More thoughts on hybrid publishing

It’s been two years since I last shared my thoughts on publishing as a hybrid author. And this month I took the plunge: I have two new books out, both published outside the traditional model. One is a children’s book, ‘Iwalani’s Tree, the other a book about hula, The Natives Are Restless.natives-front-cover Digital Book World does a good job of defining a hybrid author. Why call myself a hybrid author? In the case of ‘Iwalani’s Tree, an agent sent it around the country and found no buyers. I believed in the book, but realized it might need to be set in Hawai‘i for the story to have the most depth. Hawai‘i is a tiny book market, and the regional publisher who bought the book (for $100) stipulated that I would need to guarantee the sale of 500 books. Effectively, that means I am paying close to $3,000 in order to see my book printed. But the publisher found and paid the wonderful illustrator, and has helped with marketing and publicity in the islands. If I sell all those books, I’ll not just make the money back, but also pocket $3,000. So I’m marketing it myself on the mainland, selling books on consignment in bookstores, linking to booksellers on my Web site, and selling it directly to families, schools, and libraries. iwalanis-tree_coverIn the case of The Natives Are Restless, I am sharing the copyright and the profits with the arts organization that co-published it. We paid a book consultant, a designer, a copy editor, and a printer to produce it, as well as two different publicists to help us get out the word about it. You could call this self-publishing, but we actually partnered with a new indie press to ensure that we’d get distribution, through Ingram Publishing Services. We need to sell close to 3,000 books to break even (and we pre-sold 1,000 before the book was even printed), but after than I will get 50 percent of royalties rather than the 15 percent a traditional, or “trad” publisher would have given me. Why did I want to explore the option of being hybrid author? For one thing, I wanted to publish these books, both of which are beautiful and will find an audience, and neither of which fits New-York-publishing-world models. For another, according to Publisher’s Weekly, hybrid authors are earning more than traditional and self-published authors. A survey conducted by Digital Book World in 2014 showed that hybrid authors earn an annual median income of $7,500–$9,999, while traditionally published authors earn $3,000–$4,999, and self-published authors, $500–$999. Those figures look low to a professional writer like me, but I’ll report back in a year to let you know whether my financial gamble paid off. the-giftOther writing colleagues are embracing the hybrid model. Marin–County based Peg Alford Pursell started her own small press, Why There Are Words, in response to a need she saw. In an interview with The Rumpus, she explained: “Good writing needs a home. Scratch that: Great writing needs great home... I’ve seen how frequently mainstream publishing overlooks great writing, and that heartbreak has led me to expand into publishing.” Brooke Warner, who was my book consultant on Natives, explains the advantages in in Green-Light Your Book: “The payoff for the author in hybrid publishing comes from having more control. The author is investing in [her] own work, or perhaps raising money through crowdfunding to finance [her] work, and then keeping the lion’s share of [the] profits, rather than giving it all away. Authors retain creative ownership and are treated more like partners in the process, instead of being at the whim of their publishers.” I certainly agree: Kumu Hula Patrick Makuakāne and I knew that we wanted a high-touch book, a volume that would translate to the page his epic shows, which feature surprising costumes, dramatic lighting, and multimedia backdrops.hula-for-the-goddess Most publishers avoid some of the costly choices we made (large trim size, lots and lots of four-color photos, purple endpapers, glossy dustjacket). But we designed the book we wanted, because we were calling the shots. And we were able to settle on a list price of $40—low for such a book, but affordable for the hula aficionados that make up our audience. One happy development in publishing that affects the fate of hybrid authors is the news about small presses. They are gaining ground. This means that the hegemony of a handful of giant publishers—whose responsibility is often to shareholders, not to authors or readers—is being challenged. An article in The Atlantic this July highlighted not just the growth of this sector, but the growing willingness of independent publishers to take risks. And, really, isn’t taking risks what writing is all about?

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