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This 30-year-old went from writing as a hobby to making $1.8 million a year self-publishing on Amazon. Here’s how he did it in less than 5 years and his best advice to other writers.

Dakota Krout.

  • Dakota Krout is an avid reader and wrote his own book for fun. It made $5000 on Amazon in its first month.
  • He turned down a prestigious internship at NASA JPL to pursue writing full-time.
  • He says becoming a successful writer on Amazon requires you to get over your fears and just start writing.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It all began because Dakota Krout hates not having enough to do. After eight years in the Army, he had enrolled in college and nearly completed his degree in software engineering. Even though he was working two part-time jobs, he found himself with stretches of free time between classes.

Having lived the military life “made it really hard to take those large chunks of time and waste them,” he says. “So I said, what can I do that I enjoy in periods of time that are broken up?”

This was in 2016, and Krout was reading a lot of LitRPG (short for literary role-playing game), a new form of fantasy fiction. In LitRPG, the rules for acquiring magical powers are explicitly laid out. Characters must achieve a certain task, say killing a given number of demons, in order to acquire new capabilities, much as they would in a computer role-playing game, or in Dungeons & Dragons. “For a lot of people reading, it allows them to self-insert into the book much more fluidly,” he explains.

Krout, who is now 30 and lives in Kansas, was enjoying these books as a reader, so for fun, he decided to write one, titled “Dungeon Born.”

He completed it in October, 2016, and immediately published it on Amazon, not bothering to hire a copy editor or cover designer. “It was just something I was doing for myself at the time, to have a book,” he says. But then a member of the Facebook group LitRPG Books posted a review to the group and tagged Krout.

He hadn’t known about the group, which currently has about 10,000 members, but he joined right away. Group members took an interest in the book and he made $5,000 in book sales in the month after it was published.

By the end of the year, “Dungeon Born” had earned more than $22,000.

At the time, he was newly married, taking a full course load, and working two part-time jobs that brought in a total of $11,000 a year. So those earnings from the book sales got his full attention. “Because of the reception that I got, I sat down and over the next two months there were two more books,” he says.

Krout knew he was on to something. “I went back and spent basically every penny I had made on the books learning to do things better.”

He took some online courses from fantasy author Brandon Sanderson and Mark Dawson’s Ads for Authors course. He also read books about how to start a business including “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael E. Gerber and the “Harvard Business Review Entrepreneur’s Handbook.” He also went to conferences, including Dragon Con, the mega-scifi/fantasy/comic book convention and 20Booksto50k.

In all, he says, “We spent about $30,000 on learning to do the business better.”

He soaked up all he could about the genre and the business of self-publishing on Amazon. “I found editors and artists, redid the covers and redid the editing, and then the reviews started piling up much faster,” he says.

Dakota Krout series Cover Designs
While Krout really liked the original art, he says it wasn’t good for selling books.

Around that time, he was offered a prestigious internship at NASA JPL.

“I turned that down because this career was taking off,” he says. By the end of 2017 he’d made more than $82,000 on Amazon book sales alone, plus more income from audio book sales and non-Amazon revenue streams such as Patreon. One of his books had also been included in Audible’s top five fantasy picks.

In 2018, Krout published three more books and earned $330,000 from them. His wife Danielle quit her job as a biomedical researcher to take over his marketing and social media, and the two started their own publishing company, Mountaindale Press.

Krout knew that the skills and stable of contractors he’d built up over the previous couple of years could help make other authors successful, and in turn, working with other authors would help him stay up to date in a rapidly changing genre. The company now publishes 28 authors, and aims to put out about one book a week, he says.

The following year in 2019, Krout published six books and made almost exactly $1 million from them. Then in 2020, he published five more books and earned just over $1.8 million. Now he’s picking up the pace, aiming to complete a book every month in 2021. He plans to publish 10 books in 2021 and an even dozen – one a month – in 2022.

This may sound like an ambitious plan, but Krout says he’s well on his way. “I started writing the books for this and next year in 2020,” he explains. “That’s why you saw a dip in releases: it was to build up for a large push this and next year.” He says he currently has four books completed that will come out over the next six months.

Dakota books
Krout’s The Completionist Chronicles has more than 1,400 ratings on Amazon and 4.7 stars.

