East Grand Forks-based author and business person Dakota Krout is exploring the niche genres of fantasy fiction with his newly formed publishing company Mountaindale Press; his efforts landed him on Audible.com’s top 10 list for audio books in November.
In 2016, Krout was a student at UND studying computer science. As a veteran of the U.S. Army, he was used to long days -- his course loads were around 22 credits a semester. In his final two semesters at school, he was down to six or nine credits a semester and found himself with free time. A voracious reader, he took up writing and self-published his first novel, "Dungeon Born," the first in what would become a five-book series, The Divine Dungeon.
The success of "Dungeon Born" inspired Krout, and after graduating from UND with a degree in computer science in 2017, he left his job as a web developer and began Mountaindale Press the following year, learning along the way the necessary business skills to develop and market his books to his growing audience.
“With publishing, it has to be 50% art, 50% business,” Krout said over coffee at Bully Brew Coffee in East Grand Forks -- his favorite place to work. “You need to create content because that is what actually generates money, but you also need to sell that because it doesn’t matter how amazing your book is. If you can’t get it purchased, you’re writing as a hobby.”
Today, Mountaindale Press is anything but a hobby. Krout has 12 novels to his credit. His second series, "The Completionist Chronicles," surpassed the success of his first series.
“So basically we saw I wasn’t a one-trick pony,” he laughed.
Krout’s books are in an expanding niche genre of fantasy books called GameLit, or Lit RPG, a subset of epic fantasy, which Krout describes as “books about people in worlds where it is very game-like.”
“The genre for GameLit is very much like reading your favorite role-playing video games,” wrote Chris Johns in an email to the Herald. Johns is author of the Axe Druid series for Mountaindale Press. “The aspect that makes this fantasy GameLit, is that, as the stories progress, so, too, does the protagonist by way of leveling up, collecting abilities, gear, loot and all kinds of other goodies that they can use to interact with this new environment similar to the way you might in a video game, or even a tabletop game like Dungeons and Dragons.”
Krout’s success allowed him to approach other novelists, people like Johns, who were serially web-publishing their books, to be on his imprint. Today, Mountaindale Press has around 10 authors signed to book deals and employs a variety of support staff, from editors to narrators and sound engineers for audio books.
Mountaindale Press is operated out of his East Grand Forks home, where he lives with his wife, Danielle, and their young daughter. The company grew quickly, and Danielle, who has a doctorate in pharmacology from UND, left her job at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center to become the CEO of their fledgeling business.
“So when an author submits their raw, final draft to us, we still need to take it through multiple rounds of development,” Danielle said. “My job is to take that book from the raw product that the author gets us to then bring it to its finished final state for publication.”
That final state of publication can take on multiple forms, from traditional paperback books, the smallest part of Mountaindale’s business, to ebooks to audiobooks.
Expanding into audiobooks dramatically increased the sales of Krout’s books, as talented narrators bring an audience of their own. Krout’s current narrator is veteran voice actor Luke Daniels, who has worked on books such as Phillip K. Dick’s "Ubik."
“He’s the guy who narrated the book of mine that got onto the New York Times page," Krout said.
That book was "Raze," the third installment of Krout’s Completionists Chronicles, which appeared on audio book company Audible.com’s Top 10 list for fiction audiobooks on Nov. 19 and was reported by the New York Times.
Royalties, the money an author earns from book sales, was another reason Krout wanted to publish through his own company. The contracts offered by traditional publishers, he said, were too restrictive.
“The first contract I was ever offered with a traditional publisher was for 75 years and was for 2% net royalties,” he said.
At Mountaindale, he can play by different rules.
“Right now, what we’re doing is a straight 50/50 split,” he said about royalties he pays to authors on his imprint.
And money has been good, though he declined to provide details.
“I’ve been full time for over a year now,” he said. “Since I graduated in 2017 from UND, I have paid off my student loan debts, my wife’s PhD, our house, our car, so we have no debts.”
Though he intends to keep writing, Krout and Danielle don’t want to limit themselves to fantasy literature, as they look to the future of their company.
“Definitely long term, video games, table-top games,” said Danielle, listing future ideas for Mountaindale.
“Movies, TV shows, all that is on the docket,” Krout said. “And we have time because I’m 28."