SPS-378: LitRPG: Telling a Story With Numbers – with Dakota Krout

Lit RPG is a steadily growing genre that blends the medium of game and literature. Dakota Krout, a cornerstone author of the Lit RPG, joins us for a chat about the in’s and out’s of the compelling style.

Show Notes

  • What is Lit RPG?
  • Expectations of video game narratives.
  • Dakota’s target audience.
  • How Lit RPG uses leveling and EXP systems.
  • Dakota’s entrance into writing novels.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

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SPS-378: LitRPG: Telling a Story With Numbers - with Dakota Krout

Speaker 1: Want to sell more books? Make sure you are at the Self-Publishing Show Live this summer. Meet the biggest names in self-publishing at Europe's largest conference for independent authors. Enjoy two days packed with special guests, an exclusive networking event, and a digital ticket for watching the professionally filmed replay, including bonus sessions not included at the live show. Head over to self-publishing and secure your spot. Now, the Self-Publishing Show Live is sponsored by Amazon k d p

Speaker 2: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.

Dakota Krout: I like to say that I, I definitely failed upward. If I would have marketed the book how I had intended to market it, it would not have been a success. It worked out very well that I had someone like wave me down and say, over here, this is the place you want to be. Because otherwise I probably would not have been able to continue a writing Career.

Speaker 2: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join Indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show with me James Blatch

Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: My hair is a disgrace. If you're watching on YouTube, I will get it cut today. I promise. I hate getting my hair. I don�t know what, it's not a phobia, it's just I really put it off. Don't like it. I, I can't, I I think it's my attention deficit sitting there. I mean, I told you about my, like, my, my experience with the conspiracy theorist, well looking back, was a more interesting haircut who was telling me how the royal family all pedophiles and literally drink children's blood to stay alive. And this is part of a Hollywood, I mean, that was an interesting haircut. Anyway,

Mark Dawson: This is something with sharp influence near your, near your throat. Yeah, that's I

James Blatch: Haven't been back there.

Mark Dawson: No, I'm not surprised.

James Blatch: I will get my haircut today. My son needs to go. Yeah,

Mark Dawson: Really interesting.

James Blatch: This is what people want to know. Okay, look, we've got lots to get through in a packed programme. We're going to learn all about. I'm going to learn you are going to learn all about a subgenre that is going great guns. And you might not know too much about, but there's lots we can learn from it. That is coming up. We want to talk about the Self-Publishing show live. We are getting excited. Our meetings, our weekly meetings are dominated now. The schedule is pretty firm. Probably have a small couple of changes here and there, but pretty firm. And to that we are going to make an announcement, but not now.

Mark Dawson: No, not now. We're going to we're going to do a, a kind of a live, a little kind of, we're going to do it live, basically. So if people want to hang out with us whilst we tell you who's going to be speaking. And we're also going to do a little competition and then probably give away, I know, five tickets maybe. For both days,

James Blatch: I think we still to give away two pairs of tickets,

Mark Dawson: Two pairs. We say, well, that's okay. Four tickets and two pairs. Yeah, that sounds good. So we we're going to do that using our shiny new zoom facility, which is, is very shiny and, and new and doesn't break like go to webinar tended to do towards the end of its life. We're going to do that on

James Blatch: Based on actual experience, just in case the lawyers are listening.

Mark Dawson: Yes,

James Blatch: Fair comment. Reviewing, whatever the

Mark Dawson: Don't, don't worry. Yeah, I, lawyer, lawyer in the building. We, we quite, we can talk about our own experiences. Yeah. So we're going to do it on, on Monday the third. So the, this is going out on Friday, the 30, hang on. Yeah. This is going to Friday the 31st of March. And on Monday the 3rd of April at 8:00 PM

James Blatch: UK

Mark Dawson: B s T

James Blatch: We, we are, we are back. We've had two weeks of having an hour difference. Thank goodness we didn't have a a course open over this period because it gets very confusing. We've had two weeks as opposed to one week normally of there being one hour different. But we will be back to five hours difference on the East Coast, eight hours on the West coast on Monday. So 8:00 PM UK will be 8 7 6 5 4 3:00 PM in the afternoon. New York, 3, 2, 1 Midday Los Angeles. But double check that.

Mark Dawson: Yes. so we're going to do that on the Monday. And the link that you'll need is, what do we say, self publishing j u n e in honour of the fact that we're, the conference is the 20 and 21st of June on Southbank in London this year. So yeah, coming along we will talk about who's going to be speaking. We will mention what they might be speaking about. We've got some good sessions that we are quite excited about. And we'll give away two pairs of tickets as well. So you never, we might even use the, the camera facility on, on Zoom and Yes.

James Blatch: Appearing. I'll definitely have my hair cut then.

Mark Dawson: Oh look, that's good.

James Blatch: Yes, and we'll talk a little bit about the digital ticket as well, I think on that live. Cause we are starting to develop that as being an exciting addition to this this year.

Mark Dawson: Yeah. We should probably say, we'll give people that you can choose to either have a live ticket or digital ticket. Yeah. From or maybe there was good we two paired live tickets and, and a couple of, a couple of digital tickets, something like that. We'll

James Blatch: And the live tickets include digital tickets, but Yeah,

Mark Dawson: That's true. Yes, that's true. Yeah. but we want people who get their live tickets to be able to come. Yes, that's true. So we don't want to give away live tickets to someone in Australia who might not be able to travel.

James Blatch: We've got people from Australia coming.

Mark Dawson: We do. Yeah, we do. We usually do. And still thinking about, you know, maybe going over to Australia

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: Next year maybe. Who knows? Think about that. By the way, let's, let's must still get sidetracked. Yeah. so, so yes, it's self problem eight o'clock bst on Monday. And we'll we'll take you through the conference and give some goodies away.

