Skip to main content

Traditional Versus Hybrid Publishers: Where Does a Ghostwriter Fit In?



One of the most-asked questions I hear from aspiring authors is: “How should I publish my book?” They want to understand the basics of how the publishing industry works and what they should be thinking about as they weigh their options.

So, as part of my answer, I run through some of the biggest factors to consider:

  • Cost
  • Speed
  • Control
  • Credibility
  • Distribution
  • Marketing support

Then we discuss where I, as the ghostwriter, fit into this process.

Short answer: In the beginning.

But first, let’s talk about your publishing decision.


I always recommend that authors like you decide how you want to publish your book first, before you get too far into writing it.

One reason is that you may get feedback from an agent and/or publisher that affects how you approach your topic. For example, if you’ve drafted and polished your book and then your publisher tells you they want you to also weave in a new perspective, that can add on weeks or months of work that could have been avoided if you’d known their preference from the start. Or maybe instead of a straight chronological narrative, they want it structured as a parable.

It’s hard to know what feedback you might receive, which is why it’s best to hear it before you write the whole manuscript.

Another reason to decide on your publishing path up front is that there are other steps we may need to take before writing the book, depending on your choice. I don’t want us to finish writing the book and then have a conversation about who is going to publish it. I want to know who we’re going to turn the manuscript over to for production. Because I may make different recommendations about our work process depending on who is publishing it.

If you’re considering pursuing a traditional publishing agreement, be aware that many mainstream publishers will want to feel secure that your fans and followers will buy enough copies of your book to make it profitable for them. They will look at the size of your email list and number of social media followers as the biggest clues. They may also want to know about any talks you’ll be giving or events you’ll be speaking at in the next year that could be outlets to sell more books.

One thing you can do now if you don’t have much of a platform is to start building one as soon as possible. Start blogging, set up a social media account on the platform(s) most likely to attract the attention of your target audience. And start speaking in public.

The next thing you’ll need to do, if you’re aiming for a traditional publisher, is prepare a book proposal. This is a sales document outlining what your book is about, why now is the time to release it, who you are, why you’re qualified to write it, how other books that are similar have sold, and how you plan to market it. You’ll also need a detailed outline and a sample chapter or two. There are books on how to write a solid book proposal, such as this updated classic by Michael Larsen, or you can hire someone to help you.

Once your proposal has been drafted, it’s time to find a literary agent to represent you. Your agent is your sales representative and they’ll take 15 percent of everything related to your book for their work, when and if they find you a publisher.

You can search Publishers Weekly for agent names, or you can look to see who represented the authors of other books in your industry or genre. Some agents won’t represent competing titles, so you’ll need someone who knows your topic area but hasn’t represented your direct competitors.

If your agent finds a publisher for you and you like the terms of the proposed contract, you will then need to start writing your book, to be sure you meet the deadline your publisher has set for you. You won’t have to spend any money on production and you may even receive an advance against royalties to seal the deal, depending on how large your following is.

Those are the major advantages of a traditional deal – no upfront costs and the potential for an advance.

Now, your other option is to work with a hybrid or independent publisher, where you don’t need an agent or a book proposal, though you will need to be able to articulate what your book is about and how it’s different or fills a gap in the marketplace so that publishers can determine if it’s a fit for them. Often hybrid publishers will want a few paragraphs to understand what, exactly, your book idea is. But typically, not a full proposal.

One of the biggest differences between traditional and hybrid or independent presses is that you will be expected to pay for the layout and production of your book. However, since you won’t need to pay to create a book proposal or pay an agent, it’s very possible you can come out ahead with hybrid deals.

Here is a quick rundown of the advantages and disadvantages of each option based on the following factors:

  • Cost
  • Speed
  • Control
  • Credibility
  • Distribution
  • Marketing support

Depending on your genre and your reason for writing your book, some factors will likely be more important to you than others. You can give them more weight in your decision-making if you think it makes sense to.


Traditional: The cost to hire a book proposal writer can range anywhere from $8,000 to $20,000+. An agent will require a commission of 15% on any money you receive from the publisher. On average you’ll earn about $1/book. Semiannual royalty payments start once your advance is earned out. However, there is no cost to produce and publish your book.

