Today I’ll be interviewing Shakyra Dunn, author of the debut fantasy coming-of-age novel, The One Left Behind: Magic!
Adelle Yeung: Tell us about The One Left Behind. What is it about this story that made you want to self-publish it?
Shakyra Dunn: The One Left Behind is actually a rewrite of a series that I planned out around three years ago, and back then it was completely different. I couldn’t even tell you everything that it included back then, but boy, reading back on it now, it was cataclysmic.
It’s the story of a young man living in a world headed by a mysterious group known only as the Guardians. The main character himself, Frayle, lives in a hub called Fracturis, working as a thief alongside his best friend Relek. When their home is invaded by beasts called Savages, they venture west to enlist the help of the leader of the Church, and there belies greater meaning behind their journey. When unspeakable events unfold inside of the Church, Frayle is thrust twenty years into the past in order to right the wrongs of his splintered time.
Honestly, I’d say my short synopsis is: “red-headed boy and halfling go west and get stuck in limbo.”
I mainly decided to self-publish in order to help myself grow as a person, since I’m an outgoing introvert that knows nothing about marketing and still knows little about how the traditional market works. And because, well, I got a little impatient trying to look into traditional publishing after trying and researching for a year. I admit that with the silliest grin on my face.
AY: Was researching traditional publishing frustrating for you?
SD: Very much so. I couldn’t seem to find a proper niche specifying what industries I could apply to. I have a habit of mixing genres, and sometimes it’s not always the smartest route to take. In addition, well… I’m still working out the kinks in query letter crafting.
AY: Yeah, query writing is an art in and of itself Do you think once you have a little more experience with publishing your own work, you’ll look more into traditional publishing?
SD: Oh, definitely! I think once my writing is stronger, and I feel that I could fashion together query letters and not be a little afraid of talking to agents *gulp*, then I could try out the traditional publishing route. I’d love to one day be able to have support of an agent in order to better publicize my works.
AY: In my own research of self-publication, authors say that unless you get a super big advance on your book, the publishing house will do a minimal publicity, so even if they agree to publish your work, you still have to do a lot of the marketing yourself, and you might as well have self-published anyway. What are your thoughts on that?
SD: I’ve actually heard the same, and you only get about 15% of the royalties when you traditionally publish. Self-publishing is definitely the better option with those odds in mind. Sure, you’d have to do all of the work yourself, which can be more frustrating, but at least you would keep control of your own work, and you’d get a larger majority of the proceedings and payments. I mean, 30-70% sounds like a better chance than just 15%, right?
AY: I think it’s actually the literary agent who takes a commission of 10-15% of whatever the publisher offers? Then again, I can’t be completely sure. I don’t have either ╥_╥
SD: T.T’ Yeah, me neither, it’s a little complicated. Ah, knowledge.
AY: Oh well! Haha. But you are happy with the 30-70% royalties of self-publication?
SD: So far so good, I’m definitely enjoying the opportunity. I’m pretty new to the publishing scene (literally 8 days in), so I’ve yet to get my first royalty check, but things are looking up!
AY: Whoa, it has only been eight days :O What has the whole process been like for you so far?
SD: ^_^’ Well, the excitement is still there, that’s for sure. I’ve mainly spent the last week working on promotion, trying to sort between sites that look reasonable, and I plan on venturing into my local bookstores sometime in the next week when I’m not squirming over my job as an overnight stocker (>.> Ick.). I feel lucky to have gotten around 20 books, e-book and physical combined, sold so far. To me, it’s an accomplishment, and it feels amazing to hold my book in my hand.
Honestly, marketing your book when you’re just starting out is probably the most difficult aspect. Especially when you’re finding the most applicable sites and trying to fit your budget as well.
AY: 20 books sold in only 8 days for your debut book is pretty great 😀 Definitely something to be excited about!
SD: Yeah, it surprised me too! ^_^ I’m pretty happy with it.
AY: It’s still pretty early in the process for you, but have you found anything more effective than other methods when it comes to marketing your book?
