Guide - Indie vs Hybrid vs Traditional

One of the hardest and most important questions a young author can ask themselves is, "is self-publishing best for me, or should I seek a publishing house?"  This decision will impact your career for years to come, and the choices aren't as obvious as they might seem.

In the end, this is also one of the many questions that only you can decide. There are pluses and minuses to all of the options, and also quite a bit of industry misinformation floating about which can be very confusing. I'm going to cut through all that misinformation as best I can, and lay it all out for you as simply as possible, so that you can make an informed choice about what is best for you.

You have three options to pick from: traditional publishing, hybrid publishing, or independent self-publishing. So, let's get into it!

What Is Traditional Publishing?

Traditional publishing is what most people think of when they think of becoming an author: you spend a few years sending out letters to agents, then finally sign one on, and they start peddling your book to The Big Four publishing houses. In a few more years, you maybe get an offer and actually begin work on the publishing process.

What Is Hybrid Publishing?

Hybrid Publishing is something that has sprung up in the wake of the rise of independent publishing, and is so named because it combines traditional and independent publishing. Hybrid houses, also known as independent publishing houses, are small publishing houses unaffiliated with The Big Four. They're generally run by an experienced author, editor, publisher, or some combination of the above, but rather than maintaining their own print facility and a permanent staff they'll publish you the same way that you'd do it yourself as an indie.

So, if you can do it yourself, why would you join a Hybrid House? The main reason is because it means you have a more experienced crew to help you, rather than being all alone in the wilderness. Hybrids mean you don't have to learn the intricate details of self-publishing yourself. They often have either an in-house staff or a network of freelancers that they can trust to do a good job with your manuscript, and they may assist you with costs in some way. 

What Is Independent Self-Publishing?

Independent self-publishing is when you put your DIY hat on and do it all yourself. You contract all your own freelancers, you pay them out of your own pocket, you publish your books via Amazon and a few other networks, and you take all of the profits. You are your own publisher, and answer to no-one. You get all the profits, but you also take on all the risks.

Comparison Of Facts

Okay, now we know who's who, let's talk about the differences between the different options.

Please note that the following information is based off my own experience, and the experiences of my friends in the author community. Your experiences may differ.

a. Royalties

  • TRADITIONAL: Generally pay you a very small royalties rate, usually around 5% of your cover price. This amount is rarely negotiable, unless you are extremely popular and influential already.

  • HYBRID: Generally pay between 10% and 25%.  This amount can be negotiable, since the house is usually owner-operated.

  • INDEPENDENT: You keep everything after costs have been deducted. On Kindle, that's 35-70% of your retail price. Other platforms vary.

b. Advances​

  • TRADITIONAL: May pay you a small advance as a new author, but there is no guarantee. Advances must be paid back through sales. You will not receive any royalties until the advance has been paid back. Some houses may require you to pay back the advance if your book flops.

  • HYBRID: Very rarely pay any kind of advance, and if they do it's small.

  • INDEPENDENT:  No advance.

c. Marketing

  • TRADITIONAL:  Will not market you at all unless you are in their top 5% of earners. You are expected to market your work by yourself, and pay for it out of pocket.

  • HYBRID: Will often help you with marketing advice, and may even help with the costs. May let you have access to their list of industry contacts, which can be extremely valuable.

  • INDEPENDENT: You are responsible for 100% of your marketing costs and requirements, but you also get back everything you put in.

d. Creative Freedom

  • TRADITIONAL: Minimal creative freedom is allowed. They have final say over everything, and may change any aspect of your book, cover, or branding at any time – even if you don't agree.

  • HYBRID: Generally allow you a bit of creative freedom, though they may occasionally put their foot down if they think you're doing something not in their (or your own) best interests.

  • INDEPENDENT:  Complete creative freedom.  

e. Editing, Translation, Cover Art​

  • TRADITIONAL: They will generally pay for the services, but you are expected to reimburse them through sales. You also have no control over the people you work with.

  • HYBRID: Sometimes pay for the services or have a list of contacts who provide discounted rates for their clients.  You have some control over who you're working with, and can generally negotiate an escape from people you clash with.

  • INDEPENDENT:  You pay for everything and have complete control over who you work with – but you're also vulnerable to scam artists because of your inexperience. I recommend joining communities with other independent authors to protect yourself from such scams. Independent authors are generally happy to share their experiences and help one another.

f. Contracts & Copyright

  • TRADITIONAL: This sounds boring, but is actually extremely important. Don't get excited and sign a contract with a Big Four publisher without having it checked over by a lawyer first. The Big Four are notorious for slipping in clauses that can make life very difficult for you later on. For example, an author friend lost the entire rights to her world by signing a contract without fully understanding it. Now, she cannot publish any other book in that world without going through the publishing house in question – even if they reject the publishing rights to the book. Remember, you automatically hold copyright over a work as the creator of said work, unless you have signed those copyrights over to someone else. Once you sign your rights away, it's very, very hard to get them back.

