Growing as an Author by Going Hybrid
I’m one of those lucky authors who was able to get published almost immediately out of college. My first book came out in 1988 with an imprint of Putnam Books, one of the famed “Big Five” traditional publishing houses. From there, I’ve written, illustrated, and designed everything from picture books to novels and even tarot decks. However, many books later, I’m publishing my next novel with Muse Publications LLC, a decidedly far smaller imprint—so small that it has only one full-time employee.
In other words, I’ve gone hybrid, a word used by botanists to describe the result of a cross-pollinated plant bred to encourage positive attributes. A hybrid author, on the other hand, is one who publishes both traditionally and self-publishes their books. It’s different, yet not that different.
Like a hybrid plant, I’m aiming to take advantage of the best publishing can offer, but also seeking to do things in a new way. With Muse Publications, I’ve set up my own small press, a goal I’ve held ever since I first learned about the Kelmscott Press, a publishing house set up by the influential nineteenth-century author-designer William Morris. My ambitions are supported in that, like William Morris, I’m also a book designer. But, unlike Morris’s Kelmscott Press, Muse Publications won’t be producing expensive hand-bound illustrated books that are only sold through subscription. However, we will offer beautiful, thoughtfully-written books. We also plan to print special limited editions and dabble in alternate ways of wholesale and retail distribution, including crowdfunding. After all, if you’re going hybrid, why not go all the way?
In setting up Muse as a publishing alternative, I’m not alone. Other traditionally published authors are exploring similar business models. Sara Gran’s most recent novel The Book of the Most Precious Substance was released last month through her new press Dreamland Books, which was born out of Gran’s experiences as an author, collector, retail bookseller, and rare-book dealer. Her goals for Dreamland are similar to mine for Muse: take creative control of her books. In time she plans to publish other authors, just as I do. More recently, best-selling author Brandon Sanderson stunned the publishing world with a Kickstarter to self-publish four novels he’d written during the pandemic; so far he’s raised over $26,000,000.
Their success stories reveal that the publishing world is shifting in the same way the music industry already has: artists can choose to distribute work independently or with big houses. It’s all about deciding what’s best for the work and for the artist.
Muse’s first title Unnatural Creatures: A Novel of the Frankenstein Women will be released this October. Unnatural Creatures is a gothic novel I finished writing during the pandemic. Though I considered traditional publishing, I decided to go hybrid upon realizing I was far more excited by the creative possibilities on that end. For example, in addition to the expected formats of audiobook, ebook, softcover, and library hardcover, Unnatural Creatures will be released as a specially designed autographed limited edition that includes the full text of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein—something a Big Five house is unlikely to produce. That said, I recently finished writing another novel I think would be better served by a traditional publisher. Again, it’s all about deciding what’s best for the work and for the artist.
As for Unnatural Creatures, much is happening behind the scenes already. I’ve put together an advisory board of professionals I respect. I recently received the prototype of the limited edition from the printer. Yesterday, I finalized the ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) for reviewers. On March 16th, there will be a cover release, and in April a Kickstarter to presell the above-mentioned limited edition directly to the public.
I haven’t felt this inspired about publishing a book since I started out way back when. As a hybrid author, the possibilities for growth seem limitless–and I’m excited to see where Muse takes me.
Kris Waldherr teaches at The Writers Circle and is the author of numerous books for adults and children. Her debut novel The Lost History of Dreams received a starred Kirkus review and was named a CrimeReads best book of the year. Waldherr is also the creator of the Goddess Tarot, which has more than a quarter of a million copies in print. Her upcoming novel Unnatural Creatures: A Novel of the Frankenstein Women will be published October 4, 2022 by Muse Publications LLC. Learn more at ReadMuse.com.
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