SPS-195: From Blasters to Bones: How to Switch from Sci-Fi to Crime Fiction – with Barry Hutchison
Return guest Barry Hutchison got into self-publishing as an experiment when he was leading a workshop for young writers. Very quickly he saw the light and is now writing successfully in two genres. He shares with James why he made the transition from sci-fi to crime and what it has meant to his bottom line.
- On writing for hire
- Stumbling into trad publishing via a writing competition
- On the specifics of writing for children
- Getting into indie publishing while teaching young people how to publish
- Switching genres from sci-fi to crime
- Learning to enjoy doing research
- Why the traditional publishing model isn’t great for most writers
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
COURSE. The SPF 101 course is open for enrollment until Oct 23, 2019.
Transcript of Interview with Barry Hutchison
Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show.
Barry Hutchison: It’s the same as writing any genre or any age group, is you put your character in a difficult situation and you remove any support for them. So exactly the same for children’s books is your characters just happen to be children, so you need to get the parents out the way so they just don’t fix everything.
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 author James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There’s never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello, yes. It is the Self-Publishing Show with James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: And Mark Dawson.
James Blatch: Are you missing our audience?
Mark Dawson: The live audience? Oh, well, of course, yes. There were some splendid, splendid authors there in Florida there last week. I’m certainly missing the weather.
James Blatch: God, yeah. I’m really missing the weather. But we are going to Vegas next month, so we’ve got that to look forward to.
Mark Dawson: We do.
James Blatch: It was slightly rushed. Though we thought in advanced that we would record a live episode of the podcast, I’d never done it technically before. We’d never done it before. We weren’t quite sure how to go about it, and it was mentioned towards the back of the program. But I think it was good to do it a little bit low-key just so … certainly from my point of view of organizing and producing it, I knew that we could do it and pull it off. But we did. And it was hugely fun.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, it was. And it went well. I listened to it, and I, in fact, watched it last week, and it was very good. Put together nicely. Sound was excellent.
James Blatch: Yeah. Got a new little sound device. And we had beer, which we don’t normally have when we record.
Mark Dawson: That certainly helps.
James Blatch: It helps everything in life. Okay. I’ve got some Patreon supporters to welcome to the podcast. So if you go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow, you can support this podcast and get lots of goodies and access to training, live training as well.
I want to say a very warm welcome to Simon Esteval, to Holly Starkey, to Vicky Tashman, to Angie Green, to The Overcast. Sounds like a member of U2. To Kate Jiggins and Charlie Pimm.
Welcome all of you. Thank you very much indeed for supporting us and being a Patreon supporter of the Self-Publishing Show.
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. Thank you very much. And you managed all those names without butchering any of them, so well done.
James Blatch: I did pretty well. Do you know, two people came up to me at NINC in Florida and said, “You got my name spot on. Don’t you listen to Dawson.”
Mark Dawson: Right. Dan Smith and Peter Jones.
James Blatch: Yeah. One of them was Nala, and I sent the video over today of a testimonial interview she’s done for our 101 course, which brings me onto our 101 course. And she is called Nala. Well, Nahla she pronounces it. When I first saw it, I thought might be an Indian name, Nala, but she pronounces it Nahla. And it’s because her father was Alan, and her brother’s Alan, and they couldn’t tear themselves away from Alan. So she’s Alan backwards. She’s Nala.
Mark Dawson: How do you feel about Alan? Feel good about that?
James Blatch: Alan actually made a proper appearance in the-
Mark Dawson: I know.
James Blatch: If people watched that podcast all the way to the end, they will see a brief appearance of the glorious sight of Alan Partridge. So yes, Nala said that I didn’t butcher her name at all. And her name is Nala Hankor Aisling. Or Aslin.
Mark Dawson: You’re still not sure, are you?
James Blatch: No. That is more difficult, I have to say. I probably did get that bit wrong. But Aslin … Aisling is how you’d pronounce it if it’s the Irish first name, isn’t it, I believe?
Mark Dawson: I’m not going there.
James Blatch: Yeah, see? You just stand on the sidelines and mock.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: But it was great to interview Nala and a bunch of other authors in Vancouver on our way to NINC. Really vibrant part of the world up there and lots of writers doing great things.
