Meet the couple behind Mountaindale Press, the indie publisher shaping the GameLit genre
Dr. Danielle and Dakota Krout work side by side to run their independent publishing company—but only figuratively. With Danielle as the CEO and Dakota as the president and an author for Mountaindale Press, both work full time to run the company, primarily from their home offices.
But those offices are on opposite ends of the house, on separate floors, Danielle says, “so that I don’t bother him as much.”
“And I don’t bother her,” Dakota says.
“Well, no, because I don’t get bothered,” she interjects.
Dakota pauses to look at her. “Yes, you do,” he says, and she laughs.
Their playful banter perfectly captures their relationship, both personal and professional. The two have been married for eight years and business partners for three, since Mountaindale Press, known primarily for its LitRPG and GameLit titles, was founded in 2018. In that time, the company has grown to include a rotating cast of around twelve to fifteen authors at a time and worked regularly with close to fifty people serving in other roles—as contractors, cover artists, narrators, and editors. But Mountaindale Press’ success hasn’t come without effort.
It was “a lot of trial and error, a lot of legwork,” Danielle says. And though the two started their independent publishing journey from the ground up on their own, Dakota and Danielle are the first to admit they’ve relied on plenty of resources and put in hours of research to develop the strategies that have guided them along the way.
An unexpected origin story
The Krouts’ foray into independent publishing truly started about two years before they founded Mountaindale Press, when Dakota self-published his first book. It was an adventure that began, at least in part, Danielle says, out of spite, when one of Dakota’s college professors criticized his writing ability.
“He had an … English professor at our college say something like, ‘No one will ever read what you write,’” Danielle says. “So then he was basically just like, ‘I’ll show her.’”
“We got into a tiff about how creative writing is about being creative, essentially,” Dakota says. Dakota had already nearly finished his first novel before taking the college course but found himself caught in what he called an “editing death spiral,” constantly changing the manuscript to make it perfect. When he’d enrolled in the class initially, he’d hoped it would help him decide whether his writing was “good enough.” Instead, his professor’s words gave him the motivation he needed to ignore the tiny errors in his work and hit “publish.”
“For me, it was a matter of getting that [book] out,” Dakota says. “And even though I was uncomfortable, I really felt that it was going to be either never or now, you know. I will never do it, or I’ll do it right now.”
Initially, the news of Dakota self-publishing his book had surprised Danielle. But the even greater surprise came with the response it received from readers, who bought over ten thousand copies of the novel in the first five months. Although neither of them had realized it, Dakota’s book, Dungeon Born, slotted itself easily into a newly emerging Science Fiction/Fantasy subgenre. Known as Dungeon Core, it requires at least one character be a sentient dungeon, like those often incorporated into video games or roleplay games such as Dungeons & Dragons, and it exists under the larger umbrella of GameLit stories—narratives that involve a magic system structured like that of a video game.
And just as those dungeons often do to any travelers who wander too close, the fans of the genre who found Dakota’s book devoured it.
The response spurred him to capitalize on the opportunity he saw. He and Danielle worked to edit Dungeon Born and redesign the cover, and Dakota began planning how to recreate his success. “When I saw that other people were talking about it as if it was already part of the genre, I started looking into the genre more,” he says. “Something that’s really, really helped me a lot in my author career is I have an incredibly fast reading speed. … So I can read a whole ton of these books and get a really solid feel for what it is that other people like and what I like and kind of where those meet.”
By November 2017, Dakota had published his next two books, and by March of the next year, he was making enough money to quit his job and write full time. That month, he also published the first book of his second series, The Completionist Chronicles, this time aiming to “hit dead center of the main genre of LitRPG,” another subgenre under the GameLit classification.
As the two learned more about the world of publishing and marketing, they decided they wanted to use their knowledge to help other authors achieve the same success. The two soon founded their press, and by October 2018, almost exactly two years after Dakota’s first book was published on Amazon, the company released its first book under the Mountaindale Press name.
