Interview: Dustin Archibald
This week we sat down with Dustin Archibald, an author with a history in comics and graphic novels. Dustin talks to us about how he took this experience and translated it into a novel with a strong female lead. We learn about the journey he took from seeking a traditional publisher to being self-published, and the painful process of editing out enormous chunks of this story he loved.
Dustin: I am an author, living in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada with my wife Tracy, my son Logan, and my dog Tootsie. I own a few businesses, am a Developmental Editor for Manning Publications, and teach Kung Fu.
CJ: Sounds like your days are full. When do you have time to write?
Dustin: I write mostly in the evenings when everything has quieted down. It helps me focus to be in my office where no one can bug me too much. I used to write in the mornings before everyone woke up, but with everything going on its hard to do that now.
CJ: I can imagine. So let’s talk about your book, The Dragon. Can you give us a synopsis?
Dustin: The Dragon is the first in the Asha Anderson series. It centers on a teenage girl who suffers a tragic accident and gains amazing abilities. Instead of a typical superhero story where the hero gets superpowers and runs out to fight bad guys, this book focuses on Asha’s plight dealing with new powers, a new school, a new city, and basically a new life. This book takes us from her accident all the way to her conflict with The Dragon, a criminal organization determined to destroy her city.
CJ: Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Dustin: When I first came up with the idea, I was working heavily on comic books and graphic novels. At the time there were very few relatable female superheroes. I’ve been a fan of Superman and Spider-man for ages and thought, “What if there was a character with powers like Superman but relatable problems like school, friends, life in general like Spider-Man?” The idea for Asha came about gradually and over time morphed into the character she is now. Unfortunately, comic books take a lot of time and money to make. I decided Asha’s journey might be better off in a novel, so I took that route instead.
CJ: That sounds like a lot of fun. What did you find to be the most difficult part of the story?
Dustin: The most difficult part of the story was the editing, by far. My initial draft of the story was 100K! Way past the mark for a YA novel. It was fun drafting that part, but there was no way anyone would read that much. So I had to spend a lot of time taking out the unnecessary bits. I took about 20k words out, but it made a much better story.
CJ: Did you consider just splitting it in half to make two stories?
Dustin: That’s a good question. I didn’t really because all the parts I took out were extra. Like the deleted scenes in a movie, they weren’t needed to tell the complete story. They were mostly scenes about Asha testing out her new powers, Asha’s experiences at home, or at school. Some were repeating what she’d already experienced, just in a new way, and didn’t really move the story along.
CJ: All of that sounds like great content for a Patreon. Have you ever thought of that?
Dustin: No, but now that you mention it, I will take a closer look. There are several scenes I removed because of space, but I really liked them. In a few, we get to see Asha really try things out or get a more in-depth look into what she’s experiencing.
CJ: I would definitely look into that. Lots of authors have content like that to keep their readers interested and begging for more!
Dustin: I will add it to my to-do list!
CJ: Great! So, how long did it actually take to write the story?
Dustin: Because it was my first book, I would say it took about a year. Keeping in mind, I work other jobs and do many things other than just writing. I wrote this book mainly at 6:00 AM. I would write for an hour, then go about the rest of my day. It made the writing easier to have that time to myself, though some days I wouldn’t get much done in that hour. I would usually write on weekdays, freeing up the weekend for house projects and whatnot.
CJ: That seems to be pretty standard for a first book. What made you decide to self-publish instead of traditionally publishing?
Dustin: It was a bit of a long journey getting to this point. I had considered traditional publishing, but after all my work it didn’t pan out. I had my book in the hands of big publishers and their review boards, but the opportunity never came up. I really love this book, the idea, and the world, so I decided rather than giving up I’d do it myself.
CJ: How long after you wrote it, did you self-publish?
Dustin: It was about two years after the final edits that I self-published it. I spent most of that time on hold with the publishers I mentioned. I think it took four months to prep, get a cover, format, and learn CreateSpace (now KDP). I also did another round of editing and got author copies to check out.
CJ: That had to be hard to sit on a finished product and not see it go live.
Dustin: It really was. Like most authors, I’m proud of my work and want people to read and enjoy it. Luckily, when it went live, I had lots of people ready to read the book. I did an official launch party at my local library and FB streamed it. I took questions both live and from the stream. It was fun and I’ll be doing it again with the second book in the series.
CJ: That sounds like it would have been fun. How did you go about getting the launch party at your library?
Dustin: I was a part of a writing group hosted by the library, so I knew a few people there. I contacted a representative and asked about the launch. They were eager to help in any way they could. We booked a room and date/time pretty quickly. They didn’t even charge me for it. I think our local library is heavily invested in promoting local artists and helping the community.
CJ: That was a great resource to have. So, I have to ask, since it took so long to complete the process of writing and editing and then finally publishing. What did it feel like to have a hard copy in your hands?
Dustin: It was a surreal experience. As I said, I’ve worked in comics and such so I’ve held work before, but never one that was completely my own. I grew up reading a lot and probably since I was 14 it’s been my goal to have my work in print. I waited impatiently to have my book delivered. Then I was even more impatient when I ordered the first batch of books that I would sell.
CJ: It is definitely an experience unlike any other. Now that you’ve got your book out there, at what point would you consider yourself a successful author?
Dustin: That’s a tricky question. I still have the nagging bit of any author that’s worried about being an imposter. Like one day people will discover that I’m nothing but a guy and a keyboard. I think success for me is completing the series and having a few hard-core fans. I’ve already heard from many people who really love my book and want to read the rest. (Not just family either). It would also be nice to make a steady living off writing, but that’s not as important as getting the book into other readers’ hands. I have enough on my plate so I need not make that money as many other authors do. That being said, I wouldn’t say no to a big movie deal!
CJ: That definitely sounds like a pretty good idea of success. How supportive has your family and friends been of your writing?
Dustin: My family has been hugely supportive, as have my friends. My wife is usually the first person I run the book by. As well, she helps support me at conferences and book signings. I couldn’t do it without her. My friends are always keen to hear what I’m writing and continually ask when the next book is coming out. They are great for keeping my motivation up and keeping writing.
CJ: I love to hear about the people who support writers. I honestly think we wouldn’t have as many books published today if authors didn’t have that kind of support.
Dustin: I 100% agree. I’ve heard from authors who have to go it alone because their family and friends don’t support them. I can’t imagine having to work without that support. Having people be your champion and offer their support in so many ways is so important to an author’s success.
CJ: What bits of inspiration and support do you have for authors who are struggling either writing or publishing their book?
Dustin: I would say that there are a lot of resources available to authors, now more than ever before. Find people who have experience being successful and emulate what they do. Rather than trying to make it all on your own, rely on the experience of others. I’m part of many groups that focus on marketing, something I’m still learning to do. As for writing, it’s simply a matter of putting your butt in the seat and getting the work done. Try not to wait, second guess, or delay. In the end, getting words on the page is what is going to lead to success.
CJ: Fantastic advice. Thank you so much for sitting with me today, Dustin. I had a wonderful time.
Dustin: Thanks so much for the opportunity. It’s great to be part of a writing community that is supportive and wants the best for each other!
You can connect with Dustin via these avenues: