This article, written by Lindsay Randall, is from the July 2019 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
(Editor’s note: For the purposes of this article, hybrid is defined as having published front list in both trad & indie during 2018-2019.)
Is it double the trouble or worth the effort to publish front list titles both traditionally and indie?
Several of NINC’s hybrid authors shared their thoughts, words of wisdom and warning, and how each times releases to widen her reach.
Why publish trad and indie simultaneously?
For author Katie MacAlister, concurrently publishing indie and trad offers the opportunity to push beyond boundaries of style and storytelling while reaping the benefits of publisher support and a conduit to a larger readership.
“It’s the best of both worlds, allowing me freedom to write whatever twangs my strings, yet remain in the traditionally published world,” she said.
MacAlister’s most recent trad title is Day of the Dragon, the second book in the paranormal Dragon Hunter series (March 2019, Hachette Group). Her latest self-pub book is the contemporary romance Ever Fallen in Love, released November 2018.
While the genres may differ, MacAlister noted that she sees an uptick in her self-pubbed sales whenever a new trad book is released.
“My publishers have connections and abilities that I either lack or don’t want to spend time doing. They put books up on NetGalley, arrange for reviews in trade journals, organize blog features, run ads and contests, coordinate PR campaigns online, and so on. They usually have a longer reach with subsidiary sales and contacts within foreign publishing companies,” she said. “It's also nice to be able to write a book and hand it over for editing, production, and cover work without having to arrange for all that myself.”
Indie publishing also netted her a new publisher. She released Fireborn in 2018, the first book in a new series she wanted to write regardless if a publisher wanted it. She’d no sooner posted news of the release than Kensington made an offer. It was a bid MacAlister liked. Kensington will re-release Fireborn in June and two other books in the series.
“I’d highly recommend being hybrid to any author,” said Bronwen Evans, who writes and publishes historical romance through indie and trad channels. “This market is ever-changing—in fact, it’s more like revolving and spinning. I think it’s good to ensure you have a foot in each camp.”
Attracted to the Earl is her most recent trad release (May 2019, Random House), while her latest indie offering is To Tempt a Highland Duke, released in April as part of the Dukes By the Dozen multi-author boxed set.
Evans said she loves the freedom found in self-publishing and appreciates the marketing available through her traditional publisher.
Words of wisdom and warning
Both MacAlister and Evans said they must deal with non-compete clauses.
“My agent works hard to eliminate any non-compete clauses in my contracts, narrowing the language so that I can write outside of a series whenever the whim strikes me,” MacAlister said. “I do try to remain cognizant of how many books are coming out and when. Since I'm not a rapid release sort of writer, I like to make sure I have a new book dropping every few months, and I will shift my self-pubbed books to make that happen.”
As for Evans, the non-compete clause nearly made her walk away from traditional publishing.
“In the past two years, non-compete clauses began to pop into my contracts and the non-compete period got longer and longer,” she said. “I have a good agent, and we tweak most of the clause now and work around it with my release schedule.”
Lyn Cote, who has been hybrid since 2010 and traditionally published for 12+ years before that, said “being a hybrid is a juggling act” of positioning indie titles around the release of trad titles.
She, too, worked through an agent to deal with the non-compete clauses, remaining with Harlequin’s Love Inspired Historical line until its end in 2018 (her last title was Suddenly a Frontier Father, part of the Wilderness Brides series). She stayed because most of her readers purchased their books in Walmart “and Harlequin could get me into almost every Walmart in the U.S. and Canada.”
She noted that sales for both increased whenever an indie book released around the time a traditionally published book came out. (She writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and historical novels. The Heart Hopes is her latest indie title.)
Today Cote said the biggest reality in all retailing is that more people are shopping online.
“When an author looks at a traditional contract, he/she must ask these questions: ‘Where will my publisher sell these books?’ and ‘What will they do to actively make my books visible?’” she said.
“I now have a better understanding of the entire process for publishing a book, which gives me the ability to ask for things I know the publisher can do and not look stupid asking for things they can't do,” Cahoon said. “As authors, sometimes we don't know enough about the entire book publishing cycle.”
Cahoon’s most recent trad title is Mother’s Day Mayhem (April 2019, Kensington), part of the Tourist Trap Mystery series. Her most recent self-published title is Country Hearts, book five of the Castle View romance series.
“You have to plan your time and energy well,” Cahoon said. “Make sure you’re taking as much time writing and editing your self-published books that you do with your trad. And think about marketing. You can't just put a book up on Amazon (especially under a new name) and expect it to sell.”
For Lea Wait, the model of pubbing both indie and traditionally offers her a larger income (to date, her trad books out-earn her self-published titles), while allowing her the freedom to write what she wants in whatever genre she chooses.
She traditionally publishes mysteries (her latest is Thread on Arrival: A Mainely Needlepoint Mystery [April 2019, Kensington]) and indie publishes historical and young adult fiction (Justice & Mercy: A Post-Civil War Mystery in February).
Wait markets all of her books together, regardless of genre. When speaking or signing, she has both types of books available, plus blogs about both, and features them on postcards she shares with fans.
Timing releases/widening the reach
Each author said they time self-pubbed titles around their traditionally published titles and take care not to dilute the market.
“My traditional books come out about every nine to 12 months,” Wait said. “I try to have indie books come between them.”
For Cahoon, she tries to avoid releasing her self-pubbed romance in the months she has a mystery releasing on the traditional side.
“My trad contracts all say I can't give a book to another publisher before I complete this contract, except anything written under Lynn Collins,” she added. “In a perfect world, I'd love to have one release a month—trad or indie.”
Evans plans her release schedule each January. She also watches cover design on the trad side so that it doesn’t clash with the indie side, and she makes use of her self-published work as giveaways and free reads for newsletter signups, marketing all of her releases to all readers.
MacAlister said she staggers books to release three or four times a year, and adds a link to all works in the end matter of every indie book. “Being very, very organized is a must,” she said.
Wait summed it up like this: “Take a lot of deep breaths and don’t overcommit yourself in either direction. Make sure you meet contracted deadlines. Have fun with the whole idea!”
Lindsay Randall serves as assistant editor of Nink, and while she has indie published front list and backlist, she hopes to once again work with a traditional publisher.