Is hybrid publishing the new vanity publishing? The April issue of Entrepreneur magazine featured an article titled “The (Booming, Misunderstood, Game-Changing, Potentially Manipulative) Business of Business Books.” Underneath the title in bold type was the following first paragraph: “Every entrepreneur today seems to have written a book. But here’s what they might not tell you: The book wasn’t really written to be read. And they didn’t always do the writing.”
Since my firm, Wool Street Writers, is in the business of helping business professionals and other thought leaders write and publish non-fiction books, I was naturally interested in what the author of the article had to say.
The article began by offering some interesting statistics, namely that according to the research firm Pro Quest, the number of self- and hybrid-published business books has more than doubled in the past four years, from 9,839 in 2012 to 20,499 in 2016, while the number of traditionally published business books has plummeted, from a high of 66,508 in 2013 to 35,233 last year.
In my view, that’s good news! Self-publishing gives authors more choices and more control, and it allows them to bring their books to market faster. Plus, it is often the only practical way to target a niche market.
Due largely to advances in printing technology and the advent of the Internet, self-publishing (or independent publishing, as some prefer to call it) has gone mainstream. It has largely shed the questionable reputation it had in the days of “vanity publishing.” Today, most decisions about whether to traditionally publish or self-publish are based on economics rather than image.
But the Entrepreneur article did highlight some valid concerns about hybrid publishing. Hybrid publishers appear on the surface to be traditional publishers. They review book proposals from authors and produce and distribute the books they accept. But unlike traditional publishers, which aim to make money by selling the author’s book to the public, hybrid publishers make a large percentage of their money by selling the author’s book back to the author. In some cases, the author must commit to purchasing thousands of copies of the book before the publisher will accept the book for publication.
Some hybrid publishers are overly aggressive about selling their services. A few (fortunately, it’s very few) use the gimmick of “collective co-authorship.” For a fee, an individual who wants to become known as an “author” can sign up to write one short chapter of a book. The publisher chooses the title of the book and recruits several other people to be co-authors. When the book is published, the publisher gives each co-author several copies with his or her name featured on the cover. The books produced in this way are seldom worth reading. This deceptive practice hurts the whole industry and can even end up tarnishing the reputation of these “authors.”
In some corners of the hybrid publishing world, acceptance of a book proposal depends more on the financial resources of the author than on the quality of the author’s work. The Entrepreneur magazine article was correct in pointing out this problem. This is vanity publishing under a new name.
I favor true self-publishing over hybrid publishing. One model is for the author to set up his or her own publishing company. This is easy to do, and it gives the author complete control over the writing and publishing process. The author owns the ISBN (International Standard Book Number), so there are no conflicts over rights.
With this model, the author can have a direct financial relationship with the printer. This allows the author to order additional copies of the book from the printer at any time at the printer’s cost.
Hybrid publishers may cover all or part of the initial production costs, but they more than offset these costs by selling copies of the author’s book back to the author at an inflated price. For example, authors who use a hybrid publisher might have to pay around $5 or more for each copy of their book, when the actual cost from the printer might be less than $2. Over time, hybrid publishing can cost the author considerably more than true self-publishing.
The author of the Entrepreneur article also criticized hybrid publishers who make it appear as if their authors write their books on their own. I agree with this criticism, and I don’t see any reason for this type of secrecy. Most people don’t expect busy professionals to have enough time to write their books alone. Furthermore, when an author acknowledges a ghostwriter, it tells the world the book is professionally written. I advise all aspiring authors to get professional help. An unprofessionally produced book is worse than no book at all.
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