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.