James Blatch: Great. Okay. And you can still get tickets of course, if you want to go straight and buy your tickets or you might want to hold out for the competition, but you can get a self-publishing live to read all about

Mark Dawson: Well, if you, if you get, if you win tickets, we'll just refund the Wai Boys. So don't worry, don't worry about that.

James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. I want to briefly talk about thriller Fest, which is a a New York based conference that we went to a couple of years in a row and we stopped going primarily, I think because it, it was very trad orientated. The sessions actually on craft were really good. We met, we met JD Barker there. We met quite a few people, actually some, some very big authors such as Lee Child and so on. And he is

James Blatch: Very big six the Reacher. And and I enjoyed it from that point of view, but from a self-publishing point of view, it felt less relevant and we started to double down on the very indie focused conferences. Even n which has a was was more trad in those days, is, is really indie focused, I think now, and certainly 20 books. But that's not to say we won't go back to refer some point. And Jerry, one of the organisers reached out to me, he sent me an email, don't why I said reached out this week to let us know that making some changes to try and skew the conference back or not back, but towards the indie market. Another moment they have quite a high bar for entry. So I think you have to have like five published novels and quite a high turnover.

They are changing that so that the entry requirement now aligns much more closely with n So you'll need one or more books published generating an income of $5,000 as an income, not profit income of $5,000 or more during the previous 12 calendar months with standard quality reviews that go on just to make sure that they are your books, for instance, copyright ownership. So they are recognising, Jerry says in this email that independent authors are the fastest growing segment of their membership. They want to see these changes to allow them to share the tools, knowledge and events and the awards that the international thriller writers organisation has to offer. So, yeah. Actually the statement was signed by Kimberly, how, who runs Thrillfest. I wouldn't mind going back actually. It was a fun conference and I think from a craft point of view, I did enjoy it. And it's absolutely a sign of the times. Is it not Mark that a big organisation like that is saying we need to be doubling down on Indie?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, absolutely. They, it's, you know, you can't ignore it. Especially with you more kind of mid list authors deciding that it's makes more sense them to do things themselves. Yeah. So it is a good conference. I mean it was, it was quite fun, but as you say, it was, it was very triad last time. And I, okay. You know, I, I think I told a story. I was talking to someone once at the conference and the series as they asked from my publisher was, and I said the idea myself, they kind of looked over my shoulder for the next person to talk to. And I kind of looked at, I looked at him and thought I'd tell her about more books than you in a month than you do in a year. But, you know, yeah, I, but it is, it's good. And, and any, you know, there's some good conferences. I know we, we saw George Martin was there, George Rra Martin was there when, when we went

James Blatch: not the Beatles producer, so he wasn't there.

Mark Dawson: No, he wasn't there. We spoke to Lee Child, Karen Slaughter to

James Blatch: James Rolands.

Mark Dawson: James, James Rolands. Yeah. So loads of, you know, really well-known, excellent writers and it's a good chance to, to, to meet them. Usually quite approachable. It's not a massive venue. So yeah. That's fun. I, I don't think I'm going this year. I'm actually going to New York in about three weeks, however.

James Blatch: Oh, when is sort first Patch you could drop in? I think it's July, is it?

Mark Dawson: I can't remember. Yeah. July. Yeah, I think so. No, that, but no, I'm going, I'm going over in about three weeks time.

James Blatch: Yeah. Exciting. Okay, so that is through the first I want to talk about one more thing. I'm not going to go into great detail here, but I just want to say that I have been talking to TikTok. There may be or may not be Don, are plenty supporters out there. Something to do with TikTok on Monday's announcement to do with our conference. However, I've been talking to them and they are pushing TikTok shop for authors a lot at the moment. And I know Adam Beswick, who we've had on the podcast previously is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to TikTok shop and authors on TikTok. So they set me up with TikTok shop and I, I, it sat there on my to-do list for a while, but I decided to spend an afternoon getting used to it, set stuff up.

And I think the figures are very interesting. So, you know, I buy my printed version of the book the same way most of you buy either. I order them through Ingram, I order the author copies through Amazon, and they end up costing my big book costs about five pounds 50 knocking on six pounds with postage each. And my small book costs about three pounds, 50, something like that. And one of them is in between those two. Of course, when you sell through Amazon with their cuts and the markup and the printing, you know, you have to sell it something like 15, 16 pounds to make a couple of quid on it. Which is an expensive paperback, well, that same ortho copy that I've paid for, I can price up at 8 99 on TikTok. They take 45 pence from that. And in addition to that, if you actually click, if you go onto my account, Jane at James R, black from TikTok, and you click on one of those posts where I've put the link, it's actually offered to the, the punter at six pounds 34 per book. That's the big book. Because they are doing a lot of offers and they're trying to promote it at the moment. Plus, once I've sold a copy, I've only sold a couple today, I've been playing with it, sold a couple so far. I get a free printage label from TikTok just to stick on the envelope and send it. This is, I think, very interesting. Now, the free printage, Free printing. Go on.

Mark Dawson: Hang on, stop. Wick waffling. So so your, your prices were eight pounds, 99, was it? And they're selling 6 34.

James Blatch: Yep.

Mark Dawson: And do you, what, what do you get?

James Blatch: I get eight pound 54.

Mark Dawson: So they're taking your loss effectively?

James Blatch: They are losing at the moment, but that is a deal for first time buyers. Yeah. At the moment. So that presumably once I've bought a book, that price will then look different to me. But, you know, there's a lot of first time buyers out there for you.

Mark Dawson: And they pay postage

James Blatch: And they pay postage. Now, the caveat to all this is they may have set me up with free postage. They did with Adam at the beginning to help him along. And I spoke to the guys about something unrelated and they asked me how I was getting on. I said, well, the free post. And they looked a bit surprised. I was getting free postage. So I wouldn't bank on getting that. That might be because they know who, who we are, and I'm setting this up. But having said that, it might also be a deal they're, they're rolling out more generally. But the point of this little excise is, I think that's very interesting. Particularly if you are like me. I mean, I do, I have a pay hip set up on my, my website and I sell signed copies and I probably do one or two a month, something like that.

