Dean Crawford won the ‘literary lottery’ with a fantastic deal with traditional publishing for his first book – but now he is an outspoken indie. In this podcast interview, he explains why and we also delve into some virtual reality fun!
In the intro, I talk about my recent move to Bath, an update on Risen Gods.
The corporate sponsorship for this show pays for hosting and transcription. This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Dean Crawford is the international bestselling author of the Warner & Lopez action adventure series as well as the sci-fi Atlantia series and other stand-alone novels.
- On Dean’s beginnings as a writer and the inspiration that came from an artist relative.
- The shift Dean went through from being a traditionally published author to a hybrid and how that’s changed his mindset about publishing.
- On the differences in reporting and payments from a traditional publisher vs. Amazon.
- The power and support of the indie author community.
- What Dean’s traditionally published author friends think of his move to indie publishing.
- Dean’s prediction about whether more traditionally published authors will enter the indie game.
- Why speed matters for indie authors.
- On the cyclical nature of book trends and how indie publishing can provide books at any time for any trend.
- How Dean educated himself about indie publishing including the resources he used.
- Dean’s marketing strategy, why he chooses to be in KDP Select, and why he believes having a catalogue of books matters.
- On writing series so that readers can become involved with the characters and want to know more about them, and creating reader loyalty as a result of that emotional connection.
- The paradox that traditional publishers aren’t seeing success with certain genres but indie authors are.
- On virtual reality and the future of entertainment outside gaming.
You can find Dean at DeanCrawfordBooks.com or on Twitter @dcrawfordbooks. If you want to check out Dean’s thriller persona, here’s an interview with him on my thriller site, JFPenn.com with links to his most recent books.
Transcription of interview with Dean Crawford
Joanna: Hi, everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I’m here with Dean Crawford. Hi, Dean.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction, Dean is the international best-selling author of the Warner and Lopez action adventure series, which are super, as well as the Sci-Fi Atlantia series and other stand-alone novels. And Dean spans both worlds, so we’ll be talking about that today, but first off, Dean,
Just tell us a bit more about how you got into writing, and what was your journey to publication?
Dean: I didn’t originally want to be a writer at all. I wanted to be a pilot in the RAF, and when I was seventeen, eighteen or so, a medical showed up in my eyesight, and in fact, I was colorblind. For reasons best kept to themselves, the RAF, that’s just a big no-no, all over, done. I spent about a year being very annoyed about that, and dealing with it like a mature adult by sulking. And then I looked at my uncle who’s an artist, he paints in watercolors and acrylics. Christopher Jarvis is his name. He was doing extremely well doing something he loved doing.
He wasn’t going to work Monday to Friday 9 to 5 doing something he didn’t really actually enjoy. He found a vocation that he really wanted to do every Monday morning and he couldn’t wait to get going. And I thought, “Well, what do I like? Is there anything out there I can do that would be rather like that?” I read books all the time. I was reading Wilbur Smith at that time. And I thought, “I could probably have a go at this.” I always liked writing at school, and I gave it a go, and I decided I was going to be a best-selling author. It only took me 15 years.
It was almost overnight. It was an extremely long road, but when I got there, I got assigned to LBA Books in London, one of the more powerful literary agencies. And I was then sold to Simon and Schuster and Touchstone for a really good three book deal for to buy another two books a couple of years later. And that’s really what got me going.
Joanna: What year was it when you started, and when did you finally get a book deal?
Dean: I have somewhere my first manuscript, that’s written in Borough and that was 1994, and my first book deal was September 2010, so almost 16 years.
Joanna: Wow, that’s really awesome. It’s great to hear these stories I think. Some people might think it’s crazy, but it’s lovely that you had an artist in the family because that’s what I’m trying to be now. I’m trying to be that artist that people know who’s doing well. Do you play that role now? You have kids don’t you?
Joanna: Do you play that role to other people in the family as well?
Dean: I think my mom is quite keen on the idea of writing a book now. Whether she’ll do it or not, I don’t know, but she keeps mentioning it. But no, the rest of my family are kind of half and half. My dad, my brothers are very practical. They both work for Rolls Royce, fixing Bentley cars, engines and engineer. And that’s that side. My mom’s the creative one. I seemed to have gotten a little bit of both of the worlds together.