All of Krout’s books are still in the LitRPG category and are around 100,000 words each, or about 400 pages. How does he manage to write one in a month while maintaining the quality that keeps readers coming back for more? “This is really where my expertise in programming comes in,” he says. “I make absolutely massive outlines and spreadsheets.” The spreadsheets cover everything about the characters, including their skills, what they’ve done to attain those skills, how they use them, what quests they’re on, their reputation with other groups, their gear, and even their Enneagram types.

He also plans out how characters interact with the environment they’re in, and what types of monsters they will encounter. “I know what the personality is going to be so basically I say, here’s the system. Here’s the personality interacting with that system. And the story generates itself from there.”

Next, Krout creates a detailed outline of that story. He tries to outline three books at a time, which usually takes about a day to complete.

Once the detailed outline and character description are in place, writing the book is just a matter of sitting down and doing the work, he says. It takes between one and two months to complete a draft, including a week for going back over the draft and editing it. He then hands it over to a copy editor for final editing. Because he knows the story and the characters up front, he works with a cover artist early in the process, and the cover is usually ready well before the book is completed.

Krout’s publishing company now has artists, typographers, developmental editors, line editors, copy editors, narrators, sound engineers, quality assurance, social media managers, merchandise creators, graphic designers, advertisers, and a project manager. He also works with collaborators on some of his books, an approach that fits neatly into this process. “I do all the outlines and spreadsheets, and the work of writing the novels is split between us,” he says.

To get all this done, the military-minded Krout keeps a strict weekday routine:

4:20 AM Wake up (He puts gym clothes next to his bed)

4:45 AM – 5:45 AM: Go to the gym

6:00 AM -7:00 AM: Write

7:00 AM – 8:00 AM Breakfast with family

8:00 AM – 1:00 PM: Write

1:00 PM – 5:00 PM: Administrative work, write if possible

5:00 PM – 7:30 PM: Time with family

7:30 PM – 11:00 PM: Write, interact with fans, use social media

11:00 PM: Go to bed

He keeps up this routine Monday through Friday, and takes weekends off.

What’s his advice to other aspiring Amazon indie authors?

Krout says he uses a strategy called relational marketing: “I’m not trying to sell you a book or a series. I’m trying to sell you me, Dakota Krout, as an author. So that no matter when I put out a book, if you see my name on the cover, you want to buy the book.”

He says big-name authors like John Grisham are experts at this. “They’ve been able to key their audience to see their name and know it’s going to be a great book because that author makes consistently awesome work.”

With this in mind, Krout advises writers to put time and effort into building a relationship with their readers. “I tell people to start with social media. Pick one spot. For us we started on Facebook. We worked hard to become more than just someone trying to sell a book, we went in there and we really tried to engage with the fan base, really talk to people. I work really hard to make sure to answer when people send me a message on any platform, including email.”

To keep that interaction going over Facebook, Krout joined other Facebook groups beyond the LitRPG Group. That group was the only one specific to his genre, he says, so he joined more general groups devoted to fantasy, epic fantasy, or young adult books.

He also created fan pages both for himself as an author and for Mountaindale Press. He and Mountaindale each have their own Facebook group, Pun and Games with Dakota Krout, which has 1,300 members (wordplay is his thing) and the Moutaindale Press Book Club, which is just a few months old and has about 900 members.

“Don’t make your page only about releases and sales,” he advises other authors on using Facebook effectively. “Interact with people, build real relationships and friendships. Only about 20% of what you post about should be an attempt at sales, the other 80% should be all about fan interactions.”

On building a long-term relationship with your readers, Krout says moving from having fans to super-fans is hugely important. “Super-fans are people that not only read your books and love them and want to engage with you, but they’re going to talk to their friends, they’re going to go on social media and tell other people to come read your stuff, they’re going to push them to join groups,” he says.

“Remembering that our fan base is what is getting us to where we are and so having that great relationship with them is the most important thing.”

But, he also says, there are many different ways to become a successful indie author.

“A lot of people will say there’s one particular path to success, and those people usually have a vested interest in making sure you’re on that path.”

Most importantly, he says, don’t let fear stop you from trying it. “It’s hard to put out a book. It represents a significant amount of your time and if people don’t like it, it can be crushing.”

Krout says that believing your books will do well and remembering that everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of your fear is important. “If you liked writing it, someone is going to like reading it. That’s the best advice I can give.”

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