We got a great interview with Terri Tatchell, which is in the works. She’s an Oscar-nominated screenwriter. There’s a set of testimonial interviews, people like Lucy Zanpano and Nala, who I’ve just mentioned. And a yo-yo man, J.D. Mackay, I think his name is. He was a fantastic yo-yo guy. So all of that is coming down the line.
Now, I mentioned the 101 course. It is open as we speak at the moment. And also, to coincide with that, we have some training geared around people who are getting started in self-publishing. And on that note, remind me, I’ve got a little update about somebody getting started in self-publishing.
Mark Dawson: Oh my goodness. Okay.
James Blatch: What are we going to be talking about on our webinar next Tuesday night, Mark?
Mark Dawson: We’re going to be talking about reviews. So it’s 10 ways to get reviews. It’s always a difficult question as people are starting out, is how to get reviews when you can’t get sales. You need reviews to get sales. You can’t get one without the other. And then, how do you get reviews if you don’t have sales? It’s very difficult to square the circle.
James Blatch: Sounds like your favorite book, Catch-22.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. It’s not my favorite book.
James Blatch: I know.
Mark Dawson: … a book I quite enjoy.
James Blatch: No, you told me you didn’t like it?
Mark Dawson: It’s all right. I don’t mind it. I think it’s all right.
James Blatch: Okay. You’ve moderated your view.
Mark Dawson: Yossarian. Yeah, so reviews, how to get them ethically. You don’t pay for them, all that kind of stuff. So it’s one of the webinars, it’s usually quite a popular one, so we’re doing it twice.
As we record this, there’s one tomorrow. But there’s also going to be one on the Tuesday following the Friday that this goes out. So Tuesday the … What’s the date today, James? It is the 7th today. So the 14th. So it’s the 15th. So Tuesday the 15th. And you can sign up for that at-
James Blatch: If you go to selfpublishingformula.com/101-webinar.
Mark Dawson: That’s very true. And if you want to learn more about the course, you can go to?
James Blatch: Very easy. Selfpublishingformula.com/101.
Mark Dawson: There we are. Simple. It’s almost as if we planned that.
James Blatch: Yeah. Excuse me. I am going to just shut down my email.
Mark Dawson: So rude.
James Blatch: Because normally when I’m interviewing people in the evening … I’ve got Michael
Anderle tonight to interview, it’s messages from you coming in and I have to say to them, “Dawson wants me to do something.”
Mark Dawson: So speaking of, yes, of first-time writers.
James Blatch: Yes, first-time writers. I got to the end of my revision process yesterday, actually. You were quite right. I hate to say that. But you were quite right. It did take a lot longer than I envisaged it would from when we talked about what would have to happen. I basically went through almost every scene. Anyway, did a lot of rewriting and got to the end of it yesterday, and I’ve sent it out to three carefully selected beta readers who are …
Mark Dawson: Mrs. Blatch.
James Blatch: Mrs. Blatch will read it, I think, at some point.
Mark Dawson: Mr. Blatch Senior.
James Blatch: All in our community, who understand that it’s not been copy-edited yet, so they can look past the bad bits of grammar and typos. I wouldn’t send it to readers at this stage because they’ll just send me a list of typos and that would be a waste of their time, I think.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: So I’m very excited. It’s gone out to them. I won’t name two of them, but one of them is Nathan Van Coops, who’s going to have a look at it for me, because he’s a pilot as well.
Mark Dawson: Yes, he is.
James Blatch: So he’ll catch me out on some of the airspeed…
Mark Dawson: And he’s lovely. If he has any criticism, he’ll deliver it in a friendly and encouraging way.
James Blatch: Carefully selected for that reason.
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: So I’m really excited that I’m now, genuinely, getting much closer to releasing this book.
Mark Dawson: My goodness.
James Blatch: My goodness indeed.
Mark Dawson: We’ll have to change the intro. Actually, no, we won’t change the intro.
James Blatch: No. The intro can stand for a while yet. But what I need to do is I need to do the 101 course.
Mark Dawson: You probably do, yes. You’re getting to the interesting part now. How many people are on your mailing list?
James Blatch: 450.
Mark Dawson: How many of those are authors?
James Blatch: I have no idea.
Mark Dawson: 449.
James Blatch: Yeah, probably.
Mark Dawson: Your also boughts are going to be very interesting, but there’s not much we can do about that.