And I just do them on my kitchen table. It's not a big deal I make, but I price them up. They're 20 quid and I'm buying the books for five pounds 50, but they're signed. So I'm, it makes a bit worthwhile while with the packaging and so on. But doing it in bigger volume at a much more, I mean, the exciting thing for me is selling a paperback at 8 99, which is a much more reasonable price for a, you know, this book is a big book. It's, it's 600 pages. that's not that much, but it's, it's, it's six by nine, 500 pages.

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: Yeah. I think that's interesting. Anyway, so, we will, we will start to experiment with that. I'm going to start to properly push it. Now that I understand the price structure, the first time I, I did a, a post, I sold it at 15 pounds. Cause that's what I was expecting to have to do before I fully appreciated how the pricing worked on TikTok shop, I made one sale at 15 pounds. And that was Adam Beswick, who very kindly saw me experimenting with TikTok shop and bought a copy of my book. He's the only one who's paid that much for it. Then I immediately the next day put that he deleted that post and sold it much cheaper.

Mark Dawson: he said his kitchen table was a bit wobbly, , and he's fixed it now. I don�t know how

James Blatch: that's a door, more of a doorstep. I

Mark Dawson: Would've said it was very wobbly.

James Blatch: you got more fuel's expensive, isn't it, for your wood burning stove these days.

Mark Dawson: So That's true. Yeah, it's very true. Yeah.

James Blatch: Yeah. Anyway, look, we will deep dive into this. It's an area that we're interested in and you are going to hear more about it in the coming months. And if you come to our conference in June, who knows, you might know even more and be able to speak to the horse's mouth, but no giveaways, right, mark? I think that's enough Waffling. 13 minutes not being waffle. It's apart from the bit about my hair.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, you haven't been your most succinct today. There has been an element of padding, but that's okay. People are used to it by now, have 370 episodes. If they're not used to that, then they're on the wrong podcast.

James Blatch: Yes, exactly. And we don't, oh, I don't think we have that man anymore. Who used to say content starts at 22 minutes, 14 seconds.

Mark Dawson: He will, he might be back today. And, and to be honest, today would be a good day for him to come back. That's

James Blatch: It's all been good stuff, Okay. We have an interview with you coming up, which is I, I wanted to get this interview on because this is an area I just didn't really fully understand. And partly, partly this interview is me saying to our interviewee, who is called Dakota krout, what is Lit? R P G? Exactly. How does it work? So that's what the interview is about, about Lit R PPG gone.

Mark Dawson: He said. He said, okay, granddad, sit down.

James Blatch: Yeah. Okay, boomer, here we go. But Dakota is a big selling author. He'll talk to you about his numbers in the interview itself. And he also is the go-to person on Lit rpg. He publishes lots of other authors as well. It's actually a pretty simple concept, but there's always learning for us, whatever's genre you are writing in these interviews. And that's a really good one with Dakota. So let's hear from Dakota Krout, and then Mark and I will be back for a chat.

Speaker 2: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer,

James Blatch: A Dakota Krout. Welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. Lovely to have you here. You are an author, bit of an author, entrepreneur I'd say, as well with your own publishing house. We're going to talk about that and I'm going to learn a little bit about the genre that you write in that I don�t know, huge amounts about. So, but why don't you give us the skinny of who Dakota Krout is?

Dakota Krout: Sure. Well, first off, thank you so much for having me on today. It's, you know, always a, a great honour to be pulled onto something of, you know, a show of this quality. So thank you very much. Yeah. So secondly, so on myself. So I, I'm an author, obviously I've been writing in a genre called Lit rpg. So it's lit RPG cultivation and game lit titles. And essentially, so for, for those of you that don't know what that genre actually is, essentially it's fantasy or less commonly science fiction that is bound by the rules of a video game. So like standard laws of physics, but then also magic has been added on in kinda like the form of a video game where you are essentially learning how to use spells or abilities, things like that, and then levelling them up to make them more powerful over time. So it's a, it's a hard numbers system, like a hard magic system, which allows the audience to really have a really great view on what's going on and how and why.

James Blatch: Okay. So I've always been intrigued by Lit R PPG and, and what defines it.

So one question that immediately springs to mind is, are your readers video gamers, or does that not matter?

Dakota Krout: It doesn't particularly matter, but it does. I mean, I, I think it might impact it a little bit. Like if, you know, I'm sorry, if you know kind of where the genre is based out of, right. So like, if you have kind of a, even a passing understanding of video games, it, it can be a lot more enjoyable. So, but otherwise, even without it, you're still getting a, a phenomenal story, but you're just not getting the same probably depth of story that a person who's even passingly familiar with, the, like, basically any video game would would get.

James Blatch: I mean, I guess this is inevitable because I, I mean, I used to be a video games examiner being a bit of a video gamer, although not so much now as I'm older at the time, but for seven years I worked as a video game examiner where we played all the games and games and certificates. So I was quite into the culture then. And what I saw then, that's a bit of a golden age of video games. I was there in the mid two thousands. So the big high definition came, started coming out, was a real move towards narrative, which didn't necessarily exist before. You know, when I was a kid it was Space Invaders and Pacman, and yes, I guess there's a bare narrative there, but by the time I was at the bbb F c we had like Grand Theft Auto four, which had lots of Inter weaving storylines. What was the one, the Japanese one was Snake I can't remember. The cut scenes were Oh

Dakota Krout: Metal, metal metal gear. Metal

James Blatch: Metal gear, yeah. Metal gear. So ngs so there was like 45 minute cut scenes in that. And I'm, at some point I was thinking, don't you just want to make a film made rather than a video game? But anyway, so I guess they've, they've got done that roof trying to make them, you know, works of art with narrative and story just as important and culturally important as a book. And yet here is, here you are as an author moving towards video games using a, an older medium of books. It's a, it's a slightly weird thing.

