When you think of South Dakota, a number of things may enter your mind – the Black Hills, pheasant hunting, chislic. We’re well-known for a lot of things here, but book publishing doesn’t usually make the list. Many great writers call South Dakota home, and some of them live right here in Aberdeen.
Publishing in the Mount Rushmore State
While there are book publishers in South Dakota, they are fairly specialized and generally focus on South Dakota topics. In terms of fiction, though, aspiring writers will most likely have to look outside of the state if they wish to go with a traditional book publisher. With the rise of self-publishing, many authors are able to share their works without having to rely on a traditional publisher at all.
“There’s almost a stigma against authors from smaller towns,” Marilyn Privratsky said. She is the author of the high-fantasy Chronicles of Farro series. “People think ‘oh, you don’t live in LA or New York City so you can’t write. But there are lots of indie authors out there now. Some naysayers make others want to quit, but they just made me even more determined to get my story out there.”
“Just because you don’t live in a city doesn’t mean you can’t do it,” Jeanna Knoll Wahl said.
“Publishing here has its challenges. There are good and bad people in any process,” said Christine Mager Wevik. She has written several award-winning books, both fiction and nonfiction.
“It’s a little harder to get the word out in South Dakota,” Megan Reiffenberger said. She’s the author of two books, Sink or Swim and Below the Surface. “You have to be willing to travel for more exposure. It pays to know the right people in this industry.”
Many authors are able to establish a social media presence that can help spread the word about their books. For many, the marketing process is one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome.
“Marketing is the hardest part of the process,” Aaron Michael Grant said. “It’s harder than writing the book. But you need to nurture it.”
Thanks to the internet, though, these hurdles are getting a bit easier to overcome.
“It’s harder in South Dakota, but I love living here,” Elissa Grossell Dickey said. “Internet and social media help a lot. They’ve leveled the playing field a bit. My first launch was virtual, and other virtual events are great opportunities.”
“In today’s world, it doesn’t really matter where you live,” Marie Cleveland said. “It’s not so much where you are, but your connections.”
Traditional vs. Self Publishing
Perhaps you’re familiar with one of the ‘Big 5’ Book publishers – Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan Publishers. These publishers and their imprints are some of the most easily recognized names in the industry, but they are also some of the hardest to get a publishing deal with. The process can be lengthy, but there are many benefits that a traditional publisher provides. Publishers handle the marketing, distribution, and warehousing for a book, so all in all, it’s less work for an author after the manuscript is finished. Authors don’t pay the publishers for any part of this process, and many authors are paid advances before their book is released.
“I wanted publisher support, but I had no idea what to do at first,” said Elissa. “I learned about the process on the internet, especially social media, and signed with a literary agent. The process takes longer, but it was the right choice for me. My agent has been a wonderful champion of my work. And working with my editor has been fantastic. It’s a partnership, where we talk through edits and agree on changes that truly elevate the book.”
Elissa’s two novels, The Speed of Light and Iris in the Dark, were both published through Lake Union Publishing. Both novels are book club fiction set in South Dakota. Iris in the Dark is a suspenseful story that was named to Bustle’s list of Most Anticipated Books of June 2022. The Speed of Light, which follows the story of a woman who, like Elissa, lives with multiple sclerosis, was named to Goodreads’ list of 75 Debut Novels to Discover in 2021.
“My sister encouraged me to send my work to publishers,” Mary Baird Mayer said. “She also wrote a book, so I sent my book to her publisher. I was lucky to get picked up by the first publisher I sent it to.”
Self-published works are also on the rise. The practice isn’t new, but it gained popularity in the 1980s. With the help of the internet and social media, even more authors are taking this route in their publishing journey. Self-publishing provides authors with many freedoms. There are fewer people involved in the process, so that means that an author usually gets the final say every step of the way.
“I think of it like changing the oil in your car,” Richard Skorupski said. “You can do it yourself or write a check to someone who can.”
Richard’s wife, Cheryl, is the cover artist for all of his books. He’s had the help of a retired librarian, English teacher, and paralegals with proofreading his stories.
“It is a major deal to go with a Big 5 publisher,” Melony Rae said. “When you spend years pouring your heart and soul into a novel, the last thing you want is a company seizing control and changing your hard work.”
Melony’s novels, The Sea Wolf series, combine her love of fantasy, history, and romance. They take place during the golden age of piracy in the 1700s, and Melony has done extensive research of the time period.
“They’re very mixed genres,” she said. “There are just so many things I wanted to cover!”
Unfortunately, there are still some people who look down on self-publishing.