Joanna: Yeah, that’s fantastic. And of course, that journey to publication is quite, I’d say common as in the people who persist for 15 years can actually make it.
But some would say in the end you kind of won that literary lottery as such. But you’re now choosing to do different things, aren’t you? So tell us what’s happened since 2010.
Dean: Well, everything was going very well on a traditionally published front. But what happened was in 2013, I wrote a book called “Eden,” which is about a solar flare that takes out all of the world’s electric power and systems. And there are six scientists in the Arctic and they’ve got to find their way home. And it’s just a survival story.
My agent loved it, and I loved writing it. I’ve been wanting to do it for ages, and we sent it out to all the publishers, and they all loved it. I thought, “Here we go, big auction again. It’s going to be great.” They all turned it down flat. And the reason was not because they didn’t like the book, it was because they were all looking for the next Gillian Flynn at that time.
About 2013, they all wanted dark psychological female led novels, which is fine. This was a dark psychological male led action adventure story, and they weren’t looking for them, and we had nowhere to go. And I thought, “Well.” By that time I had heard about independent publishing. Everyone told me, “You’re wasting your time. You won’t make any money. It’s not going to happen. It’s not the future,” blah, blah, blah.
I thought, “Well I’ve got nothing to lose. The manuscript’s going to end up on my hard drive, otherwise doing nothing.” So I self-published it, and shifted I think it was about 15,000 copies in three months. It was very successful straight away. And a little light bulb went on in my head then.
It was like, “Well, what else have I got on my hard drive here that I haven’t published or wasn’t right for publishers at the time?” Followed up with two more, they didn’t do as well as “Eden,” but they did well. I realized if I could develop an independent career alongside my traditionally published career, and you’re not living from advance to advance from a publisher, you can start to have a more regular income and more control. Yeah, it’s one of the best things I ever did. It’s been very successful since that day I started.
Joanna: Which is great. You mention their control obviously on the type of book you could write. Because like you…obviously I know you because I read your books. And because I love action/adventure books, Clive Cussler, Wilbur Smith. We write in that genre. We’re action adventure people, so therefore, I of course knew of you. But apart from the control writing the type of book you wanted, the regular income, because of course people might not realize that as an Indie, you get paid every month.
As a traditionally published author, do you even know when the money’s coming generally?
Dean: You have an idea. The payment’s normally broken down into 8 to 12 individual segments. You get one segment each for however many books you’ve written, plus the 4th for the delivery of that first manuscript that got you the deal in the first place. Then the rest come as you deliver more manuscripts and as those books are published. So it’s quite a lengthy process, three years from my first deal. And while that’s okay, I always feel like one of the lucky few, I did win the literary lottery and got a big deal.
Many authors, when you break it down over those timescales, they can’t make a living. And so this ability to have a regular income, bridges the gap between deals, no matter how big or small they might be. And if you can do well, and you work hard, it can actually, as I know in several authors’ cases, more than they were pulling in from traditional deals, and regular monthly payments. Amazon never misses a beat, I’m Amazon select. I’m fully in with Amazon, coming up on three years, two and half years. I’ve never missed a payment.
Joanna: And they reconcile to their reports right?
Dean: Yes, and they give you so much information that you never get from traditional publishers. They give you statements. You get a monthly graph of your sales, and you can see promotions that have worked. Whereas with a traditional publisher, you might not hear from them for a year. They’re just doing their thing.
They actually put one of my Ethan Warner books on a special offer for a month and didn’t tell me. It’s just like, “What are you doing? I could have helped you with that. I could have promoted that. I could have got a Bookbub or whatever.” So there’s a lot more control, a lot more direct influence in what you’re actually doing. And I think that’s invaluable, that’s business.
Joanna: And so what are some of the other pros and cons of traditional vs Indie?
Dean: I would say, the big publishers, the traditional publishers, if you’re one of the few very, very lucky few, can really change your life. It did happen to me. Most of what I have now is as a result of that. And it was my spring board on to success from there in all things writing really. But that’s their only advantage.