Dakota Krout: Sure. yes,

James Blatch: not really a question in there, but just an observation.

So when you're reading the, the, the book does it, it has some of those tropes that you're getting in video games, but does it sort of move forward with kind of the, through the levels to the Oph fight type thing in the same way? Do you expect that to happen in your books?

Dakota Krout: So I would say that it is, so kind of the difference between the book and the, the video game right? Is when you're playing through the video game there, you, you kind of get this feeling that no matter what you do, getting to the end is inevitable. Right? You're going to, you know play the storyline, you'll get your 13 hours of, of you know, game time on Main Quest, and then you'll be done. Right? And with this with books, you know, and with the way that we interact with our audience it gives us a huge amount of leeway to really connect to the people that are reading our books or listening to them however they want to consume it. And I, I actually and, and I do this currently, and I was doing this right before we came here. I write my books publicly. So I put the, I go up on my Discord channel and anyone who's in my server can just come in and watch me write. They can throw out pointers, things that they want to see, stuff that they think would be fun or interesting to have in there. And so they can be a part of the creative process with the caveat that to get into there, they have to accept the terms and conditions of, of being in that channel, right?

James Blatch: Is that, which a non-disclosure and?

Dakota Krout: So no, it, it's actually not a non-disclosure. I want people to be talking about what I'm doing. Okay. Right. But a lot of it is just not going to make sense without context. No, it's a so essentially the terms terms and conditions are, hey look, if you come into this server and I use one of your suggestions, you are giving it to me. And you do not own any, the IP associa associated with that. Yep. So one of those fun little. Things that our lawyer makes us do, you know, how goes,

James Blatch: And if if this is sounding very niche to people, I guess it is niche, but at the same time it's got a big audience and you have done spectacularly well.

b>Can you give us an indication of how successful your books have been?

Dakota Krout: Oh, sure. Well, so I'm, I mean, I'm a multi seven figure author, right? So just myself personally. And then when I, when I follow that up with my my company, you know, that my company is also making multiple seven figures. And that is, you know, making our authors, you know, sprint toward full-time authorship and, and make for you know, very successful careers. So that's so that's, that's about as good of an indication as I can get. I have so I started writing in 2016. I, I currently have 41 books complete. I have three of those that are kind of waiting on publications still. I'm hoping to finish another one this week. So that's going to put me out the magic number 42.

James Blatch: Univers everything.

Dakota Krout: that's right. Exactly. but yeah, so it's you know, still a full-time job. It's still a hundred percent go, you know, and yeah, so I, I, you know, you, you had mentioned that it's kind of, you say it's niche, but it's really not because one of the, like I said, even if you take away the magic system or like the kind of the numbers, the, the video game aspects, you still have really fantastic epic fantasy stories, high fantasy stories, whatever else. And, you know, we've, we've been able to show that, like be when my genre was first getting off the ground, especially we had two full years where we had at least one of our books, like from our genre, like from one of our more popular authors in the genre in the top 100 on Amazon for two years.

Right. So it, like, it would cycle through those authors, but it, we were there and my books come out and they regularly hit in the top five on, on Amazon and Audible. And so that's, that's one of those things is it's less niche than people think it is. It actually, I would say has a greater I would say that it actually has a greater cultural base than a lot of other books from like, say the eighties or even the nineties would have. Now it's today because we just have stuff that is in, with our current generation and the next generations that are following along, you know? And so yeah, we're looking at really great generational readership and everyone from, I have, I think my oldest known fan is 75.

James Blatch: So now probably older out though, aren't they? How long has Lit RPG been around, like, in this form?

Dakota Krout: So I would say, so that's a good question because it started really in Japan and Russia and I, you know, you'll get people arguing all day at who was the one that actually started it. But coming over to America, I would say the first American authors really kicked off the genre, like, as, it's like the, the genre not just wrote something with video games in it, but the genre really started back in like, I'd say 2014. So not long at all, you know, under 10 years. And,

James Blatch: And you were a reader, presumably before you'd decided to write in this, or had you written before?

Dakota Krout: I, I had not written, I had not read the genre before I was writing books like this. That it just turned, yeah. It just turns out that what I was writing at the time I put it out just at the, the right time in the right place for someone to reach out to me and say, Hey do you know that you are writing like right smack dab in the middle of this genre, and you should really like, turn your attention, like from marketing over there? And I was like, no, I did not know that. Thank you. And so I did. So rest is history,

James Blatch: Which helps with the marketing, which we'll talk about in a moment. I've got a couple more definition questions for the genre. So is it, I mean, video games cover a lot of different genres. I always preferred the more real, real world based games. like the world of war you know, call of Duty, world of War, which was set in the second World War was right up my street. And when it started going into space, a couple of editions later, I kind of lost a bit of interest in that. So I preferred the real world. But

in terms of lit R P G, is it always going to be fantasy or is it possible to do a kind of real world set lit R P G with those rules?

Dakota Krout: Oh yeah, I mean, it's, I mean, really, honestly, anything is possible. That's, that's kind of the great thing about the genre is this could be a very large umbrella genre, you know, because almost anything can fit in there. It just has to kind of also have the tropes, right? Like we have slice of life fantasy, we have romance, we have horror, we have all of these different things. And yeah, we have lots of people that have done like, Hey, we're here on earth, and a, a system has like, you know, like a game system has descended on earth and changed our physics, and now we have access to all these things. Right? So that happens all the time. Yes.

James Blatch: Wow. And you say you have a 75 year old and probably old as well, but

Does it skew young, the, the, the bulk of your audience?