On a roll
Three years later, it’s safe to say Dakota and Danielle have fine-tuned their system. This year, Mountaindale Press has published a book every two to three weeks on average. Dakota still writes, and his titles have appeared in several top sellers lists: in Audible’s top 10 audiobooks of the week, Amazon’s top 15 bestsellers of the week and Audible’s top fantasy picks for 2017.
But there have been road bumps along the way too.
“It’s just sort of a funny story where Dakota had this idea that we should start our own company, and I was like, ‘OK, that’s great.’ Next thing I know, it happened, and then he’s like, ‘What do we do now?’ I don’t know!” Danielle says. “The whole experience has been sort of being tossed into the deep end.”
Neither Dakota nor Danielle had any background in publishing before starting Mountaindale Press—Dakota was in the military and has a degree in computer science, and Danielle earned her PhD in pharmacology. Much of the company’s foundations were built on hours of research and learning-by-doing, and the two often relied on resources like Facebook’s “20BooksTo50K” group and “Self Publishing Formula” page, online forums, and publishing conferences, where they could build relationships within the independent publishing world in person. Danielle says it often surprised her how forthcoming people were with advice and encouragement and how many of the couple’s business relationships became friendships outside of work.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on some of that, but even 2020’s slowdown became a learning experience. Rather than taking on any new authors, the two worked on polishing the company’s current workflow.
“Part of our focus is to make sure that there is no single point of failure, that our model, that our business can continue,” Danielle says.
“If someone is no longer with us, for whatever reason, someone else has to fill that position until they come back,” Dakota adds. “Usually that was one of us who can then step in that role. But it’s easier when you have a document that says, ‘Step one, do this. Step two, do this.’”
The pair’s workdays are still fairly structured. In their separate home offices, Danielle ensures manuscripts are moving through the production pipeline correctly and manages release and marketing plans, and Dakota spends Monday through Thursday each week writing, often using music to get into the right headspace. “I will sometimes be standing, typing, music blasting behind me, and dancing, kind of grooving to the beat,” Dakota says. (It’s that part of his process, he explains, that necessitated the separate offices.) Fridays are for miscellaneous administrative work to provide a break from writing.
And as time has gone on, the two have even found the skills from their old jobs coming back into play. Dakota became diligent about maintaining records and reading contracts from his time in the Army—practices he uses frequently at Mountaindale Press. His knowledge of spreadsheets, courtesy of his computer science background, helps him keep track of the hard math involved in his novels’ magic systems. And Danielle’s research skills helped kickstart their publishing careers.
“I would say all experience is useful somewhere,” Dakota says.
The journey continues
With as far as Mountaindale Press has come in the past few years, Dakota and Danielle still have plans for its growth moving forward. In 2022, the couple hopes to begin directly selling books rather than relying solely on third parties, which would provide more control over pricing and increase revenue for the company—and its authors. They’ve also started finding new revenue streams through merchandising, with graphic novels, video games, and board games eventually coming to the table.
All of it, Danielle says, is to help achieve the pair’s ultimate goal for Mountaindale Press: to allow its authors to turn writing into their career.
“Mostly, our goal is that we want to help other authors succeed; we want to see them become full-time authors,” she says.
The concept requires a team effort, Dakota adds, and for authors to be receptive to suggestions and willing to work with the company to reach that point. Sometimes, that means writing what’s expected of the book’s chosen genre instead of “writing for yourself and writing what’s in your head.”
The two say they realize independent publishing isn’t for everyone. It’s why they often recommend new authors explore self-publishing options first—after all, it’s how Dakota got his start. The big question authors must answer, Danielle says, is what they want their focus to be. “Do you want to focus on writing by itself? Then a publisher might be a good option for you. But if you are someone who would rather be in control from start to finish, self-publishing, all the way.”
No matter which option authors choose, however, Dakota says finding success in the publishing world isn’t about luck; it takes time, effort and dedication.
“It’s not easy; that’s the whole point. You go into it with the mindset that this is your career. There are no safety nets,” he says. “You put one hundred percent into it, and you put your heart into it, and you run.”