SPS-165: From Trad to Indie and Beyond with Barry J. Hutchison
Children’s author Barry Hutchison accidentally fell into indie publishing when he was asked to talk about the industry with a group of teens. Now he’s a hybird author who’s earning more than he ever thought possible by publishing his own books.
- On Barry’s beginnings writing children’s books, including children’s horror
- Catching fire with indie publishing after being a trad author for years
- The joyful absence of sales and marketing meetings when publishing indie
- On writing 16 books in 2.5 years and how that would not have been possible without indie publishing
- The benefit of writing quickly to maintain an audience that is growing up
- The life changing financial difference between traditional publishing and indie
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
Transcript of Interview with Barry J. Hutchison
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self Publishing Show …
Barry Hutchison: Not having to jump through those hoops, not having to go through a succession of sales and marketing meetings until they’ve decided if they’re going to make an offer or not. Being able to write a book, publish it three or four days later, and have reviews coming in, and people enjoying that book a day or two after that was, creatively, really liberating for me.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers. No more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing?
Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first-time publisher James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is The Self Publishing Show. There’s never a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Yes, hello and welcome to The Self Publishing Show with me, James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And me, Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: See, normally when double acts appear, they always stand the same. Eric and Ernie always stood the same and Ant and Dec, who no one in America would have heard of …
Mark Dawson: No.
James Blatch: Dec is always on the left. We swapped because we are radical, pushing boundaries and we don’t do … We don’t obey the rules, do we?
Mark Dawson: We certainly don’t, no. We like to change things up.
James Blatch: We’re disruptors.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: So I hope you enjoyed last week’s episode from LBF where we did talk to a disruptor, and I think he said he didn’t like that term but Michael Anderle is definitely somebody who’s spearheading this industry doing things differently.
I suppose it’s a good opportunity here at London Book Fair amongst the traditional industry and the indie industry around us to take stock of where we are with the changes happening in publishing.
I’m hearing quite a lot of noises from the traditional side that they’re doing well.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I think they’ve had three good years in a row, which is great. There’s no reason why they wouldn’t be doing well.
Some things I find a little bit weird are they’ll talk about eBook sales going down and we’ve mentioned that on the podcast before, and the thing that they’re not taking into account is that none of those … Michael’s eBooks from last week, none of mine have, at least I don’t think Mike’s do, have ISBNs, so they’re not going to be counted in those numbers.
What we want is readers to be reading.
James Blatch: Correct.
Mark Dawson: It’s not a competition between indie and trad at all. It’s a competition between reading and Netflix and reading and the other things, and gaming and the other things that people can do with their time.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: So the fact that we are in an industry which, if the numbers are to be believed, is flourishing, bringing new leaders into the reading ecosystem, that’s got to be a good thing for everything, everybody.
James Blatch: You mentioned Craig there, and the other thing that strikes me is it feels more vibrant than ever before, just in the right eccentric nature of the industry, how many people have come to us and said, “I’ve got going now, you know, my first year, three books, I’m starting to pay bills.” Craig, I think, has gone from zero to five figure months.
Mark Dawson: Craig Zerf.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. He’s had his first five-figure month quite recently. And he’s, obviously, an interesting character. You’ve spoken to him for a testimonial, but they live on a boat.
James Blatch: Oh, he didn’t tell me about that one.
Mark Dawson: They live on a boat in London from South Africa. Used to have a manufacturing background.
James Blatch: It’s a long way to come on a boat.
Mark Dawson: It’s a long way to come, yes, and now having … That’s life changing money. That’s a minimum of 10 grand a month. There aren’t many jobs that you could get that.
James Blatch: That’s great for him. What’s exciting, though, is that he has become a writer because of indie publishing and his readers are reading books that they love …
Mark Dawson: I think he’s been a writer before indie publishing. He’s been able to make money from it precisely because of indie publishing.
James Blatch: He did say he was close to giving up.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, I can believe it.
James Blatch: Then he found Mark Dawson, who was like a caped crusader, came to the rescue.
Mark Dawson: Shaft of light.
James Blatch: Did you take your glasses off as a different … It’s a superhero, you’ll recognize me, have to keep glasses on. Secret identity.
James Blatch: And today’s guest is somebody who’s been hugely successful, both traditional and indie, but as becomes very clear in this interview, his name is Barry Hutchison.
I’m a big fan of Barry’s. He writes perfect books for me, science fiction humor, very Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett inspired books, but he’s somebody who was successful in traditional publishing. I mean, he wrote Ben 10 stories and my kids love the Ben 10 cartoon character, big in the States as well.
Mark Dawson: He’s been writing for some big comics.
James Blatch: Big comics. He ghost wrote for people but he also wrote his own books, but it wasn’t until he started self-publishing that his life changed because he’s now being financially rewarded for all that work and effort and he, understandably, has views on the traditional publishing industry from a writer’s perspective which I think are very interesting.
