and reintegrate your devotion to the novel in its current form. Should the novel sell well as a result of their inputs I’d give them a cut of the royalties.

    Speaking of affinity editors, I started this today, about a third of the poem. Rival Larkin, by any chance? Thanks

    drum, drum, drum
    the thought
    binding me to bed in ropes
    binding me in tighter knots
    like when and why the “visitation” ?
    whence my turn to be insensible?
    or sensing what? and should I
    add the Pharaoh’s touch, a few
    childhood toys or those adult–
    a prescription of Sildenafil,
    say, 100 milligrams,
    pressed into my
    mummified, folded hands…

    so, on and on and on it goes
    such that I get used to it
    while death collects the vital first.
    why, I’ve outlived Elvis
    20 years and with
    only fans who think I’m daft
    though sadly dozens more who’d say,
    if pushed to honest eulogy:
    “Good! Burn that bitch like Joseph Goebbels!”
    and being severely cold natured,
    that route I’ve considered not
    to accommodate my adversaries necessarily
    but to relish the warm room.

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  4. Thanks. Yes, Larkin is good with meter. But my character in this instance seemed more suited to a pre-psychotic sound-side approach. Perhaps he will “meter up” the more things fit together for him and meaning begins to cohere.

    I was thinking about your novel’s narrative style as I recall it, and believe it or not it reminded me most of Stephen Crane’s. Do you agree? Also, a good “affinity editor” should not be out to reconstruct your thinking, but to maximize the strengths already there, if that make sense.

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  5. So I tried to get the second part of this poem to flesh out beginning with “And would not John Lennon.” Any impressions. Thanks..

    drum, drum, drum
    the thought
    binding me to bed in ropes
    binding me in tighter knots
    like when and why the “visitation” ?
    whence my turn to be insensible?
    or sensing what? and should I
    add the Pharaoh’s touch, some
    childhood toys or those adult–
    a prescription, say, Sildenafil,
    a full 100 milligrams,
    pressed into my
    mummified, folded hand?

    so on and on and on it goes
    such that I get used to it
    while death collects the vital first.
    why, I’ve outlived Elvis
    20 years and with only
    fans who think I’m daft
    though sadly dozens more who’d say,
    if pushed to honest eulogy:
    “Good! Burn that bitch like Joseph Goebbels!”
    and being severely cold natured,
    that route I’ve considered too myself
    not necessarily to accommodate my adversaries
    so much as to
    relish a warm room.

    And would not John Lennon
    Gunned down at 40
    Exchange his mighty fame for mine
    For sloughs of time, instead of heights
    For bills, no holy check in sight
    For a pulled electric service meter (Christmas),
    The perpetual suspect cancer symptoms
    And all relief off-limits; for highlights
    Of defaulted joy, midnight at the grocery store,
    The only white in sight and yet—and yet–
    Complimented in despite:
    “Are you John Denver?
    You look like John Denver!”
    “Thank you, but no,” I say
    And note: Her Rocky Mountain High
    Is crack.
    “Well, anyway, could you loan me $5.”
    “Miss, sorry, you’ve asked the poorest patron in the store
    I guarantee. I promise you.”
    She shrugs away, I recommence
    My progress toward a shelf’s delight
    Pragmatic cans of chicken breasts
    Another twelve of turnip greens
    (But 50 years my high school weight!)
    Take that! You rash of dead-in jobs!
    The last from which they steered me out,
    Braced by armed security, to my old
    And beat-up truck, power getting off on it,
    In fact with such a smug delight you’d think
    Indictments pending for cocaine trafficking..child rape…
    But really just a way with words
    My crime, my greeting
    The CEO’s first inspection tour
    Of his latest “world class facility,”
    My crime, my mere salute:
    “Poet reporting for duty, sir,
    I pluck your chickens by the word.”
    That’s all. He didn’t answer
    Nor remember
    As did I, vividly,
    Before he got his MBA
    The class we took in school together
    Humanities 111. What? Three decades ago?
    Nor who got the only “A”…
    Things assort. Some luck up
    And some luck down. At the parking lot
    The goon squad still escorting me kindly
    Loosened up a bit. “Management is actually
    Doing you a favor. This is the world’s
    Most productive chicken-plucking plant.
    They didn’t hire you for your mouth.
    So leave and don’t look back nor, God forbid,
    Blow your brains while on the property. Got that?”
    “Oh, you needn’t worry—
    Not a chance. No, look up!
    I have that Sun for consolation!
    The blooming oak, the sidelong pines
    The Radiance of the land and sky!
    Their all-embracing intimacy!
    I’d add John Lennon—John Lennon!–
    Gunned down at forty, at his peak
    Would trade his groupie fate for mine,
    For this blessed day, for sunlight
    Touching on his face, this one extra
    Magical day to IMAGINE, and he would
    Notwithstanding if it meant
    Plucking chickens these five years
    In your fuckin’ world renown
    Chicken-pluckin’ plant–
    Got that?”
    “Go!” They slammed me in my truck.
    Today it didn’t need a jump.
    Say ‘Amen,’ John Lennon!

    Like

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