James Blatch: No.
Mark Dawson: I don’t think. But no, it’s good. Encouraging. I’m looking forward to seeing this hit the virtual shelves.
James Blatch: How do you operate when you spend two or three hours a day writing, as well as doing everything else?
Mark Dawson: With some difficulty. Yes. I am quite tired at the moment, for lots of different reasons. I’m actually taking the afternoon off. I did a bit of writing this morning. Doing this now. And then I’m going to go and see Joker this afternoon. I’m in Salisbury now, so I’m just going to wander down to the theater, get some popcorn and watch that.
James Blatch: Excellent. That will be good. Yeah.
Mark Dawson: And then working this evening. So back on it again. I’m doing a webinar with Mark Lefebvre tonight.
James Blatch: Oh, you are?
Mark Dawson: Yes, I am.
James Blatch: Okay. Good.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. Trying to psyche myself up, get a bit of enthusiasm together for that one. Mark’s lovely though, so-
James Blatch: As I say, I’m interviewing Michael Anderle tonight. And we spoke to Michael at the London Book Fair, but these book fair interviews, we stand and we chat for 10, 15 minutes, but they don’t get the same detail that we do on the podcast. And so I wanted to have a proper chat with Michael, who’s been a huge figure in self-publishing, and talk to him a bit more about the direction that he’s taken personally, and his view of the industry.
And in the same vein, somebody else we met at London Book Fair is Barry Hutchison. I didn’t know Barry before the interview, so it was really interesting to talk to him. But during the interview, it became clear to me that there was definitely a longer interview to do with Barry. And what’s been really interesting about him, and this is somebody who plodded the traditional route, became dispirited at the … I think he worked out, he got about 12 pence per book being sold in a supermarket, he once calculated. He has moved into self-publishing and never looked back.
And he’s very purposefully, and in a business-orientated way, launched a new genre, which is a Scottish-based detective, but a police procedural, and that’s what this interview today is about. It’s about his approach to, as a writer, thinking, “I’m going to do this for the commercial aspect.” He wants to write it, of course. There’s always that overlap. But it’s also going to be decisions made that are going to be profitable for him.
Mark Dawson: Absolutely. No, and he’s also a lovely, lovely guy, with a lovely Scottish accent. Was this recorded before or after his car crash?
James Blatch: This was after the car crash, and we do mention the car crash. So he had an extraordinarily dangerous incident where he-
Mark Dawson: Hit a cow.
James Blatch: … came together with a cow. Yes. Well, it was, to be fair, it was worse for the cow.
Mark Dawson: The cow is now being served in your branch of the local McDonald’s.
James Blatch: Yes.
Mark Dawson: Yeah. He didn’t do so well. But no, his car was a complete wreck. So if you can find picture, it might be worth dropping one in round about now. There we go.
James Blatch: Good point. There you go. Good work. I’ll get that to you afterwards. It magically will appear. Good. Okay. Look, let’s hear from Barry Hutchison.
Barry Hutchison. Welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. Now, you have been on before, but was a brief-ish interview at the London Book Fair, and right there and then I knew that you would be a guest who would return so we can have a bit more time to talk through your amazing career.
You did what everyone did in that period is you traditionally published, and you scraped and bowed and prayed that somebody would very willingly or reluctantly take on your books and publish them for you and give you a tiny percentage in return.
And then you discovered self-publishing, and now you’re really taking it seriously.
You’ve planned a new genre to write in, and as a writer, it feels to me like you’re getting to where you really want to be now. Is that right?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. I would say that pretty much sums it up. I was traditionally published for 10 years. Just a couple of weeks ago, actually, my final traditionally published book came out. Or two books. Two books in two different children’s series. It was the third in a trilogy in each series. And that was two weeks ago. So now I’m indie all the way.
James Blatch: Indie all the way. Sounds good. Sounds like a good T-shirt slogan for you. Okay, well, look, let’s talk a bit about the writing.
You started really in sci-fi. And I am a big Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s fan. So when I talked to you at LBF, one of the first things I did was to download the first Space Team book, and I read that and devoured it very quickly.
Barry Hutchison: Cool.
James Blatch: And enjoyed it. I’m supposed to be reading in my genre, under strict instructions of my editor, so I have to really pretend I wasn’t reading it to her, and then carry on reading thrillers. But I’ve got a long list, because there’s quite a few Space Team books for me to get through. And you did a bit of Ben 10.