So we’re going to hear from Barry and then Mark and I will be back after that.
James Blatch: Michael Anderle has gone now and I’m here with Barry Hutchison. Barry, thank you so much indeed for coming onto the podcast.
Barry Hutchison: Not at all.
James Blatch: We’re so excited to have you on the show.
Barry Hutchison: Good.
James Blatch: And we’ve been watching you from afar for a little bit because you’re a man with-
Barry Hutchison: Slightly creepy sounding but …
James Blatch: It is creepy, yeah. We check out your background, you know. I know everything.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Okay. Yeah.
James Blatch: We’re want to talk to you really about your recent career and you’ve transitioned, I think, quite successfully from trad and that world to indie publishing.
Barry Hutchison: Yes.
James Blatch: You’re excited about indie publishing and what it’s done for you.
Barry Hutchison: Very excited about it, yes. Yes, absolutely.
James Blatch: We want to talk about a bit of that but you should introduce yourself so that people understand what you’ve been writing.
Barry Hutchison: Okay. Well, I started off 10 years ago writing children’s books. I started writing a children’s series based on the cartoon series Ben 10, which I know we have discussed a little bit.
James Blatch: Yeah. I should say, my boy, there was a time when he was Ben 10 and every kid in the school had a Ben 10 lunchbox.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. They have lunchboxes and watches and …
James Blatch: You didn’t do that deal that Kenny what’s his name did with Star Wars where you just got 2% of the merchandise.
Barry Hutchison: No, sadly not. Sadly not.
James Blatch: Because that would have been-
Barry Hutchison: I’d be living in a palace made of gold on the moon, if that had been the case. But so I started off ghostwriting that stuff and then wrote my own series for Harper Collins, I ended up writing 12 books for Harper Collins.
James Blatch: And that’s children’s scifi as well or …
Barry Hutchison: That was children’s horror.
The first series, about a boy whose imaginary friend from when he’s four comes back when he’s 12 and tries to murder him in a variety of horrible ways. So I wrote that as kind of for nine to 12-year-olds and then I wrote over a hundred children’s books over the next kind of eight years or so and then I discovered indie.
The reason I discovered indie, actually, was I was asked by a secondary school to go and talk to their students about how they could publish their own work and I had absolutely no idea how they could publish their own work.
As far as I was concerned, I wrote a book, I emailed it to a publisher and a year later, the book arrived and that was it. That was my understanding of the process. So I thought, “I need to investigate this.” And I thought kids are into technology so I will write a book quite quickly and I will self publish it on Kindle.
I had very little money spare and I knew the kids, if they were going to start publishing, they would have no money because teenagers generally don’t, so I thought I’m going to do it and I’m not going to invest any money in it. I’m going to design my own cover, I’m going to self-edit and I’m not going to spend any money on marketing at all.
So I wrote that book in about three weeks, that was the first Space Team book, and I put it out and a few people bought it the first kind of few days. I think it had 12 sales a day and it stayed at 12 sales a day for about a week, at 99 pence. And I thought, “Right. I’ll try putting the price up to £2.99.”
The sales stayed level and even went up a little bit and I thought, “Well, I’m making kind of £10, £15, £20 a day but if I can do that with one week, if I bring out a lot of books, I can potentially make more money.”
James Blatch: So you’re even good at maths as well. Correct.
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely, yeah. With a quick calculation from me, I could make more money by doing it that way.
This is what I thought, I wanted to do that. I knew that I could write lots, I had written over a hundred books for kids. I could write quickly, so I thought I’m going to write a second book, and I wrote a second book in a month and the income doubled in that month and then I wrote the third book a month later and I had done no advertising, no marketing until that point, other than producing new books, so the third book came out and the income doubled again and at that point.
I thought, “Okay, I now have a really solid proof of concept here that I can make much more money doing this than my traditional publishing.”
And what I also discovered was I was having much more fun doing it, because with traditional publishing, you might write a book and give it to an editor and the editor goes, “This is the greatest book that has ever been written. I will take it to a sales and marketing meeting.”
And the sales and marketing team then go, “Could we put a cat in it?” Or, “Can we have a unicorn on the front cover?” And you go, “Well, there isn’t a unicorn in the book.” “Well, yeah, but unicorns are big right now.”
Well, either I compromise the book or I stick to my guns and the book doesn’t get published. So for eight years, I was going, “Okay, let’s put a unicorn in it.” Or the equivalent.
So then not having to jump through those hoops, not having to go through a succession of sales and marketing meetings until they decided if they were going to make an offer or not, being able to write a book, publish it three or four days later and have reviews coming in and people enjoying that book a day or two after that was, creatively, really liberating for me.
James Blatch: So it was a good job you were asked to do that talk.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, absolutely.
James Blatch: Because it was life changing as well.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. I was aware of Kindle and I was aware of what people were doing but I was so caught up in that kind of treading water of traditional publishing and when I need come up with the new concept, I need to get that bought by a publisher, I need to write it and be thinking of what the next thing is.
Because of that, I never had a chance to investigate it but when schools were going, “Come and talk to us about it.” That, for a lot of children’s authors, that becomes a big part of their income, because schools will pay authors to come in and do writing workshop, so I thought, “Well, I could make money from delivering this workshop.” Because no one else is doing it that I’m aware of.”
And then I realized, well, I could make much more money by just doing it for myself.
James Blatch: This was this series, Space Team?
Barry Hutchison: Yes.
James Blatch: Well, I’ve been on a strict diet of very in genre fiction for the last couple of years so I haven’t yet read this but it’s on my list because I was a huge Douglas Adams fan.
Barry Hutchison: Yes, good.
James Blatch: And it speaks very Douglas Adams-y to me. I guess he must have been an influence?
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely. That’s very much an influence. Douglas Adams, Red Dwarf, I grew up obsessed with Red Dwarf. That’s an influence as well. Terry Pratchett’s an influence and all that stuff and … And, yeah, that’s the first book, Book 12 came out earlier this month.
James Blatch: Wow.
Barry Hutchison: So 12 books in the series, there are.
James Blatch: That’s quick.
Barry Hutchison: There’s a three book spin off series that features a character from book five, has his own spin off, and I’ve written the first in a new comedy superhero series as well. 16 books, does that make, in the last two and a half years.
James Blatch: That wouldn’t have been possible under traditional publishers.
Barry Hutchison: No. I have a traditional publishing deal at the moment, I’ve just delivered the third book and basically one book came out in 2017, one came out in 2018 and one came out in 2019, so there’s a year gap between books in that series, and especially if you’re targeting children, if you’re going to write a 12-year-old reads that book …
James Blatch: Well, they’re 14 by the time … Yeah.
Barry Hutchison: When they’re 15, 14/15, they’re no longer interested in that series, so being able to put them out quite quickly has certainly been a benefit to me.
James Blatch: And the time it takes the trad industry to produce a book.
Two year process from manuscript to publication, does it make a demonstrably better book or is there aspects of quality?
Barry Hutchison: No.
James Blatch: No?
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely not, no, because that book is not being worked on that entire time.
One of my books, the first book with Harper Collins, I wrote it in 2007. I wrote it over the course of six months, it went through a few rewrites and then it was done and that book came out in 2010.
During those three years, it sat doing nothing. It wasn’t like it was a fine wine that was maturing in some way.
James Blatch: Being tinkered with every day.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, it just sat there and then came out in 2010. I write quickly and I think the books I’ve written quickly are some of the best books I have ever written. There are books that I have labored over for months and months and months on end and certainly, from my perspective, they’re not any better than those that I have written in three weeks.
James Blatch: And financially, has it scaled up in the way that your calculator predicted?
Barry Hutchison: Yes, it has. For me, it has been literally life changing. As a traditional published author, I knew I could pay my bills the next month and I hoped that something would come up, that I could pay my bills the following month.
I lived like that for eight years, constantly paranoid and constantly having to check email every night in case someone was going, “Could you write this? Can you ghost write this book for us?”
So I’d constantly be worrying, I’d go, “I need to find work.” Through indie, I now know I can pay my bills two years from now, so it’s given me that cushion to be able to go, “Okay, I can take my foot off the gas and I can just enjoy what I’m doing.” and I can enjoy spending time with my kids.
My son’s 16, he’s going to be heading off to university in a couple of years and my daughter’s nine but by going indie, it’s given me that financial cushion that I can say, “Do you know what? We’re taking the summer off and we’re going to go travel. We’re going to just hang out together and have fun.”
James Blatch: Is the traditional industry unfair to authors?
Barry Hutchison: I would say very much so, yeah. I would say, strictly from an earnings point of view. If a £6.99 sells, for example, I get 7.5% of the net price of that book that the bookshop has paid for it. Where if that book’s in a supermarket, that supermarket has paid 75 pence for that copy, so I’m getting 7.5% of that 75 pence.
So people go, “Great, I’ve sold 10,000 copies via Asda.” Or wherever. And then get a royalty statement that’s £200, because it’s been bought in so cheaply and they’ve got a small percentage of that money.
Even if a book sells at £6.99, at best I will get 35 pence, 40 pence for it. A £2.99 book sells on Kindle and I get £2.10 pence or thereabouts, so I can sell far few books and make much more money.
James Blatch: Cover design’s important and editing’s important, and the marketing, but you write the book and it’s got to be worth more than …
I always think it’s got to be worth more than the traditional industry pays to the author, creating the book.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. I think so. When I’m in schools I talk to kids and I say, “Right, I have written every word in this book but a lot of my books are not illustrated. They’ve got a cover and that’s the only illustration.”
