Brenda Peterson is one of the growing number of authors who are working on self-published projects in addition to writing books released by traditional houses. Peterson has written 17 books that were published the traditional way. Her latest, The Drowning World—a science fiction/fantasy tale about a mermaid who is half dolphin and half human—was accepted by a publisher, but Peterson turned down the offer to release the book through her own Delphinius Publishing company.
“I was thrilled,” she said of learning that her manuscript was accepted, “but it was going to come out in spring 2014. It was July 2012, and I wanted to be part of the conversation on mermaids.” Interest was shifting from vampires to mermaids at the time, and Twilight series author Stephenie Meyer announced in an interview in USA Today that she is working on a book featuring the latter. “When I started this book [10 years ago], mermaids were not on the horizon,” Peterson noted. She also wanted to keep her book—about a young mermaid who comes ashore in Florida and is forced to choose between the advanced culture of Aquantis and a Cuban refugee and his polluted Skyworld—from being categorized as YA. She sees it more as new adult, written for adults but with teen appeal.
By self-publishing, Peterson—who has been edited by Judith Jones at Knopf and Jill Bialosky at Norton, among others—was able to make e-book and paperback editions of Drowning World available on Amazon and at other online retailers by mid-November 2012. She recently posted the file to EspressNet so that independent booksellers with Espresso Book Machines can carry the novel in their stores. The e-book edition is also available for iBook, Nook, and Kobo.
For Peterson, going the self-publishing route hasn’t meant going it alone. “I carried traditional people with me,” she said, referring to her “publishing pod” of proofreaders, editors, and designers. Peterson called the move “the most exhilarating and daunting process. I had complete control with experts. I love this book. It really came from my artistic vision.” Betty Watson, who designed Peterson’s Animal Heart cover, also did the cover for The Drowning World, for example. Others from the traditional publishing world contributed in different ways. Da Capo editor Merloyd Lawrence, who edited Peterson’s I Want to Be Left Behind, was one of more than 60 people who donated to her Kickstarter campaign, which was launched last August to raise $5,000 to cover printing.
“It was her idea to self-publish, and given her energy and passion for the subject, and growing fans, [Brenda] may well be right,” said Lawrence. “I’ll be following Brenda’s exploits with The Drowning World and expect to learn from them.”
Another “podmate” whom Peterson singles out is film agent Mary Alice Kier of CineLit. Five years ago she persuaded Peterson to protect the cosmos she created in The Drowning World by trademarking the technology described in the book. Kier has already gotten what Peterson describes as “real” interest in a film. The sequel, part of an Aquantis trilogy, will likely be included in a film package, and Peterson has written 80 “polished” pages for it with current plans to self-publish that title as well. Readers have been wanting to spend more time in the world beneath the waves that Peterson has imagined. “This underwater world is so believable and vivid and fascinating. It’s a page-turner,” said author Sy Montgomery (The Good, Good Pig).
As for sales, Peterson said that she’s received three royalty checks from Amazon and would welcome the opportunity to read in independent bookstores now that the book can be printed on demand. She also promotes it through her writing in places like Huffington Post, which includes a story on military sonar that led to a radio interview aired in 28 cities. Peterson has no regrets about her decision to publish independently. “Indie publications really go hand in hand with traditional publishing,” she said. “They’re not either/or. I can do both.”