Good and crappy reasons authors pick traditional, hybrid, or self-publishing models

If you’re writing a book, there’s no perfect publishing model — there are always tradeoffs. Should you self-publish, pursue a traditional publisher, or approach a hybrid publishing model? Try these models on for size; see which one fits best.

Traditional publishing

Traditional publishers like Random House, Wiley, or HarperCollins — or smaller independent publishers — used to be the only way to get in print. They’re still the most prestigious. Here are reasons to pursue this publishing method — or not to.

Good reasons to pursue traditional publishing

  • You need the money up front. Traditional publishers pay advances on royalties — money you get to keep regardless of how well the book does.
  • You want bookstore distribution. Traditional publishers have the best bookstore relationships and sales forces.
  • You want a nice-looking cover and a beautiful book. They’ve got decent designers on staff.
  • You want the maximum amount of prestige or impact. Traditional publishers still carry an imprimatur of approval — because they picked you to publish.
  • You’re willing to wait. If you start pursuing traditional publishers right now, it will be 15 to 24 months until your book is in the market.

Bad reasons to pursue traditional publishing

  • You aren’t willing to put the work in up front. Traditional publishers are looking for a detailed proposal. That’s work.
  • You want a sure thing. Most proposals get rejected — even if you have an agent.
  • You want to call the shots. A publisher is a partner. They can reject your title or your manuscript or strong-arm you into accepting their not-quite-right-for you cover.
  • You want hands-on editing help. While publishers have editors on staff, they’re pretty busy. You’re better off hiring your own editor.
  • You want someone else to do the marketing. Sure, they have marketing and publicity staff. But you still need to do most of the work yourself. And they’ll lose interest after a month or so after the pub date — they have other books to work on, too.

Hybrid publishing

You can get very similar results to traditional publishers by hiring a hybrid publisher like Mascot Books, IdeaPress, Scribe, Lifetree Media, or Greenleaf Book Group. You’ll just have to pay up-front to get the book published and printed.

Good reasons to pursue hybrid publishing

  • You can afford to pay for speed, quality, and attention. Hybrid publishers make a profit. You need to pay them, typically tens of thousands of dollars, for everything from editing to printing.
  • You want to be sure to get published. Hybrid publishers don’t accept everything that comes over the transom – they don’t want to waste time on crappy books. But if you’ve got a decent idea, they’ll be happy to work with you.
  • You want a nice-looking cover and a beautiful book. Reputable hybrid publishers do just as good a job as traditional publishers.
  • You value author service. Authors working with hybrid publishers are generally much happier with the level of responsiveness of the publisher. Since you’re paying them, you’re the customer, and they respond accordingly.
  • You want decent distribution. Hybrid publishers can get you into bookstores, but don’t have as much volume or clout as the big boys.
  • You want a faster path to market, but aren’t in a screaming hurry. Hybrid publishers can get your book done in less than a year. They can’t usually get it on the shelves in less than six months.
  • You’re convinced your book will sell a lot. While you pay up front, you also make more per book sold. If you sell 100,000 copies, you’ll make a lot more with a hybrid publisher, even after the upfront payments.

Bad reasons to pursue hybrid publishing

  • Your budget is tight. Floating the money to publish a book isn’t cheap. Neither is the work you need to do to publicize it. If you’re looking for the cheap option, this isn’t it. Costs vary, but you’re probably looking at an investment of $10,000 to $75,000, which you’ll only recoup of the book sells a lot (or generates a lot of business for you).
  • You want free hands-on editing help. Like traditional publishers, hybrid publishers have editors, but they vary in the amount of attention they can pay. If you want a more focused editorial process they can often provide it, but you’ll pay for that as well.
  • You want someone else to do the marketing. Sure, hybrid publishers have marketing and publicity staff, just as traditional publishers do. But as with traditional publishers, you still need to do most of the work yourself.


The fastest way to market is to put your book on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or Ingram Spark. Of course, there are tradeoffs.

