Richard Dee is proof positive that authors aren’t all cut from the same cloth. A man drawn to water, Richard was at sea for some 40 years, and spent 20 of them navigating the Thames. He also spent time as a dockmaster and then, as all great Sci-Fi writers do, ran an organic bakery. He now specialises in Science Fiction and Steampunk books and, in addition to novels and short stories published under his own name, has contributed to several anthologies.
His next steampunk venture, A New Life in Ventis, will be released in November 2017, and he plans to publish three further novels in 2018. As you’ll see, that’s not all he’s up to…
Harry Scott: Please introduce yourself, what you write and what you’ve written.
Richard Dee: Hi, I’m Richard Dee, I write Science Fiction and Steampunk adventures. I’m a big fan of the twist, the “A-ha” moment. I currently have seven novels available, plus two books of short stories. I also have a short story included in a collection of Historical Fiction. My novels are Freefall, Ribbonworld, The Rocks of Aserol, Myra, Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Café, Jungle Green and my latest, A New Life in Ventis. The short story collections are Flash Fiction and Tales from Norlandia. The historical fiction work is entitled 1066 Turned Upside Down. I have several sequels, prequels, spin-offs and new projects in progress. I’m also writing an online course in World Building, based on a workshop that I hold at literary events.
HS: How long have you been writing, and when did you first discover a passion to write?
RD: I had ideas for short stories a long while ago but never did anything with them until I retired from my full-time job. When I actually got around to writing them down, I realised that they could fit together into a novel and that was it. Once I had written one, I saw that there were places in the plot that other stories could come from. And I had other ideas as well. It was almost as if a dam had been breached and the words just started to fall out. And the more I wrote, the more ideas I got.
HS: How would you describe your writing – your style and your genre?
RD: It’s Sci-Fi but not the hard, technical type. Although I set them in the future, in alternative worlds, my novels are really about ordinary people having adventures, in surroundings that are familiar to them. I try to make my fictional worlds a logical progression of what we have today, this involves a lot of research (I didn’t think that I would have to do much as I’m writing about the future), to make it all seem as real as I can get it. I believe in having the setting as an extra character and in making my stories as accessible as they can be.
All my work is suitable for all ages from teen upwards, I don’t see the need to be too explicit, Alfred Hitchcock managed to scare me so much with nothing more than suggestion and I think it’s a good technique to copy. I create an atmosphere and then it’s up to you, as a reader, to let your imagination make it as graphic as you want it to be.
HS: Exactly how do you write? Do you have a system, a place, a certain time of day?
RD: I get up early and try to write something every day, even if I don’t feel like it, just to keep getting the words down. Sometimes they will flow, sometimes not. I have several projects on the go at once so I can usually switch around. If one feels a bit hard to write there’s another I can try.
When I’m in the zone, I write it as you would read it, in order, almost fully formed. I don’t plot or plan anything. It’s as if I’m watching a film in my head; all I have to do is type what I see. I can rewind and slow the action down to get it all on the page. I can even pause the playback to focus on the details. What I’m unable to do is fast forward or skip to the end, so the way the story finishes is as much a surprise to me as it is to the reader. And very often, the characters will say or do things that I only learn about when reading it back. This can take the whole thing off in unexpected directions, and often leads to more ideas for sequels. Writing back story and research also gives me plenty of short stories and Flash Fiction pieces, which I give away on my website and in my newsletter.
“The way the story finishes is as much a surprise to me as it is to the reader”
HS: Have you ever been traditionally published?
RD: No, I’m completely self-published. I have submitted several times without success. An agent once told me that I wasn’t writing what people wanted; another suggested that instead of Sci-Fi, I should try writing derivative versions of what I could see was successful.
HS: What was the key thing that made you want to self-publish?
RD: I decided to write what I wanted and sent one piece to a self-published author that I vaguely knew for an opinion. They told me to ignore agents and that my work was good enough to self-publish. They encouraged me to go for it, and I thank them for it. My reviews so far show that the people who read my work like it.
HS: What’s the best thing about self-publishing?
RD: Creative freedom and control. And no deadlines.
HS: And what is the worst?
RD: The stigma that some people still attach to it, I’ve been told that its vanity to ignore the opinion of ‘experts.’ I prefer to think that it’s better to seek the approval of readers. And once you look past the latest ‘trend,’ there are lots of people who want to read something different.
HS: Is there anything you think self-publishers can learn from the world of traditional publishing?
RD: For all its faults, traditional publishing has a certain standard of presentation. Good editing, formatting and cover design are things that can let the best work down and as self-publishers we have to ensure that our product is indistinguishable from any commercially produced title.
“As self-publishers we have to ensure that our product is indistinguishable from any commercially produced title”
HS: And vice versa?