It’s like one thing. They can get you international but even now, Amazon’s starting to catch up with different territories coming all the time, you can sell books in Mexico and all sorts of places, India as well. Whereas the independent really outweighs it. If you’re trying to make a living from writing, I can’t see any advantages in traditional publishing that outweigh the advantages of independent publishing at this time.
Independent publishing, regardless of whether you’re wired or fully in with Amazon, gives you so much control, so much more information, so much more feedback.
And probably, even more important than that is the community’s habit of sharing information.
You don’t get that in the traditional world. Everyone’s very closed minded, they don’t want talk about their sales, they don’t want to talk about a failure of a promotion that just didn’t work. Indies complete opposite, “Don’t use these guys, it didn’t work for me or at least not in my genre. Use these guys, I had a great result from this.” Yesterday, I found out about a new promoter I had never heard of, who put somebody in the top 100 in almost Bookbub fashion because they shared their information on an independent office forum. Brilliant.
You just don’t get that in the traditional published world. It’s just this mind set that’s perhaps a bit like people talking about salaries and jobs, you just keep it all to yourself. It’s very much more sharing in the independent world.
Joanna: Which is great. And of course I’m interviewing you because I know you feel this way, and it’s fantastic. But you and I met in person at a literary conference. There I had felt quite left out at many of these conferences before because of the negativity towards self-publishing. Britain’s still pretty snobby in many ways.
What have your author friends, like your traditionally published author friends, thought of what you have been doing? What are the reactions that you’ve got from them?
Dean: To start with, when I first mentioned it, I can’t remember, it would’ve been after “Eden” ran quite well, so it would’ve been Crime Fest 2014 I guess. People were like, “Really? Really? You were doing really well, why are you going down that road?” And I was thinking, “Business. You’ve got more than one string to your bow. It’s daft not to if it’s a good opportunity.” And as time’s gone on, I’ve had more and more emails from more and more authors going, “You were talking about independent publishing. I’m struggling a bit here. Have you got any advice?” And they keep coming in.
I’ve actually had emails from very powerful authors who are looking to go Indie. These are guys that are selling a million a year plus, coming to me and saying, “How are you getting on. How did you do that? How come you’re above me in the charts on Amazon?” And things like this. And you’re not on special offer either, it’s just standard price. I think they’re coming around, slowly but surely. I had a long conversation with one author at Crime Fest this year. Who really wanted to know how I was doing things, how it was going, whether it was worth it or not. And he’s selling very well.
So he doesn’t need to, but he’s got a business mind. He’s starting to think, “Well, there’s something in this.” I know so many authors fully traditionally published who are now back in day jobs who weren’t two or three years ago. I think there will be an influx of traditionally published authors coming into independent publishing with quite a lot of vigor in the next two to three, maybe five years. And they all know what they’re doing. They all know about their editing, they know about the importance of cover design. So I think it’ll get tougher as professional authors start making the switch.
Joanna: That’s the flip side, isn’t it?
On the one side, everyone’s like, “Yay, that’s really great, the authors are grabbing their rights and doing their thing.” And then it’s like, “There are going to be loads of people who know what they’re doing.”
Dean: In a sense. It’s a double edged sword, but it will take them time to learn. But it’s a helpful community. I think the first couple of books they’ll get out. I think the problem most of them will have is just speed. They’re all used to delivering one book a year, or even one book every two years.
When I first got my contract, Simon and Schuster wanted two books a year. I found that really hard going. Next year I’ll write six. Because you just get better and quicker and you get more practiced. And it does require a lot of effort. And I think that’ll hold them back a bit. Because we all know one book a year independent doesn’t really cut it. Unless your name is Hugh or AG Riddle or something or Russel Blake, he writes about 12 books a year.
Joanna: Yeah, Russell is pretty hardcore.
Dean: I don’t think he sleeps.
Joanna: No, I’ve actually…Russel’s going to come on the podcast because I want to ask him about that.
You mentioned speed, and that you have personally gone from two a year to six a year. How have you done that? What have you changed to get better and faster?
