Today I am delighted to welcome Dorian Hart to my blog for this Indie Spotlight feature.
Dorian Hart is the author of the Heroes of Spira epic fantasy series, which currently includes The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, The Greatwood Portal, and The Infinite Tower. The fifth and final book in the series will likely be out in 2022.
In a bygone century, Dorian graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2, and BioShock.
Now he writes books in his Boston-area study, serves as the stay-at-home dad for his two teenage daughters, and happily allows his wife to drag him off on various wilderness adventures. He also spends time torturing his piano, playing the sport of pickleball, losing at board games, making terrible dad jokes, and trembling beneath the shadow of his towering TBR.
Hi Dorian, welcome to my blog today! What made you decide to self-publish?
I suppose the main reason is the sheer lottery-winning luck one needs to land an agent and a publishing contract, even if one has a worthy manuscript. It’s like leaning out of a hot air balloon, dropping a tennis ball, and hoping to land it atop a dinner plate on the back of a moving horse. I knew that even with a well-written book in my hand, the odds of it reaching readers by traditional means were vanishingly small, and I was already in my mid 40’s when I published my first book. Given that I was willing to go get professional editing, proofreading, and covers, I knew self-publishing was the right call.
Ha ha! That sounds like quite a challenge! What do you see as the benefits of being a self-published author?
The benefits are many, though I’m guessing the one most readers would assume—more creative control—is probably the least important to me. I put my books through much the same editorial process as trad published books. A team of skilled beta readers serve for developmental edits. I hire an additional editor for line and copy editing. I subject all my books to the eyes of dedicated proofreaders.
Beyond that, the biggest benefit to me is the lack of a hard schedule. I can write at my own pace, set my own deadlines, and not worry about rushing to hit arbitrary milestones on time. Granted, I still set myself goals, and when writing a series I don’t want to let too much time pass between one book and the next, but it’s still liberating to be able to absorb life’s vagaries and interruptions without much worry.
Another huge benefit is that I can play the long game. I’ll own my own backlist long after a trad publisher might grow weary of it.
And, finally, though it’s not a huge motivator for me personally, there’s the higher royalty rate, such as it is. Self-published authors keep more money from each sale.
All good outcomes! Converse to that, what challenges do self-published authors face?
I can think of two big ones.
First, there’s the stigma. There’s a common perception that authors only choose to go the self-published route because their books aren’t good enough to get past the gatekeepers of the trad-publishing world. To anyone familiar with the community of self-published authors, that is patently false; there are plenty of legitimate reasons to self-publish (See my previous answer!).
That is not to say all of the skepticism of self-published work is unfounded. Agents of the trad-publishing world do tend to weed out books that haven’t received the editing attention they need and deserve. (And to clarify: a lack of editing does not always mean a lack of desire for such by an author. Good editing is expensive!) But the best self-published fantasy is just as good as the best trad-published stuff, and is often more creative and risk-taking because it doesn’t have to meet marketing constraints or follow the hottest trends in the genre.
In the past several years I’ve found a community of friendly, talented, and supportive self-published fantasy authors whose collected works are positively sock-off-knocking. I wish readership at large could see—and would take a chance on—the wonderful books these people publish.
Speaking of which: here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of self-published works that are among my favorites—self or trad—in the fantasy genre:
The Iconoclasts trilogy by Mike Shel
The Dark Profit Saga by J. Zachary Pike
The Half Killed by Quenby Olson
The Chasing Graves trilogy by Ben Galley
The Sword of Kaigen, by M.L. Wang
The Amra Thetys books by Michael McClung
Sir Thomas the Hesitant and the Table of Less Valued Knights, by Liam Perrin
And that’s not counting three of my favorites which started out self-published and were then picked up by traditional publishers. These authors didn’t get magically better the day they made that switch; their books were brilliant when they were self-pubbed, too:
We Ride the Storm by Devin Madsen
The Books of Babel by Josiah Bancroft
The Wolf of Oren-yaro by K.S. Villoso
Okay, enough about that! The second big challenge faced by self-published authors is the weight of so many hats. We’re responsible, creatively, financially, and logistically, not only for writing the book, but making sure it’s edited, proofread, publicized, marketed, distributed, has a well-designed cover—everything. (I’ll be the first to admit that my own books suffer from my lack of savvy in marketing and publicity.) It’s a lot of work!
Thanks for the recommendations! I have to admit I haven’t read any of those books despite reading a large number of self-published books this year and in 2020. I do have a number of them on my kindle though, so I will make sure I read them soon!
What advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?
My first piece of advice is a bit of meta-advice, which is: No piece of advice is universal! Also, as a small-fry self-published fantasy author, it’s not clear that anyone should be taking my advice in particular!
But since you asked, here are three things I think an aspiring self-published author ought to consider:
1. Do whatever it takes to get a professional editor. Yes, I know, it’s not always possible. Good editors are expensive for a reason! But I’ve seen other authors opine that “you don’t really need an editor,” or “I can be my own editor, so why I should I hire someone?” I humbly disagree with those sentiment, at least when it comes to copy editing. A good team of thoughtful beta readers can serve as a collective developmental editor, but I guarantee a good copyeditor will fix mistakes, find continuity errors, polish your sentences, and save you from a host of embarrassments.
If you truly have no way to employ an editor, at least try to find a proofreader. There are many readers who will DNF a book with a dozen typos or grammatical errors in the first chapter, even if the story is good.
2. Have fun and take chances! As a self-published author, you aren’t beholden to a publisher’s needs or whims. Take advantage of that!