And I say, “I’ve written every word in this 350-page book. How much money do you think I’ve earned from it or how much money do you think I get per copy?” And the kids will all say, “£5.” Or, £3.”
So when you say, “About 10 pence.” They are horrified, and rightly so, I think.
James Blatch: It’s good that you’re talking to kids about that aspect of it. You don’t shy away from talking about the financial.
Barry Hutchison: There’s that assumption, they go, “Because you write children’s books, therefore you are J.K. Rowling, therefore you are a billionaire.”
James Blatch: There’s always an exception that proves the rule.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. So if you go, “Actually, well, what do you think?” So then you go, “Okay, so if I’m making 10 pence a copy, how many copies do I need to sell to make an average income, an average yearly income?” And suddenly they’ll do the calculations and they realize you have to sell a lot of books to make any sort of money.
I think the average author earnings in the UK now is something like £4,000, I think.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Barry Hutchison: Tiny. And it seems to be falling year on year. It seems to be that publishers’ income is going up, the publisher’s profits are going up, and authors’ earnings are going down.
James Blatch: Yeah. I’m not sure at what point they’re going to be transmitted, so it may be weeks apart, but we have Michael Anderle, who made a celebrity appearance at the beginning of the interview …
Barry Hutchison: I noticed him.
James Blatch: So it’s interesting, his organization as well, so not everybody’s going to be up for doing the whole self-publishing thing themselves. Even that’s a much, much better option than anything being offered by the trad …
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Anything that gives you a bigger percentage of profits is worth it.
James Blatch: A fair percentage of the profit. Yeah.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Well, that’s it. You’ve done all the work, essentially.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Barry Hutchison: The problem with the big publishing houses in particular… Harper Collins, for example, they have a massive building in the center of London which has to be paid for.
James Blatch: And lots of people working in there who don’t earn revenue.
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely. So they need to justify their salaries so they’re okay, so you’re doing all that, so by justifying your salaries, a lot of the time it is tweaking a new book. They’ll say, “What if we did that? What if we added that?” And I have this marketing idea which they then go, “yeah, but I haven’t got the money for that so we’ll market it this way instead.”
James Blatch: But thanks for having the idea.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. That’s it.
James Blatch: Right.
Barry Hutchison: So they’ll try and contribute stuff but as a result, they’re getting paid from your book, so if you divvy up the cost of your book, half, 50%, goes to the bookshop, because they buy it in at half price, and then you go, okay, so there’s editor, there’s cover designer, there’s distribution, there’s printing, there’s the cost of this massive building in the center of London, there’s the 200 staff that work there, and then, down at the bottom, there’s me, the author, and you’ll get what’s left at the end to go, so it’s not a fair system, sorry. It’s a very unfair system, I think.
James Blatch: It doesn’t feel right, does it?
Barry Hutchison: No.
James Blatch: Okay. Let’s talk about Space Team, then, which I’m quite excited about. Was this the genre that you wanted to write?
Was the Ben 10 writing, the ghost writing, jobbing writer work until you could get to the point where you could write this?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. There was a lot of jobbing writer work. I’ve written over a hundred books for kids, I think about 20 of them have my name on them. The rest were either ghost written from the start or I kind of went, “Can we not put my name on that book?”
I’ve written a real range of stuff, non-fiction and then fiction and comedy and horror and stuff. My love as a reader has always been comedy and science fiction. Those two things. I like things that make me laugh and I like science fiction, so I thought I’m going to mash that together and see what happens and I enjoy writing them.
Especially now, later in the series, when anything bad happens, a friend of mine passed away in October, and I wasn’t due to write another Space Team book but I wanted to go back and hang out with them again.
Back with these friends and I almost feel like I’m just channeling what they do now because I know them so well that in any given situation, I know how they will react to that situation, so I’m always just an observer watching and I just chuck these situations at them and then I observe their reaction to it.
They’ve become friends of mine, which sounds tragic on a number of levels, but they’ve kind of become real people.
James Blatch: To writers and readers both.
Barry Hutchison: Well, this is true. They’ve become real people from my point of view.
James Blatch: Comedy science fiction, we adore the same things but they’re, if I look around, few and far between, really, of the books on the shelves.
How easy was it to market and be successful this?
Barry Hutchison: I was surprised by the demand there was for it, because I haven’t heard of the whole idea of write to market or any of that stuff, and if I had, I may never have written Space Team.
James Blatch: Well, you wouldn’t have done it, yeah.
Barry Hutchison: I wrote something that I wanted to write and I think what’s happened as a result of that is the people that are looking for that.
There’s a really ardent fan base for comedy sci-fi, and when they find something they like, they become ultra passionate about it, so they become the best ambassadors for the series, are the fans. A community has sprung up around it and they will create their own lot of memes and they’ll go, “I’ve got this idea for a t-shirt, can you make that t-shirt?”
