Award Winning Picture Book Authors Find Success Through Hybrid Publishing

Book publishing seems to change every day, and with it, the opportunities available to authors to find success on their own terms. Hybrid publishing–traditional style publishing where authors foot the bill–seems to be one of the most successful.

Hybrid Publishing picture books

Regina hybrid publisher, Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing (YNWP), owned by Heather Nickel, has been in business since 1998. The first book YNWP published was her grandmother’s memoir of being part of the first oil exploration crew in Saskatchewan. Heather says, “The response of my grandparents’ friends to the book made me wonder how many other people needed help to tell their stories, and YNWP grew from there.”

Three Award Winning Picture Book Authors

To get a better understanding of the place of hybrid publishing in today’s ever-changing world, I interviewed three Saskatchewan YNWP picture book authors.

Myrna Guymer, from Denare Beach, won a children’s book award from the Canadian Science Writers Association for her book, Canadian Shield Alphabet.

Alison Lohans was a finalist in the Saskatchewan Book Awards and the High Plains Book Awards, plus short listed for the 2015 Shining Willow Award, with Leaving Mr. Humphries.

Judith Silverthorne won a Silver Moonbeam Award for Honouring The Buffalo, the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Award for Children’s Picture Book *6 Years & Up, was a finalist in the Saskatchewan Book Awards in three categories, as well as two categories for the High Plains Book Awards.

Why Choose Hybrid Publishing?

All three authors chose independent publishing for similar reasons.

Guymer self-published a manuscript that hadn’t found a home traditionally, however, as she noted, “I would have had a hard time just accepting a publisher’s decisions.” Lohans also had a manuscript she believed in, which hadn’t been picked up by a publisher. So, she and a cousin decided to make an author/illustrator collaboration they’d talked about doing for years.

Similarly, Silverthorne decided to publish independently because her usual publisher didn’t take picture books, and none of the other traditional publishers she submitted to shared her vision for the book.

Traditional publishers take manuscripts from varying states of readiness to book format, while a hybrid publisher takes the manuscript provided by the author and turns it into a book.

Many hybrid publishers, however, don’t accept all submissions, but return manuscripts to authors with suggestions for improvement. This contributes to a common acceptance of hybrid books as being leaps ahead of vanity publishing in quality and reputation.

What Challenges do Hybrid Authors Face?

Part of the challenge, at least for authors in a position to self-publish, is knowing when a manuscript is ready to become a book. In traditional publishing, that’s all taken care of between the acquisitions and editing process.

Hybrid authors, however, have to rely on their instincts or do as Lohans suggests. She recommends, “Be sure your book is ready—it needs looks from other eyes. It has to be able to compete in today’s market.” Guymer adds that authors should “join a writers’ group for support and learning.”

From her unique experiences as a hybrid publisher, Heather has similar observations. She says, “Writers have a solid appreciation for the amount of time needed to write, revise and hone a manuscript.

What may come as a surprise is that a completed manuscript often marks the halfway point in the journey of making that manuscript into a book; there is a great deal of creative process in the editing and design of a book, and a great deal of effort in making retailers and wholesalers aware of the book’s existence.” For her, the best part of being a hybrid publisher is “being part of the collaborative creative process that results in a book, working together with authors and illustrators to make an idea a reality, and putting their book into readers’ hands.”

Why Choose Hybrid Publishing Over Self-Publishing?

But why hybrid publishing? Why not just go it alone and self-publish?

Silverthorne, who had self-published an adult nonfiction book nearly two decades earlier, said that, “…using a hybrid was closer to using a traditional publisher in terms of what I would have to do.”

Guymer agreed, adding, “I didn’t feel like I wanted to do everything, but I still had lots of control.” Lohans pointed out that YNWP was a member of the Saskatchewan Publishers Group, a factor that ensured she was working with a professional company.

How Does a Hybrid Picture Book Publisher Work With an Illustrator?

While similar experiences brought all three authors to hybrid publishing, they each approached the picture book relationship with an illustrator in very different ways. Lohans, due to the collaboration with her cousin, was able to come to an agreement to just split royalties on sales generated by the book. That made her situation the easiest in terms of start-up money.

Canadian Shield Alphabete

Guymer and Silverthorne ended up hiring illustrators, so their costs came in much higher. It took Guymer months of searching the Web to find the illustrator she felt would bring her vision to life. As she said, “The illustrations were for me a big, big part of the book.” Her 26 illustrations, one for each letter of the alphabet, cost her $10,800 in flat fees, for the first printing.

Since production costs such as graphic design and printing are on top of illustrations, they brought Guymer’s total bill to $27,300 for 3000 books (1000 hardcover and 2000 paperback). As she says, though, “We’ve got our money back. The thousand hardcovers went quickly, and there are only a few hundred paperbacks left.”

YNWP applied for and received grants for all three authors’ books, although Silverthorne’s grant was the largest, coming up with about 2/3 of the costs to pay an illustrator and setup and print her paperback books.

However, for many authors the biggest benefits of using a hybrid publisher occur once the books are printed, depending on the services they contract. Hybrid publishers often ship books to fulfill orders, invoice buyers and collect payments, take care of returns, and submit books for reviews and awards. (Note, check the services and related fees carefully before signing an agreement.)

What do Hybrid Picture Book Authors Recommend to Other Authors?

While all three authors agreed they’d definitely go this route again, they did have suggestions for others, especially for authors contracting with a business they don’t already know, or that isn’t part of the Saskatchewan Publishers Group.

• Check the Preditors & Editors website regularly to be sure you know which services to avoid (
• Check the services offered and associated fees carefully.
• Communicate your needs clearly.
• Check the contract carefully and make sure it works for you.
• Ensure the graphic designer understands your vision for the book, so you don’t incur expensive changes.
• Check the proofs of your book carefully before giving the publisher the go-ahead to print.

What Options are there for Indie Picture Book Authors?

Like the authors, I have to agree there’s plenty of evidence that hybrid publishing is a viable option today. However, as you can see from these three authors, the financial commitment can be steep, depending on various factors.

You can, however, self-publish an ebook picture book for little investment if you can strike a deal with an illustrator, or do the illustrations yourself. Many non-fiction books, for example, do well with photographs.

To learn more about how to self-publish your children’s picture book, join Linda in class at: Publish and Sell Your Ebooks.

[This article was first published in Freelance, a publication of the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild.]

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