On Becoming a Hybrid by Albert Bell

My wife drives a Toyota hybrid. I understand that the term (hybrid, not Toyota) is now being applied to certain authors, and I’m one. A hybrid author, I’m told, is someone who has been published in various ways. I have been published by traditional, royalty-paying publishers (both small and large), and now I’ve taken advantage of technology to publish an e-book and a couple of books that are available as e-books and paperbacks.


For much of my publishing career I looked down my nose at self-publishing. When I began getting published in the late 1980s there were a couple of vanity presses who, at considerable cost, would print copies of your book which you could then pile up in your garage. I didn’t want to go that route and was fortunate enough to find a small press to publish my first novel.


Everything I read in the writers’ magazines told me I was on the right track. I had published stories and articles in some national magazines. Now a novel. Then a non-fiction book with Thomas Nelson (now Harper Collins). I was sure I was working my way up. In 1999 I got an agent in New York. She had recently opened her shop. After two years, she closed it. I got an email from her saying, “The publishing world has gone crazy.”


Around the turn of the century things were changing, with the arrival of outfits like iUniverse. Now, the promise was, authors could eliminate agents, publishers, and all the rest of that New York apparatus. “Publish” your book in a new way. There was no need for a garage full of over-priced hard cover books. Your book would exist as an electronic file until someone ordered it. There would be kiosks in Barnes & Noble stores (which owned iUniverse). Order your book, get a cup of coffee, and by the time you were finished, the book would be printed.  Frustrated by my lack of success, I did put out a couple of books that way.


Two years later I hooked up with a traditional small press and we began publishing a series of mystery novels set in ancient Rome. Library Journal said the second one, The Blood of Caesar, was one of the 5 Best Mysteries of 2008, “a masterpiece of the historical mystery genre.” I figured I would get a call at any time from a big New York publisher wanting to pick up the series.


But it didn’t happen. And then my publisher, Ingalls Publishing Group, decided to focus on Southeastern books, and my Roman mystery series didn’t fit, so we parted company. Within 24 hours, thanks to the internet, I had found a new publisher, Perseverance Press. They have published the last three Pliny books and I’m working on the next one, the seventh in the series. Meanwhile the owner of Ingalls died and the press closed down.


I’m at a stage of my life when I know I’m never going to get an agent or have a book published by a major house. The experience of another fellow in my writers’ group has taught me a lesson. An excellent writer, he got an agent and had four books published by St. Martin’s—my dream for years. But sales of the last two books were slow. St. Martin’s dropped him and his agent kicked him to the curb. He now has another agent, but one reason he can’t find another publisher, she says, is the poor sales on his last two books. Potential publishers of his current projects are well aware of those sales. He has resorted to an online site to keep his books available.


By now I’ve given up on trying to get an agent. At my age, if I got one and if he/she was able to sell any of my projects to a publisher, it would all take a couple of years. I’ve got my bucket list—several books that I want to get published. The small presses I’ve worked with publish only four or five books a year and they have plenty of authors to fill those slots.


So I’ve become a hybrid author. With the help of a tech-savvy friend, I’ve put my backlist up on CreateSpace, along with two new books: Murder My Love, a romantic mystery set in Italy, and Death by Armoire, a cozy set in an antique shop in South Carolina. They won’t make me any money. They’re just two more books among the 3,000,000 or so published every year. But they’re out there, and I take enormous pleasure in that fact alone.


5 thoughts on “On Becoming a Hybrid by Albert Bell

  1. Thanks for sharing this reality check on today’s publishing. With my own ill, I’m afraid I may be looking, too, for my sequel. Was sorry to read Bob Ingalls passed. Four years ago, he encouraged me about my writing, the first time I was shopping for publishers. I was honored to talk on the phone with him.

  2. marissoule says:

    Hi Albert. I enjoyed hearing where you are now in your career. Your path certainly sounds a lot like mine and so many other writers nowadays. And who knows, maybe the next book you publish as a hybrid author will take off and the Big 5 will be begging to sign you. (We can always dream.)

  3. carlbrookins says:

    Well, anyway, Albert, you can hardly complain about leading a boring life as a writer. We have some similarities in the paths we’ve trod. Part of our difficulties now, I suspect, has to do with the time we spend doing this–what I’m working on now–you and this blog, doncha see. And you’ve attracted at least one really good mystery writer. Her initials are MS. I mention this because I just this very minute finished a fine novel by that very author. So, out of millions of books and millions of blogs, what are the chances of these two coming together in my hands today? You, see, I say, keep on keepin’ on, because the lightning of connection to a major publisher could strike you tomorrow!

  4. Randy says:

    Good summary of my career, Albert. About the only difference is that you got in earlier, back when the knock of opportunity was louder. Then agents took over and those opportunities closed to pinhole size. Not that I can argue with them. Why take on an old guy like me when there were so many young authors clamoring at the door? Anyway, it’s been a fun time and I’ll keep writing until . . . Bet you do the same. Good luck.

  5. radine says:

    Career authors are beginning to share their experiences much more openly and we learn that (1) everyone else is not selling 1000 books a month and, (2) so many writers have the courage and talent to continue doing what they enjoy doing most…no matter what! Thanks to you all.

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