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The Ugly Duckling becomes a Swan: Hybrid Publishing Ch. 1

Remember when the Toyota Prius first came out on a large scale in the United States? In 2000, the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle hit U.S. car lots, and immediately the Prius became the darling of the ecologically “woke” elite, proud to leave their status rides in their five-car garages to be seen tooling around in their fuel-efficient, ozone-saving statement cars. Orlando Bloom in a Prius? Yes, please! In fact, many of my celebrity favs drive this cozy beauty: Tom, Julia, Leo, I see you, I do. 

Unfairly, when the Toyota Prius first came out it became known as the “Ugly Duckling” of the hybrid industry—but we all know how that fairy tale ended, don’t we? It took a few more years, and lots more competition, but by 2022 Toyota’s footprint in the hybrid industry remains dominant, even considering the flashy scene-stealing prowess of Tesla. Fuel efficiency of over 50 mpg is impressive, particularly given the current price of gas. 

Even with Americans’ love of power under the hood, a growing number of drivers are more inclined to enjoy having more power in their wallets. Helping the environment is important, but what hybrid car owners brag about is how far they get on one tank of gas. The success of Toyota’s hybrid line, beginning with and sustained by the Prius, drills down to three things: ACCESSIBILITY – Toyota managed to mass produce the Prius in the U.S. and bring the price down to a level the average American could tolerate. EXPERTISE – Toyota’s early development of a battery configuration that was both safe and long-lasting, and their ongoing improvements, allowed them to become the standard all others followed. EFFICIENCY – not only is the product fuel-efficient, but their production methods are also a model of efficiency, which saves everyone money and narrows their little slice of our environmental woes.

Well, in the publishing industry, hybrid publishing was, at first, also considered an Ugly Duckling. (How was THAT for a pivot?) Just like the little ducks in the pond, the big boy traditional publishers refuse to even acknowledge the hybrids. Industry pundits love to dismiss hybrids out of hand, claiming that “anyone who takes money from the author to publish is not a legitimate publisher.” The media is often under the false impression that they cannot rely on hybrid content or quality. Bookstores often will not take the risk on unknown authors, seemingly unvetted content, or publishers who were not “in the system,” a vexing problem all independent publishers face.

As hybrid publishing grew and those fluffy tufts of grey were replaced by elegant white feathers, authors began to see hybrid contracts for what they really are: the up and coming star of the show in book publishing, the answer to intractable problems vexing a million authors annually that the big boys in publishing are unwilling or unable to address. And those industry critics? Well, we still have some work to do to convince them, but I predict that in a very short time hybrid publishing contracts will outnumber traditional contracts (if they haven’t already), and income from hybrid-published books will also outpace the traditional market. Then watch the feathers fly! (By the way, what's so "ugly" about a sweet little cygnet?)

Photo courtesy of

At the risk of pushing the metaphorical envelope too far, let’s circle back to the Prius. Like the hybrid Prius, hybrid publishing contracts solve problems—BIG problems, by providing ACCESSIBILITY, EXPERTISE, and EFFICIENCY, just like Toyota did. When a strong book fails to breach the barriers to traditional publishers, or when an author needs more control over their content than traditional publishers allow, an established hybrid publisher gives them ACCESS. When an author need help with design, editing, marketing, and getting their book to market or to their chosen audience, hybrid publishers can do all of that, employing their substantial agility and EXPERTISE. Unable to afford a broad advertising approach, or on a tight deadline? Hybrid publishers by necessity work with great EFFICIENCY. They often can take a project to completion on a much shorter timeline than a traditional publisher, perhaps in half the time.  They are designed to employ targeted niche marketing strategies, so authors can make common-sense and effective decisions on marketing spend.

Yes, the author must be in a position to pay for production, printing, and marketing, but a good publisher can calculate for them how many books must sell for them to cover costs, and then make a profit. Efficiency and common sense, then, drive decisions on all the “P”’s: production, price, print runs, and promotion—the publisher and author establish a logical budget to meet the goals of the project, just like any successful business would. In most cases, the hybrid publisher provides valuable services and expertise as a discounted or included benefit, and charges for other cost-bearing services. They negotiate the best price for you because cost drives the ultimate book price, and if you can’t keep that within market range, you’re sunk. With a hybrid contract, sales benefit both the publisher and the author, so the publisher has an incentive to ensure the finished product is high quality, marketable, and low enough in cost that both parties are happy. A happy author writes more books and brings others to your door.

With a hybrid contract, the client pays for and owns the book stock, regardless of where it is housed. The publisher manages the listing, fulfillment, ongoing marketing as needed, and royalty payment, often providing multiple avenues where the book can be purchased. The publisher will happily help the author exploit their market with additional formats and will be on the lookout for unique targeted marketing options. As opportunities for additional formats, merchandise, or licensing deals come up, the publisher can help the author navigate those as well, opportunities that rarely come around for self-published authors.

So, yes, the Ugly Duckling is becoming a swan. (Who doesn't remember this classic Little Golden Book?) The waters are murky, though. In my next blog, I will discuss some of the larger industry issues hybrid publishers face, and why hybrid publishing isn’t for everyone. After that, we’ll look at when it makes sense to self-publish, share some helpful links for self-publishers, and give you some tips on how to spot a publishing predator.

[Encourage Publishing is an independent small press publisher specializing in works that uplift and encourage, written within the bounds of a Christian worldview. We are primarily a hybrid publisher with a limited number of traditional contracts.]