Dean: It’s the art of sitting down and writing and just doing it. I’m a very active person. I find it very difficult to sit down for long periods of time. I want to go for a run, I want to go and do something. And you’ve just got to do it. I think that’s where a lot of people, the procrastination comes in. I just want to get up and make a cup of tea. I Just want to go and do this. Russel again, good example. You turn off your Internet, you turn off your phone if you have to, and you just write. I know I went from probably 500 words an hour to my highest at the moment which is about two and a half thousand words an hour, and I’m not the quickest out there by a long shot.
And good words, not just rattling them out as fast as you can. Just get into that flow and that mind set, and it just works. And the method as well of plotting. I used to plot to the nth degree. And you’d think that would make you faster, but actually found it was too restrictive. So I now plot to a third degree, but also wing it at the same time, a little bit of pouncing, I think they call it, just so the ideas keep flowing.
Once you get into that mind set, once you get into that zone and you’re really focused on that, bang, you can’t stop writing. I’ll often do my 4,000 words before lunch time each day, and then the afternoon is for the other things like marketing and notes for the next day, and stuff like that.
So it’s just effort. Really all the successful independent authors you see out there, they’re all saying the same thing: effort, effort, effort, effort all the time. Keep going, keep pushing. It doesn’t matter if a book gets one star, keep pushing past it, keep going, keep writing your books as if the next one is going to be the next…
Joanna: The next Gillian Flynn.
Dean: Yeah, the next Gillian Flynn or “Girl on the Train” or whatever, and just keep doing it, and eventually you get the speed, you get the quality, you get everything together and you start moving forward.
Joanna: Yeah, and let’s face it, like the Wilbur Smith, Clive Cussler, Dean Crawford, JF Penn style action adventure is coming back.
Dean: Very much, very much. It has to.
Johanna: It has to. But this is what’s so great. And I learned this from Anne Rice, the vampire lady. She said she’s had three millionaire rolls of vampires in her lifetime. I think she’s in her seventies or eighties. It’s like everyone said, “Oh, no. Vampires are done now. They’re done this time,” and then they’re back.
I’m over this dark psychological thriller female girl thing. I think a lot of people are. It’s a cyclical thing, isn’t it?
Dean: The thing is, the way the world’s changed in publishing is that before, when the publishers was the only way to get a book on the market, and you could only get a book that happened to be in a bookstore, they had some control over what genres were popular at any one time.
Now if you want to go out and buy a book on vampires and it’s five years out of date, it doesn’t matter anymore, there are always going to be, will always be now, a market for your book.
It’s just a case of obviously you’ve got to get it there yourself. So yeah, the genres in favor, only applies now to the traditional publishers, right? It’s a very different world.
Joanna: It is. And I was going to ask you then about you mentioned finding out things out on forums.
How did you learn about self-publishing, and what are your go to places now so that people know where to look?
Dean: The main one, if you’re starting out and you really want to learn, is probably kboards.com, the Writer’s Café, which is a great resource. Many, many thousands of independent authors there, sharing a lot of information and you can pick up all the basics.
I’ve simply moved on now into private forums with very small numbers of authors, mostly independently published, a couple of trads there as well, where we share information. Because it can get a little bit catty out there sometimes on the forums. If you’re doing well, I’ve seen some authors post their success stories.
You get one star bond and things like that a bit. So I’m fairly cautious of doing too much of that. But kboards for information, to get yourself going. Brilliant. And you make friends. And then you find out all the other avenues to success. Where blogs like your own, Jo, and people like that, and Mark Dawson’s Facebook campaigns, that kind of stuff, where you can learn the techniques to market your books, which these days is every bit as much as important as writing the things in the first place. Because you have to get them out there. You have to find a way for people to find those books. So the Kboards would be the number one.
Joanna: Good place.
What are you doing for marketing? You mentioned that you’re just in KDP Select for your Indie books.
Dean: That’s right, yeah.
Joanna: Although we must say that because you’re traditionally published, you’re also on all the other stores, right? With your traditionally published books, like Hugh Howey. I have to always remind people, like Hugh’s like, “Ooh, I’m KDP Select.” It’s like, “No you’re not.” Once you’re traditionally published you’re in all the other stores. But otherwise, you’re KDP Select.
