Are You Writing a Hybrid Book?

yin yang bookHybrid concepts are all the rage in book publishing. As the publisher of what I call a hybrid press, I see it everywhere. There are hybrid authors (authors who publish traditionally and nontraditionally); hybrid publishing arrangements (where publishers and authors split costs and royalties in ways that work outside the traditional paradigm); and hybrid books (which cross or blend genres).

I first became aware of hybrid books when I worked at Seal Press in the mid- to late-2000s when we went through a period of acquiring projects that we started to refer to as hybrid memoirs. These were self-help books with a strong personal narrative arc. They were books like Own It!: The Ups and Downs of Homebuying for Women Who Go It Alone and The Money Therapist: A Woman’s Guide to Managing Money and Creating a Healthy Financial Life, and Navigating the Land of If: Understanding Infertility and Exploring Your Options. Each of these books was focused on teaching the reader something (how to buy a home, how to manage money, how to figure out fertility options) using personal anecdote as a driver.

Sometimes authors approach me explaining that they’re writing a book that crosses categories, not really sure about what they have on their hands. Sometimes they’ve been told they’re not allowed to write the book they’ve been writing. Other times they’re just aware that their book defies categorization, and they’re not sure what to do about that fact. To be certain, the industry doesn’t make room for authors who are into blending or resisting categories. Just this week I moderated an event with a group of my She Writes Press authors and introduced a book defined by its author as “history paranormal suspense.” This was a book that had a hard time finding a home with a traditional publisher specifically because publishers didn’t know what to do with this author’s concept, no matter how clever or well-executed the book was. They want either historical fiction or paranormal suspense. Not both.

The part of me that loves to color outside the lines has always embraced the hybrid concept in publishing — in all the ways it shows up. And yet the industry itself, being the inflexible mammoth it is, is generally not impressed by cross-categorization. Remember that this is an industry structured around shelves — literally. And even though bookstores are the only entities left in publishing that still have physical shelves on which to shelf your book, entire job descriptions hinge on buying categories. There is a buyer at Barnes & Noble, for instance, who buys parenting books, and another who buys memoir. So if you have a parenting memoir, your publisher needs to decide: Is it a parenting book with memoir components, to be positioned as a parenting book? Or is it a memoir whose focus is parenting, to be positioned as a memoir?

These are important considerations for publishers and authors alike, but it doesn’t mean you have to be pigeonholed, or to pigeonhole yourself. I’ve talked to lots of authors who’ve shared with me that agents and editors have told them to change their books in this way or that to make it more salable, or to make it fit into a particular category or theme or arc. I always say, if those suggested changes make sense and you agree, great, do it. But if they don’t, then don’t change your book.

If you think you have a hybrid book on your hands, you might want to talk to someone before you shop it or publish it about how to position it, because that’s an important conversation to have to maximize your potential sales. But most writers I know who’ve written hybrid books do so because they’ve identified a real niche — something that hasn’t been done before in quite the way they’re proposing (something unusual in the world of book publishing). Whether or not you find a publisher who’s on board with your hybrid idea, take heart in knowing that readers are hungry for new ideas (as long as they’re well-done). And just because a person has a job label like agent or editor doesn’t mean they’re gods, or even that they know best. They just know what’s traditionally worked best. Remember that authors are the ones who create entire new genres based on their own — and their readers’ — interests. My advice to you if you think you’re writing a hybrid book is to be bold and carry on. Chances are you’re an outside-the-box kind of thinker, and with that quality under your belt, you’ll find your way to your readers, or your readers will find you.


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