3. Don’t let anyone tell you there’s only one “right way” to write a book. Some authors write a little every day, while others write in bursts. Some edit as they go, others don’t look back until a whole messy first draft is done. Some drink coffee, and some drink tea. Some use extensive outlines, while others fly by the seat of their pants. Just find what works for you, and go with it!
I’m sure that is very useful advice. What have you learned from being a self-published author?
Well, first and foremost, I learned that I was capable of writing an entire book—something I wasn’t at all sure of when I started. Now I have four books figuratively under my belt, and I’m working on a fifth. It’s not so scary once you realize you have it in you.
I’ve learned that there’s a huge supportive community of authors out there, self-pub, indie press, and traditional, and that it’s a wonderful world to be a part of.
And (see above) I learned how important a good editor can be!
My son is reading and thoroughly enjoying your books at the moment – thanks to a recommendation from Witty and Sarcastic Book Club’s Jodie. What can we look forward to seeing from you next?
As of the day I write this—April 10—you’ll have to look backward to see it. I published the fourth book in my epic Heroes of Spira fantasy series back in March. It’s titled The Infinite Tower, and is the penultimate book in a five book series. The first three books, in case you’re in the mood for hopeful epic quest fantasy, are The Ventifact Colossus, The Crosser’s Maze, and The Greatwood Portal.
Other than that, all you can likely look forward to seeing from me this year is a bunch of silly tweets about my process, my progress, some dad jokes, and a whole bunch of recommendations for other writers’ books that I’ve enjoyed.
Well I’ll be looking out for those, then!! Thank you so much for joining me today, Dorian and good luck with your book sales and future projects!
The Ventifact Colossus
Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep Naradawk at bay, and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.
Surely he made a mistake. These can’t be the right people.
Dranko is a priest-turned-pickpocket, expelled from his church for his antics. Kibilhathur is a painfully shy craftsman who speaks to stones. Aravia is a wizard’s apprentice whose intellect is eclipsed only by her arrogance. Ernest is a terrified baker’s son. Morningstar is a priestess forbidden from daylight. Tor is a young nobleman with attention issues. Ysabel is an elderly farm woman. Grey Wolf is a hard-bitten mercenary.
None of them are qualified to save the world, but they’ll have to do. Even Abernathy himself seems uncertain as to why he chose them.
What starts with a simple scouting mission soon spirals into something more far-reaching and sinister. The heroes will contest with dream warriors, evil cultists, sentient gemstones, and a devious yet infuriatingly polite gentleman with a perfect mustache, on their way to a desperate encounter with the unstoppable: The Ventifact Colossus.
The Ventifact Colossus is book one of The Heroes of Spira.
The Crosser’s Maze
The Crosser’s Maze is a legendary device, a mysterious artifact of mind, magic, and metal. The archmage Abernathy believes that it can permanently prevent the malevolent Naradawk Skewn from escaping his otherworldly prison and bringing the world to ruin. But the archmagi are spending all of their wizardly might keeping Naradawk locked away. The burden of finding the Crosser’s Maze rests with Horn’s Company.
Dranko, Morningstar, and the rest of their ragtag band need only acquire the maze and bring it back to Abernathy. Nothing could be easier—except that no one knows exactly what the maze looks like. Or how big it is. Or precisely *where* it is. Or how to use it.
Worse, the Crosser’s Maze waits somewhere in the distant land of Kivia, on the far side of the Uncrossable Sea. The only means of getting there is a magical archway through which a hostile army is, even now, invading from the other side.
And, as if all of *that* weren’t dire enough, the evil Sharshun have sent an agent of their own to Kivia. She seeks the Crosser’s Maze for herself—and she has a month head start. If she finds it first, the world of Spira is doomed.
The Crosser’s Maze is book two of The Heroes of Spira.
The Greatwood Portal
The end of the world is a week away, and only Horn’s Company can stop it. All they have to do is find and rescue Ivellios, who’s been kidnapped by the Black Circle to fulfill their prophecy of freeing the all-powerful Naradawk Skewn from his prison world.
Meanwhile, Morningstar must ready her team of Ellish dream warriors to battle the vicious Aktallian Dreamborn, who continues to harass Abernathy and the archmagi. And Aravia must master the Crosser’s Maze, the most powerful and complex magical artifact ever created.
What could go wrong?
According to the goblin shaman Irligg, Horn’s Company is destined both to succeed and to fail in their quest to save the world of Spira. Kibi always says there’s no such thing as destiny, but as the forces of Charagan prepare for Naradawk’s invasion, there’s a hidden thumb on the scales of fate…
The Greatwood Portal is book three of The Heroes of Spira.
The Infinite Tower
Horn’s Company saved the world of Spira.
The Black Circle erased it.
Now Dranko, Morningstar, Kibi, and the rest of the team have a lot of work to do.
In order to mend their broken reality, the company must venture to distant Het Branoi — The Infinite Tower — in search of a third Eye of Moirel. Only then will they be able to travel into the past and stop the Sharshun from changing the course of history.But Het Branoi is a bizarre and deadly place, a baffling construction full of mystery and danger, of magic and chaos, with unexpected allies and terrifying monsters. Horn’s Company will need courage, perseverance, and more than a little luck if they are to find the Eye and discover the terrible secret at the heart of the Infinite Tower.
The Infinite Tower is book four of The Heroes of Spira.
Who’s next on Indie Spotlight?
Alex S. Bradshaw grew up in Kent in the UK and spent much of his childhood hiding (sometimes under tables) and reading a book.
He has always been a fan of epic stories (as well as dinosaurs and cake) so it came as no surprise to anyone that he went on to study Classics and Ancient History at university.
Now Alex works in publishing and has turned his hand to making epic stories of his own.