Picture of Justice for attention: Let’s talk about hybrid presses and publishing.

My office assistant on her four-hour break.

If you’ve even just dabbled in the idea of publishing a novel, especially if you’ve considered self-publishing, you’re likely aware of the warnings from all corners of the world about vanity presses. These are good warnings. Publishing can be confusing, no matter which way you decide to go with it (even traditional!), and among the numerous blog posts out there on the topic, no two seem to match, and they are all colored by personal experience. Which is to be expected. It would be really easy for a new author (like myself!) to get conned.

When I decided to publish The Hole in the World I did a lot of research. Like, a lot. I researched this more thoroughly than I did any term paper or project in my undergrad. I tried the query for an agent route. Again, no two sites or sources were the same, and it became overwhelming very quickly. I know the goal of the traditional route is to get an agent who will sell your book and get you that clutch book advance. We’ve heard the warnings: legitimate publishers pay you, not the other way around. If you’ve done the research, you’ll see it’s not that simple.

In my research I looked into the level of editing I felt I needed to even meet the criteria for someone to read my first ten pages, let alone agree to publish. Professional editing is expensive. For very good reason. A good editor can help you turn a mediocre manuscript into something amazing. It takes time and skill and a level of professional detachment that even the best of us will never achieve with our own darlings. An editor’s job is to objectively shoot your puppies. That darling bit of exposition you love? It detracts from the flow of the story. Perhaps a joke you love doesn’t go over well. Maybe you have a whole scene that needs to be removed for pacing or added for clarity. They want your story to be as good as possible, which I think we all can agree is a good thing.

So, I priced around. I asked editor friends. I asked editors I do not know personally. I got several quotes. For what I needed, to be sure I could put my name on something I was proud of and send it out into the world, it was going to total in the thousands. When I was done with my investigations, I just did not have that kind of cash to spend in an ad-hoc way.

So, I found what’s called a hybrid press. I think you could more honestly call these Self-Publishing Assistants, but Atmosphere (who is not paying me for saying any of this, bee tee dubs) has a good number of books under their belt in varying genres, and I’m not here to argue the semantics of what defines a press. For nearly the same price totaled in my research, I got help with all the different steps. Thorough developmental editing with a great editor who genuinely believed in my story. She challenged me, and gave me a lot of insight I just did not have as the author. The copy edits came next, and not one single suggestion did not make sense when I slowed down to think about it. In my worst review for The Hole in the World (which is not even a bad review, I’m just thin-skinned) was a compliment about just how tight and direct the editing is. I got what I paid for.

The team at Atmosphere walked me through everything, from cover design, to getting my ISBN, to formatting for multiple eBook platforms. Best of all, my book is in brick and mortar stores, including Amazon competitors. I was able to pay editing and printing costs in manageable installments. Granted, I could have done all of this myself, but I know I would have made mistakes, and I would never have been able to detach myself enough to polish the book as well as I think it is. I didn’t even know options outside of Amazon Direct existed.

I’ve seen fellow indie authors find out the hard way the limitations Amazon puts on self-publishing. Did you know that with Amazon’s package, you don’t own your ISBN? I know I own mine. I own the rights to everything. My publishing process was quick and smooth, which was nice, considering all the things I had to figure out on the fly. In the end, I’m pretty sure I saved money with my choice, and time. The only thing they did not do for me was help me make an audio version, and since I own the rights, I can still do that.

So why the discrimination?

Personally, I feel it’s in part to authors not putting in the time to research the process. People see “you pay up front for this” and immediately think you’re being scammed. If you do your due diligence, and look at the ins and outs and the contract before you pay anything, you should learn what to watch for. There are predatory vanity presses out there. I also know that there are more than a few organizations who have a very vested interest in suppressing indie options, which have broadened the abilities of underrepresented groups of authors to get our stories out there.

I think some of us believe we can skip some of the costs by not hiring editors. In fact, in a Twitter and Instagram poll I did, there was an even split of indie authors who do and do not hire editors. Fellow indie authors, I’m going to tell you something you need to hear: it shows. Nothing ruins a great story for me like sloppy editing, including but hardly limited to typos. That is not the experience I want for my readers. If I’m putting my name on something and asking people to spend money on it, I cannot bear the thought of doing anything less to make sure there are as few errors as possible.

People expect a good product for their money. We as authors expect to be compensated, we should be doing our best to make every cent spent on our work worth it. When we skimp and skip steps and put out unpolished work, it makes all of us look bad. It makes people hesitate to purchase an indie title over others, because they assume poor quality. They assume it goes straight from draft to publish, riddled with typos and excess prose. So many of us have amazing stories to tell. Why wouldn’t we put the money and effort into putting it out there in the best way possible?

Honestly, each author has to decide what path is best for themselves. I probably could have done this myself. I probably could have queried and eventually got an agent, even with all the confusion. I probably would have made fantastic flubs that would have made great fodder for this blog, and those who know me know how I love to roll around in my embarrassing mistakes and just really soak it up. Atmosphere gave me guidance in a way that worked for me. They took the confusion out of almost the whole process for me. I’m pleased with my choice. I was not duped. I was not preyed upon. I had an excellent experience. And, I firmly believe, I did not pay any more money than I think any other author should expect to pay.

There’s a lot of gatekeeping in publishing, and even some snobbery, which I think it a topic I will keep for another post, providing any of you are still reading and have not left, angry at being called out. We all have to step up if we’re going to help smooth that out. It starts with us putting in the work, and taking our work as seriously as we want readers to take it.

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