As promised, I checked with the Self-Publishing Review and they gave me permission to post my author interview with Cate Baum, SPR’s co-founder, in full.
Cate: Dakota Kemp is the winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Fantasy Prize for his book, The Arrival. Dakota hails from the Oklahoma Panhandle in the US.
Cate: Tell us about your winning book.
Dakota: The Arrival is an epic, medieval fantasy set in the world of Vrold. The plot weaves the lives of several different characters into one tale, centered around an investigation into a series of deadly attacks that has plunged two powerful city-states into war. I like to think that The Arrival has something for every reader because it’s as much a mystery, drama, action/adventure, military epic, spy thriller, and comedy tale as it is a fantasy novel. The protagonists range from a sorceress/detective to a hard-edged mercenary to an enthusiastic history professor, and the plot, characters, and locations are all wrapped in a world of enigmatic mythology and electrifying peril.
Cate: What inspired your interest in this genre?
Dakota: Ever since I first fell in love with reading as a child, I’ve been captivated by fantasy stories – legends of wonder and magic and adventure. The Tales of King Arthur and J.R.R. Tolkien’s works in particular had a great influence on my becoming a writer, perhaps even greater than my mother, who taught me to read. Middle-earth wasn’t just a jumble of words, plots, characters, and settings – it was (and is) a real place for me. Tolkien created such a rich, beautiful world as to become reality, even if it is only in the mind. That’s my interest in fantasy, and, to this day, it’s my goal as a writer. If I can give just one reader the slightest sliver of the sense of awe and passion and beauty that was given to me, then my purpose as a writer will have been fulfilled.
Cate: What writing experience did you have before this?
Dakota: Little to none, actually. The Arrival is my first novel. I initially started writing when I was about fourteen – my own, personal adaptations of the King Arthur tales – but, as we often do in our younger years, I gave up after a short time. It was much later – in my junior year of college – that I started to seriously think about picking up writing again. The Arrival was written largely during my senior year at Southwestern Oklahoma State.
As far as official training goes, I’ve never taken any writing classes or anything like that (though I probably should). I did have some wonderful English teachers in high school and an equally brilliant literature professor in college, and everything I know about writing was either self-taught or acquired under their instruction.
Cate: Why did you decide to self-publish?
Dakota: I tried to get The Arrival traditionally published in the beginning, but I quickly found that publishing is a highly exclusive market. It is nearly impossible to break into the industry without some prior connections, no matter how good your work might be. I sent queries and applications to over seventy agents and publishing companies and never once received a request for my manuscript. I can deal with rejection, but how was I to prove my manuscript’s worth if no one would even read it? After over six months without a single request, I decided to self-publish and let readers decide the quality of my work.
Cate: How did you find the self-publishing experience?
Dakota: It was definitely educational, and I’ve learned a lot of useful things about the publishing process and the professional industry. One thing that you discover early on as a self-publisher is that marketing accounts for a huge amount of your time and effort. This is both good and bad, as it provides a good learning experience, but it also sucks away time that could be spent writing.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed self-publishing. It’s allowed me to learn new things and meet loads of great people. That’s not to say I wouldn’t leap at the chance for a good publishing contract, though. I’ve found that it’s all about earning your stripes and showing that you can consistently put out quality work.
Cate: What tips could you give others to produce a quality self-published book?
Dakota: Edit, edit, edit, and re-edit. Proofing and editing is HUGE, and it’s essential. This is the one, non-negotiable fact of self-publishing – if your work doesn’t appear professional, both in cover and content, it won’t succeed. Period. Purchase professional editing if you can afford it. If you can’t (like me), ask everyone you know to read your manuscript and mark editing or proofing mistakes. Get your old English teachers or professors to peruse it for you. Find someone knowledgeable about grammar, sentence structure, and formatting to give your final copy an approval.
Other than editing – don’t give up. Never stop writing. You’ll have bad days, of course, when you feel like no one outside of your mother and grandma wants to give your work a try. Write anyway. You’ll improve the more you practice, and maybe – just maybe – your work will touch someone in a far off place you never knew existed. Perseverance – it sounds cheesy, I know, but is there anything more true in life? If it wasn’t hard to do, everyone would do it, and it wouldn’t be worth doing.
Cate: What obstacles did you face?
Dakota: Finding readers has been a nearly insurmountable challenge. There just aren’t a lot of people willing to spend money and take a chance on an unknown, self-published author. Maybe that’s the way it should be. It makes you work hard and appreciate every single reader. Every time I see I’ve made a sale, I just want to reach straight through the computer screen and give that wonderful individual a big ol’ bear hug. I don’t know that I’d have that appreciation for my amazing readers without that struggle. So, I continue to write, and every time a reader contacts me to say they love my stories, I take it as a personal affirmation.
Cate: What are your plans for the future as a writer?
Dakota: Since The Arrival’s publication, I’ve released a science fiction novella titled Goddess (the review of which, incidentally, was recently posted by SPR), and I’m presently working on a steampunk/sword-and-sorcery mash-up novel. The second installment in the Ascension series (of which The Arrival is the first), will be up next following my current project.
I appreciate your time in reading my humble tale, and I wish all of my fellow authors out there the very best! Keep up the good work!
I hope the interview was educational for my independent author friends and interesting for everyone else!