The Wild, Wild West of Hybrid Publishing
By Carrie Fancett Pagels
It occurred to me recently that all these opportunities in publishing fiction today must be similar to when the American West opened up! A certain number of people, maybe many, were drawn by the notion of quick riches, but they learned that moving west came with a lot of expenses and a lot of hard work and toil. Writing in today’s market is a lot like that. The vast majority of authors aren’t going to find gold and silver; they may just eke out enough in their efforts to finance their way back home. But some will settle out west in Hybrid Land and make a go of things.
What is a hybrid author? In today’s publishing market, it is an author who is published both by a traditional publisher (i.e. Barbour, Revell, etc.) and has also independently published their work on their own, termed Indie publishing, or the old term self-publishing.
There are many reasons for making the decision to become a hybrid author. Newer authors may wish to Indie publish as a way to promote their traditionally published books. Long-term authors may have gotten some rights back to books that are out of print but want to make those available to their fans. Mid-career authors may want to Indie publish to learn first-hand about what goes into the publishing process and for the freedom of creating the book from start to finish.
The experience I had when I first Indie published, was to be invited by author friend, Gina Welborn, to join a group of authors who wished to Indie publish their novellas as part of a traditional Christmas collection. I didn’t know the first thing about doing so. At the time, I’d already had a short story published in Guidepost Books A Cup of Christmas Cheer collection and a novel, Return to Shirley Plantation: A Civil War Romance, published with a small press. Up until Gina’s invitation, I’d spent much of my summer editing novels with some wonderful editors’ assistance and sending out proposals, but not yet getting any bites. So I prayed about it and took the Indie leap to write “The Fruitcake Challenge” for the Christmas Traditions collection with Cynthia Hickey, Gina Welborn, Patty Smith Hall, Niki Turner, Darlene Freeman, Angela Breidenbach, and Jennifer Allee. I was overjoyed when the collection hit the #1 spot for Christmas books and then “The Fruitcake Challenge” itself became an Amazon Christian Historical Romance bestseller, too!
The Lumberjacks’ Ball and Lilacs for Juliana. Throughout it all, I continued to submit to traditional publishers while trying to learn more about what it takes to get a book written, formatted, and out there in the Indie world. For me, my venture into the Indie “Wild West” was a springboard into so many wonderful things for an author—from expanding one’s knowledge base about the publishing industry to instilling a confidence I might not have had otherwise. Especially when The Fruitcake Challenge long novella went on to final in the Selah Awards, was a long-list finalist for Family Fiction’s Book of the Year, and sold enough to qualify me for Romance Writer’s of America’s Professional Authors’ Network!
From that point on, I was able to begin building my reader base, set up my Amazon and social media author pages, get my Goodreads info going, and so on. Some people love the Indie lifestyle for the freedom it provides and the control over decisions such as who will do your cover and who your freelance editors will be. You can do/write pretty much what and how you want – kind of like strolling onto a Wild West set and deciding you not only are going to play the cowgirl, but you are going to write the script and be the director of the show too!
There are advantages to both traditional and Indie options. With a traditional publishing contract, the company generally provides the cover, editing, formatting, some promotion, and the biggie – distribution! Publishers have worked hard and long to establish relationships with retailers across the country and with libraries. Their mailing lists are deep and long. They have their titles listed in catalogs. In some cases, an author may need to do little to no promotion, yet have tens of thousands of sales based on name recognition of the publisher and of their placement. For instance, if your publisher has Walmarts all across the country carrying their books, there will generally be good sales! Also, a big plus is that most traditional publishers give you an advance for your work. But. . . and this is a big but, getting those contracts sometimes feels like gambling at a Wild West tavern, not knowing if you’ll ever win the game.
Imagine riding out to the high desert of Traditional-Publishing Land, and you can’t find a place to lay your head for the night. That’s kind of like trying to find a spot with a publishing house. I remember looking through a publisher’s catalog about eighteen months ago and reading out loud to my husband the number of historical romances that company was releasing that half of the year. I was stunned there were so few. Yet one has only to go over to Amazon and peruse the Christian historical romance bestsellers to see that there are many, many more titles being released – albeit Indie.
For Indie publishing, you’ll still need to, in fact more so, have Beta readers (first readers of your novel who will give you invaluable input), promo team, and all other marketing efforts set up. You’ll need to pay for your own advertising (however here in the new Wild, Wild Hybrid West, traditional publishing may also require you to pay for some of your own promo efforts). Indie publishing and working with smaller nontraditional presses allows you to get more books out in a shorter period of time. It also gets the author in the habit of producing a finished manuscript, knowing that it will be released to the public soon, which is far more motivating than waiting at the dice table wondering when your number will be rolled.
I feel like my Indie experience has been invaluable, and I hope my journey has helped you, too, giving a glimpse at the path of one hybrid author. I wouldn’t understand, nor be as appreciative of, traditional publishing as much if I hadn’t done it. I’ve met so many wonderful readers, established the props that need to be in place, and broadened my horizons on both sides of the publishing spectrum—traditional and Indie. So I recommend that if an author is up to it, that they publish at least one Indie book. It is an eye-opening experience and you learn a lot from it, whether it’s part of collection or on its own. Because there’s room for everyone at the table in the Wild, Wild Hybrid New West!
GIVEAWAY: So, how about you? If you are traditionally published, Indie published, or on your way there -- tell us your story! If you haven't considered Indie publishing yet, why or why not? And if you are a reader only, what are your feelings on Indie books? Do you read them and if so, do you notice any differences between them and traditionally published novels? Leave a comment, and we'll enter you to win a copy of Saving the Marquise’s Granddaughter (which received a RT Book Reviews 4 Star review!) and Tea Shop Folly (soon to released in paperback!). Winner’s choice of format (ebook only outside the USA).
RECENT BOOKS: Upcoming Barbour releases “Requilted with Love” in Blue Ribbon Brides (November, 2016), “Dime Novel Suitor” in Seven Brides for Seven Mail Order Grooms (June 2017), and My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island – a novel (July, 2017).
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LINKS TO PURCHASE:
Saving the Marquise’s Granddaughter (White Rose/Pelican Book Group, June 2016) Available from
Return to Shirley Plantation: A Civil War Romance (2nd edition, January 2016)
--> The Steeplechase (Forget-Me-Not Romances, February 2016)
--> The Substitute Bride: A Novella: (October 2015) Maggie Award Finalist 2016