SD: I’ve discovered that most of my book sharing and promotion has come from friends. So much support has rung out from them alone. But I have also been promoting my work in writing groups, and assisting others in their own work. The biggest advice, market yourself by marketing your skills, and support other Indie authors. I’ve made a few sales just by helping out others, and it’s a good way to make friends too! And, as I’ve noticed from speaking with you on a few occasions, Adelle, I think it’s also good to connect with other authors with greater experience. It gives you an idea on what works and what to avoid—it’s never a bad thing to ask questions if you don’t understand something, that’s part of the reason why we all grow as creators.
AY: I think a lot of indie authors would prefer traditional publication because they don’t know how to market, but one of my concerns before I started was also the editing and cover design. Did you do your own editing, or did you hire an editor?
SD: Unfortunately, I lack the funds to be able to pay for a professional editor, so I tend to edit my own works. It is supposedly recommended to have a professional editor, but I think that an excellent alternative is having a second pair of eyes, and maybe even a third. I think I went through Left Behind book one at least three times over the course of four months before I finally decided to take a chance and publish it. As I have only edited my own works, I would say that the best advice I can provide is to read through your works with a blank mind every time. Treat your manuscript as if you have never touched this piece before. If you are going to hire someone, try to hire in your budget, naturally, but also make sure that the editor has experience and is credible.
AY: Who created the cover art?
SD: I got the artist Đoàn Hải (known as TitPrince on DeviantArt http://titprince.deviantart.com/) to design my cover, and it turned out beautifully. I found his work in an anime group that I follow, and he was opening commissions, so a few months before I completed my novel initially, and asked him to design my main character Frayle. He did a phenomenal job for only $15. A month later, I asked him to do the same of Nova, the heroine, and she was exactly as I envisioned her. Originally, I wanted to have another artist design the cover, but as he got tied up heavily in his work and things weren’t proceeding in the direction that I liked, I enlisted Đoàn’s work again. My experiences with DA’s messaging system were not at all well-received, so I got smart and asked him to email me whenever he had information if he accepted the work. He got the cover and back cover completed in a month, and I adore it. He charged me only $75, which was him giving me a deal due to having worked with him before, and he’s an amazing person to work with overall, I would definitely recommend his art to anyone.
AY: How much creative freedom did you give him when you commissioned him for the artwork? Did you dictate exactly what you wanted on the cover, or did you give him a few keywords and let him run with it?
SD: Well, he first asked my suggestions on the cover, and I gave him a brief idea of what I was thinking of, since I had a number of ideas long in advance. After he got an understanding, he decided to take his own spin on the ideas and asked my thoughts throughout the process. I think that the most that I ever asked him to change was the size of Frayle’s daggers, because they tended to alter between being too large, to being too far in advance for his character development, to later being exactly what I thought.
AY: On which sites have you decided to publish your book?
SD: Amazon and CreateSpace while awaiting the extended distribution to kick in, and I just got together a promotion on BookRaid! I also just got my Goodreads author account approved, so I plan to work on some promotion there within the next few hours once I figure out all the tactics, so here’s hoping!
AY: How does BookRaid work?
SD: BookRaid is a website for promoting e-books that are free up until I believe the amount of 2.99, and I discovered it during early marketing research. Entering your email allows them to send you those books, and you can pick and choose as you may.
AY: So Kindle and CreateSpace are both Amazon companies. Is there any reason you chose Amazon over, say, Nook or Smashwords?
SD: I’m still doing some research on Nook at the moment, and I’ve been hearing mixed reviews on Smashwords from other authors, so that’s still up in the air. From what I’ve seen from Amazon and CreateSpace so far, they have few mishaps, and I’ve enjoyed most of the process.
AY: I’ve had some problems with Nook Press when it comes to formatting the manuscript. Did you format your own manuscript?
SD: I did format my own book, but it took me several failed mishaps due to PDF formatting for the interior design. There was always something slightly off with the margin size, and I couldn’t figure out what. Eventually, I enlisted the help of another friend that had also done his publishing through CreateSpace, and he soon gave up as well. In the end, I made some minor changes and went on with what I had. I think it turned out nice when I saw my proof. My advice, definitely read through your margins carefully depending on the size of your novel (8 x 11, 6 x 9, etc.). It makes all the difference.
