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An Author's Guide to Publishing

After publishing 17 books traditionally -- from Knopf to Penguin to W.W. Norton -- I decided to explore what my New York literary agent calls "the great experiment" of indie publication. Even for a technophile, indie publishing was a high learning curve.
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Since the characters in my new novel, The Drowning World, are hybrids -- half-dolphin and half-human -- it made perfect sense when Digital Book World declared me a "hybrid author." Writers who publish both traditionally and as indie authors are now the cutting edge in publishing. We have much to teach other aspiring authors about this diverse publishing scene. Bottom line: This is the most exhilarating and empowering time to be an author.

After publishing 17 books traditionally -- from Knopf to Penguin to W.W. Norton -- I decided to explore what my New York literary agent, Sarah Jane Freymann, calls "the great experiment" of indie publication.

Even for a technophile -- I've worked as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker, a typesetter, and a professional editor -- indie publishing was a high learning curve. So I carried many of my professional book designers, editors, proofreaders, and marketing mavens with me into the indie world. I called this team my "publishing pod," in honor of the dolphin pods who have long inspired my nonfiction. Recently, Publishers Weekly featured The Drowning World and credited my expert team as "podmates."

Finding your publishing podmates -- whether in traditional publishing houses or indie imprints -- is the most important element of a successful book. Here are a few practical questions to help you decide whether to choose traditional or indie publishing -- or both.

First or 14th Book?

Are you a traditionally published author whose backlist is languishing with your publisher? Get the rights reverted to you and bring your backlist out again into ebooks on all platforms. Smashwords and many other companies offer ebook conversion at a good rate. I used Data Conversion Laboratory to convert my traditionally published backlist, my New York Times "Notable Book of the Year," Duck and Cover and Animal Heart, into ebooks on Nook, iBooks, Kindle, and KOBO. You can control pricing and track your sales figures. If you have a literary agent, ask her to consider submitting your next book proposal to traditional houses, while at the same time, preparing it for indie publication. You may be delighted to have to choose between an offer and blazing your own indie trail -- like Pulitzer-prize-winning author David Mamet, who will self-publish his next book.

Advances and CrowdSourcing

Traditional authors know that unless you're a celebrity or blockbuster, advances have shrunk while Big Six publishers endure their current free-fall. Some independent publishers are thriving, like Seattle's Sasquatch Books, with its best-selling Nancy Pearl Book Lust series. Or Algonquin Books of North Carolina, known for their literary panache with Water for Elephants and the inspiring new Imperfect Harmonies. Independent publishers offer modest advances. But they promise enduring support, not just for the launch and first few months; they have a select list of books and nurture all their authors over time. It's a smart business model that the Big Six publishers might find instructive as they learn to be more far-sighted, nimble, and adapt to a swiftly tilting publishing scene.

Both traditional and indie authors can turn to such successful crowdsourcing as Kickstarter. To hire my expert traditional publishing team, I raised $5,000 for my successful Kicksarter campaign, "Dive Into the Future with The Drowning World." It's best to make a brief video and really pay attention to the rewards for your supporters. During the 30 days of raising funds on Kickstarter, it was thrilling to watch the sponsors come in -- almost like being in Las Vegas on a winning streak. Kickstarter makes it really easy to keep updating your reader-sponsors and they are like a digital megaphone. Many of the thousands of visitors to my website each month find me via Kickstarter. Think of it as a pre-book tour to build your audience.

E-Book -- and then Paperback

Wait a few months after you publish an ebook and build your audience before publishing a paperback. Of course, there's the ubiquitous Amazon Create Space, iUniverse, and many other paperback indie publishers. But why not also consider working directly with your local bookstore, if they have the very cool Espresso Book Machine Network, as I did with The Drowning World?

My favorite regional bookstores are Seattle's University Bookstore and Bellingham's Village Books. Along with Amazon's Create Space, I also published the paperback with their Espresso Book Machine Network. The Drowning World is on the fabulous Indie Bound website for all independent bookstores to purchase.

Think of using both Amazon and Espresso Book Machine, the way we now combine Western and alternative medicines. Or enjoying micro-breweries and that special boutique -- as well as department stores. Yes, Espresso Book Machine (EBM) publishing is more expensive than Amazon or others, but they offer hands-on expert production, community, bookstore display and public readings. According to The Christian Science Monitor, independent bookstores are making a comeback and if this is your first or 14th book, you may prefer the EBM's more collaborative and personal connection that authors always enjoy from actually meeting their publishers and readers.

Find Experts and Community

Whether you have one book or 20, consider joining the Authors Guild and Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), a national organization that has clout and connections. Their recent IBPA Publishing University in Chicago offered a keynote with Guy Kawasaki, whose APE (Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book) is indispensable. IBPA's "Ask the Experts" program lets indie authors learn about production, marketing, and social medias.

In the solitary lives of authors, community is the hearth by which we warm ourselves. It does take a village or a pod to publish a good book, whether with a traditional house or when independently launching into what Kawasaki calls, "artisanal publishing. I plan to publish the sequel to The Drowning World independently, for a quicker delivery of the series. But I also just sold a new non-fiction book to a traditional publisher. In the Next Wave of publishing, we authors have more options, more decisions, and more opportunities than ever before. Dive in!

This is the first in a series on publishing from a writer's perspective.

Brenda Peterson's books include a new children's book, Leopard and Silkie, the recent memoir, I Want to Be Left Behind, which was selected as a "Top Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year," by The Christian Science Monitor and the new YA novel series, The Drowning World. For more:

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