I think you did some of the writing for that franchise?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. I did a lot of stuff early on that was, as well as doing my own books for publishers, publishers who thought that my style would fit some brands that they were doing books for, they got in touch. So I did Ben 10.
There was a video game, Skylanders. I did books based on that. I did a book set at the David Beckham football academy, which is not something I’d care to repeat. And I did a lot of comics based on Minecraft, DreamWorks’ Trolls, DC Super Hero Girls.
So as well as doing my own stuff, I’ve done a lot of licensed fiction, or licensed comics for other publishers as well. And Ben 10 was one of the first ones that I did. I wrote 15 Ben 10 books.
James Blatch: Wow.
Barry Hutchison: One after the other, basically.
James Blatch: So that means we probably have more than one Barry Hutchison book in our house, because Ben 10, it was … For a period of time, at least, every boy, at least, had a Ben 10 lunchbox at my child’s school. I don’t know how widely that was experienced. But it was a big thing round here.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, no. I think there was a good couple of years when it was absolutely massive. And it was massive worldwide. So it was books. It was T-shirts and toys. My son had all the toys. And they brought out different variations on the same toy every new series of the cartoon. So it was all very cleverly done.
James Blatch: And how did that pay?
Barry Hutchison: Well, for someone starting out, they paid what seemed at the time to be a reasonable amount of money. I wrote them very quickly. I would write them in a week or so, the Ben 10 books, and you would get a flat fee of I think around £2,000, I want to say. So £2,000 at that time, for a week’s work, for writing something that I kind of enjoyed writing.
My son was a big Ben 10 fan. So I knew it really well, so it was quite quick and easy to write. And that £2,000, but then that was flat fee.
And then when I look back and I see how many of those books sold, had I been on some kind of royalty, then obviously I would’ve made an awful lot more than that £2,000. But at the time, it was a way of getting into writing from my point of view. It was a way of getting in with publishers, which I thought was the only way to do it.
And at the time, it probably was the only way to do it. We’re talking 12 years ago now. So Kindle wasn’t a thing. So it wasn’t as easy to publish your own work.
I’m in two minds about it. I can look back and go, “Okay, at the time, for the amount of work involved, £2,000 for a week’s work is fair enough.” But, had I been on a royalty, it would’ve been different.
James Blatch: And was it a week’s work in a sense that you passed on what you’d written and then they took care of the editing and the finalization?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. It was basically that. They provided the episodes. So the books I started doing, they would take a couple of episodes and we would turn those into … Each one was a seven and a half thousand word story, and there were two per book. So it was a 15,000 word book with two episodes novelized in it.
So all I did was I sat down and watched the episodes, and then I had a script as well, of the episode, and I would just literally translate what was happening on screen, or what was happening in the script, into prose, and that was it. So it was dead easy. There wasn’t a lot of thought involved. I got increasingly annoyed by the sound of the characters’ voices the more episodes that I did.
But, overall, it was a fine experience. Obviously more money would’ve been nice, but for the amount of work involved, I can’t really complain.
James Blatch: And that does sound like a good way of learning the trade. Because somebody with perhaps more experience than you had at that stage has done the arc of story.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, absolutely.
James Blatch: You can also, at the same time as translating it, you can look at how they’ve done that and how they’ve told it.
Because even a Ben 10 episode has to be a structured story, right?
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely, yeah. For that sort of cartoon, they were fairly well-structured and fairly well-written. The people who created it had all come from a comics background, so they really knew what they were doing. It was a great learning experience that I was being paid to do. I can’t really complain.
James Blatch: And then at some point you started writing your own books.
Did you get your publishing contract through that experience, through those contacts?
Barry Hutchison: No, actually. The publisher I wrote those books for, I didn’t even show the first book that I’d written that was all my own work. I kind of lucked into it. I luck into a lot of things in life, really. And with this book that I had picked up, I’d seen in my local newspaper there was an agent was doing a competition, a Scottish children’s literary agent, was doing a meet and greet and a competition.
You could submit a manuscript to them. They would read the first three chapters, and then they’d pick 10 winners. And of those 10 winners, they would then read the full manuscript and they would give them feedback on that manuscript. So that was the prize, was to get feedback on your manuscript.
