This article is the first in a series that catches up with the finalists from last year’s BookLife Prize.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that indie author T.J. Slee took the inaugural BookLife Prize by storm.
A finalist last year in two categories, Slee—who refuses to divulge his identity due to his previous intelligence work and describes his writing as the misbegotten love child of Robert Ludlum and Janet Evanovich—had the top title in Mystery/Thriller with Cloister and SciFi/Fantasy/Horror with The Vanirim.
And while it was The Vanirim—a sci-fi noir mashup—that won top honors last year, BookLife’s judges were similarly impressed by Cloister, about a former intelligence officer who left the world of secrets behind for life as nun.
BL Prize guest judge, author, and publisher Jason Pinter praised Cloister, calling it “Highly original, well-written, with an engaging, sparkplug of a heroine,” while guest judge and author Tim Pratt said of The Vanirim: "I devoured The Vanirim in a single sitting…driven forward by the twisty and mind-bending plot, centered on an enigmatic and compelling main character.”
We caught up with Slee via email to see what he’s up to now and what advice he has for aspiring indie authors:
What’s happened since you won the 2016 BookLIfe Prize?
The BookLife Prize meant that Cloister, or more particularly the character of Charlie Jones, attracted interest both from Hollywood and Madison Avenue. Fielding calls from producers in Hollywood and agents in New York keen to discuss the Charlie Jones character has been a real thrill.
I’ve also had to consider all sorts of angles I would never have thought of before. Would I be willing to take a new author name (yes) and rebrand my work (yes), would I consider rewriting it to make it more accessible to a U.S. audience (done), and a really tough one: am I able to show a publisher that a title like The Vanirim has the potential for a series if it achieves commercial success?
What are you working on now?
Ironically, preparing my work for the move from Indie to traditional publishing. Indie publishing was a quick way to raise some money for charity, get reader feedback, and attract attention, but I would rather spend my time writing than marketing and publishing and I hope getting on board with a traditional publisher will allow that. Any publishers reading this please contact Kirby Kim at Janklow & Nesbit!
What’s one tip that you have for other indie authors?
Dare to prepare for success. I was completely unprepared and never thought about the “what if.” What if your writing wins a prize, what if you get a call from Hollywood, what if you get an agent or publisher on the phone? I was hilariously unready.