“People think ‘I know an author!’ versus ‘oh, self-published…’” Christine said. “Self-published books can be a huge success, and on the other end, there are traditionally published books that aren’t the best.”
“You should follow your gut,” Marilyn said. “If you want to pursue traditional publishing, then go for it! I felt that self-publishing was the best for me. You can do more of what you want. I’m thankful I don’t have hard deadlines with self-publishing. My life won’t accept those!”
On top of working a full-time job, Marilyn and her brother also care for their mother. Self-publishing has given her freedom to work on her novels on her own time.
Overall, self-publishing has introduced the world to many wonderful books that might not have come to fruition otherwise.
“Self-publishing makes it easier for smaller town people to be heard,” Jeanna said. “I knew about the publishing process from my day job. I didn’t want my book changed as much as a traditional publisher would, so other than small editorial changes, it stayed the same.”
Hybrid publishers fall somewhere between the two. The practices are usually the same as a traditional publisher, but they follow a different revenue model. Typically, the author pays a fee for the hybrid publisher’s services.
“My publisher did a great job,” said Aaron. “The book was way bigger, but they really helped me cut it down.”
Despite any challenges these authors have faced, they’ve all expressed the same sentiment – South Dakota’s avid readers have all welcomed their books with open arms.
“I never intended to be rich or famous,” Christine said. “I just wanted to write and publish a book. Many people raved and spoke to friends about my books. It’s very exciting when people give feedback.”
One of her books, Someone Knows, highlights cold cases that have happened here in South Dakota with the goal of bringing much-needed attention to them.
“I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. The only other big thing would be to have one of these cases solved.”
“When I sell my books at craft fairs, people are surprised,” Alaina Perry said. “They look at me, then back at the book and say ‘you made this?’”
Alaina initially started making her coloring books after her husband went overseas for active duty. He encouraged her to do something for herself when he was away. She brings her books to craft shows where she also shows her other art projects.
“People have told me it’s haunting and soul-baring,” Aaron said. “Some veterans come home and won’t talk about what they’ve experienced with non-vets. Many of them end up staying silent about what they’re dealing with.”
Aaron is a veteran of the Iraq War and his book, Taking Baghdad: Victory in Iraq with the US Marines, is a compilation of history and his experience overseas. Aaron hopes that his book can help spread awareness for veterans with combat related PTSD.
“There’s a wide range of responses,” Marilyn said. “Some people are starstruck, but others turn up their noses. Fantasy isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. But the Brown County Fair is definitely where my books sell the best.”
“It helps coming from a small community,” Megan said. “They’re very willing to share your work around.”
“So many people have been supportive,” Elissa said. “Family and friends have shared my books or recommended them to others. One of my son’s teachers even recognized that I was an author! Everyone has been so kind and has cheered me on, and I appreciate it very much.”
“The thrill is the feedback!” Melony said. “People have told me they could read about these characters forever. I’ve also had a lot of people say the love the covers.”
Some of these authors have written about experiences very close to home – literally. Many of their books take place in South Dakota.
“I’ve had a wonderful experience in South Dakota,” Richard said. “I love talking to people about the books. I might only sell a few books at events, but talking about them is just great.”
Richard moved to South Dakota from New Jersey, and he fell in love with this state. His Flyover County novels all take place in South Dakota and are based on the smaller counties in the state. His books have been well-received in South Dakota.
“I write nice books about nice people. I want people to curl up with a book, forget about the world for a while, and close the book with a smile. I’m a sucker for happy endings.” Richard said. “One of the best reviews I’ve ever received was an anonymous review. All it said was ‘it made me forget I was in prison.’”
Jeanna’s book, The Road Home, is based on her memories of growing up in Conde.
“My dad passed away in a farming accident, and I realized that nobody is promised tomorrow,” she said. “Writing the story was therapeutic for me and publishing it both fulfilled a goal and changed my life. The setting is a romanticized version of my hometown, and I realized right along with the characters in my story that pieces of your friends and family stay with you throughout your journey and will always help you find your way home.”
Marie’s Adventures in Storybook Land novels take place here in Aberdeen. Jason’s Giant Dilemma was inspired by bedtime stories that she had made up for her daughters, and Prowlers in Peril was inspired by vandalism that had occurred in Storybook Land.
Mary’s novel Isabelle is a retelling of her great grandmother’s life. It’s a realistic fiction piece, based on a real person, but some events were altered for the story.
“My mother and great aunt wrote a lot about her,” Mary said. “I mostly wrote this for my family, but other people really liked it. Many people are interested in ancestry. I think this book makes them think about their own ancestors.”
Next time you’re stuck on what book to read next, consider picking up a title from one of our local authors – you might end up finding a few new favorites. //