So I make Space Team t-shirts or Space Team mugs or whatever. Because maybe there’s not a huge amount of it out there, and some of what is out there is not great, that when they find something they like, they become really passionate about it.
So you might not have the scope of reaching 10 million potential readers, but you might have 500,000 readers who really love what you do.
James Blatch: Dedicated.
Barry Hutchison: And if you can find anything like that number, then you’ve made it. It’s that whole thing of if you can find a thousand who will buy everything you put out, you’re set for life.
James Blatch: Are you going to have your own con one day?
Barry Hutchison: I don’t know. I’ve started getting invited to stuff, because I write comics as well. I’ve written The Beano.
James Blatch: Wow. The Beano’s being rebooted a bit though, isn’t it?
Barry Hutchison: It is, yeah. The Beano’s constantly being rebooted, yeah, but … And if you mention The Beano to anyone outside the UK, they just look at you like …
James Blatch: They have no idea, so The Beano was Dennis the Menace and Gnasher.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. That kind of British staple, it’s that kind of comic that’s been …
James Blatch: Yeah, the naughty schoolboy’s comic, I guess.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. It’s been around for about 75 years or something now.
James Blatch: Wow. Yeah.
Barry Hutchison: If not, it’s been around a long time. And I’ve written some American comics and, as a result of writing one of those, I got asked to write for a TV series in the States, an animated TV series starring Bryan Cranston and Chris Pine, so I did.
I do a few different things and I’ve started to get people asking about coming to cons now.
James Blatch: You’re going to be sat at one of those desks.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, I know, that’s it, just signing.
James Blatch: Photographs and that. Apparently it’s very lucrative.
Barry Hutchison: Signed photographs. So I’m told. I went to one with my son and I can’t remember who it was but we were going to go and see him and he says, “Yeah, the autograph is £35.”
James Blatch: Yeah.
Barry Hutchison: You’re all right. You know, just fake it. It’s enough.
James Blatch: I think I paid £80 for a photograph with Carrie Fisher once, and that was the best £80 I ever spent.
Barry Hutchison: That’s true. There are some people who are worth paying for, I suppose.
James Blatch: Let’s talk about the writing process for Space Team.
Barry Hutchison: Yes.
James Blatch: So you sat there and you had the genesis out. We talked about the influences earlier.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah.
James Blatch: First of all, this is not for children.
Barry Hutchison: Not for children, no. That’s why my children’s books are under Barry Hutchison. The Space Team series, on the ad it says, “Barry J. Hutchison.” So I used the middle initial. It’s that Ian M. Banks thing of going …
James Blatch: Yeah, I like it. Fellow Scot.
Barry Hutchison: It’s under a slightly different name but not much. The writing process for it was there was no planning involved. I had this nugget of an idea and I sat down and wrote it. And then it was finished.
James Blatch: Wow.
Barry Hutchison: That’s basically the whole process.
James Blatch: Thanks for fleshing that out, Barry. That’s great.
Barry Hutchison: There’s a bit at the back of the book, this author note at the back of the book, because the book … The inspiration for the characters came … My mom was really ill. She was dying of cancer at the point, and we were sitting by her bedside every night and myself and my dad took it in turns to sit at her bedside in the hospital, which made for long, sleepless nights.
I remember looking out of the window one night of the hospital, and I live in the Highlands so there’s not a lot of light pollution, and the stars were just incredible. You could see the entire galaxy sort of spread out and I just sat and daydreamed, and I thought about what could potentially be going on out there. The idea for the characters came about one night sitting at the hospital, delirious with lack of sleep.
James Blatch: Right. They all dropped in.
Barry Hutchison: And it kind of came in. And that was a few years before I wrote it. And then when I thought I wanted to write something, that presented itself again in my head and I thought, “That’s what I’m doing.”
The author notes at the back of that first book, I mention that, I talk about the genesis of it and my mom’s illness and the number of people who email me who say, “I’m going through cancer treatment at the moment.” Or, “I’m watching a loved one go through cancer treatment and the books have made me laugh today.” Is incredible.
The single best email I’ve ever had came in November last year and it was … I had a really bad week. My dad’s brother-in-law was really ill, was in the hospital and I was running about doing everything, and this email came in through a woman who said her daughter, her teenage daughter had died in February of that year, and it said, “And today, my family came running through because they heard me laugh out loud.” It said, “And it’s the first time I have laughed in 11 months.”
And that was properly mind-blowing. Prior to that, I thought, “Well, this is really fun. I’m getting paid quite well for it.” But it hadn’t occurred to me that the books you put out there, the effect they have on other people. And it’s not necessarily as major as that but someone that’s just having a really terrible day and they can be taken out of that day for a couple of hours by reading the book, or a couple of minutes, just gives them enough of a breather to go, “Right. I can tackle the world again.”
