A new chapter for Wonderwell — and what it means for authors

The hybrid publisher Wonderwell is ceasing operations and becoming an imprint of a competitor: Greenleaf Book Group. I’ll let you know what happened, why, and what it means for the publishing industry and for you, if you’re considering publishing with a hybrid.

Start with this: this is not going to be an objective post, because the founder and proprietor of Wonderwell, Maggie Langrick, is one of my favorite people in publishing. Maggie has always impressed me with her dedicated and soulful attitude towards authors and books.

Wonderwell is shutting down as a publishing operation. All Wonderwell authors with works in process are being offered comparable deals to complete their books with Greenleaf Book Group, a much larger (and less hands-on) hybrid publisher. Maggie will become publisher of the Wonderwell imprint at Greenleaf, identifying and working with authors whose books are similar to the self-help books Wonderwell published in the past. Of the 40 books Wonderwell has already published, the 11 that were selling well will continue to be distributed by Greenleaf. The remaining ones will have their rights and inventory returned to the authors.

How Wonderwell’s success brought challenges

In recent years, Wonderwell has focused on “books that help, heal, and inspire.” Titles included You’re Doing Great! and Other Lies Alcohol Told Me by Dustin Dunbar, and Wonder Year: A Guide to Family Travel and Worldschooling, by Julie Frieder, Angela Heisten, and Annika Paradise.

My connection with Maggie began with a business book about a highly technical topic. I’d helped the author get started on the book, so when he brought it to Wonderwell, it made sense for Maggie to tap me as his editorial coach. But despite a good match between my knowledge and the book’s content, I found myself unable to motivate the author to produce useful material. As I regretfully stepped aside, Maggie re-engaged. Many months later, with Maggie’s diligent help, the author had created a fairly long and deep collection of content — but it had serious structural and organizational issues. I agreed to do an extensive editorial job to punch the manuscript into shape and get it across the finish line, and eventually the book was published.

Both Maggie and I put far more energy into that project than either of us had planned. But it taught us something about ourselves: we shared a commitment to creating great books, regardless of the challenges.

A few years later, in 2023, Wonderwell had its best year ever, signing more book projects than ever before. Maggie was and continues to be brilliant at working with authors and shaping ideas for inspirational books. But running a growing publishing house requires more than editorial talent. As publisher (editor-in-chief) of Wonderwell, Maggie was outstanding. But as an operational manager of a growing company, she found herself overwhelmed. A collection of difficult and conflicting responsibilities and expenses weighed on the company, and it became clear that it couldn’t continue as a going concern.

So this year, Maggie made the difficult decision to turn Wonderwell into an imprint of the much larger Greenleaf Book Group, maintaining as much continuity as possible with her signed authors and some of those she’d already published. Greenleaf is a large and well-established hybrid that in many ways created the whole category, so it’s well positioned to maintain a Wonderwell imprint alongside its other imprints, such as Inc. Originals and Fast Company Press.

Advice for authors in a rapidly shifting hybrid landscape

If you’re an author, a shift like this should give you pause. You need solid and dependable publishing partners, and in the hybrid model, you’re also investing cash in the project. While authors are far more positive about their hybrid publishers than traditional publishers, that only works if the publisher remains viable.

Wonderwell’s transition is the second significant shift in the hybrid publishing business in the last twelve months, after the implosion of the much larger operation Scribe Media. The author experience in the two shifts was quite different.

Because of Maggie’s dedication to integrity, many of Wonderwell’s authors and books have the opportunity to continue their journey to publication with a solid partner in Greenleaf. However, some of her already published authors with books that weren’t selling as well are now stuck with a need to find a new distribution partner. All of Wonderwell’s six employees continued to work with authors and content through the closing of the transition, and some of them will continue on a freelance basis with Greenleaf.

At Scribe, on the other hand, the transition was handled poorly, nearly all the employees were unceremoniously dumped, and the publisher went dark on many authors. Authors were left hanging with projects partly completed — and their money gone. While a new company has taken over Scribelawsuits by employees, authors, and investors continue.

For authors who choose to work with hybrid publishers, these are cautionary tales. Authors typically pay at least a third of the eventual cost of working with a hybrid up-front, often thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. If the company folds up, both the money and the work in progress are at risk.

If you’re vetting a hybrid publisher, here’s my advice:

  • Don’t confuse self-publishing services companies with hybrids. A publishing services company simply helps you get a self-published book out — often very cheaply. Hybrids, on the other hand, have actual editorial operations and exercise judgment in selecting the authors who have a plan for success. There are countless self-publishing services operations; some, like Gatekeeper Press, do a fine job. But the level of editorial and product quality at true hybrid publishers is far higher. Adding to the confusion, some of these self-publishing services companies call themselves hybrids, but if they’re not exercising editorial judgment and working with bookstores, they aren’t.
  • Pay close attention to references from other authors. And be analytical about the character of the leaders of the companies you work with. My list of recommended hybrid publishers is very short. Amplify (my publisher), GreenleafIdeapress, and PageTwo have solid reputations and track records. I know and admire the leaders of all of these publishers. Another large hybrid, Forbes Books, is unlikely to go under, but in my opinion, it’s a very expensive partner to work with, and one that is constantly on the prowl for more things to get authors to pay for.
  • Pay as you go. For example, it makes little sense to pay for marketing help at the beginning of a book project. Trust me, the hybrid publisher will be happy to add it on as an option once your book is ready to promote.
  • Maintain ownership of files and inventory. Unlike traditional publishers, in many cases, hybrid publishers allow authors to maintain the rights to their content and books. Ensure that your contract gives you ownership of all files and printed books and the right to work with another publisher. When production is complete, request a copy of the page layout files and graphics files, which are likely in Adobe InDesign format. Your contract should also specify that in case of change of ownership or shutdown of your publisher, all publishing rights revert to you, the author.

Hybrid publishing is a rapidly growing industry with a host of small players, so mergers and transitions are almost inevitable. But it’s still the fastest, lowest-hassle way to get a solid book out the door. Don’t sour on hybrid publishing just because of what happened at Wonderwell and Scribe. And don’t give up on Maggie — I expect her to continue her commitment to excellent books as publisher of the Wonderwell imprint at Greenleaf.

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