Are You Writing a Hybrid Book?

Hybrid concepts are all the rage in book publishing. She Writes Press is a hybrid press. 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.


Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

519 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
392 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Hi Wanda, no, this wouldn't be considered hybrid. A hybrid cannot be fiction and memoir because those are two distinct categories and booksellers do not like mixing them. I think only Jeannette Walls could get away with writing a "true-life novel." If you fictionalized an incident, whether it's your own story or someone else's, it's considered a novel in book publishing. Sounds like In Cold Blood, which is a novel, though it's based on true events.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    Hi Kelly. So what Linda Joy was telling you is that you have a subset of memoir, and that's fine. But your category is still memoir. You can call it a journalistic memoir, but that doesn't change your category, just like a hybrid memoir doesn't really change your category. It just gives you more tools to talk about your book with nuance. Don't go with new journalism. It's not a recognized category. Memoir or journalistic memoir are both good!

  • Wanda Fischer Publishing

    Would you consider a piece of fiction based on a true incident, and yet fictionalized, to be a hybrid book? I am in the final throes of editing a young adult book based on someone I knew more than 45 ears ago, but I took the incident and made up a cast of characters. I don't really know what happened during or since the incident; however, I have a vivid imagination. Just curious. 

    It also has a criminal element to it, so I will be having an attorney look at it once it's done to ensure that I fictionalized it enough.


  • Kelly Hayes-Raitt Publishing

    Brooke, as usual, your post is really helpful and clear.  Thanks!  But, I'm still confused:  Linda Joy Myers suggested I find a distinct category for what I'd been calling my "journalistic memoir" -- to more clearly define on which shelf it belongs.  (I hadn't even thought about the editors' and buyers' specialties!)  I now refer to my book as "new journalism."

    Is there a "rule of thumb" about which category to go with?  Linda Joy explained to me that memoir is very broad category, but I feel that "new journalism" is too restrictive (although accurate).  What's the best way to figure out the most effective category?  Is narrowing the niche better than aiming wide?

    Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

    Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift -- an mp3 of me reading my book's first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! ...And a pre-publication discount!
    Columnist, The Argonaut

  • TR Ford

    Learned a lot - great article.  Thanks.

  • Karen, I think the industry is sometimes open, if it fits a particular list or mission. I just finished reading Raquel Cepeda's memoir, Bird of Paradise, and it's definitely got some hybrid elements. They'll always make their way—a good thing, I think!

  • Thanks, Iris. I do think that SWP is making more room for people who are writing things that fall outside the box, and I know from my time in traditional publishing that it's easy for authors to get swayed by others' opinions and ideas and then to regret it later. :/

  • Kristen Caven

    Thanks for this. I could never understand why bookstores couldn't be more flexible. If it's a memoir about parenting and travel, why not order three copies and put them on the three different shelves? Exposure to various genre audiences always seemed like such a GOOD thing to me!

  • Karen Burns

    I agree with you, Brooke, that in general trad publishers want to color inside the lines. But my "hybrid memoir" (The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl) was traditionally published in 2009. It was even the publisher who suggested I also illustrate it, making it a memoir/career advice/with cartoons book! It did just okay, possibly proving publishers right that hybrid is a risk. I don't know. I do like it when authors and publishers try new things, and hate in general when creative types feel they need to, or are told to, play it safe.

  • Iris Waichler

    Great and thoughtful article Brooke. I was especially interested in your thoughts as I see my book as a hybrid using your definition. Its personal memoir theme and the "how to" storyline were difficult to package, write together in a way that made sense, and sell as you suggested in your piece. I am grateful for your open minded approach and your willingness not to go exclusively with the status quo. I love your message of write what is important to you in a way that feels right and don't be swayed by those that judge you when you color outside the lines. Thanks for raising this issue in a thoughtful and insightful way.

  • Thanks Brooke!

  • Susie, this is not an actual subgenre. It would just be considered either historical fiction or commercial fiction. Good question!

    And yes, Patti, there are different kinds of hybrids. 

  • Patti Clark

    This is a wonderful article Brooke. And I love the fact that you called my book a hybrid book at our book event in Seattle. My hybrid is kind of a different sense than you describe here, but I loved that description and have used it since then.

    Thanks again


  • This is great, Brooke. Question: if a book has a dual storyline with alternating chapters (the first storyline is historical fiction (but not heavy; it reads like women's fiction) and the second storyline is women's fiction/commercial fiction), how would you label that book? And is book club fiction an actual genre now when it comes to publishing? Examples of the structure I'm referring to (though with more serious his/fic storylines) are Sarah's Key, The Orphan Train, The Mapmaker's Children. THX!!!