Hybrid vs Self Publishing: or How Publishing a Book is like Building a House

Once upon a time, the choices you’d face as a writer were easy. If you wanted to get published, you sent your manuscript to an agent, who would then send it to a publisher. If you were accepted, you got to be published. If you were rejected, rinse and repeat. That was about it.

Nowadays, there are a whole host of other options. If you didn’t manage to break into the traditional publishing world, you can take your manuscript to a hybrid publisher or shop around for publishing services. Or you can hire a team of freelancers and become a self publisher. The important thing to understand before you commit to one of these options is how each method will work for you, the author.

I like to use the analogy of the general contractor. Essentially, publishing a book is like building a house. Think of the writer as the architect. They’ve taken a lay of the land, drawn up designs, and carefully laid out the blueprints. Then the construction workers (AKA the editors) come in. Some of them build the solid foundation (the structural editors) and others put up the walls and install appliances (the copy editors). If these roles don’t quite fit, that’s because I haven’t spent enough time in construction.

Next the interior designers come in and figure out how to make the house look good (the layout and cover designers). They’ll paint the walls, hang plant boxes from the windows, and choose the perfect combination of throw pillows that you’d never think of on your own. Finally, when everyone thinks it’s ready, the building inspector (the proofreader) comes to check the work. When it’s all said and done, the realtor (marketing) will make sure the house gets sold.

Finally, running the whole show, is the general contractor. The contractor is telling everyone which job needs to get done when, hiring and firing, making sure the work gets done on time, and taking care of details like permits (ISBNs and distribution).

When you hire a publisher, you’re hiring that contractor. They take care of things so you don’t have to while lending their name and reputation to the work. As a self publishing writer, you can always hire your own independent contractor (a project manager or production coordinator), but you might have a harder time selling the house if it’s been built by an unrecognized name.

Hiring a publisher means hiring their reputation along with their work. If you know what’s more valuable to you, control or reputation, you’ll have a much easier time choosing between hybrid and self publishing.