AY: How did it feel to hold a physical copy of your book?
SD: Oh man. It was… completely unreal, to say the least. I nearly broke into tears, and my roommate got it all on camera. I could barely even process it. It was something that I had dreamed of since I first got serious about writing when I was fourteen. I felt proud, but I also couldn’t help wondering if my parents would be proud of me too, for finally having my dream unfolding right in front of me.
AY: Aww, how sweet XD Is that video available? Is that even something you would want to include in the interview?
SD: Yep, it’s available on both my Facebook as well as my Amazon page, and I definitely wouldn’t mind including it. ^_^
Oh my god it’s adorable, watch it here:
AY: How do you connect with your readers?
SD: I’m very avid on Facebook, which is the first place that I started connecting with my readers. I’m very open with anyone that’s interested in reading, and I treat them more as friends rather than merely readers or even potential readers. Support and connecting go hand in hand.
AY: I know you published your book just a week ago, but have you had the chance to hear from your readers yet?
SD: I’ve heard bits and pieces. One of my friends is already working on the fandom, and is trying to decide a favorite between my characters Relek and Sen. Sadly, no reviews yet on Amazon, which I look forward to the most.
AY: People say not to dwell on reviews, but…good ones really make my day :’D
SD: Exactly. I just want oooone. XD
AY: Can’t wait for you to get your first!
SD: Me neither! Thank you!
AY: So, again, I know it’s super early in your self-publishing career, but what do you love and hate about being an indie author?
SD: I love the opportunity to grow and understand what I need in order to succeed, even if it means working on my own. I also love that being published on Amazon means that I am in complete control of how I handle my book, and my royalties. The worst thing, definitely maintaining all of it through marketing. Marketing is horrible. It’s hard to find the right places that suit your novel, especially just starting out with little money.
AY: Would you like to see your book in another medium?
SD: I’ve always envisioned Left Behind as an animated television series or a video game! I was heavily inspired by some of my favorite RPG’s (Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Tales, etc.) to create the saga and build up the world of Nimestria. It’s so easy to be caught up in the action. It’s like Frayle breathes down the back of my neck and hisses with that slight Irish accent in his tone whenever he’s shouting attacks like some kind of fool. I think he secretly wants to kill me. I can also hear Gideon Emery at times during one of the arcs voicing the character Garrit. *Drools* …. *Retracts* Aaaanyways, I think I’d find passion in it becoming an action RPG though, it’s a nice dream.
AY: Do you have a dream team you’d like to work on either the series or video game?
SD: … *Breaks out the thinking box*
I’ve had SOME thoughts for main characters on what I could imagine for a voice cast, and some that I really can’t think up.
Frayle, for instance, is a hard voice to really come up with. He has this very slight Irish accent that paves the way whenever he’s nervous or angry, otherwise it’s well hidden, so I don’t know who could pull that off.
Nova is a serious type of character in the first novel, even a bit bitchy to say the least, but she’s also regal in some aspects. The first voice I thought up for her, especially after playing Tales of Zestiria, would be Alexis Tipton. She did a phenomenal job as Alisha despite Alisha being kind of pushed to the back-burner as a character, and her role stood out so well.
Relek, I imagine him to have a younger voice despite him being the more mature half of his duo with Frayle, and I’d have to pass that type of characterization to Michael Johnston, who, funny enough, was also in Tales of Zestiria as Mikleo and has an upcoming role as Ephemera in Kingdom Hearts 2.8, the X story.
Recca, pretty easy to think of. Maybe it’s just the affinity of fire that he carries, but I ALWAYS hear him with a Travis Willingham tone. Particularly the easygoing voice that Travis can portray, because Recca is rarely ever angry, and kind of strays from the hotheaded type.
Then there’s other major supporting characters like Curova and Freiya. Curova, I picture a sort of Justin Charles Cowden voice. It’s not too mature, and it seems to blend flawlessly with Curova’s very stoic and almost belittling nature.