Why did you choose that rather than going wide at this point?
Dean: Initially, because I’m inherently lazy on that front. I just thought let’s keep it…because I was new, keep it to one avenue, keep it simple, and let’s see how it develops. And I’ve just found it to be for me at least, the most successful route. I haven’t tried wide, and I know it’s possible that people say, “Well, you go wide, you’re going to sell more potentially.” And that may be true, but for my number of books, the level of success I’m seeing seems to be about par with people that have gone before me, who I’ve been in contact with recently about expanding my marketing and stuff because I’ve done very little marketing in two years.
And they’re saying, “You’re about where I was two years ago, so if you do this, this, and this, you’re going to follow the same path, or you should follow the same path.” And so it’s been very good to me. I have an Amazon rep, one of my books, “Eden,” in fact, did very well, enough for me to get a rep and that kind of stuff, so I’m quite well looked after.
I know we saw the new Kindle unlimited version of it, KU2 they call it now, has page reads. And that’s proven to be a very successful change. Whereas, before the [borrows] weren’t paying me as much as perhaps if I’d gone wide. Now I’m getting over half a million page reads a month, and that really builds up an income that matches or some just behind the actual sales. It’s a significant increase in earnings for me doing basically nothing extra. So I was very happy with that.
Joanna: It’s good to have you on the show talking like this. Because I’ve recently Liliana Hart, who is a very, very successful Indie making more money at iBooks. And I’m very pro multiple stores, but it’s always good to have the other side.
How many books do you actually have now?
Dean: Independently published, I’m just about to publish my 14th.
Joanna: So all together?
Dean: All together will be 19.
Joanna: Yeah, so you’ve got 19. You’ve got a lot of stock. Most people would say when you’ve got that much stock, you would be looking at multiple platforms because there’s no point to me going to Kobo, or iBooks, or Nook if you only have two books, for example. But when you have that many, then sure.
I think it’s great to have your balanced view on KDP Select. I’m glad it’s doing so well for you. And sometimes I do think, you wonder because you can never know, right? You can never compare. Because everything’s always different, and you can’t have a parallel life where you chose the other way.
Let’s talk a bit about marketing. So you said you weren’t doing very much. And obviously in KDP Select, you have things. So are you doing free days, that type of thing? Or what are the other marketing things you’re doing?
Dean: Well up to now, I’ve only done a couple of Bookbubs. I had a Kindle Nation [Day], just random stuff around launches. But it was very little. So I’ve just started doing free books.
I’ve been catching on to things I should have done a long time ago, putting leafs in the fronts of my books. I’m giving away one book free all the time that people can click on when they sign up to my newsletter. I’m starting to use Facebook now, which if you use it correctly, it’s actually quite effective. Because you can drill down so finely to the audience you want to reach. Whereas with a Bookbub, for instance, you’re going quite wide, lots of random people out there, who may follow your genre, but may not like the particular style within your genre.
With Facebook ads you can pick someone who reads books by an author who’s exactly like you and target those kind of authors. That’s becoming very useful I find. It’s an expensive experiment sometimes, but you get the results. And it’s possible to earn back the money. So I’m very much focused on that at the moment.
As well as just trying to buy a little bit of digital advertising every month. Rolling count down, which is another advantage of Select. You can drop your books to 99 p or 99 cents and still get a 70% royalty. I’m just making the most of this backlist I’ve got now.
It requires some juggling to keep track of what you’ve sold and what you haven’t sold. And what books do you up next. But it’s just making an effort on that front now because I’ve got the backlist.
Really the last two years it’s just been about publishing as fast as possible really to get that backlist up because I started with just the one book.
Joanna: That’s the main point isn’t it? Part of the reason you’re doing so well is because you have 19 books. It’s not just that you were traditionally published first.
Dean: “Eden” did well, and it didn’t have any connection to my Ethan Warner books because I hadn’t set up an Amazon author page or anything like that. It was just out there on its own. So it ran on its own quality, as it were, and now that I’ve got everything together and I’ve got all of the books under the same name, and I think having the traditionally published books out there and the quotes as well, the things that I can put on my Wall Street Journal quotes and things like that, really help a lot.
