by Steve Laube
To state the obvious, the publishing industry has changed rather dramatically in the last few years. The possibility for a writer to inexpensively produce their own books (in e-book form) has shifted the sands. In addition the economic challenges facing the brick-and-mortar bookstore has reduced the amount of shelf-space available to launch a new book via traditional methods. It appears to be an either or choice: go Indie or go Traditional. But there is a third way, the way of the “hybrid author.”
The hybrid author is one who chooses to follow both the Traditional and the Indie routes. Thus the hybrid moniker. They are neither one nor the other, they are both. And just like the hybrid car that is a mix of both gas and electric, the circumstances dictate which form of transportation their words use to reach the public.
Our agency has a number of hybrid authors. These authors continue to have flourishing relationships with their traditional publisher and are receiving new contracts all the time. But at the same time they have certain books that they publish on their own. They are very entrepreneurial and work tirelessly self-promoting their Indie books but also work tirelessly to promote their traditional ones. Some have extremely modest Indie sales and others are quite pleased with the revenue their Indie books produce. The range of sales is rather dramatic, everything from an author who has sold less than 60 of their Indie e-books to another who is in the five figures in Indie ebooks sold. However, each of these hybrid authors continues to maintain a presence in the traditional market as well.
One frequent question is “Why consider going the Indie route? Other than the lure of money and control.” The problem with a definitive answer is the danger of my words being used as a set of “rules” that work equally for every author. I believe that this is a much more nuanced question that eschews a formula. In my opinion each author’s situation, skill set, entrepreneurial spirit, finances, life circumstances, platform, past success, genre in which they write, and more, all go into formulating the right strategy for that person.
And this is where we, as the literary agent, come in. We ask the hard questions and help form the right strategy for moving forward. The myth is that an agent is afraid of losing revenue and therefore intentionally steers the author away from going Indie and pushes them to the traditional route. I even had one person at a conference accuse me of being “part of the establishment” and that he couldn’t trust my advice because it would be colored by self-preservation. Let me put that to rest with something that I have stated publicay, “God will provide for us financially. We have no agenda influencing our advice with regard to Indie-decisions. Our mission is to help change the world word by word. And if we somehow earn a living while doing that…mission accomplished.” (By the way, some clients pay us a percentage of their Indie revenue for the services we provide. They have said they want us as a part of every aspect of their writing career.)
We want the Indie decision to be the right one at the right time. I will say “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” to the client who is chomping at the bit to publish their work in ebook form on their own. Let me explain only one small aspect of that statement.
A major traditional publisher is looking for an author with a large platform which they can leverage to help sell that writer’s books into the trade. The size of that platform can be proven by an author’s past sales history. Thus every proposal must reveal past sales numbers. Let’s say your last traditionally published book sold 12,000 copies (paper and ebook combined) and you want to go Indie on your next one. But your new Indie title sells 3,000 copies. You now have sales numbers that are not as attractive to a major publisher. And that is one of the risks. We as the author’s agent and advisor help the writer know the landscape so they can make an informed decision, one that is based on an understanding of the total market.
Other issues to consider are the non-compete clauses in the traditional contract, the danger of releasing your Indie title too close to the traditional book launch, piracy protection, effective metadata creation for SEO or discoverability, marketing and promotion, etc.
But as the traditional market squeezes ever tighter in the number of titles they produce, the Indie route become that much more attractive.
It is a great time in our industry. Opportunities abound.
Meanwhile there is a raging debate among many authors of whether to pursue publication the Traditional way (where a major publisher pays you up front) or Indie (where the author absorbs all costs). One or the other, not both. I have already written a series extolling the benefits of the Traditional model. And I want to state unequivocally that I am not against the Indie route, as long as the writer does it the right way so as to maximize their sales and render a quality product. I would also like to state that neither route is superior to the other per se, they are different ways to achieve the same means…getting your story out there. Millions of words have been spilled defending one versus the other and many of those words have been hyperbolic and characterized by ad hominim attacks. It has been sad to see a wonderful opportunity turned into a divisive and rancorous contest. But I digress.
Great post. I too want to see authors “maximize their sales and render a quality product.” In my experience the Indie novelists whose work I have read or started to read are spending too much time maximizing their sales and too little time rendering a quality product. I belong to a an online Indie writer’s group and much of their writing is bad: excessive use of adjectives, poor use of simile and metaphor, poor grammar, poor spelling, bad cover art. Simply bad in every way. I have also read some Indie books from established non-fiction writers that probably did not fit a typical publishing genre. I have not been disappointed by those. I see a place for Indie publishing only if the author has writing skill and uses the services of a professional editor and cover designer. Otherwise, it’s simply a waste of time and money.
Thank you for this post. I agree with you. The industry is changing. I have done both traditional and indie publishing. The indie books are cozies I couldn’t find a market for. The object of my indie publishing is to build a reader base. It is slow going but it is growing. I also have a book pubbed with what is considered an indie publisher, one who pays royalty but does POD paperback and ebooks only. They did all the work: editing, cover art, wrote press releases, etc., at no cost to me. No advance though, just a royalty payment quarterly. I wonder how agents perceive this way of publishing? Do you ever work with publishers like that?
From the agency’s perspective, if you created a well-planned promotion and release with an indie author/title, couldn’t you (the agency) potentially make a lot more money? Also, if you did, do you think that could harm relationships with traditional publishers?
I am particularly interested in what you said about some of your indie authors paying you a percentage of their sales because they want to keep you as part of their team. I have often wondered how I could still use my agent if I decide to go self-pub again. My book surprised us all and did really well as an indie last year. So well, I’m writing full time now. I am expecting him to pitch it, and we have invitations from some major publishers, but the industry is so competitive and fluid. You wouldn’t want to expound on how you’re helping out your indie authors, would you?
I firmly endorse the statement, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” It applies to much more than the matter of indie publishing. I recall these words when an author overdoses on semicolons, when I see a baby boomer squeezing into garments designed for teenagers, and in a variety of other occasions.
As always, I appreciate your thoughtful approach to hybrids and other publishing-related topic, Steve. Blessings to you.
What a great post! As always, your post is lucid, reasonable, and well rounded. Thank you for the balanced perspective on hybrid writers. As I suspected “one size fits all” is really shorthand for “fits no one.”
Writers above all people should realize that individual talents and strengths make all the difference.
“…each author’s situation, skill set, entrepreneurial spirit, finances, life circumstances, platform, past success, genre in which they write, and more, all go into formulating the right strategy for that person.”
YES. Love this approach!
Steve, it’s an intriguing concept to have an agent involved in the indie side of a hybrid writer’s career. I’ll need to contemplate this a bit, but my initial thought is that I like the possibilities and potential. Thanks for another great idea!