It’s just things we don’t consider necessarily.
James Blatch: It can mean a huge amount to people and that’s lovely and a testament to your writing.
Barry Hutchison: Well, it was just the right book at the right time, I think, for someone.
James Blatch: And, of course, very similar to Douglas Adam’s experience of lying drunk in a field in Czechoslovakia or somewhere like that …
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Yeah.
James Blatch: Hitchhiker, and he looked up at the stars and thought, “There must be a guide.”
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, that’s it. Absolutely. Yeah.
James Blatch: So, “I wish I had the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” And that just was how he came up with that idea.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Yeah.
James Blatch: And I think that was a few years before he and John Lloyd or whoever it was, sat down and started.
Barry Hutchison: It could have been the radio version for us, wasn’t it?
James Blatch: Yeah, radio. I can’t remember the guy’s name who … He looks a bit like a disheveled version of John Lloyd.
So you sat down, annoyingly for most of us who work very hard when we’re trying to plot work, so you sat down and wrote this almost fully formed?
Barry Hutchison: That was the easiest one. After that, they became more difficult. I spewed it onto the page basically.
The benefit of traditional publishing for eight years, is that I’ve worked with loads of editors and I’m lucky enough to have a pretty solid understanding of what makes a story work, so I know what should happen then, what should happen then, and what should happen then, so I can divide it in my head into acts and I say, “This happens in act one, this happens in act two, this is how it finishes.”
I had that experience and knowledge, so it made the writing process fairly straightforward. It’s quite a simple story. Even though it is comedy, it’s very much a proper science fiction novel as well.
There is a plot, there is a proper high stakes plot, which is obviously quite important, but at its heart, it’s a sitcom, it’s an ongoing sitcom about five idiots in space, basically.
So that first book, I wrote it and I thought, “I don’t need to do any real quality control.” Because it was an experience that would allow me to do the workshops, I wasn’t really invested in it in the sense I thought, “Oh, this has to work. This has to be a success.” I thought, “I’ve done that bit now. Now let’s see how you upload it.”
And it was almost like the book was secondary to that, it was like, “I now need to figure out this process.” And I was making notes about how I could deliver that workshop in schools, you know, how I could talk about it.
Then I checked the sales the next couple of days and I was like, “Oh, people are actually buying it.” And then some reviews started to come in that were really positive, and I thought, “Oh, actually, I’ve almost accidentally created a book.” Because that was just part of the learning process for self publishing, so the book was like a …
James Blatch: You obviously write quite quickly.
Barry Hutchison: I write about 5,000 words a day on average.
James Blatch: 380 pages. That’s good.
Barry Hutchison: My record is 17,000 in a day.
James Blatch: That’s a lot.
Barry Hutchison: For a book that just would not die. I thought, “I’ve got about 5,000 words left, that will do.” And then I was like, “No, actually, I’ve got another chapter to write.” And 17,000 words later, I kind of staggered through to bed, basically, but …
James Blatch: And do you write in Word or Scrivener or …
Barry Hutchison: I write in Word, yeah. Scrivener’s never done it for me, but I know a lot of people swear by Scrivener and I’ve tried both the Mac and the Windows versions of Scrivener and it just doesn’t work for me. I sit down and I just write from the start and I finish at the end and I don’t tend to move things around or any of that stuff.
So Scrivener, there’s a lot going on, whereas Word is just … It’s a white page that I can type on.
James Blatch: Yeah. Can end up taking quite a long time to load when you open up a hundred thousand word manuscript.
So now you say you do plot the books a bit before you start.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, a bit more and it depends on the book. Most of the Space Team books, I have the concept, I know where it ends. What readers like about Space Team is the weird route it takes to get there.
So basically I just let it wander a bit. The spin-off series, Dan Deadman Space Detective, was kind of a noir detective series set in space, basically, and so I had to plot those quite closely because I thought, “Well, okay, I need a mystery, I need to know who done it, and I need to see these clues through it.”
James Blatch: So you need to know what’s happened.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. So I did that on a spreadsheet and I literally go, okay, scene one, this is what happens, and I broke down, and then I grouped those into chapters and I was able to see the plot and I could go, “Okay, that’s a really exciting bit.”
I got really analytical and really kind of geeky and like, “Okay, I’ve made a graph now of excitement levels in the book.”
But the Space Team’s books far outsell those books. But it doesn’t guarantee that that book will be better necessarily.
James Blatch: And because it’s science fiction do you have Universe rules that you create for time travel or whatever is that can’t happen, and you can travel at light speed or whatever?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, rules are very, very loose and there are certain things. So there’s a big organization that’s kind of the galactic government, and everyone has a translation chip which is implanted in their head.
James Blatch: The Babel fish.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, exactly. He actually references that, the character I the first book, he says, “Oh, like a Babel fish.” And no one knows what he’s talking about. But it has a censorship function because part of me was still worried that kids would pick it up and I thought if it’s full of bad language, then that’s setting a bad example for these youngsters.