Hybrid: There is no need for a book proposal and no agent commission, which will save you money. However, the cost to have your book cover created, interior pages edited, proofread, and laid out, and printing completed starts at $10,000 and can go into the $100,000s, depending on additional services you opt for, such as audiobook creation and marketing support.


Traditional: Mainstream publishers are not generally known for their speed. In fact, it can take 18-24 months before your book hits bookstores. And even before you get a contract, it can take 3-6 months to write a quality proposal and land an agent, if not longer.

Hybrid: Speed is one of the major benefits of working with a hybrid or independent press. Printing generally takes 4-6 weeks, plus time for editing and graphic design, which means you may have your book in-hand within 3-4 months of submitting your manuscript. If your topic is timely, you almost can’t afford to take any other route unless you want to risk obsolescence before it’s printed.


Traditional: Major publishers have a well-honed process for acquiring, editing, producing, publishing, and marketing books. Although authors can try to modify some of the terms presented within the author agreement, there typically isn’t much flexibility. Likewise, decisions about elements like the cover image and price are generally made by the publisher.

Hybrid: In exchange for paying for production, authors have far more control over the content, appearance, and price of their book with hybrid and independent presses. Although most hybrid publishers will offer a handful of choices, rather than an unlimited number of options, the author does have far more input with non-traditional publishers.


Traditional: Thanks to the centuries-old history of major publishers serving as industry gatekeepers, traditional publishers generally still have the advantage when it comes to credibility. Because you have to leap multiple hurdles through this process to land a publishing contract, there is a general assumption that the book is likely of quality if agents, editors, and publishers all give it the green light.

Hybrid: Hybrid and independent publishers have gained legitimacy within the last 10 years, thanks to the quality now possible with new printing technology and equipment. Many self-published books look as good or better than their traditionally published brethren. Another advantage of independent presses is that you may have the option to create your own publishing company and put that name on the spine of your book.


Traditional: Major publishers have well-staffed sales teams who work closely with booksellers and can possibly help boost sales of your book. They have long-established sales channels beyond Amazon, including brick-and-mortar retailers.

Hybrid: On the other hand, since Amazon accounts for the vast majority of book sales and most hybrid/independent publishers can assist in making your book available for sale on the platform, there is little difference here if your publisher has a distribution channel.

Marketing support

Traditional: Although many authors assume that landing a traditional publishing contract means that they will receive plenty of hand-holding and promotional support, this is rarely the case for first-time authors. Only celebrity authors with bestsellers to their name typically receive more than a press release announcing the forthcoming title. No matter which publishing path you take, you will be responsible for all marketing and promotion. Many traditionally published authors elect to hire public relations firms to manage these types of activities for them.

Hybrid: Some hybrid publishers offer marketing support for an additional fee, which can include everything from pursuing podcasts to setting up landing pages for webinars to scheduling book tours. There are often economies of scale that can make keeping the marketing activities in the publisher’s hands less expensive.

There are instances when it makes sense to pursue a traditional publisher, such as if you’ve previously written bestsellers or have had commercial success, or if your college or university demands it. Or, if you would simply prefer it. That’s a reason too.

But don’t discount the control, flexibility, speed, and profit potential that hybrid and independent presses can provide.

Where a ghostwriter fits in

It’s a good idea to talk through this publishing decision with your ghostwriter before getting too far into completing your book. Waiting until later can cost you time. In some cases, this won’t matter, such as if your topic is not time-sensitive. But if you are concerned about someone else beating you to the punch or if it’s technology-related, it’s unlikely your information will be leading edge in two years.

Your ghostwriter should be a strong writer with an excellent track record — someone who can talk you through your publishing options based on their experience. They need to have published through traditional, hybrid, and independent publishers to be able to speak with authority about how it works and which might serve you the best.

They should also have an agent they can turn to for feedback and to whom they may be able to refer you, assuming the agent represents your book’s genre.

Your ghostwriter should be part publishing consultant, part project manager, part writer, and part marketing advisor. That is the best of all possible situations because then you have someone who can shepherd you through the entire process and increase your odds of success at the end – meaning book sales and new opportunities.