October 22nd, 2014

An Agent’s Take on Hybrid Authors

Amanda Luedeke

Ever wondered what agents think about hybrid authors? Ever been too afraid to ask, thinking the very idea of hybrid publishing an insult to the traditional side of the business? Well, fear no longer, because most agents I know fully support the hybrid author model. And it’s because of one reason…

Agents are happy when their authors are happy, and authors are happy when they’re making money. Being a hybrid author allows writers the opportunity to actually EARN DOLLARS doing this writing thing. So therefore agents, for the most part, are pro-hybrid authors.

Don’t get me wrong. Authors who try self-publishing aren’t guaranteed success or a boost in their finances. It can be a costly thing to get going and maintain, and if the sales aren’t there, it can leave the author frustrated. But when it works—and it does work for many authors—we agents get a kick out of seeing our authors succeed in such a difficult industry.

Before we go further, let’s define “hybrid author.” This is an author who simultaneously publishes with a traditional house and pursues self-publication through Amazon or CreateSpace or Smashwords or the like. It’s an author who is both on the indie side, and the traditional side.

So aside from the possibility that an author just won’t be able to get their indie books off the ground, what are some other downsides when it comes to how hybrid publishing may affect the author-agent relationship?

In other words, what are some things that agents don’t like about the hybrid model?

1. When our authors decide to completely abandon traditional publishing.

Look, I totally understand that monetarily, an author may be making more on the self-pub side. BUT I cannot express how very valuable it is to have the occasional book with a publisher, in stores, in libraries, and so on.

Being on the traditional side is like having a giant billboard. An author’s name gets in-store visibility, plus it benefits from being able to more easily enter contests, gain industry reviews, and earn that type of notoriety. Plus, by having a publisher’s marketing team work on your book, they’re essentially helping to promote your entire brand, as folks will type your name into Amazon and find your traditional books alongside your self-pub books. This feeds your career and therefore your self-pub sales. So pulling the plug on such a great cyclical model means risking a dip in sales and buzz.

2. When authors expect us to provide the same service on their self-pub projects that we do on their trad-pub stuff.

Typically, we don’t make a dime on the self-pub side. Furthermore, the projects that are taken directly to self-pub are projects that we then won’t be able to sell to a publisher. While we understand the give and take of such a model, what we don’t like is when our authors treat us as though we were the agent on those self-pub projects. In these instances, I find authors will rely on me to provide the same level of service to their self-pub careers that I provide to their trad-pub careers.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to answer some questions and give general direction, but I can’t be editing manuscripts, offering feedback, and brainstorming strategies on projects that will never make me money. It just isn’t smart business on my end, and I need my hybrid authors to understand that.

3. When authors compare the trad process with the self-pub process as though they should be identical.

They aren’t identical! And they never will be! And because of that, authors right now are able to run a hybrid operation that is the best of both worlds. But once you have an author who feels as though one side is grossly better than the other and who starts to compare the two and complain about this or that not being fair or right, you’re on a bad path.

In these instances I’ve found that no amount of pep talk or facts or advice will pull the author out of this mindset. They’re on a collision course that will drastically change their career to be solely a self-pub model. There’s nothing wrong with that if it’s the right choice. But for many, they really benefit from having some traditional contacts and support. So comparing both markets as though they should be the same can be dangerous.

4. When authors ignore advice.

While I try to stay out of my authors’ self-pub operations, there are times when they ask me for my thoughts on their projects or plans.

I’m quite familiar with self-publishing (I’ve done it myself and have helped numerous authors upload dozens and dozens of books), so I have a respectable opinion on the matter…which is probably why I don’t appreciate it when my authors achieve a bit of self-pub success and then think that I don’t know what I’m talking about when I flag a book cover as being “unclear” or a title as being “unsearchable” or a pricing strategy as being too expensive.

Believe me, I wouldn’t be providing my opinion on something that provides me no direct monetary gain unless I really thought that my input was helpful and important.

5. When authors join an “anti-traditional publishing community.”

There are lots of communities and blogs online that seem to solely exist to tear down traditional publishing while simultaneously puffing up the indie market. Everyone is privy to their own opinion, but I am definitely bothered when I have an author join these ranks even though he/she is in the midst of a traditional book deal! It lacks tact and is a slap in the face to the editors and professionals working on the book at the traditional house.

So there you have it! I’m a huge fan of hybrid publishing (check out the series I did on it) but there are definitely pitfalls to avoid if you want to explore your options while keeping your agent diligently working hard on your behalf.

So, what do you think? Which direction do you want to take your career? How did you choose?

