The Authors Guild is grateful to the Society of Authors and the Writers Guild of Great Britain for researching and publishing Is it a Steal?, their joint report on the nontraditional hybrid publishing model. The hybrid model lies somewhere between self-publishing and traditional publishing: The author has a company to help them print and distribute the book, and in some cases to market it, but they are responsible for a portion of the upfront costs and usually much of the marketing. As the first report of its kind, Is it a Steal? provides empirical and at times troubling insight into how authors may be exploited by these kinds of paid publishing programs. It also reinforces the importance of authors doing their own research, talking to other authors, and consulting organizations like the Authors Guild, the SOA, and others, before committing thousands of dollars to publishing with an entity that calls itself a hybrid publisher.
While the report is undoubtedly relevant to authors in the United States, it is based on data collected on U.K.-based publishers and authors, and focuses on three main hybrid publishers active in the U.K. The hybrid publishing space is larger and more nuanced in the United States. There are some highly reputable hybrid publishers in the U.S., such as She Writes Press. Their staff selects great books to publish and does most of the work of a traditional publisher, but asks the author to pay a portion of the upfront costs. This is done in exchange for a much higher split of profits than the author would receive in a traditional publishing deal. At the same time, however, there are a growing number of entities that call themselves hybrid publishers but are only in the business of taking advantage of authors’ desires to get published, promising returns that they cannot deliver.
The notion of an author paying to publish their own work is hardly novel. Not only do we have a thriving and growing self-publishing market today, but in the early years of book publishing, some authors who could afford to do so paid publishers to print their books and then retained most of the profits. This model does have some benefits. For one, it allows authors to retain greater control over how and when their book is marketed, sold, and distributed, as well as the potential to earn more on the back end.
However, as the report points out, the growing popularity of these partnership models has created a new avenue for dishonest publishers, as well as those out to earn an easy buck, to take advantage of authors. As such, it has created an urgent need to educate authors about how to assess these ventures and make informed decisions about their path to publication in order to avoid falling prey to scams. While many hybrid publishers have a strong track record, there are a lot of bad actors who advertise themselves as “hybrid publishers,” but provide only slipshod services (bad design, production, and editing), as well as outright scams.
Here's how authors who are considering hybrid publishers can protect themselves:
1) Send in your contract to the Authors Guild (or the SOA if you’re in the UK).
2) Ask members of your writing community for their experiences, or post any questions or concerns in the Authors Guild’s Members Community.
3) Consult the Independent Book Publishers Association’s (IBPA) Hybrid Publisher Criteria, which defines standards you can use to distinguish between a reputable hybrid publisher and a predatory one. A hybrid publisher must exercise editorial selectivity, provide certain services, and pay authors higher-than-standard royalties. You should be wary of any publisher calling itself hybrid that cannot demonstrate such a track record.
4) Understand all of your publishing costs and what services your publisher will provide for you, and ensure you have a contract that backs them up. How will the publisher help you aside from printing? If they are promising marketing or other services, get specifics in writing in your contract. What guarantees do you have, if any? Research the publisher’s track record. Ask questions. Then make an informed decision based on what you wish to gain from the publication.