But it’s another fact of independent publishing. You have to do a bit of maths and stuff, but somebody can sell just 30, 40 books a day at a reasonable price, $3, $4, 3, 4 pounds, whatever it might be, and earn a great living from independent publishing.
As long as you’ve got enough titles there or you’ve got one book that’s selling quite well, you’re done already. It’s very much more accessible to everybody as opposed to the gatekeeper model.
Joanna: Yeah, and what about a series? Because I think that’s one of the very big things Indies are hot on is you must write a series. Now you’ve got a load of different series actually that are quite different genres. I’m not interested in your Atlantia Sci-Fi, for example. I know and I love your action adventure. And you’ve also got stand alones, haven’t you?
Have you designed that in anyway, or do you just write what comes next in your head?
Dean: I wanted to do something completely different from Ethan Warner because I’ve written so many with the Simon and Schuster books. I was up to about seven at the time and I thought, “I really need a break to do something else.” And I’d always wanted to do something like Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica or something like that. I had a good idea, and I decided to just put it out there. And it’s five strong, it’ll be six by Christmas. And it was just to see if I could, just to do something where you’re not restricted by the real universe, even in terms of physics. You can have space ships that can go faster than light, and all these kind of weird and wonderful technologies. And I had a blast with it.
It’s been great, and space opera, which is the genre it’s in, it was doing very well and still is. Whereas Sci-Fi in traditional publishing is actually rock bottom. Publishers are closing their science fiction arms all over the place at the moment, it’s quite sad really. But independent authors are thriving, most at the top 100. I guess you see three or four, maybe five space operas in there at any one time. Huge following. I thought, “There you go. That’s what I want to do. It’s a good market. Let’s give it a go.” And in fact I’m going to start a new one in the new year, a new series. I wanted to have another great idea that I can’t wait to get started on.
So it’s just a case of me writing what I want. But with regards to series, almost invariably my stand alone books don’t sell as well as the series. It’s just a very consistent rule I think among independent publishers at least. And probably traditionals as well, that you’ve just got to write in series. You draw fans in by writing characters they want to see again. Just the same reason people like watching soaps and dramas in America and here as well. They get invested in the characters and they want to see what happens. And sometimes you can’t fit all your ideas into one book. So this is definitely the way to go, definitely.
Joanna: I’m learning more and more that it’s the emotional promise of the book, like I know that if I want this type of read, I can read an Ethan Warner, or I love Jeremy Robinson’s Jack Sigler series, for example. I know I can read a James Rollins SIGMA book.
I know if I want to feel in a certain way, I can read one of those books, and I will get the feeling that I want to feel. And the problem with a stand alone, and I think the reason literary fiction sells so badly often, or people don’t move from one book to another, is because they can’t guarantee the emotional response.
Dean: It’s a cozy feeling people get when they get invested in a series. Be it television, even music perhaps to some extent a favorite band. They pick favorites. We all do it. And if that favorite you read happens to be book four in a series, and you say, “I love that, it’s brilliant,” and you know it’s just book four, you’re going to go look for the others. An author’s series no only builds their brand, but it builds a following. And for the reader, as you say, they get familiar with it. And they know that once every few months, they’re going to be able to relive that experience, but with a new tale, a new story. It builds fan loyalty almost, and reader loyalty.
As long as you can maintain the quality, your output rate, you’ve got fans for life then.
And then they can be quite die hard as well. They just love what you do, as long as you deliver what they’re hoping for. And that’s something else, as well, is delivering to Tropes and stuff like that. There’s one particular book at the moment doing extremely well on Amazon, and it is almost exactly the same as a 70s show that used to be on. It’s not a rip-off, but it’s almost exactly the same. And some people are saying, “Well, that’s terrible,” and 99% of people are going, “God I love that because that’s exactly what I want to read,” and that’s really what it’s all about.
Joanna: Exactly. And you mentioned technology, and how you love all that. And we’ve connected over virtual reality, and you love this stuff, too.
What do you think about the future of story with things like the Oculus Rift.
Dean: It is awesome. I wish I could show you and the viewers how good these things are. They are absolutely amazing.