Dakota Krout: So that's a really interesting thing. So my target, my target audience is 18 to 35. And so that is right about where I'm aiming. However, I also tend to send a lot of books for free to like schools, libraries institutions, things like that. And I have a, a tonne of, of teachers that will send me stuff. For instance, they'll send me book reports like where the teenagers are, you know, like drawing out my characters, writing reports on the books analysing my grammar, you know, things like that. I'll always a

James Blatch: Always welcome. Yeah,

Dakota Krout: Yeah, yeah. But yeah, so I mean, all the way down I used to say 14 now all the way down to 12 classrooms will be doing that, so that's pretty neat.

James Blatch: Okay. So in terms of, of marketing you, when you got going, you started writing, I guess did what most people do, sort of uploaded to Amazon and

Were you doing any marketing before you somebody told you what genre you're in?

Dakota Krout: No, so I I had no idea what I was doing when I first started. I, I like to say that I, I definitely failed upward because if I would have marketed the book how had intended to market it, it would not have been a success, right? And it, it worked out very well that I had someone like wave me down and say, over here, this is the place you want to be. Because otherwise I probably would not have been able to continue a writing career.

James Blatch: And now you market your books and a bunch of other authors,

How many authors have you got in? It's Mountain Dale, isn't it?

Dakota Krout: It is, yeah. So we have, we have about I would say 30 active authors. So what I mean by that is like, we have authors that are coming in and getting the full experience, right? So everything, like, everything from the outlining pro to the final publication of both the book and the audio book. So book paperback, hard cover audio, we do all of that. And then we also have been working to do a lot more in the audio sphere where we're just like taking on people that are really happy with their current situation whether they're publishing on like web novels or, you know, just any, any place really. And we're trying to open that up so they can stay where they are. And then we would also do the audio with them on and, and just kinda make an interchangeable platform for them. So it's, I would say 30 authors that are actively doing the whole processes with us. So both the publication of the book and the narration and then half dozen more to start with. And then we're going to open that up probably by the end of the year, seeing 30 to 50 people coming in for just audio.

James Blatch:And is this just lit PPG that you do?

Dakota Krout: Yes. So my, my genre focuses on there's three, three genres that are really tightly interconnected. So that is, like I said game lit, lit, R p g in cultivation. So a lot of people will say that they, they kind of fall under the progression fantasy umbrella. But it's, it's hard to say because actually I believe that term was coined after these genres came around, so, right. It's really hard to say. I'm, I'm not trying to start waves there. You know, everyone, everyone has, oh, well, it's not this, it is this

James Blatch: Like, like this feels like there'll be an argument on Reddit, whatever you say here about about this. But let's let's just press on with our own Own views. You better describe the difference, if you can, between those three. very easy on this. Yeah.

Dakota Krout: Yeah. So lit RPG is kind of known as the hard magic system version among these, right? So it is like, I, I go out there and I train and I like fight a monster. I take it down, I get 10 experience. And then because I use this skill, this skill gets X amount of experience, because of, I used it in the fight against a, a monster at this level. And so it can be a bit more involved just if you liked it. Like, if you like to watch that and kind of understand why they're creating their build in a certain way, like why they're, why the character has decided to go in a certain way, like be a warrior versus a wizard or things like that. And then it's laid out choice by choice, right? So it's, it's pretty neat, honestly. And it's, it's really easily translatable over into video games, into rule books for board games, stuff like that.

Now then we go to game lit. And game lit is really similar, but with a much softer magic system where it's just kind of like, Hey, you know, I was kind of walking along and I had some inspiration and so like this level, like this skill gained a bunch of levels because now I have a higher understanding of it, right? And so it's just kind of more wee with the numbers. So, but, but they still are usually showing like, Hey, I'm at this level, which is why I can use this ability at this power, right? And then we go over to cultivation. And so those, those two genres so game lit and lit RPG are both essentially you can, you can gain levels and skill levels, things like that from fighting monsters, from, from doing things that like show and improve your skills.

Whereas cultivation is more about kind of you are in, in an area and you are trying to like, absorb the energy of the world and make a, a stronger base form for yourself. So like you are actually like pulling in energy or radiation and using that to craft your body from the inside out, right? And so it's, it's a really interesting take on things. But it's I think that originated in China in I think it's called like WUSA novels or cultivation novels or Zhan Shia I think is, is the proper pronunciation. And then, so over in, in America or kind of in the west, we have a much more straightforward version than, than the original kind of Chinese novels.

James Blatch: Wow. Yeah. It's intriguing. The the split,

Dakota Krout: Yeah. Intricacies. Yeah.

James Blatch: And in terms of this kind of traditional beats that we'd expect in a novel. So if you you know, I'm

Dakota Krout: Sure like save the cat,

James Blatch: Not save the cat. And

Dakota Krout: So your hero's journey,

James Blatch: I'm assuming these are the same. I mean, your, your character has a need and a want and their world gets turned upside down and all that.

Dakota Krout: Exactly. So yeah, like I said, it's, it's it's fantasy, but with the addition of video games on top of it Yeah. Are really integrated within it, I should say.

James Blatch: And the good and the good books presume, I know your books are good because I can see they are going to be good for the same reason that a romance writer's books are good or a thrill. Writer's are good because they're invested in the character and they, they want to know what happens next to them

Dakota Krout: Ex Exactly. Right. you know, one of the, one of the hard things about going from being a teenager to being an adult you know, is a lot of your free time goes away. So all the, all that time you might have been spending on playing video games or, or doing things with your friends or all this other stuff, you know, like you could, I mean, I remember, I remember people that would put thousands of hours into a video game. And I look at that now for myself and I say, oh my gosh, yeah, that terrifies me. You know, like the idea of of using that much of my time, like the little free time that I have to, to put a like thousands of hours into a video game is, is tough. And so when I, I think that really translates well to people that are going out, especially those 18 to 35 year olds who are looking for a way to still have the enjoyments that they used to have. Now they can get that by reading or listening to a book instead of putting three, 400 hours into a video game.

