The book publishing world has undergone seismic changes over the past two decades, triggered largely by new technologies that have democratized book production, printing and distribution. No longer do a handful of New York publishing juggernauts with printing presses dictate who gets published and when. Hundreds of independent publishers now populate the book publishing universe.
With this flood of arrivals comes opportunity and risk. The opportunity for authors is to team with ethical and able independent publishers who subscribe to the vaunted professional standards practiced by the most respected major publishing houses. The risks for authors is the possibility of signing with an unethical publisher that produces shoddy work and charges outrageous fees. Unfortunately, there are more than a few incompetents posing as professional editors or publishers. Anyone can call themselves an editor or publisher. The litmus test is the track record of work they produce and their fairness to authors.
The non-profit Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) was formed to infuse our industry with integrity and professionalism. It is why our company, Koehler Books, remains a proud member of IBPA. We have, since our inception, subscribed to maintaining the highest professional standards in terms of the quality of our work and absolute transparency in our business dealings. Like IBPA, we advocate for authors, and to that end we produced a Pocket Guide to Publishing to assist them with navigating the often intimidating book-publishing process. Our Pocket Guide can be downloaded for free from our website. Our distributor, IngramSpark, also makes the guide available to its self-publishing clients, and last year we were awarded the Best Practices in Indie Publishing award as part of the IngramSpark Ignite Awards.
Recently, IBPA sent to its 3,000 members a manifesto on responsible hybrid/independent publishing. (At Koehler Books we call it “co-publishing.”) My business partner, Publisher John Koehler, and I read IBPA’s document and reacted with delight. The trade association has eloquently codified business practices we strive to achieve. The document provides authors a checklist of what to look for in a publisher like Koehler Books, who combines traditional and fee-based publishing.
IBPA Chief Executive Angela Bole told us in an email that the document, called Hybrid Publishing Criteria, took many months and many conversations to develop. Part of IBPA’s intent, Angela said, is to help authors identify “reputable” hybrid publishers and distinguish them from general service providers who help writers self-publish. We do both at Koehler Books, as well as traditional publishing, and are absolutely transparent about our three business models.
Below is IBPA’s guide. We endorse it wholeheartedly and remain a proud member of IBPA.
Joe Coccaro, Executive Editor, Koehler Books
Independent Book Publishers Association’s (IBPA’s)
Hybrid Publisher Criteria
Hybrid publishing companies behave just like traditional publishing companies in all respects, except that they publish books using an author-subsidized business model, as opposed to financing all costs themselves, and in exchange return a higher-than- industry-standard share of sales proceeds to the author. In other words, a hybrid publisher makes income from a combination of publishing services and book sales.
Although hybrid publishing companies are author-subsidized, they are different from other author-subsidized models in that hybrid publishers adhere to the following set of professional publishing criteria. See additional considerations below for more information about how hybrid publishers differ from other author-subsidized models.
A hybrid publisher must:
- Define a mission and vision for its publishing program. A hybrid publisher has a publishing mission and a vision. In a traditional publishing company, the published work often reflects the interests and values of its publisher, whether that’s a passion for poetry or a specialization in business books. Good hybrid publishers are no different.
- Vet submissions. A hybrid publisher vets submissions, publishing only those titles that meet the mission and vision of the company, as well as a defined quality level set by the publisher. Good hybrid publishers don’t publish everything that comes over the transom and often decline to publish.
- Publish under its own imprint(s) and ISBNs. A hybrid publisher is a true publishing house, with either a publisher or a publishing team developing and distributing books using the hybrid publisher’s own imprint(s) and ISBNs.
- Publish to industry standards. A hybrid publisher accepts full responsibility for the quality of the titles it publishes. Books released by a hybrid publisher should be on par with traditionally published books in terms of adherence to industry standards, which are detailed in IBPA’s “Industry Standards Checklist for a Professionally Published Book.”
- Ensure editorial, design, and production quality. A hybrid publisher is responsible for producing books edited, designed, and produced to a professional degree. This includes assigning editors for developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading, as needed, together with following traditional standards for a professionally designed book. All editors and designers must be publisher approved.
- Pursue and manage a range of publishing rights. A hybrid publisher normally publishes in both print and digital formats, as appropriate, and perhaps pursues other rights, in order to reach the widest possible readership. As with a traditional publisher, authors may negotiate to keep their subsidiary rights, such as foreign- language, audio, and other derivative rights.
- Provide distribution services. A hybrid publisher has a strategic approach to distribution beyond simply making books available for purchase via online retailers. Depending on the hybrid publisher, this may mean traditional distribution, wherein a team of sales reps actively markets and sells books to retailers, or it may mean publisher outreach to a network of specialty retailers, clubs, or other niche-interest organizations. At minimum, a hybrid publisher develops, with the author, a marketing and sales strategy for each book it publishes, inclusive of appropriate sales channels for that book, and provides ongoing assistance to the author seeking to execute this strategy in order to get his or her book in front of its target audience. This is in addition to listing books with industry-recognized wholesalers.
- Demonstrate respectable sales. A hybrid publisher should have a record of producing several books that sell in respectable quantities for the book’s niche. This varies from niche to niche; small niches, such as poetry and literary fiction, require sales of only a couple thousand copies, while mass-market books require more.
- Pay authors a higher-than-standard royalty. A hybrid publisher pays its authors more than the industry-standard* royalty range** on print and digital books, in exchange for the author’s personal investment. Although royalties are generally negotiable, the author’s share must be laid out transparently and must be commensurate with the author’s investment. In most cases, the author’s royalty should be greater than 50% of net on both print and digital books.
- The criteria above point to functions that a reputable hybrid publisher is expected to perform. It’s up to each hybrid publisher to figure out, and explain, how it performs each function.
- Regardless of who pays for editorial, design, and production fees, it is always the publisher that bears responsibility for producing, distributing, and ultimately selling professional-quality books.
- An author-subsidized business model in no way relieves a publisher of its editorial, design, marketing, sales, and distribution responsibilities.
- In comparing hybrid publishers with vanity presses, it’s important to note that vanity presses are not selective in what they publish, nor are they set up to be. Therefore, it is better to think of vanity presses as self-publishing service providers, not publishers. In a self-publishing service provider/author relationship, it is the author who plays the publisher role.
- An author may be asked to subsidize or pay the full cost of his or her print Authors who do so should own the physical copies outright, having paid the manufacturing fees, and should not be required to pay a “percent-off list price” amount arbitrated by the publisher when they need to order copies.
- “Standard” royalties in traditional publishing were once calculated based on the list price or suggested retail price of the work. Nowadays, and especially among small presses and independent publishers, it is more common to calculate royalties based on net revenues.
- Some contracts offer an escalated royalty based on the number of copies sold, e.g., 8% of net receipts on the first 5,000 copies, 10% on the next 5,000 copies, and 12% on all copies in excess of 10,000. The actual royalty percentages and break points vary from publisher to publisher and are often subject to negotiation with the author.
- Trade publishing contracts, and especially the contracts larger publishers use, often set different royalty rates for various other formats, territories, terms of sale, and channels of distribution.
- Standard royalty rates vary among traditional publishers. Although some publishers are outliers, standard royalty rates generally range from 5% at the lower end to 15% at the higher end. Some traditional publishers offer the same royalty rate for both printed books and e-books; most now offer up to 25% of net revenues for the sale of e-books. Many independent publishers adopt a flat royalty of 10% of net receipts for all formats. However, there is no longer a “standard” royalty rate among publishers.