James Blatch: That’s the child writer in you.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. So there’s a censorship function which changes all the swearing into nonsense words, basically, so it’s like fonk, and shez and bamstard and that’s now become, amongst the Space Team fans, that’s how they swear now in real life.
James Blatch: Right. That’s their language. It’s a bit like in Father Ted, feck and …
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, feck and all that stuff. Yeah. But smeg, Red Dwarf.
Red Dwarf did it. So I kind of did that, so that’s one of the rules, but other than that, anything can happen. There’s multi-verse spanning book where the main character’s called Cal Carver and he meets the Carver Council, which is made up of 30 other Cal Carvers from other alternate realities who have come together to stop this multi-verse threatening event, so there’s time travel, there’s … Basically anything. There’s no real science rules as such.
Someone emailed me to say, “How fast can the ship go?” And my answer was always, “It can go as fast as it needs to go to arrive just in the nick of time.”
James Blatch: Yes.
Barry Hutchison: That’s the speed. That’s its top speed.
I did a talk before at 20Books London last year and someone was saying, “What’s the technology for making the ship go faster than light speed?” And I said, “You do that with the lever.” Push the lever forward and you go at light speed. Pull it back and you slow down. And that’s the level of the science involved.
So some people who like really science-y science fiction are turned off by that. A lot of people who just like a funny adventure book which is set in space, they like that sort of thing.
James Blatch: A really good hot cup of tea, which I think was the essential ingredient of hyper-drive.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Completely. Yeah.
James Blatch: Brilliant. Barry, it’s been great talking to you.
Barry Hutchison: Oh, thank you very much.
James Blatch: What’s next for you? You said you may have come to the end of Space Team.
Barry Hutchison: I definitely haven’t come to the end overall. I’m taking a little bit of a break. I’m starting a new spin-off series, which is set in the Space Team universe, a character who was introduced in book 10, I want to say, is getting his own spin-off.
I’ve started a superhero series called Sidekicks, so the first one is The Sidekicks Initiative and that’s about … Oh, the equivalent of the Justice League are all killed in a horrible attack on their space station, and their long retired sidekicks, who are now in their 40s, are kind of brought out of retirement, reluctantly, to form this superhero team to stop this big threat.
So I’m working on the second book in that series and then I will go back and do another Space Team. I’ve actually got a new book that I’ve written, a young adult science fiction, which I’ve written a few years ago and never done anything with, which I’ve reworked and that’s coming out in April. Those two books and then another Space Team in August, or thereabouts.
James Blatch: And the majority of this is self-published, but you do have a trad contract still?
Barry Hutchison: I have. I’ve just submitted the last trad book I’m contracted to do.
It’s a series for nine to 12-year-olds called Spectre Collectors, about those ghost hunting organizations. I’ve just finished the last one of those, otherwise, my schedule is all indie stuff.
James Blatch: That will be it for trad for you, you think?
Barry Hutchison: Yes. Certainly at the moment. Yeah, I mean, I never say never to anything …
James Blatch: Sure.
Barry Hutchison: But at the moment, my future is indie.
James Blatch: Brilliant. Barry, thank you so much for being a fan and coming onto the show.
Barry Hutchison: No, thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
James Blatch: Love Barry. I really cannot wait. I was saying to you just before we started recording that I am restricting myself reading books in the genre that I’m writing in but I can’t wait to devour Space Team books from Barry. A lovely guy.
You have to understand it when he says that the traditional industry is unfair to writers. It doesn’t pay them enough.
Mark Dawson: No, that’s right. Actually on the Amazon panel this morning, and you may have mentioned this in the interview, he had his books in Asda and … Did he mention that?
James Blatch: Yes, he did.
Mark Dawson: He did, so and made …
James Blatch: He made about 10 pence or something.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, made £200 after they sold 6,000 copies into one of the supermarkets.
James Blatch: Yeah.
Mark Dawson: Which is crazy. That’s how it is. You get these big discounts, you think it’s going to be the start of something special and then you realize that the discount is reducing your royalty, your agent takes some of that, and before you know it, you’ve got barely enough for a slap up meal with Mrs. Hutchison.
James Blatch: But as Barry said, there’s a big building in central London which needs to be paid for. And it’s a win/win because now he’s selling his books, and he’s making the money from it, so it’s life-changing for him, but he’s also selling the books cheaper than the industry would sell them. He’s selling them at 4.99 instead of them being at 8.99, so it’s good for the readers too.
Mark Dawson: Everyone’s a winner, baby. That’s a fact.
For those who are not watching the YouTube show, lots of people wandering past as the fair goes into lunchtime on the final day.
James Blatch: Yeah. And we’re breaking all the-
Mark Dawson: I’m so professional.