Freiya is another voice that I can’t seem to match up because her voice isn’t deep or overly mature, but it has a sort of rasp to it.
And I won’t even get into the other Guardians. XD But those are some of my major voice work thoughts.
AY: If you could voice any of your characters for whatever reason, who would it be?
SD: Ooh, if there was a character that I could voice… I feel like I’d imagine my voice best on Analys Traelin, a supporting character that first makes an appearance in a later arc of the story. She’s a young witch that, despite being older than Nova, is very insecure about herself and looks up to her. She feels that she is overweight, has dark skin with this tangerine hair, and while Nova has a similar skin color and a strange hair shade as well, she’s petite and knows how to hide her thoughts. Analys admires that Nova accepts who she is. I resonate a lot with her because I felt the way that she did from a young age, which led to her creation.
AY: You said on the sign-up form that your favorite character is Nova because of her character development. Is there a lot more of her that is yet to be revealed after the first book?
SD: Oh, most definitely. Nova starts out as a stoic type that isn’t trusting of new people, which is interesting given that she takes to Frayle after a decent amount of time. She has spent a lot of time maneuvering on her own through the Phantasm (the windows of time), and never truly opens up about how she got to that point in the first place. Her powers as a Time-Jumper exceeds most others due to the amount of experience that she has. By the end of book one though, her change thanks to her time spent with Frayle is evident.
What’s to come in reference to her, however… that’s a secret~
AY: Yeah, I tend to love the characters who make the biggest change over the course of the story 😀 Especially if they start cold and allow themselves to become vulnerable and open up to others.
SD: It’s my favorite type of character too! But with Nova, it was a bit of challenge solely because I needed to figure out the way that she develops without it seeming too cliche. She’s still got a lot of growing to do. And it’s okay. ^_^
AY: Speaking of cliches, are there any that you deliberately tried to avoid in your own writing?
SD: …Apparently in fantasy stories, it’s common to have a main character with red hair. Yeah, I wasn’t going to avoid that one, because Frayle’s hair color is his trademark.
I’d have to say that I’ve worked most at letting the world tell the story above the characters. You look at these big-name worlds like in Star Wars or in Lord of the Rings, and you think “Whoa, how breathtaking.” I personally like to let the world build up around the characters, and let their actions affect it without being consumed. Of course, it’s not like I let it go to waste, as there’s still so much of Nimestria that I’ve yet to discover for myself, but I’d rather let Frayle show it off for me.
Another thing I’d say I’ve tried to avoid for the time being, letting the magic rule. Magic in Nimestria is actually rare, even if fighting isn’t. Which is why Frayle’s power seems common for his genre, but isn’t.
The One Left Behind: Magic
by Shakyra Dunn
Many generations have passed since the Guardians crafted the world of Nimestria, planted underneath the aurora of seven moons. Great power courted even greater enemies. It was a trumpet’s blow heralding the arrival of the Creator.
Within the realm of Fracturis, a fleet-footed rogue named Frayle and his best friend Relek journey west when they’re set upon by a man vehemently riding a Behemoth. After a narrow escape, the two continue their route to seek guidance away from a roving band of beings called Savages.
The Church before them lies in ruin, but this only belies the true mystery. After unspeakable events unfold before his eyes, Frayle is thrust twenty years in the past to right the wrongs of his splintered time. Wandering the thin lines of fragmented memories, a Time-Jumper named Nova Avery whisks Frayle through the windows of the Phantasm and together they unearth the mystery of the Guardians and the origins of the Creator in the first installment of the series.
Purchase the book here!
Website – http://shakyradunnauthor.wix.com/seerofwords
Shakyra Dunn has been bound with chains to a life of fantasy. What was the crime? She couldn’t stray away from the impression that there is always an adventure down every corner! When she isn’t playing the role of the Creator, she is marching through the worlds of her favorite video game characters or taking drives around her city to see the sights. Born in Chicago, Illinois, she currently resides in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, striving to experience more than the little town.