On Being a “Hybrid” Writer

Hi Folks,

At 66 years old, with 40-some novels and almost 200 short stories under my belt, I’ve decided to go hybrid. I’m announcing it here, publicly, because it’s a major personal policy shift for me and because it might be something for others to think about.

To be clear, this isn’t something I recommend, but it’s something I recommend looking into.

Part 1: Statement, History and Rationale

My work has been traditionally published before. I’ve had articles, essays and a few short stories published by the establishment.

I’ve also had two book-length poetry collections published by traditional publishers.

One, Lessons for a Barren Population, which was also significant for being the first-ever full-length collection of poetry published as an ebook, placed third at the Frankfurt Book Fair in the mid-1990s. That one also came in second to Maya Angelou for a major award sponsored by Foreword Magazinehttps://www.forewordreviews.com/.

The other, Beyond the Masks, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1996 or 1997.

And I’ve had two non-fiction books published traditionally.

Those were the first edition of Punctuation for Writers, which had no singular accomplishments other than brisk sales, and Writing Realistic Dialogue & Flash Fiction, which came in 4th (out of several thousand entries) at the 1998 BEA New York Book of the Year Award in the Education Category.

Those were all feathers in my cap.

But later, when I realized I was making only a pittance (10% on the nonfiction titles and 8% on the poetry titles), I got my rights back and re-released them myself.

Of course, poetry doesn’t sell, though the nonfiction titles have done well for the past almost 25 years.

Then in 2014 I turned my hand seriously to writing fiction. I’d written short stories for much of my life, off and on, but never with the determination and vigor with which I attacked the process in April, 2014.

Short stories abounded (one per week for 72 weeks to begin with) and in October 2014 I started my first novel. I finished it 20-some days later and started the second.

And I’ve never looked back. I kept learning and kept practicing, applying what I learned in the next story and the next novel.

A fairly famous horror-novelist friend, Deborah LeBlanc, once told me when she started as a novelist she gave herself five years to “make it.” After that, she’d fold her tent and find something new to do.

She made it big in her second year, though her medium-sized traditional publisher folded a few years later and took her books with them. For me, that was a cautionary tale.

I’ve preached indie publishing ever since I reconnected with Dean Wesley Smith in early 2014. We first met at a conference where we were both presenting in the late 1990s.

Part 2: The Plan

But now I’ve reached a tipping point. I’ve reached a point where I’m coming up on that five-year mark. And I’m 66 years old.

My recent personal good news last month — my heart function increasing significantly from 10% to 35% or higher — was a major wake-up call for me.

I’ve decided to become a hybrid writer, meaning I’ll continue as an indie publisher, but I’ll also pursue a traditional contract with the first book of each series I’ve written.

Now please don’t get me wrong. For several reasons, I’m not recommending this path for everyone else, or even anyone else. This is a choice each writer has to make for him- or herself.

The main reason I don’t recommend what I’m about to do is that most (if not all) traditional publishing contracts suck canal water from all 50 states. That hasn’t changed, and it’s unlikely to change in my lifetime.

Most of them “buy” all rights (including film rights, ebook and subsidiary licensing rights, etc.) in exchange for an advance. And I will continue to rail publicly against that lopsided policy.

(Note: Those rights can be reverted to the author [by the author] 35 years down the line, but I can confidently say that doesn’t really matter to me at this point.)

But bearing in mind how rarely lightning strikes, at this stage in my life, for me, if the advance is large enough, I’ll take the deal. Of course, with apologies to my friends Ranger Wes Crowley, Adventurer Nick Porter, PI Stern Talbot and TJ Blackwell and his operatives. Oh, and maybe to Jonathan Kirski and Maldito (Gervasio).

Of course, as this new scenario unfolds, I’ll occasionally share lessons learned in my Daily Journal.

How about you? Is this something you’re considering or already doing? Please share your thoughts with the rest of us in the comments.

‘Til next time, happy writing and publishing!


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4 thoughts on “On Being a “Hybrid” Writer”

  1. Harvey, I found you through your frequent comments on DWS’s blog. I’m surprised to see you take this route given how vocal you’ve been about staying indie. However, it sounds like you have a lot of solid reasons for turning hybrid. For one, up front money never hurts. For another, it’s a chance to reach readers you wouldn’t typically reach. People still love browsing bookstores. You’ll also appreciate the marketing efforts done by a publisher. Good luck. I’m now going to follow your blog, and I think it’s important that none of us go all-in on one writing/publishing guru — we need to do what works for us.

    • Thanks, Phillip. I probably didn’t make it clear in the post, but I won’t sell my copyright for even one novel for less than a high-six-figure non-refundable (in the contract) advance. Seriously, I’d ghost-write a novel (without my name on it anywhere) for far less than I would “sell” my copyright to a traditional publisher.

  2. There is nothing wrong about the traditional approach, you are just mixing it up to have a multi prong method. Advertising and connections will increase and respect and market as well. The funny thing is, agents nowadays get into the self-publishing venue, making deals with Amazon on fast-selling books. It’s seems upside down to me. Make as much money as you can while you can. Whatever works and let us know your continued experience. Keep them blogs coming.

    • Thanks, Ann. The biggest and most important part of my marketing approach remains writing the next book. 🙂 These posts will continue into the foreseeable future, but much more for writers over at my Daily journal (https://hestanbrough.com). Give it a look if you haven’t.

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