  • HYBRID: May occasionally try to slip a fast one on you, but not often. Still, check anything thoroughly before you sign it, to avoid getting yourself in a pickle. When in doubt, ask a copyright lawyer. Don't sign it unless you feel safe.

  • INDEPENDENT: No contracts. You can publish your work anywhere without risking your copyrights. Of course, that also means you're responsible for defending your copyrights from pirates and such, but at least they're still yours!

g. Time-Frames​

  • TRADITIONAL: The Big Four move at the stately pace of ages. Expect to spend several years finding a publisher to begin with, then at least a year working on the book before they'll even begin the publishing process. Not for the impatient.

  • HYBRID: Significantly faster than The Big Four, but you are often stuck waiting for other people to do their thing, and because there are more people involved in the process that generally takes longer than doing it yourself.

  • INDEPENDENT: The pace of progress is almost entirely dictated by you, with the exception of contracted work like editing and cover art production. However, you do need to be able to motivate yourself.

Pros & Cons

Independent - Pros 

  • You maintain complete creative control.

  • You get to pick your own cover artist, editor, etc.

  • You don't have to worry about being forced to change significant aspects of your story, or having them changed without your permission.

  • You get paid monthly (though 90 days in arrears).

  • You don't have to deal with publisher or agent rejection.

  • You get to see the public's reaction to your work first-hand.

  • You can earn 35-70% royalties, and you get to keep everything you earn (aside from taxes, of course).

  • You control the timeline, more or less.​

Independent - Cons 

  • You have to pay for everything out of your own pocket. Estimate at least $1,000.00 per book, excluding marketing.

  • You do not get paid an advance.

  • You have to self-motivate, meaning that you have to have enough drive to keep working without external pressure.

  • You need to produce at least two books a year to stay relevant.

  • You have to deal with the public directly, including marketing and coping with negative feedback.  

  • There is always a risk of being scammed.

  • The chance of your book being turned into a movie or television show is very low.

  • You need to have a bit of a thick shell. Modern readers respect independent authors as a rule, but some older authors and industry professionals can get a little... rude.​

Hybrid - Pros

  • You may have the backing of experienced professionals.

  • You don't have to learn all the hard, technical stuff.

  • You may receive financial assistance.

  • You may receive marketing assistance.

  • You may receive motivational assistance.

  • You can expect royalties of 10-25%, possibly higher.

  • Publishing time-frames are usually pretty fast.

  • Hybrids know you're their bread and butter, so they'll usually be very polite. 

Hybrid - Cons

  • You may lose some creative control.

  • You still need to self-motivate to a certain extent.

  • You can still expect to have to spend quite a bit of money.

  • You may find yourself stuck with "experienced professionals" who are not as good at what they do as they originally made it sound.  

  • Some hybrid houses can be unreliable.

  • Some hybrid houses may be run by scammers as a way to get your rights.

  • The chance of your book being turned into a movie or television show is very low.

  • Some hybrids can be a bit out of touch. Check the sales on their books before you commit to anything. If their sales are low, your book won't do any better.

  • Be cautious of Hybrids who charge a fee! If they charge a fee just to publish and still take a huge chunk of your royalties, they're scamming you.​

Traditional - Pros 

  • You don't have to learn all the hard, technical stuff.

  • You don't pay for anything up front.  The publishing house pays for your editor, etc. 

  • You always have someone pushing you to finish.  If you're the kind of person who needs pressure to work, this is a significant pro.

  • You may get paid an advance.

  • You have the backing of experienced professionals.

  • There is a higher chance of your book being turned into a movie or television show one day.​

Traditional - Cons

  • You usually still have to do your own marketing.

  • An advance is an advance of your royalties, so you won't get paid anything further until you've sold enough books to pay off the advance, which can take years.

  • You may be offered a royalties rate as low as 5%.

  • You lose a good deal of your creative control.  Your publisher can tell you to change things, or even change things without your permission.  

  • It might take you years to find a publisher willing to produce your book(s).

  • It will take at least a year to publish one book.

  • You can be rejected at any time.

  • If you aren't careful, you can lose all the rights to your world and characters, forever.

  • Oddly, some traditional publishers are pretty out of touch with the market. Check the sales on their lower-end authors before you commit to anything. If those authors aren't selling, you probably won't either.