James Blatch: Yeah. I want to put three or 400 hours back into video games,

Dakota Krout: Hey,

James Blatch: Maybe flight simulators, what I've put some hours into in the last 12 months. But it was a long time since I sat down and watched the campaign. But by the way, something else, I, I was slightly, I'm going to sound like such an old man now, but I used to love the campaigns in games and when it became , whereas my son buys a Call of Duty now and all he does is play online. There's no, the campaign's fallen by the wayside, which seem to be such a shame.

Dakota Krout: It do. It is, it is.

Dakota Krout: But that's okay because we have the campaigns as books now. there you go. So you read them and listen to them. That's

James Blatch: Great.

And have they gone the other way? There must have been some examples of books in your genre that have become video games.

Dakota Krout: A couple. A couple. So so far nothing that has turned into like a major you know, earth shattering really cool, like picked up by Ubisoft or whatever. But yeah, I mean everything from, everything from authors who have gone and, and actually coded the game themselves to I'm actually having con I I, I've had many conversations with video game studios that are interested in, in making this happen with my games as well. So the only downside to all this is that it takes years, right? So you know, in, in two years we might be having another conversation be like, yeah, check out this earth shattering groundbreaking video game over here. That's awesome. But, you know, My stuff,

James Blatch: I can't, I mean, those big games now are such big business. And I can remember again in the mid sixties mid, mid sixties, not old in the mid two thousands when I was working alongside these companies. I think it was one of the cods or one of the GTAs had a 250 million budget at that time. And I think something like 200 million was marketing, 50 million was development. so they are, and that, that's going to be bigger now, isn't it? So they are, they are big business, but took a while. This is, I mean, honestly, this is such a fascinating thing and what's amazing about it is this is not you five friends and, and 12 readers. This is a huge chunk of change in indie publishing. And it's, it's a big part of the market. We used to say romance keeps the lights on, but I'm starting to think that that lit R PPG has quietly been keeping the lights on for a big part of Amazon over the years. And you are, you are a good example of that. So, so I'm fascinated to learn more.

But you, Dakota, when did, when, how did this come about then? You hadn't particularly read this area, you hadn't particularly written anything. You suddenly started writing these books being laptop.

Dakota Krout: Yeah. So I have, I have a kind of a, a a strange backstory for myself, but yeah. So obviously as soon as I figured out that the genre existed, I read everything that existed at that time. Right. And that was easy at the time because there was like 10 total authors in the genre. And so I just went out and read like the 15 books and I was, I was all cut up. Now it's a little harder. But yeah, so when I, when I was first going I was just coming off of time in the military, right? So I was I was in the army and I was in there about eight years and came back to, to do college about halfway through that. So the, I was in college, I was in the military I had two full-time jobs and I'd just gotten married and and I was so, I was bored because I, I didn't, I wasn't using all my time.

So I, I said, Hey, I have these big chunks of time during the day when I'm at school. Like I'm at, I was at university and I, I had a class here and here, but I had a two hour break between it, but it wasn't enough time to go to work because, you know, back then it wasn't all this lovely work from home stuff. It was, it was, you go there or you don't get paid. So you know, I, it was not worth going in to work. So I would just sit down for a couple hours at a time and, and write a book. I did that while my wife was working on her doctoral dissertation. And so she had no mental energy for anything outside of that. So it worked out really well for both of us because she got her doctorate and I, I put out a book and yeah. So that, that took off and started slowly chucking away the other jobs as this made more money and I didn't.

James Blatch: And had you been writing a wrote at all before?

Dakota Krout: So, no, actually, well, not in any kind of fantasy or fiction sense. I, I would write technical manuals. Okay. so, I wrote I wrote compliance forms. I, I created a a ticketing system for the state of Minnesota like a ticket tracking, so like, not so not exactly software, but like the the standard operating procedures that were put in place by the headquarters command. So that was pretty, that was pretty neat. I also have a couple of scientific papers from when I worked in a bioinformatics lab. So, yep. Oh, and, and I also worked at NASA jpl L for a short amount of time. So,

James Blatch: Wow. Is there propulsion oratory in Pasadena?

Dakota Krout: No. could be Pasadena. All all, all I remember was it was Caltech, that one, that one was a a tele telework. So that was, it was

James Blatch: Wow. So, so you did a technical job in the ar in the Army? I had a, oh yes. I revised you lying in the grass with, with grass on your helmet hiding with a snip

Dakota Krout: I've done that too. not a sniper rifle. So vision was always too bad for that. Right. You had to have very good vision for, for that sort of thing.

James Blatch: Yeah, I'm quite pleased they do implement that. I definitely wouldn't be up for that either, apart from on a video game, everyone loves being a sniper

Dakota Krout: Ex. That's right.

James Blatch: okay. Well that's sound, that's, I mean, that's amazing.

And then at some point you decided you would start publishing other people. When did that happen?

Dakota Krout: Yeah, so when I was in the, when I was in the military I was like a, a big part of what I did was making sure that the work that I did like counted, you know, so that, that turned into like writing operating procedures and then like, so I would do that and if anyone had an issue with it, I could amend those and then do that the way, like, do the job the way it's meant to be done, boom, boom, boom, every single time, always these steps. But like, the work itself changes, but these steps are always done. And so for, that's always been a really good mental process for myself. So when I started publishing, I wrote down everything that I did and there's, there's something called the process maturation curve. And what you see is when you start a new thing, you are doing it what's called ad hoc, right?

So you're, you're trying the best that you can to make this work with a limited resources and knowledge that you have. And as you get better at that, as you start optimising that process it goes from, you know, ad hoc to repeatable, and you can, you can do it over and over again. And then it goes from a repeatable to manageable where you can like say, this is good enough that someone else could do this process. And then it goes from manage to optimised, right? But things change all the time. So it's always going to go from optimised to managed to optimised to manage. So you always had to keep ahead of that curve is, is kind of the idea. And so when I saw that my, my first book was starting to earn me some money and it, it was a fairly low amount of money in the grand scheme of things, but for a very poor college student it was, it was very good money.