So I sent it in for the competition. And I think about two months later, I got a phone call from the agency saying, “We’d like to remove you from the competition.” And I assumed that meant it was so bad that they actually didn’t want me anywhere near the … They just wanted me completely removed.
James Blatch: “We don’t even want your words to pollute this environment.”
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. “We don’t even want this in this competition.” But then they said, “We’d like to represent you.” Or, “We’d like to talk to you about representation.” So I said, “Okay.” And went down and had a meeting with them and they decided they were going to represent the book and represent me as an author. And then sent it to Harper Collins Children’s Books.
And then a few months later, Harper Collins Children’s Books came back and said, “We really like this. Could you do five more books and make it a series of six?” And I said, “Yep. No problem.” They said, “Great. Can you give us the next five outlines by 2:00 this afternoon? We have a meeting about it.”
James Blatch: What?
Barry Hutchison: So I had to sit down and try and plan out the next five books in the series.
James Blatch: Considering how slow traditional publishers move, that’s bonkers, right?
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ve found that happens all the time, though. At their end is generally a really slow, glacially-paced. And then when they want you to do something, it’s usually, “Oh yeah, we need it by Friday.” And then you send it on Friday, after staying up all night to finish it, and then you get an out-of-office reply saying, “I’m not back until a week on Monday.” And you tear your hair out. That’s generally how it goes.
But yeah, so they sent it to Harper Collins. Harper Collins said, “Can you do five outlines?” So I quickly wrote five outlines, just one paragraph about what happens in each book. And they then came back and said, “Yes, we’d like to take the six book series.” So it was really easy. We all talk about how difficult it is to get traditionally published.
James Blatch: 100 rejection letters.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Just lucked into it, basically. I’ve had stuff rejected since then.
James Blatch: Sure.
Barry Hutchison: Ideas that I’ve had. But that first series just went swimmingly.
James Blatch: And what was that series?
Barry Hutchison: It was a series called Invisible Fiends. It’s about a boy who, when he’s four, has an imaginary friend. When he’s 12, his imaginary friend comes back and tries to kill him in a variety of horrible ways.
James Blatch: Excellent. Okay.
Barry Hutchison: So it’s a horror series. And it’s quite full-on horror. But it won a few awards and it sold reasonably well. It’s still out there in print. It’s still doing okay.
But I learned a lot working with editors and just shaping each book and the series as a whole, which obviously I’ve built on since then. I wrote over a hundred books for children in total.
James Blatch: Wow.
Barry Hutchison: Some under my name, some under pen-names, some licensed fiction. But about 110, 120, I want to say. And each one’s a learning experience. Even though it’s kids books, there’s the structure of a story is still essentially the same, no matter what age you’re writing for or what genre you’re writing in.
James Blatch: Let’s talk about writing for children, because I think that’s not an area a lot of people have a lot of experience with. And, I know from my time working alongside Mark Dawson and John Dyer as a BBFC examiner that it’s not simply whether you show blood or use strong language. It’s the tone and the type of language you use is very different the younger you go.
And there’s, I would think, quite a difficult art to getting that pitch right, particularly when you’re, in my case, a middle-age man.
Did you find that came naturally to you, or did you have to read a lot of other children’s books to see how that language worked?
Barry Hutchison: It came quite naturally to me. I’ve always been reasonably childish. I have kids myself, who were round about the right age. So when I’d been reading to them, and just talking to them.
But first and foremost, it was about the story for me. And because it was nine to 12, because it was horror, you can actually get away with quite a lot in that age group, that nine to 12 age group. There was no swearing. But, I mean, one of the scenes in the third book has like an elderly woman and the skin on her finger starts to split and this scarecrow who’s been using her as a disguise bursts free. Her eyes fall out and roll … So it’s really graphic stuff.
And it’s just that the main character is a 13-year-old. So that’s all that really makes it a children’s series in that regard. There’s no swearing in it. There’s no sex in it. Otherwise, had the main character been 25, that story could’ve been basically the same, and the language wouldn’t have been all that different either.
James Blatch: I suppose there’s a long tradition, goes all the way back to Enid Blyton and, more modern times, Harry Potter and Stranger Things, of putting children in adult situations, giving children the responsibility. And that seems to be what children enjoy. That’s a slight fantasy, isn’t it, when you’re a child-
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely, yeah.