Joanna: Tell people why it’s amazing, like what is the experience of the Oculus, as someone who wanted to be a pilot I presume as well.
Dean: I’ve got Microsoft Flight Simulator on my main computer, and I can put this on, and if were playing a game like that on a monitor, you’re separate from it, a bit like we are on the screen, it’s just something else. When you play a game or do a simulation on the Rift, when you take it off, then you remember it as something you’ve actually done, not just because it’s fully immersive and there’s no gaps in what you’re seeing, but because it flies a different image into each eye, you have stereoscopic vision. So if you’re scared of heights in real life, if you walk to an edge of a cliff with the Rift on in the game, you’ll be scared of the height. You can see the depth and feel the air between you and the ground.
I’ve done demos, built by other people where you walk out of the International Space Station in orbit around the earth, and it just takes your breath away, the size and scale. So it’s like a Tardis, you put it on, the world is the same size. And if you jump off something high, your stomach tingles even though you’re not falling. You’re sitting in a seat, but you still feel the rush. They’re going to change the world to the extent I’ve expanded the company into games design for Oculus Rift. I’ve actually got a demo up, it’s freely available for anybody who’s got an Oculus Rift, and it’s the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars parked as it was in the first film. And you can walk around it, and walk into it, and experience that as the real people would, had it been a real thing.
Joanna: Wow. So where can people find that?
Dean: It’s on a site called Oculus Share. So just Google it, you’ll see. It’s called Docking Bay 94, which is what is was called in the film, in the original Star Wars movie. It’s only been up a few days, it’s been downloaded about 2 or 3,000 times already. It’s doing really well.
Joanna: Great timing with the new movies.
Dean: Very good, yes. I’m developing a game as well, on top of all the writing. But I do see it as the future of entertainment. And because games designers are also going independent just like books have done, just like music did before, and film before that, there are now independent developers releasing games to the public, charging much more sensible prices, which in huge markets, you’re seeing probably the newest people who develop games for apps on the phones. The guy that did the emoticons for your phone, made 14 million dollars I think. The scope, because it’s independent, because you’re cutting out the middle man, just like an author might want to go in independent is tremendous. And that’s why I’m so much into it. It’s really special.
Joanna: I didn’t know that. That’s news to me that you’re developing into the game world. I totally want to do that. I was interested in graphic novels and things as a way into film, but now I feel like the Oculus and virtually reality is going to be even bigger, that’s going to be the thing.
And I believe we’ll be shopping in VR, you and I would be talking in VR, people will be able to watch our podcast chat somewhere cool, that type of thing. When do you see that coming? 2017 or further on?
Dean: It’s technology catching up with technology almost. I know they’ve done things like taken 360 degree cameras up with the Blue Angels display team in America and filmed it, so you can watch it in the Rift. It’s not released yet.
The BBC is starting to experiment with shooting in cameras that will be compatible with virtual reality as well. They’re already doing the next head set. The commercial version comes out next year. That’s 2016. They’re already working on the one after that for 2018, 2020, I reckon. Everyone will have one. Because they’re not coming out that expensive to start with.
Joanna: Oh, I’m getting one. I’m totally there.
Dean: You’ve got to get one. As you say, we could be talking about virtual reality now, people could be viewing this while we’re sitting on top of Mount Everest. And you can go and do anything and anywhere with these things, or sitting in the Pyramids having this chat. It’s pretty special, and I think as far as storytelling goes, they’re already making films for VR, Star Wars franchise, which is all shots from the film. You put it on in the Rift, you’re actually going through the forest. Yeah, there’s a space battle from the end of Return of the Jedi. You can actually fly an X-wing, I’ve got that. That’s pretty amazing, all the space ships everywhere, blowing each other up. It’s tremendous.
Joanna: It is and of course to people who aren’t into Sci-Fi listening, it’s not just Sci-Fi racing and gaming, it’s also going to be education. And of course, everyone talks about the sex thing. There’s going to be the sex thing.
Dean: It’s got that covered already.
Joanna: But they’re always ahead of stuff. But I do think that if you’re enthusiasm…we’re readers and we’re authors. But the way you talk about that, the way your face lights up. I’m not even a gamer, and I want this.
