Interview with YA Author Oliver Dahl

Interested in Self-Publishing, have dreams of being the next Christopher Paolini, don’t think kids can write?  

Well, whether you answered yes or no…

Meet Oliver Dahl:

Hi, My name is Oliver Dahl. I am fourteen years old, and I published my first book, The Dreamers, a little over a year ago, at thirteen. That October, I was named one of Idaho’s Top 50 Authors. I was later named Idaho’s “Student of the Year”. My second book will come out this fall.

Can you tell us a little about your books?

The Dreamers is about a kid named Sam, who becomes a Dreamer. This means that he can live inside of his dreams, and also affect events on earth through them. This is the main premise for the series. In The Dreamers, he has to face his fears, and lead his friends in a war against Malfix, the villain of the Dream Realm (What a great villain name).

What is your favorite place to write?
I write the best in my bedroom/office. I have two bookshelves that have overflown in books. (I like to read!) I have my desk, with an older desktop computer. It has no Internet connection, but does have my writing software, and several research programs (Britannica and National Geographic) that I use to research various topics that I am writing about. I also have a few graphic design programs that I use to put together images for covers, blog headers, etc. (see blog header at

Where did you get the inspiration for The Dreamers?
Interestingly enough, I got the idea for The Dreamers… From a dream. In my dream, I was shot by some secret agent in the leg. (Don’t ask). When I woke up, there was a bruise exactly where he had “shot” me. This got me thinking. What if there were people that, when hurt in their dreams, were hurt in real life? This simple idea sort of snowballed into the bigger story that is now published.

Which of your characters do you relate to the most?
Hmm… I wrote all of the characters in a very different way than from what I know. I would occasionally use small details from my life, to make the characters more complex. I think, though, that I connect the most with the main character, Sam. When I write his dialogue, it seems very easy to write. He’s a laid back guy, not very smooth when he talks, and he has a sense of humor. Some similarities, some differences, but I do seem to connect with Sam more.
When and why did you start writing?
I started writing in 4th or 5th grade.
I started writing because I discovered the much-quoted phrase, “write the kind of book you would like to read” on my own. I loved reading, and still do. I was reading short chapter books in Kindergarten, when other kids were just learning to spell their names. By the time 4th and 5th grade rolled around, I had read so many great books! I wanted to add to their number, to make up stories that other people could enjoy, too. And that’s what I want to continue doing as a writer.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
There are two cases, that, when put together helped me consider myself a writer.
1. I submitted a piece of writing to a public library writing contest at age 12, and won first out of all the entries received. I received two water park tickets as a prize. I sold them on Craigslist, and made my first money as a writer. 🙂
(Haha, now that’s what I call being resourceful)
2. In the 2010 NaNoWriMo season, I wasn’t originally going to participate. (I would have been 12 years old) but when I saw that winners would receive a free “proof copy” of their work from CreateSpace, I knew I wanted to earn the prize. I steeled myself, walked into my room, and locked myself in there. I imagined seeing my work in print, and that desire was so strong that I cranked out 30,000 words in less than a month, at 12 years old. I think that is really when I considered myself a writer. SEEING my “proof copy” was when I first consider myself an author.

What is the best piece of constructive criticism you have ever received?
I haven’t received a lot of criticism from the final book. As my dad and I go through the drafts and edit, we do find and change a lot together. After entire pages crossed out, or every other word replaced, with more scrawling on the back of the papers, we have made both The Dreamers, and it’s sequel better. Though not exactly criticism, my dad’s editing has helped SO much.

How do you come up with character names or book titles?
I come up with book titles based on what is important in the book. Sometimes the title may hint at what will happen in the book, an important word or scene, or the title may not be understandable until after you’ve finished the book. For names, I will sometimes use phone books, and mix and match names in there, or just come up with names I’ve read or seen before.

Was there ever a time you lost hope in your writing abilities?
Not really. Occasionally I will think to myself, “I wrote that?!” depending on the draft, that can mean a bad thing, or an incredibly amazing thing.

Tell us about your decision or journey to become a self-published author. Why did you choose it over “traditional” routes?
I have been writing another series for about five years so far. At a whopping 550 pages or so, (or about 120,000 words) I have discovered that I need to rewrite it for the third time. I have always planned on publishing “traditionally”, especially with this series. It is my dream to receive that accepting letter from Shadow Mountain.
But, because of the free proof copy from CreateSpace offered by NaNoWriMo, I decided to publish that book through CreateSpace, since I didn’t have to send it to anyone, and because I already had the information put into CreateSpace’s system. It took very little effort from me to hit the publish button once I had the manuscript edited. The cover did take me a while, but it turned out great, as I’m sure you’ll agree. 🙂
(Yes, it’s an amazing cover, seemingly simple yet not)
I do, however, want to publish mainstream through Shadow Mountain very badly. I hope to send a query their way next year, when I finish rewriting my epic.

