21 August 2014

Say It With Me:"Hybrid Author"!

by Brian Thornton

 (Disclaimer: the following is OPINION only, and represents the views of no one or no thing save the author)

Unless you've been hiding under a rock lately,  you've likely heard about the Amazon-Hachette War.

(For two different takes on it, one of them favorable to Hachette, the other, a Washington Post piece favorable to Amazon-unsurprising in light of the fact that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos OWNS the Washington Post!– click these links)

And now you get my take–long on notions and short on data (if you've made it this far, I trust you to be able to use the internet to research your own metrics and draw your own conclusions). So here it is.

It doesn't matter.

Oh, I'm not saying that it won't have an impact, and that millions of dollars aren't at stake. I'm not saying that some people don't have reason for concern.

I'm saying it doesn't matter to me, and likely, it won't matter to you.

The internet (there's that word again) is littered with pieces exhorting you to care one way or the other (and right now the tilt of the spin seems to be headed in Hachette's direction). "Publishers are important," says one, and on the other side of the coin, authors who are against Amazon's practices effectively limiting Hachette's sales “have no interest at all in improving publishing for everyone. Only in preserving it for themselves.”

I agree with science fiction author John Scalzi, who has sums up the sane author positionon the conflict nicely when he says,"Authors: Amazon is not your friend. Neither is any other publisher or retailer. They are all business entities with their own goals, only some of which may benefit you. When any of them starts invoking your own interest, while promoting their own, look to your wallet."

Which brings us back to my conclusion above: it doesn't matter to me one iota who wins this "battle." This squabble between rival business models "neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg" (With apologies to the shade of Thomas Jefferson).

Look, I've had a publisher. All but one of my nine books are still very much in print with that publisher. It is highly unlikely that I shall ever again sign a deal with that publisher.



They want me to continue to write nonfiction that suits them. I want to write pretty much exclusively fiction from here on out.

I've got a great agent, who thinks she can sell my current W-I-P, once it's completed (shooting for October 1!). If she can, great. I'm only too happy to take the right "traditional" book deal.

If not, I'll commission a line edit and a smokin' book cover and self-pub it, using whatever combination of Lightning Source/Create Space/Smashwords/Amazon et. al. that works best for me.

And then I'll get to work on the next one.

I am definitely going to self-publish a collection of my short stories (half previously published, the other half new content) at some point in the next year. It makes sense to do that. After all, one of the wonderful side-effects of the current technological age in which we live is that e-publishing has helped revitalize the short story, and brought the novella and novellette formats back from the dead!

What's not to love about that?

Look, I'm not saying this Amazon/Hachette thing isn't a big deal. It is.

It's just not to me.

After all, I'm someone with one foot in the traditional publishing world who also is looking to put his other foot into the self-publication end of the pool, and thus I fall into the category of author many folks call a "hybrid author." (I'm unsure who coined the phrase. The first person I heard use it was wunderkind spec fiction author Chuck Wendig.–And if you don't already read his blog, give it a looksee. The guy is definitely worth a read!).

And the two keys to being a successful hybrid author are adaptability and a willingness to be unsentimental in one's view of the publishing business as just that: A BUSINESS.

Like I said, I've had a publisher. They didn't offer me money for my books, nor pay me upon completion out of some benevolent impulse. They thought they could make a buck.

And once ebooks began to hit, I wrestled my publisher into a higher royalty rate for my ebooks. I know many authors who have tried and failed to do this. Why was I successful?

Because at the time I saw the promise of epublishing more clearly than my publisher did. Were I still writing for them, I doubt I could get the favorable royalty rate I currently enjoy on several of my titles at all, or least not without vastly more of a struggle than was the case last time around.

And Amazon? "Friend of the author?"


To me they're no different than Microsoft in '90s and WalMart in the '00s. They've got a wildly successful business model that is allowing them to corner a vast chunk of a particular market.

So what?

Like the "permanent Republican majority" of Tom DeLay, these sorts of attempts to make anything about the marketplace "permanent" are invariably doomed to failure.

After all, Microsoft's leveraging of its Windows operating system has not exactly run competition like Apple (and now Google!) out of business. That goes double for WalMart (and newsflash, Target actually gives its workers benefits!).

I'll believe that Amazon is able to "permanently" corner the book distribution business when they've managed to do it for fifty years.

In the end it all comes down to this: it's capitalism 101. Businesses abhor competition. It's consumers that love it, and as long as they continue to look for the best possible deal, there's going to be some start-up out there willing to try to give it to them, all in the quest to be the next Amazon. Or Apple. Or Google. Or WalMart. Or Target. Or...or...or.

A friend who has enjoyed enormous success as a hybrid author said it best to me just the other day: "However this plays out, I am prepared to continue to write and publish in whichever manner it continues to be to my advantage to do so."

And that's what I'm counting on, and why the current snowball fight between two rich, powerful, completely self-interested entities doesn't really matter a hill of beans to me.

Welcome to the Age of the Hybrid Author, my friends!


  1. You make a lot of good points. I think the downside, however, is that to do well as a hybrid author or as anyone in self publishing, really requires a new battery of skills in promotion and business rather than in writing.

  2. The we vs. They mentality is crippling. If an author is not willing to look at both models, it's money left on the table.

  3. "Money left on the table." I think that's a very good way to put. I'd never viewed it in such light before, but am convinced you're quite right.

  4. Good stuff, Brian. I favor Amazon FOR NOW because it is the best way for me to get work into the world on my terms. But that doesn't mean I've drunk the Amazon Flavor-Ade. It means that I'm keeping a close eye on things and, when my time comes, will make an informed decision in my best interest. And it will be a decision unfettered by low self-esteem, misplaced anger or need for industry validation.

  5. It's called evolution, sooner or later everything changes, and since no one knows how it will come out down the line,everyone should go with what works for them...for now and their feel for the immediate future. Time will tell who made the best predictions.
    Looks like Jim Thomsen has a good handle on the situation for himself.

  6. Exactly! Well said, as a hybrid author myself, I agree that having a foot in both camps is the best place to be and deciding how to publish the next book is always a part of that continuing path.


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