About Amanda

AmandaMacLit2014Extroverted WriterAmanda Luedeke is an agent with MacGregor Literary.

A former marketing professional, her book The Extroverted Writer is a practical tool for understanding Facebook, Twitter, blogging and more. Download it now for $2.99 or check out the print version.

22 comments to An Agent’s Take on Hybrid Authors

  • Vicky Burkholder

    What you say makes sense. For you to help with a self-pub career is not a good business plan. Thank you for your insights.

  • Amanda I agree with everything you say here, which is a natural extension of my guest post here on Monday. Apparently I set up your post perfectly–you’re welcome, haha! You’d think we’d planned it.

  • What I am taking away from your post is that the agent-author relationship is just that – a relationship. It sounds like you want your clients to have success in all spheres and for them to respect you as a professional. I would think that when give an author advice, they should take your words seriously. Thanks for your perspective.

    • Most of my authors do heed my advice, or at the very least strongly consider it 🙂 But yes, when an author seems to feel as though he or she knows more than I, it’s at that point that I start to wonder why we’re working together. I mean why give someone 15% if you don’t trust their opinions?

  • carrienichols

    Great column. Thank you for sharing with us.

  • Holly Robinson

    Amanda, you’re a breath of fresh air in this business! As a hybrid author who is currently publishing with Penguin Randomhouse, I have to say that your clients sound like they’re very lucky to have an agent who embraces diversity in the publishing business. Thanks for a great post.

  • Amanda, it’s helpful to hear an agent’s take on this subject and thank you for pointing out the pot holes in the process. I think that being a hybrid writer is something all authors might explore for different reasons and at different times of their career. For established and traditional authors, it might be a way to give new life to their older books that are now out of print. Often when the copyright reverts back to the author, that is a way to find new ways to sell those books.

    For those who have not yet published, I believe it’s a difficult decision. Personally, I want to be published traditionally first … having an agent I can trust is far more important to me than simply getting my words printed on the page.

    Thanks for a wonderful post 🙂

    • Yes, if you’re unpublished then it’s not a question of whether or not you want to be a hybrid author. It’s a question of whether you want to wait OR begin a self-publishing career. While it’s hard to begin on the traditional side, it’s also very hard to start on the indie side and then transition over to the traditional side. There just isn’t a magic formula, so yes, waiting for that trad deal is a perfectly fine strategy.

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Thank you, Amanda, for blogging with us. Wonderful post and lots of great advice!

  • I don’t understand why authors would publicly join anti-trad communities. You never know when you might change your mind, so never burn bridges with your career! Thanks, Amanda.

    • I SO agree. But many times, they do it after going through a bad experience or after feeling as though their careers are moving faster on the indie side than the trad side. But totally…this is a small business. So even harping on agents on these public forums…you gain nothing, but you have so much to lose. You never know when you may need that person to LIKE you down the road.

  • At the moment, I’m considering going hybrid as an experiment. The waiting game re finding a literary agent willing to represent my cross-genre novel and so, rather than go slowly mad, I might have a go self-publishing an earlier work at the same time.

    Thanks for your interesting and timely post.

  • PS to my previous comment. See, I am going mad. I can’t even write cohesive sentences anymore. Hope you understood what I was trying to say.

  • As someone who would like to have a hybrid writing career, this was absolutely wonderful to read. I know writers on both sides — traditional and indie — who are convinced their path is the only right one. For myself, however, I can see where some of my projects better fit self-publishing and others are better suited to a traditional route. Thanks so much for giving the agent’s perspective!

  • I ended up with a project traditional publishers have no idea what to do with, in a genre traditional publishers have no idea what to do with. So I’ve self-pubbed it. I’m having a blast, but I still would love to be hybrid. Which is going to be interesting because the self-pub is general market and the trad pub project going out soon is CBA……

    I make it a point to steer clear of places like you point out in #5. And of people in general who hold that opinion. In my experience they tend to be very angry about it and if someone doesn’t agree with them you get blasted for being an idiot. Talk about unprofessional behavior.

  • I’m with Julie – I’ve read a lot about hybrid writing careers, but it’s fantastic to hear from an agent, especially a supportive one. I also think a lot of the caveats you made were very common sense, and something I will definitely force myself to stay aware of if I’m fortunate enough to embark on this path. Thanks!

  • I appreciate the perspective… I want to make money, but I also want to be smart in what I do…

  • I’m with Julie — I’ve always wanted to do both, depending on which project it is. If it’s my women’s fiction, I’d really prefer a traditional publisher. However, I have many short stories and family stories and those seem like an easier sell on the self-pub side of things.

    Thanks so much for blogging with us today, Amanda!