How and Why I Became A Hybrid Author

Screen Shot 2014-10-04 at 5.22.13 PMI’ll start with the how, and get to the why in a follow-up post.

Actually it probably makes sense to start with the term “hybrid author.”

When a friend first let me know I’d become a hybrid author, I had no idea what she meant and so I went looking for a definition. According to, “the hybrid author publishes through the traditional path but also self-publishes. A hybrid can also be defined as one who picks and chooses from a combination of traditional publishing without an agent and self-publishes using companies like Createspace. I’ve even heard hybrids referred to as those who write across genre or across fiction and nonfiction lines.”

So, as a writer who has written in various genres since I started writing as a teenager, I guess I’ve always been a hybrid, if you define it that way. But the far more common use of this trendy new buzzword (I hate trendy new buzzwords) is an author who publishes by traditional means and also self-publishes. That’s how I’m going to define it for this post.

Okay, the how:

Until this year I’d published all of my novels and my story collection through conventional publishers. Then, this summer, when I finished the manuscript of my latest novel, Every Blade of Grass, I stepped out of my writing cave, looked around, and discovered I now had a lot of choice before me as to where and how I could publish. That in itself was something new: as a writer I now had choices. More choices than I’d had (or would have considered) even a few short years ago.

I could send the manuscript to my agent in the hope that she could sell it for a nice healthy advance on royalties to a conventional publisher (I’ll say more about why I didn’t go this route in my next post). I could publish the book in installments online on my own website, for readers to read for free (the major disadvantage of this route should be pretty obvious). Or I could self-publish the book as an e-book and/or a print-on-demand book through one or more online venues for writers, such as Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, or Blurb. A route which, by the way, doesn’t preclude the possibility that a traditional publisher might later buy and publish the book through the conventional route. Publishers, if you’re reading this, I’m happy to talk.

I chose the third route, and after doing some research on the costs and benefits of the various self-publishing programs, I went with Amazon Kindle. You might find something different works better; I leave that search to you.

Each step from that point on was into unknown territory. This was the first time I’d been not only the guy who wrote the words but who was also solely responsible for the book’s proofreading format, and design. Not to mention designing an attractive cover that would catch a reader’s eye.

Each of these steps was an education in itself, an adventure which made the process of self-publication worthwhile in and of itself, regardless of how well the book ends up selling.

You can of course pay someone to take care of each of these steps for you. On Amazon’s Kindle site, you’re reminded at various stages during the process (usually the most difficult stages) that they have trained professionals just waiting around to provide advice and expertise, for a fee. I chose to do it all myself. Partly because I wanted to learn how to do all of this for myself, partly because I’m cheap, but mostly because of freedom. I mean the daily rush of freedom I felt now that so much of the journey from manuscript to finished book was in my control.

Anyhow, that’s part of the story of why I chose the self-publishing route, so I’ll get to that in a later post.

As for how I formatted the manuscript, I relied heavily on a helpful e-book called From Word to Kindle, by Aaron Shepherd. A book which cost $0.01 on Yes, that’s right, one cent.

Shepard’s book to me step-by-step through everything I would need to do in order to ensure that the MS Word manuscript file I submitted into the Kindle system would come out the other end as an attractive, readable, properly-formatted e-book, in other words not looking like somebody took Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry and shook it in a bag (as happened recently when I tried to turn a pdf file into a mobi file, but that’s another story). Shepard’s book takes you deep down into the fascinating micro-cosmos of details like the difference between em dashes and hyphens. The kind of thing authors usually don’t worry about, but someone has to, because these tiny details all add up to a book that looks right to a reader’s eyes.

Creating the cover was another intimidating learning curve for which crampons probably would’ve come in handy. I used a program called Pixelmator (something like Photoshop) for the design. I found Facebook helpful in this process: from time to time I would post my latest attempt at the cover, and friends were kind enough to give me feedback on what was working and what wasn’t. I found a photo on the internet that leapt out at me as exactly what I wanted my cover to say to readers. After some searching I discovered the origin of the photograph: it had been taken by a talented young photographer in Switzerland. She told me her price for my use of the photo, I made a counter-offer that fell within my modest budget, and she accepted.

I should also mention that I’d already had a fair bit of experience playing with photos, text and images, by way of creating tailor-made images for my blog posts over the years. So I wasn’t coming to cover design completely clueless. I also went to bookstores and studied the covers of already-published books, looking for designs that appealed to me, and paying attention to such things as where the text was on the page, what fonts were used, and other details such as how large the author’s name was compared to the title (time-saving hint: author name and book title in two different font sizes is usually more visually appealing and more professional-looking than both in same size).

Preparing my finished manuscript, creating a cover, and getting the book published on Kindle took up most of my summer. I could have done it much more quickly – Amazon’s cheery invitation to instantly transform yourself into a published writer make it very tempting to simply take any old piece of writing you may happen to have lying around and see it turned into a buyable book in a matter of minutes. I took my time with the whole process, which also involved having my wife and a good friend read the manuscript to look for typos and suggest improvements. So, okay, I can’t say I did it all entirely by myself. In fact my wife read it twice, because after her first reading I went back to the manuscript and revised it extensively, based on her feedback. I’m obsessive that way.

Right now I’m working on setting the book up for print-on-demand (along with making my own hard copies I can take around to local bookstores). I’m taking my time with this step, too, which involves fun activities like communicating with the IRS.

Next post: Some more on the how of becoming a hybrid author, then to the why, and some recommendations based on what I learned to do, and not to do.






  1. Sparky Girl says:

    And what if I don’t have a wife who will do my proofreading and copy editing for free?

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