James Blatch: … being grown-up?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. I mean, all children’s fiction, essentially they say, “Get rid of the parents in chapter one. Find a way to get the parents out of it so the children can’t just get their mom and dad to sort everything out. And then put them in a difficult situation.”
It’s the same as writing any genre or any age group, is you put your character in a difficult situation and you remove any kind of support for them. So exactly the same for children’s books is your characters just happen to be children, so you need to get the parents out of the way so that they just don’t fix everything. And that’s what most children’s fiction involves.
James Blatch: So, to move on slightly to Space Team. I mean, it’s childish, rather than for children, I would say.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Absolutely.
James Blatch: I really enjoyed the first book. It was rollicking good laugh, and it was anarchic but it’s just that kind of slight casualness to Cal, your main character, that I think has a good tradition in comedy. Who’s a lovable, slightly annoying …
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, he’d be infuriating in real life. If you knew him in real life, he would just drive you demented, I think.
James Blatch: Really, really annoying. But you kind of love him as well at the same time. And there’s little moments of genuine-
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. He’s relentlessly optimistic. That was quite important is that obviously it’s comedy. And the further you go through the series, the more you peel back the layers and you find out maybe why he’s this annoying, and that a lot of it is that he’s putting it on on purpose to mask a lot of pain that’s going on in there.
So the first book it’s just comedy space adventure. I even hesitate to call it science fiction, because there’s no science involved in it really. It’s comedy space fantasy really.
But the further you go in the series, the more you discover about all the characters and their backgrounds that gives them, I hope, another depth beyond just, “These are some funny people doing funny things.”
But it’s still basically a sitcom. It’s currently a 12-part sitcom in space.
James Blatch: I can see that. The set-up beginning is this team who end up on this quest together, rather thrown together, and argumentative. And Cal, who they think is someone else, is their captain, who’s the human, the earthling. Sort of a Guardians of the Galaxy vibe to it, I would say.
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely. Guardians of the Galaxy, Red Dwarf, all these things were an inspiration for it. I’m not going to hide the fact that these were an inspiration. I loved Red Dwarf growing up. I think a lot of the humor in Space Team has some nods to Red Dwarf, without ever ripping off any of the jokes directly.
And, of course, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, that’s in there somewhere. And everything from The A-Team, there’s A-Team references come in. It’s an amalgamation of all these different things that I really enjoyed, and I’ve turned it into this series.
James Blatch: And did you write it because this is something that you wanted to write, or did you think …
Comedic science fiction, I’m not sure how easy it is to sell it commercially?
Barry Hutchison: I had no thoughts about the commercial side of it at all. The actual reason I got into doing it was that a secondary school in Scotland, had asked me to go in and talk about how kids could publish their own work. And I had no idea how kids could publish their own work. I mean, as far as I was concerned, you typed it and you emailed it to London, and six months to two years later, a book appeared in the post, and that was my entire understanding of the publishing process.
So I thought, “Well, okay, I can go in and do these workshops,” because, being a children’s author pays quite poorly. So a lot of children authors make their money by visiting schools and talking in schools. The Scottish Book Trust in particular, they pay authors to go in and talk in schools, talk in libraries and talk at festivals.
So I thought, if I could do this workshop where I’m teaching secondary school students to publish their own work, then that’s something else that might make me some money. So I’d had this idea for Space Team knocking about for a while, and I thought, “Well, I’ll write that and I’ll test it.”
It’s nice and quick to write. It’s only 65,000 words it came out at. It took me three weeks. I thought, “I’ll write that. I will go through the process of self-publishing on Kindle, and then I will know that I’m talking about when I come to deliver these workshops.” So I wasn’t even really publishing a book. I was practicing for a workshop I planned to deliver.
And then the first book, or the only book at that point, started selling reasonably well. It wasn’t anything amazing, but I think it sold between 12 and 20 copies a day at 99 pence, 99 cents. And then I moved it up to 2.99, expecting it then to die a death, and sales actually went up. So, at that point, I was making 30, £40 a day, thereabouts, and I thought, “Okay, if I can do that with one book, if I put out a couple of other books, then potentially it will do better. They’ll sell as well and I’ll have 100, £150 coming in a day,” which I thought would be amazing.