James Blatch: We’re breaking all the rules.
Mark Dawson: We are. We’re crazy.
James Blatch: We’re not supposed to have a tripod.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, what are you going to do?
James Blatch: What are you going to do? It’s the last take. This is the last take.
Mark Dawson: Are you going to throw us out?
James Blatch: And then it’s home. So have you enjoyed yourself at LBF?
Mark Dawson: I have. Yeah. It’s been great. I always have fun but it’s really busy. I don’t sit down the whole time, basically, so I do the Amazon panels in the morning, and then there’s a line of people waiting to talk to the authors on the Amazon stand afterward.
I had dinner with the KDP staff on Tuesday night and then I had drinks with Amazon Publishing last night and then the SPF drinks. It’s a long few days so I’m looking forward to going home now.
James Blatch: I don’t think there’s been any sort of major indie world announcements this time around. Kobo are here. Amazon … I mean, this time last year, they were porting over from CreateSpace to KDP Print-on-Demand, that was a big thing.
Darren has hinted, I think he’s spoken to both you and me, Darren Hardy from Amazon. He wants to come back on the podcast, by the way, so we’re going to visit Darren in his new Amazon HQ building in London in the next few weeks and get an interview with him.
What we’ll probably do before that is ask people what they want Amazon to answer, so we’ll get some questions in the bag. But Darren was saying there’s stuff coming down the line, so maybe this time next year we’ll be able to talk about some changes with Amazon.
I’m trying to think what else. PublishDrive are here, now they’ve announced quite an interesting little thing, it’s PublishDrive an aggregator that they are introducing a royalty split ability, so for collaborators who perhaps go 70/30 or 50/50 on a book, the royalty split’s done for you, so you don’t have to put everything into a spreadsheet. I think Michael Anderle might like that because his spreadsheets are phenomenally complicated.
Mark Dawson: Yes. Yeah.
James Blatch: With his collaboration.
Any other sort of industry announcements you’ve picked up while here?
Mark Dawson: Not announcements but I did mention to Darren that we were thinking about doing a live show next year, kind of a Self-publishing Formula conference, and he thinks there’s a good chance we might be able to have it in Amazon HQ.
James Blatch: Wow.
Mark Dawson: Which would be pretty cool. Watch this space. I’m looking at young Tom here, who will probably be involved in working on that.
James Blatch: Come to shot Tom, and turn around and film the camera so people can see you.
Mark Dawson: Young Tom didn’t know he was going to be getting into event planning but that’s …
Tom: Fair enough.
James Blatch: We’re breaking the fourth wall here. We’re doing everything wrong. We’re disruptors. Oh, you can go back now.
Tom: That was still somehow out of shot.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, so we’ll see. It’s still very, very early but they seem like they might be interested so …
James Blatch: Would you come to an SPF live event?
Mark Dawson: Well, I would come.
James Blatch: You’d come?
Mark Dawson: It would be pretty pointless if I didn’t come.
James Blatch: Well, I’ll come. That’s two of us.
Mark Dawson: That’s two. So we think, you know, not expensive, probably covering its costs, so like the 50 Books.
James Blatch: We could do this comedy double act live.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. We probably wouldn’t get … Lots of shaking of heads behind the camera.
James Blatch: We are at that point now where we know each other so well we can finish each other’s … Sandwiches.
Mark Dawson: Sandwiches, yes, that’s right.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. Well, that’s it for another year from the London Book Fair. Our next live in-person event will be in July in New York City at ThrillerFest. You won’t be there for that one, I don’t believe.
Mark Dawson: Not at the moment.
James Blatch: You’re not doing Romance Writers of America either this year, are you?
Mark Dawson: Not this year, no.
James Blatch: Which is a bit of a long haul for people who want to do both of those conferences because they are back to back in New York, so that’s two or three weeks, I think-
Mark Dawson: Three weeks.
James Blatch: Yeah, three weeks in New York in July, which is hard going, but then we’ll be at NINC in St. Pete Beach in Florida in September.
Mark Dawson: I am going to that.
James Blatch: You will be there and-
Mark Dawson: And I am going to Vegas.
James Blatch: Las Vegas in November, which is the big one. I think probably by the time this podcast goes out, that will have opened up for tickets and that’s going to be a huge indie event.
Mark Dawson: So, yes, this episode of the podcast has been sponsored by Alka-Seltzer and Nurofen.
James Blatch: Can I go and lie down? The sun’s gone in. No, the sun’s out again.
Mark Dawson: There’s the sun.
James Blatch: Turn that down a bit. I’m going to go and lie down. I better check my blood alcohol level before I drive home.
Mark Dawson: Don’t drive anywhere.
James Blatch: Don’t drive anywhere. Thank you so much indeed for joining us for this episode of The Self Publishing Show and that only leaves me to say it’s goodbye from him …
Mark Dawson: And it’s goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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