Author Interview: Dustin Brady, Creator of the Trapped in a Video Game Series, the Escape from a Video Game Series, and Other Books
Dustin Brady is a best-selling author who writes funny, action-packed books for kids that can consistently be found at the top of various Amazon best-seller lists, making him the envy of middle-grade authors everywhere. Although Dustin regularly gets locked out of his own accounts for forgetting passwords, Dustin still remembers the Super Mario Bros. 3 Game Genie code for infinite lives. (It’s SLXPLOVS.) Dustin lives in Cleveland, Ohio, with his wife, kids, and a small dog named Nugget.
The Trapped in a Video Game series has become such a phenomenon that I feel like I have to start with that. Can you tell me what inspired you to write it?
My goal with this book was to write my 10-year-old self’s favorite book ever. I made a list of all the things I was into at that age, and one of the things at the top of that list was the game show Nickelodeon Arcade. At the end of that show, real kids got to “go inside” a real video game. That was one of the things I would think about all the time as a kid.
At what point did you realize you had a hit on your hands? Did it happen with the first book or later in the series?
I specifically remember an evening about a month after I wrote the first book when I was walking the dog, and I had 15 sales for the day. I did some optimistic math and figured that I could be a real, live author with income like that, then I literally did the Rocky thing where he’s jumping with his fists in the air. It obviously wasn’t a bestseller at 15 books a day, but that was a hit for me, and I’ll always remember that.
Why do you think this series resonates with so many kids? Speaking of which, do you have any idea how your audience breaks down in terms of gender?
Because I wrote the book for my 10-year-old self, it’s almost all action. There’s a legitimate cliffhanger every 10 pages or so. It’s just fun and easy to read. That connects well with boys, specifically boys who are reluctant readers. Judging by the reviews, probably 80-90% of my readers are boys.
The Trapped in the Video Game series is published by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Has that been the case from the beginning, or did you initially self-publish it?
I initially self-published it. I’d been selling other types of products on Amazon for a while at that point, and I felt like I knew enough about how to market on Amazon to try my hand at self-publishing. About a year in, the series had sold around 50,000 copies, and Andrews McMeel expressed an interest in republishing the books. I was nervous going in, but the relationship has been amazing.
What are some of the advantages of going with a traditional publisher over the self-publishing route? Have you—or would you ever—consider self-publishing?
The books have sold over a million copies and been translated into nine languages, and Andrews McMeel is a big part of that. They’ve been able to expand distribution to physical stores, get a bigger presence in schools, secure foreign translation rights, and explore film rights. They have been great. Having said that, there are some titles that work better for self-publishing and others that are a better fit for traditional publishing. Traditional publishers are much slower and generally can’t take as many chances as indie authors. I have continued to self-publish other series even after signing with Andrews McMeel and will likely continue doing both.
Before you started writing for middle-grade readers, you wrote the Life Lessonbook series, collections of humorous essays that started with A Marathon Is Really Long When You Have to Pee. What caused you to shift from that sort of writing to writing for children?
That series came from a blog I wrote every week for about two years. Writing the blog taught me a lot about writing consistently and helped develop my writing style, but there’s not really a market for that type of writing. I always wanted to write books like the ones I enjoyed most when I was a kid, so making the switch to children’s books was a way to continue writing things I loved while attempting to earn a living as an author.
Who were some of your early inspirations as an author?
I loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and many of Ronald Dahl’s other stories. I also really enjoyed Matt Christopher’s sports books.
How did you get started as an author? Did you start by writing books or something else?
After college, I worked at a small local newspaper, then a magazine for high school athletes. Trapped in a Video Game was my first book—I wrote that at age 30.
Are you able to do this full-time, or do you have a day job as well?
I’m very fortunate to be able to do this full-time.
What advice do you have for other authors who are just starting out, particularly those who want to write for middle-grade readers?
I always tell new writers to finish writing something and share it with someone who might enjoy it. For me, the best part of being an author is entertaining or inspiring an audience—even if it’s just one person. For middle-grade writers, my biggest piece of advice is to think about the stories you loved reading as a child and why you loved them. Try to fill your stories with those types of things.
What are you working on right now?
I just turned in the manuscript for the third book in my Escape from a Video Game series of interactive stories. Right now, I’m working on the puzzles for that book.
I know you like classic video games, but do you still play? If so, what game(s) are you excited about right now?
Definitely! I just finished Spider-Man for the PS4, and I’m playing through the Miles Morales Spider-Man game for the PS5. Both are amazing games! Also, I play Tetris every night with my wife after the kids go to bed, and although I can’t say Tetris excites me, I always get excited about Tetris time because it means we made it through bedtime.
You can learn more about Dustin and his books by visiting his official website.
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