How hard is marketing, and how much work is it to sell your book
I thought marketing was pretty hard at first. After attending the Idaho Book Extravaganza, I learned a lot about Internet marketing and social media. Before this event, I had about 15 Twitter followers. I now have over 1,300 and that number is growing faster than ever. It is definitely harder to market a book without the help of a publisher, but it is also very possible. Almost all of the book signings I do turn out to be successful. At a good signing, I can sell anywhere from 20-50 books. With a second book on the way, and having learned a lot with the first one, I think that this book will be even more successful than the last.

What do you have to say to people who say they wouldn’t want to self publish because its not as “glamorous” as traditional publishing?
Though you may not have book tours, and signings set up for you at the end of every week, I have found self-publishing to be very glamorous! …for me, at least. As much as I would love to travel the country signing books, (and I hope to do that exact thing someday soon!) I have found self-publishing to my liking, for now. Yes, I hope to have book tours, and parties, and the like, but holding book signings in a local bookstore have been amazing as well! You are able to meet new people everywhere you go, and even your local bookshop isn’t an exception. It is a lot of fun, and I enjoy it! There is a downside for self-publishing, but right now, for me, it is an awesome start!

What is some advice for aspiring authors who may be considering self-publishing?
Self-publishing is so surprisingly easy! Both CreateSpace and LuLu, (probably the most well-known self publishers) have very detailed instructions, help pages, and more. As long as you follow their guidelines, self-publishing is a breeze. In the end, you push a button, and your book is out to the world. No contracts, documents, inventory, print runs, it’s surprising how easy it is!

What do you have to say to those that would criticize young writers, and especially those that are self-published?
There are protege’s everywhere. Pianists, singers, and more aren’t the only kids able to do something great at such a young age! Writing does require practice. But that’s what they say about piano and singing, too! …but nobody is telling Jackie Evancho that, are they? Writing does require practice to get better, and I am constantly striving to improve, but there can be writing protégés as well. As for self-publishing… All I have to say is that, it was made for a reason, right? Adults use it too. Nowhere in the contract does it say you have to be a certain age to use it, as far as I know. KidPub is a publisher dedicated to publishing only kids! Some, as young or younger than 8!

If you could have breakfast with anyone dead or alive, who would it be and what would you eat?
This is probably my favorite question in this interview, but it is a hard one to answer! I would really love to have a meal with Suzanne Collins, and NOT (only) because of the Hunger Games, (which is not her only series, to those of you who call yourselves fans of hers!) but because of her earlier series, The Underland Chronicles, which is the series that helped the most in inspiring me to write. (It has been number one on Amazon Kindle Books this week – I’m so proud!)

(It’s a great series, young readers should check it out, my younger sister loves it)
I wanted to write a book that influenced other people like that series influenced me. That series has remained my favorite since fourth grade, though others have come pretty close (Pendragon, by D.J. MacHale).

Suzanne Collins and I would have some of the foods we write about in our books. (not Nightlock Berries or Hunger Games stuff… Although some of the capital food does sound VERY good!)

Who is another one of your favorite authors and why?
I also really like Christopher Paolini, because he had similar circumstances to mine. He originally self-published Eragon, but it was later picked up by Knopf. I hope that somebody picks up The Dreamers and traditionally republishes it, as well.

What is the next book you want to write?
I want to finish rewriting my epic novel, and hopefully cut it down to a more manageable size, although the problem with my previous draft was lack of detail, so… That probably won’t happen.
The next book I want to write, though, I am planning on calling Beneathe. It will be similar to the Underland Chronicles, but it takes place underneath the city of Paris France, with a more modern, steampunk feel, more twists, and a darker look. I am very excited to write this one.
(And I can’t wait to read it :))

Imagine you are writing a memoir, what is its title?
Another one of my favorite questions, and also difficult to answer. I think I would probably call it “Builder” because I like to create things. I play piano, write, I occasionally draw, and I am also an awarded engineer.

Any last words?
Self publishing has been an adventure! I hope to someday publish mainstream. I hope you will follow me through my publishing adventures, and hopefully get a hold of some of my books. You can follow me on Twitter, @OliverWDahl, on Facebook, and at my blog,]

Best of luck to all of my fellow writers in their publishing journeys, as well!
Dream on!

Oliver Dahl
Thanks for having me!

Look out for the next book in the Dreamers Series, Nightmarers

(Dreamers book review to come)

Whimsically Yours,