And so I, I started looking into what I was doing and what I could do to make that better. And I started writing that down. And so over time I made standard operating procedures for myself. I took courses on marketing, on business, on publishing, on writing. And actually the writing one was the least useful of them, which because academic writing is very different from fantasy writing. And so that, but everything else was super useful. But by, by the end of that first year I had I think four books out. So I had I wrote three books in, so I put out the first book when I saw that people were starting to read it, I wrote the second one in a month. I wrote the third one in a month. And then I paused to see what I could do better.

And I was constantly writing that down, constantly trying to figure out what I could do. By the first end of the first year, I had put 35,000 to $40,000 into trying new things, trying to optimise these processes and figure out how I could do it better. In the second year I went from making five figures a month to making six figures a month. And I said, Hey now that I'm doing all of this, because I was splitting my time between writing and, and functioning like, you know, marketing, putting stuff out, getting ISBNs, finding narrators, whatever else I said, you know, I'm doing all of this information and while I'm doing it, the information is going and becoming useless. Right. Because these processes keep changing, right? Facebook loves to change how their ads are done. Amazon loves to change how things are done so that you had to constantly be feeding money into it, trying to figure out the best way to get it to work.

Right. And as soon as you feel like you have a good handle on it, they changed it again. Right? That's, I, I'm sure that is not unintentional. So I said I can't write fast enough and consistently enough myself, just one person to make all of this information and, and analytics that I'm collecting be worthwhile. So I brought on three, three authors and I gave them a sweetheart deal to be my Pi Guinea pigs. And I said, Hey, look, you know, I'm, I'm told that I'm a black swan, right? And, and this, this was, this is a fun quote. I said, I'm told that I'm a black swan, but I want to start a black swan breeding programme. Do you guys want to try that out with me? And so now I have this great flock of black swans and it's, it's quite lovely.

James Blatch: Yeah. Wow. And it's gone so well.

Where do you find your authors? Or do your authors come to you because you are so specialised?

Dakota Krout: So usually we will reach out to authors. We have, but the authors that reach out to us tend to be the ones that want it the most. And so we always, we always take those into consideration. We take those very seriously. And so yeah, we do, we do have several authors that reached out to us and, and they're doing phenomenally well. But yeah, so kind of a mix of both. When I find something that I think is really good, I'll, I'll reach out to that author and say, look, I read this, I see that you're not currently published or planning on doing this yourself. Do you want to have a conversation? And then Yeah. Goes from there or, or it doesn't.

James Blatch: So, and in terms of marketing To go, what's working well in your genre in terms of like, Facebook has Amazon ads and so on?

Dakota Krout: Sure. so yeah, I mean, so knowing how to market and, and advertise are definitely things that anyone that's in this sphere should know how to do. Like, you should really do a lot of, of looking to this, do a lot of your own ab testing. But for myself, what I have found to be very useful is what I, what I call relational marketing, right? And, and so for anyone who's wondering, like my, my marketing plan is essentially, so marketing and advertising, by the way, I consider two very separate things. One is not paid to bring people in and one is paying to bring people in, right? So with marketing, I do what I call relational marketing, which is essentially a cross between how to win friends and influence people. And there's this lovely book called actionable, actionable Gamification by the author is Yukai Chow.

And so basically it is taking the principles of, Hey, let's be good people and really interact with our fans, really interact with the people that want to interact with us and, and show them that it's a great thing to do. And then the other one, the actionable gamification is finding ways that we can do that sustainably for a very long period of time. Kind of looking at the key motivations of psychology behind why these things work. And so using those, we try to bring together big communities and just have a lot of fun. And then that grows the community and brings more people in. And it's been kind of a self-sustaining cycle for a while now. So that's really cool.

James Blatch: And these communities are on Facebook groups or

Dakota Krout: Facebook, TikTok, TikTok sorry, Facebook TikTok, we have followers on Amazon. We have Instagram, like all, all over the place. We try to, to build these up and, and we kind of use the same core principles across the board now when it comes to advertising. So paid advertising. So I like to say that, that Facebook ads are like taking a handful of coins, throwing 'em up in a dark room and hoping they stack when they land. So I don't, I don't usually try to make sales on Facebook. Usually all of my ads on Facebook are generated two or are kind of focused on generating follows on my author page, right? Because once they're, once they are there, I can make posts and they'll eventually see it, right? So Amazon ads work very well, but we do very, very targeted marketing, right? So it's basically a very constant stream of data that's going in and coming out and, and being refined. So yeah, it's, it's all, it's all a lovely ballet of people and money and content generations. So what

James Blatch: Ballet, that's, if it's a ballet, it's the oi or maybe co gone, the Royal Royal Ballet

Dakota Krout: I'll tell you, it feels a lot more like the Nutcracker, a lot of, yeah.

James Blatch: Yeah. Well, they can perform that

James Blatch: And what's next, do you think in your genres, this, the fast moving, how settled are those sub-genres? Are things developing? So yeah, so new, I imagine it's on the move

Dakota Krout: Yeah, no. So I, it it's constantly on the move. That's, that's one of the interesting things kind of in 2021 to now we've seen what we've been calling the content arms race. So kind of what happened is people realise that in our genres, the audio audiobooks are the main revenue generators, right? Like with, with 60% or higher being. Of our revenue being generated by audio. And so what do people want when they're buying an audiobook is typically they want a big, long audiobook that they can listen to for a long period time. Like one, one price and up to like 40 hours of content, right? And, and so we've seen books just double and triple in size, like going from a hundred thousand words, which is still considered a genre standard to 200 to 300,000 word books all on their own. We, we have we have there's one person in our genre that does something like 14,000 words a day, and the audio books are something like 80 hours a pop, so It's, yeah.

James Blatch: How do you do it that in-house, the narrating or are you paying?

Dakota Krout: Yeah, so, yeah. So when we, when we do when we do our, like for Mountain Dale, when we are doing that, all of that is in-house as as much as possible. I have a few contracts from before I started a publishing company back when I didn't realise kind of what I was getting into. Right. and, but other than that we do all of that in-house where we do per finished hour with our narrators. We, and, and usually this is all brand new authors, so usually the, the narrators are pretty happy to get the per finished hour because they're like, Hey, this is a random new author. We have no idea how well this is going to succeed or not, but both the author and the narrator like, or me to take the gamble instead of them. So I, I I I like that too. So

James Blatch: Yeah, it's, it's, it's an amazing area dakota. I, I really wanted to talk about it. I think it's an area that because it's quite technical, I think it's an area that people don't know very much about. But I hope this interview's served a, a good purpose in that sense. Yeah. And it's just going to go one way I think up, up.

Dakota Krout: Yeah, that's right. Yep. Even if we're falling up the stairs, you know, that's fine by me.

James Blatch: I think, I think that pretty much goes for a lot of people in this sector. We are kind of bumble our way upstairs, then we would try to be as organised as possible about it. But it's, I like that, you know, in the old days of working in a corporate environment, you are in the military for goodness sake, where, you know, they, there's boxes you, you sit in. But yep. It was either that great Zuckerberg quote, which has moved fast and break things. Which I think is indie art, indie business all over. Well, look, thank you so much indeed for coming on Dakota. It's been brilliant. Explained it very well and yeah, look, thank you. Forward to to watching in the future. Maybe we'll see you somewhere.

Do you go and turn of the conferences this year?

Dakota Krout: So I just had a new baby, so I have a four month old son right now. so Thank you. Yeah. But that's is definitely precluding a lot of my travel. So I will be in Las Vegas later this year in November for the 20 bucks to 50 k Las Vegas. I always go to Dragoncon in Atlanta. Yeah. and then I do try to get over see, it's funny because every time I've tried to get over to London for a show or you know, Spain or something like that, there's been a huge out outbreak of Plague. Yes. So, because I was, I was actually in, I was in London for the for the London book Fair the year that borders got shut. So I was in London as the borders were closing. Oh, And so I was on, I was on one of the the last one of, one of the last flights out The Lost

James Blatch: Chopper out Panoi.

Dakota Krout: Yep. Yep. So, okay. Yeah. So every time I try to get over there, so we'll, we'll see what happens, but I hope it's not a recurring theme, you know,

James Blatch: Yeah, it'd be lovely to see you in London, but we'll certainly see you in Vegas. We'll we'll chat a bit more then. Dakota, thanks for coming on.

Dakota Krout: Thank you so much for the invitation and hope to see you again soon.

Speaker 2: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: There you go. 41 books he's written in lit RPG, I mean, I, I under, I do understand it a lot more now, but I still feel I probably need to read one to fully fully get the gist of it. It's a strange crossover, isn't it, really? Video games to literature.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, it is strange. Yeah. And it's not, it's a genre I'm familiar with also. I know, I know what it is, but I haven't read anything. But we can go back to things like Ready Play One, I think is kind of one of the, the touchstone texts of, of the genre, one of the first ones to kind of look into that. But it's been developed since then. And, you know, adding in things like stats and, and experience points and all it is, it is odd. But, but people love it. So, you know, it's, you know, it's, it's, it's all good.

James Blatch: And it is what the good thing is that, you know, when I, I've, I've been playing video games most of my life and lessen now, but when I was a teenager, you know, the criticism for my mom and those days was a plastic handheld thing is you, you know, she would think you're spending too much time on it. But she saw me reading a book, she'd be really happy. So I think from a parental point of view, and now I'm a parent, I think this is a good thing, a great thing actually, if it gets people like my son William, offer off his Xbox occasionally to read something.

Mark Dawson: Yeah, no, I, absolutely anything, anything it gets people into reading, you know? is, he's a good thing. So yeah. More, more power to, and, and I mean obviously done not just his own books, but publishing others as well and doing it successfully. So I think he's, he's done a, he's done a great job. I usually often end up in a panel together at 20 books and you know, he's a good, nice guy.

James Blatch: Yeah, he is a nice guy and he's really fun to have him once it's been overdue actually. And a shout out to Kate Pickford I think is probably she was the one who suggested to me, you really need to talk to Dakota at some point and put us in touch. Okay. Right. Just a reminder that we are going to have a live announcement. You can join us live and in person if you go to self-publishing formula com forward slash june as in the month, j u n e. And that is on Monday the 3rd of April 8:00 PM uk. So a little bit earlier in the day in the US but you're about to Google what time that is or the, the confirmation should tell you that's it. Marky Mark, I think we have come to the end of everything that we need to say, unless you've got something to say.

Mark Dawson: no, I'm I'm, I'm done. I have a book to write. So

James Blatch: I'm going for, I'm going for a boozy lunch tomorrow with a Cambridge based authors Oh. In Cambridge. And Ian Sansbury will be there one of our fuse authors and yeah, a small, small but dedicated group. We had a really good fun time last time. Well, that was the evening. I don�t know how daytime drinking's going to work for me at my age.

Mark Dawson: Well, I can tell you how it'll work. You'll, you'll have a drink and then you'll get drunk. How you not driving? Mrs. Mrs. Blatch going to pick you up. We'll get a

James Blatch: Train. Mrs. Blatch's going to pick me up or I'll get the guided bus home. I should be fast asleep probably on it anyway. Don't expect anything from me tomorrow after about 11 o'clock

Mark Dawson: Standard

James Blatch: On a Friday. I'm not playing golf for once. I'm going out Strange. Going out to to meet authors. Good. Thank you very much indeed for listening. Thank you to the team in the background and Dakota especially for our interviewee today. All the remains for me to say. It says goodbye from him

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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