But then once I put book two and book three out, the sales increased exponentially. Rather than just adding on, it became a multiplication factor. By the time book three was out, I was making more in a day from Space Team than I was making in six months from traditional publishing royalties.
And that was very much the point when I thought, “Okay, if that’s three books, then if I have six books, then what’s going to happen? If I have 12 books, what’s going to happen?”
And so then I started really investing my time into indie, and I started reinvesting some of the money. Because I had no money to spend on Space Team to start with. So it wasn’t until book three came out that I started advertising and using Facebook and using EMS ads a little bit later on.
But, yeah, that’s when I started investing my indie career. I realized then, “This has the potential to be much bigger than the traditional stuff.”
James Blatch: And I think that’s the point at which we spoke at London Book Fair when you had thought you wanted to do a different genre.
How did you cast about to decide what you were going to do next?
Barry Hutchison: Well, that was more of a business decision. Kind of a business decision.
Sci-fi is a huge market. Comedy sci-fi is not so big, and it’s quite a niche, limited market. But of which I’ve been doing quite well in. But I think I’ve exhausted all the new comedy sci-fi readers on Amazon.
So I was looking around to see what else was popular. I thought, “I could do serious science fiction,” but I’ve never really been good at writing serious stuff, or … I don’t want to use the word “dry”, because that sounds like I’m criticizing. But yeah, that kind of serious, drier science fiction has never appealed to me. I like my science fiction to be fantasy adventure stuff.
So I ruled that out. I had an idea for a crime novel, which was based on something that actually happened to me a few years ago. And I thought, “Well, if I did that …” Crime’s a big market, and I’d just spoken, doing a panel with LJ Ross at the time.
LJ Ross was doing really, really well. Obviously, Louise, she was nailing it in crime fiction. And I thought, “I wonder if I try writing this crime novel I’ve got at the back of my head and just see what happens there.”
So it was a business thing. I knew crime was a massive, a massive genre. And I had this idea. I happened to have this idea for a crime novel. So I thought, “I’ll give it a go.”
James Blatch: Did you read crime novels?
Barry Hutchison: No. I’ve never really been interested in reading crime novels. I read a few before I started writing A Litter of Bones by J.D. Kirk, the first book in that series. So I read a few then. And I enjoyed them. It’s still not a genre that really calls to me particularly, but I thought I’d better have at least some understanding of how they work.
But as I read it, I realized that they work much the same way as any other genre. The actual story structure is always pretty much the same. It’s just the details of each genre’s different. So I had the basis of a story, and I just went from there, really.
But even the name J.D. Kirk was very much, I looked at what was selling well on Amazon. So Louise, LJ Ross, and MA Comley. And I thought, “Okay. A short second name and two first initials, that seems to do well.”
I knew I was going to set the book in Scotland. So Kirk was quite a good Scottish name, Kirk meaning church in Scotland. And then I took the initials. I was going to be J.T. Kirk, but I thought…
James Blatch: Yeah, I was going to say. That must have fed into it somehow.
Barry Hutchison: James C. Kirk, I thought, “Yeah.” I thought, “I’m not going to get away with that.” So I just tweaked it and became J.D. Kirk. So, I don’t know what the J.D. stands for, if I’m honest. No idea.
James Blatch: No.
Barry Hutchison: John Doe. John Doe Kirk. I don’t know.
James Blatch: Well, when you can reveal that to your adoring audience at some point in the future, you can make up for it.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Once I’ve figured it out.
James Blatch: Morse’s middle name wasn’t … or his first name, actually. Okay, so yeah. Well, I thought that … And I think you did say you were taking a more … “clinical” sounds like the wrong word, but a more business-like decision that you’re a writer and you want to make money.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Absolutely. But I think I could’ve made other clinical decisions that wouldn’t have worked because I didn’t have a draw towards them. I could’ve sat down and went, “Okay, I’m going to do romance.”
Romance is obviously the biggest genre on Kindle. “I’m going to find a niche in romance and I’m going to write that.” But the idea of that does not appeal to me in the slightest. I don’t think I would be able to do it well.
Whereas the crime fiction, I had this idea for a story anyway that I really wanted to write at some point. So it was that kind of crossover between what was a sensible business decision and what did I have a creative urge for?