Do you think that we have to start thinking about story in these other ways, and creating worlds that can be put into VR, because will we lose even more readers to this technology?
Dean: No, no. They say that with most new technologies and stuff, the appearance of television was going to destroy the book and stuff like that. It’s a better way of doing it, like you say, there’s educational value to it.
I’m working on something, my first hopeful game release will be partially educational. People who struggle to get about in mobility, go on holidays, want to see the Pyramids, they’ll be able to see the Pyramids pretty much as in the right scales and stuff like that. So it has future outside of gaming, although I don’t care about that. But with storytelling…no I think it will just enhance it. It will enhance it. You’ve got audio books, we’ve had books in the past where you can pick your own path. You choose your own decisions.
I think it will become something like that, where gaming itself will actually become more like storytelling. I don’t think it will kill the book though. I don’t think digital authors have got anything to worry about. What I would wonder is whether the Kindle would be viewable in the Oculus Rift. Kindle books and such, other media could be enhanced by visuals that would accompany a story, much in the same way as when I was younger, you could read books, but you also had a Walkman as it was then, and you’d have your MP3 player on now. And it would read the book to you with sound effects as well, pictures in the book. And so I remember those quite well as a child. So I think there might be a cross over, but it won’t kill the book because there’s always going to have to be the authors to write the books, it’s not going to be a game changer.
Joanna: I’m interested, how are you writing a game? How is that different to writing a book?
Dean: It’s mainly in the game’s package. I’ve been using something called Unreal Engine, which is the engine that was used to build games, and they are hugely complex, so it’s a learning process, and my Millennium Falcon, my Sci-Fi demo was what I used as a process to learn everything. And it’s still not really finished yet, I’m still learning now. And that’s something you’ve got to get through in order to do it.
Whereas at least an author principally only needs a notepad, a pen, and time, and imagination to write a book or to start writing a book. With these, you’ve actually got to learn the packages first. But they are free, believe it or not, the companies that make them, make them make their money on commission of sales of the product you produce, if you release it commercially. So it doesn’t require and financial outlay, just a computer powerful enough to run it.
Joanna: Cool, I’m putting that on my very long list of…as if we didn’t have enough to do.
Dean: Well this is it. I push myself pretty hard all the time. And I’ve taken this on as well as trying to build my career further as an author. But as you say.
Joanna: You love it, don’t you? You love that.
Dean: It’s quite special, it’s quite special. In the summer, I’m out doing something else, outside doing physical things. But when the winter comes and the weather’s rubbish, that goes on, I use it a lot. It’s great fun.
Joanna: Awesome, well I’m going to look forward to doing this next time in VR somewhere. Who knows?
Coming back to your books, you have a new book coming out very shortly, as we record this in October 2015. “Black Knight.” Tell us about that.
Dean: “Black Knight” is based upon something that happened in 1899 when a scientist called Nikola Tesla who is quite well know, the father of modern electronics. He was tinkering with one of his devices in Colorado, and he detected an object in orbit around the planet. This is 1899 before satellites. It’s recorded. The U.S. Air Force picked it up in the 40s, long before satellites were launched. They built a secret base called Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, almost on the spot where Tesla was doing his work.
I got intrigued by this, and so it’s a story based around this actual event and what happens when this thing comes down. It’s rumored it’s still up there. There are photographs that apparently they have been disproved by some sources. You can actually look it up; Black Knight it was a quite popular conspiracy theorist subject. And Ethan Warren and Nikolai have to go down to the Antarctic to find it when this thing comes down. And they discover a lot more there than they were expecting when they arrive. So it’s a good story. We’re in a classic, remote area, something strange happens kind of story. I had a blast writing it.
Joanna: Super. So where can people find you and your books and maybe other games and things online?
Dean: My website is deancrawfordbooks.com, and I can be found all over Amazon and google. I’m very easy to find. The games also will be seen present on the website as well. And the demos for people that own Oculus Rifts and stuff like that. So, yeah, deancrawfordbooks.com easy.
Joanna: Thanks so much for your time, Dean, that was great.
Dean: Thanks very much.