Good reasons to pursue self-publishing

  • Your budget is limited. While you’ll still have to pay for elements like editing and cover design, self-publishing is the cheapest path to publication by far.
  • You’re in a big rush. You can go from manuscript to finished book in a month or two.
  • You don’t care about a hardback book. Kindle Direct Publishing creates a print-on-demand paperback. Ingram Spark can generate a hardback, but costs more.
  • You don’t care about prestige. You can put a made-up publisher’s name on the book, but everyone will know it’s self-published.
  • You don’t care about distribution. Amazon’s self-published books aren’t available in bookstores.
  • You have design resources. You’ll need to design the cover and interior yourself or hire someone to do it.

Bad reasons to pursue self-publishing

  • You want to maximize sales and profit. Self-published books sell fewer copies because they’re not in distribution. You make more per book, but won’t make much money unless you’re very lucky with sales.
  • You think you don’t need editing help. Everyone needs an editor. You can self-publish an unedited book, sure, but it probably would be better with a developmental editor.
  • You want to skimp on the marketing. Unlike traditional and hybrid publishing, self-publishing means you have to do all the marketing yourself. That’s even harder without a publisher’s imprint behind you. True, you won’t have to justify your marketing to a publisher — but unless you invest in that marketing, the impact of your book will be minimal.

What does this all mean?

If you need to be paid up front, go traditional.

If you want author service at a price, go hybrid.

If you want to get to market fast, self-publish.

No matter what model you choose, hire an editor.

No matter what model you choose, develop a marketing plan and consider hiring a publicist.

No matter what model you choose, it’s going to be a lot of work.

But at least now you know what your alternatives are.

Have you participated in my author survey yet? It’s for authors or those planning to become one. I’ll send you a copy of the compiled results when it’s done.

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  1. There is another route to self-publishing. After I paid to have my manuscript edited and a cover designed, I paid to have 1000 copies of a hardcover book printed. It cost me about $3.50/book. I sell them for $20 at the back of the room and on my website. One book I wrote on hiring I sold 600 copies. Another book I printed the same way and sell wholesale for $8 through independent baby stores (it’s for expectant fathers) and also my website. I’ve sold almost 3,000 copies. I’m not retiring on them but they both have paid for themselves and opened doors for me.

  2. Self-publishing is the term most use, but the Independent Book Publishing Association advocates a switch to “independent publishing” or indie publishing. A weasel word? I don’t think so, as there are a few good reasons for it:
    – Self-publishing has earned (rightly so) a reputation where anything goes and anybody can publish anything, regardless of quality. Think vanity publishing and a garage full of boxes of books (though POD has reduced that).
    – Like any brand name, it’s aimed at repositioning non-traditional publishing with retailers, reviewers, and others in the industry. The name carries with it a different set of attributes, such as the IBPA’s Industry Standards Checklist to ensure professional publishing quality.
    – Parallels the music scene, where artists creating their own albums and EPs are known as “indie artists.”

    I advise my authors that hybrid is the way to go; the best blend of quality and distribution. With a shrinking traditional publishing biz, you really have to be well-known or have a huge following to cut a deal. They have limited resources now and want a really sure bet before they will spend any on you.

    1. You’re confusing things, Bruce. Hybrid publishing is what the members of the IBPA do. Self-publishing includes Kindle Direct Publishing and doesn’t result in a garage full of books.

      I think this was clear in the post. What part didn’t make sense to you?

      As for “indie publishing” . . . indie publishers exist, but that’s not the same as a hybrid publisher that you pay to publish the book.

      Finally, regarding “hybrid is the way to go” — sometimes that’s good advice, sometimes it isn’t. If you want an advance and you’re willing to wait, you’re better off targeting traditional publishers. (I got a six-figure advance that way on my book.) And if you can’t pay, you’re better off with KDP. If you tell everyone to do the same thing, you’re not giving good advice.