RD: That we don’t all want to read about Vampires, Secret Societies, Flagellation or Cupcakes. Or whatever the marketing men have decided is the latest big thing. There’s a wide world of different genres out there.
HS: Having self-published, what would it take to entice you into the world of traditional publishing ?
RD: Only the unsolicited offer of a big advance or a major film deal. I don’t actively seek such a thing though; I’m happy where I am. If someone came to me, well, that might be different.
HS: What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about self-publishing and self-published authors?
RD: That self-published work is somehow inferior or illegitimate. It takes me just as long to write a book as anyone else, I have to put in as much effort as a famous author with a publishing contract. Just because it lacks the seal of approval bestowed by having a ‘proper’ publisher, it’s unfair to say it’s not as good. As far as I’m concerned, if someone buys my book and I spend the money, I’m as published as anyone.
After all, I buy ISBN numbers; I employ an editor and a formatter. I have my covers designed professionally. I’m a publisher, the same as any other, only the scale is different.
HS: What do you think the key changes have been during your time in self-publishing?
RD: Standards have definitely risen; organisations like Alli and people like Mark Dawson and Joanna Penn have had a lot to do with that, encouraging and leading by example, while producing great stories. A professional organisation gives us all credibility and a bigger voice in things. It’s all starting to change attitudes and help us to be taken seriously.
HS: Apart from the writing, how much do you do yourself? Marketing, design, formatting, editing?
RD: As I said, I employ experts for the technical side of production. I’m just a writer and I don’t think that you can really edit or check your own work properly. You’re much too close to it for that. I prefer to write and let my team spot the mistakes. As for marketing, I don’t think I’m alone in disliking it, even though I do it. It’s the one area where I could do with improvement. I’ve taken courses and try to copy the successful methods.
“I employ experts for the technical side of production. I’m just a writer”
HS: What’s your book process – in terms of the above: editing, formatting, cover design etc?
RD: My editor prefers to look at my work several times as it progresses and I find that approach suits me. So I’ll write a first draft, send it to her and apply her corrections. At this stage, I’ll send out beta copies to a small group of trusted people for their opinions. After I get their remarks, I’ll take them on board and re-write as appropriate before the editor has a second look. Once I’m happy I’ll get it formatted and get her to check it for a third time before it goes live. The cover design works in tandem with that, so that everything comes together at the same point.
HS: How important are reviews to you, and how do you go about getting them?
RD: Very important, I love to hear what people think of what has been several months work. I always ask everyone who has bought a copy to leave reviews, sadly not everyone does. Even if it’s only a couple of words, it’s appreciated.
HS: How do you deal with negative reactions to your work?
RD: You have to accept that not everyone will like what you do. It’s just as true for traditionally published authors, what I don’t like is a negative remark without qualification, don’t say ‘rubbish’ or ‘I hated it,’ give me a reason! I might not agree but I’ll always listen and try to do something about any suggestions that are sensible. A lot of people have asked me what happened next or before events in my books, it gives me a buzz to know that I’ve interested them enough to want to know more.
HS: What is your attitude to book competitions – have you ever entered any?
RD: I’ve tried a few but no success so far, I wouldn’t write especially for one as I hate deadlines. If I spot one and I have a piece that fits the criteria then I’ll send it off.
HS: If you could impart one piece of advice to someone starting out in self-publishing today, what would it be?
RD: Make sure that your product is as good as you can make it. If you can’t tell the difference between your paperback and one on the shelves of a bookshop, then it’s good enough to compete. All things being equal, its then down to the reader to decide if they want to read it. The only opinion that matters is the readers.
“The only opinion that matters is the readers”
HS: What’s the best piece of advice about writing that you’ve ever received.
RD: Write; get the words down, as many as you can, as often as you can. You can always edit them later. Until you have written it down, you don’t have a novel, just an idea.
HS: And, finally, could you please suggest another self-published author you admire and we should read?
RD: Since I’ve been self-publishing there are so many that I’ve found. It’s hard and unfair to ask me to pick one out. I like Helen Hollick for historical stuff, K.Y. Eden for fantasy and… I could go on.
I’d like to thank Richard Dee for spending the time answering my questions – he’s a shining example of the increased professionalism and strength of the self-published world. If you’d like to pick up his books or learn more about him, make a beeline for his Amazon Author Page.
You can also visit him at www.richarddeescifi.co.uk where he promises ‘lots of FREE short stories, a FREE novel offer, exclusive titles in my shop, regular posts, etc. etc.’ And you’ll also find him on Facebook and on Twitter @RichardDockett1
If you’d like to be featured in either of my author interview series, please get in touch with brief details and I’ll get back to you.