Indie author Tim Slee, the winner of the 2016 BookLife Prize for his sci-fi noir novel The Vanirim, is exploring new territory. His latest project, Bering Strait, is what the Australian author, who lives in Denmark, calls a “hard-core techno-thriller” about a future face-off between the U.S. and Russia over the strategically vital waterway that separates Alaska from Russia.
Slee (who previously worked in intelligence and would prefer to not reveal his real name) calls his natural curiosity the driving force behind his writing. Inspiration arises from intriguing newspaper articles and voyages abroad. He tends to land on a concept for a book before he conceives of his characters; he searches for voices that can offer unique perspectives on the story concepts he plans to explore. “So, I write crime through the eyes of a nun,” Slee says. “A postapocalyptic world through the eyes of a traumatized murderer. The Viking discovery of America through the eyes of a woman disavowed by her family.”
Slee also takes the research process very seriously: “The subject matter isn’t always something I know intimately before I start, but I dive deep once I start a project, researching, talking to experts, visiting locations.” For Bering Strait, he visited military and police websites and chat forums to consult with experts. “I needed to get a whole lot of technical detail right, from air force weapons and tactics to special forces jargon, in order to make the book feel and sound authentic,” he says. The volunteers he found to weigh in on his work include a Russian military radar coder and a German Leopard tank weapons systems technician.
Since beginning to self-publish his work, Slee has relied strongly on public support and word-of-mouth recommendations to draw readers. For his most recent books (The Vanirim and its sequel, The Aesir), he reached out to a mailing list of 383 people, asking them to buy paperback copies from the self-publishing service Lulu and to forward a link to friends with the recommendation. “Most of them do help out,” he says.
Coinciding with the release of his books, Slee also runs what he calls a “#readerzero” promotion—a chance for a fan on his mailing list to receive the first printed copy of the novel. He also heavily promotes his work on social media. He typically sets the goal of selling 300–500 copies of each title upon its release.
Slee’s efforts to promote himself have paid off. Recently, his unpublished novel Burn was shortlisted for the Banjo Prize in Australia. The prize winner (to be announced on August 31) will receive a publishing contract with HarperCollins, with an advance of $15,000.
But Slee isn’t in the writing business for the sales, and he counts himself lucky. “I write for the joy of it and to give back to the community, and every book I write helps do that,” he says.
Proceeds from Slee’s sales go to charity. In the past, he has donated to Médicins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. This year, sales from his books will benefit Plan International, an organization that advocates for children and the rights of girls. “In the time of #MeToo, Plan International seemed a good choice as they work to educate and empower girls,” he says. “Almost all of my books consciously feature strong female protagonists.”
Where will Slee’s natural curiosity take him next? Maybe “an abandoned tram shed in inner urban Sydney, the Capitol building in Sacramento, or a windy bay in Newfoundland,” he says.
Slee also takes time to take in his immediate surroundings and enjoy the fruits of his labors—literally: “I just finished picking apples for a pie. Tree is about to collapse with the weight of them. We’re looking at our warmest August day for a hundred years this Wednesday.”