And I think if I’d just gone with one or the other, then it would’ve failed. If I’d just gone purely business decision, or purely where the heart leads you, I think it would’ve failed. So I think finding that crossover point was quite important.
James Blatch: And that’s a great exercise to go through, I think, for people who are looking at genres. So what you want to write, what sells, and see where that sweet spot it.
Barry Hutchison: Where’s that Venn diagram bit, and what’s the bit in the middle?
James Blatch: In terms of the writing process, first of all, how did you approach your Space Team books, for instance?
Did you plot them out in advance, or did you sit down and start writing them?
Barry Hutchison: No. Space Team, I generally have a vague idea of where it’s going to end up, and then I just sit down and I write. And that is the joy of writing Space Team for me.
James Blatch: And you can make stuff up.
Barry Hutchison: Exactly. And I can off on a tangent, and I’m constantly surprised by what happens in Space Team, which is an amazing feeling. It makes it a really fun series to write, is that I can sit down and have no idea what’s going to happen in the next three hours, or the next 5,000 words, whatever it may be.
The characters have taken on a life of their own, and they lead me off on these adventures, and I just write about it afterwards. So yeah, Space Team is very much an organic thing.
I’ve tried plotting some parts out and it never works, so I just see where they take me.
With the crime fiction, because it’s like a whodunit, I had to sit down and … Well, police procedural, but there’s that whodunit element. So I had to know whodunit, and I had to know how to plant the seeds that would lead people off down to red herrings and down dark alleys and all that stuff.
So the crime fiction was much more tightly plotted than Space Team, which wasn’t plotted at all.
James Blatch: You obviously enjoy the experience of writing the Space Team books.
Did you get the same enjoyment out of writing it when it was more tightly plotted?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. It was different. I mean, starting a new series when you’ve been writing about these characters, because, as I say, there’s 12 Space Team books, there’s a spinoff series about other characters who are in the Space Team universe.
I did another novel called The Sidekicks Initiative, which is basically Space Team with superheroes. That’s a whole different universe that’s set in, but it’s much the same in the sense that it’s a team and it’s comedy and the misadventures that they face.
So going to something which was much more grounded in reality was quite difficult, because I’d never researched anything I’ve done in my life. All my books, all those hundred-odd books, apart from the ones where I had to base it on an existing license, everything has just been made up. There’s been nothing that I’ve had to research or find out about, or places I’ve had to go and see or any of that stuff.
But this being one set in the real world, and two, involving police procedure, I actually had to do some research for the first time in my writing career, which really came as a shock. I had to go and find stuff out.
I actually found I quite enjoyed that process as well, and I spoke to a few police officers and I went to different locations and took photographs and all that stuff. And I found that quite an enjoyable experience, which I didn’t expect.
I’ve always resisted having to do research, but I actually found the research was quite fun. And it led to lots of other story opportunities.
Now, as I researched, different plot ideas occurred to me and by the time I’d researched the first book, I had ideas for book two and three as a result of that research. So that was really useful. The sitting down, plotting it bit, I didn’t particularly enjoy the actual plotting part.
I’m not a plotter by nature, and never really have been. I’d have the ending and I knew whodunit, and then I’d plot like five or six chapters and go, “That’s enough. I can just start writing.”
And then I’d have to backtrack a bit because I hadn’t set things up properly. So, for books two and three, I’d plotted them fully in advance before I started writing. Book one, I kind of partly plotted and partly made up as I went along. But it definitely helps having plotted them out. It definitely makes it easier come the writing stage.
James Blatch: How comprehensive are the plots? How many words do you use to describe it?
Barry Hutchison: Well, I don’t know, because I use notebooks. I longhand the plotting part. I have a notebook and I scribble stuff and I draw little diagrams. And then I’ll sit down and probably go over five or six pages, will plot it out in a roughly chapter-by-chapter basis. So, “Chapter one, this happened. Chapter two …” And that is fairly flexible.
Sometimes chapter one will run into chapter two, or sometimes what I think is one chapter will actually be three chapters. But the beats of the story are all there written longhand over five or six A4 pages.
James Blatch: You should tell us a bit about this first story, without, obviously, giving away whodunit.
You said it was something that happened to you?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Kind of. Basically, about four years ago now, three or four years ago, I was in a place called Leanachan Forest, which is about 10 miles from where I live. Popular dog-walking location. I was there with my daughter. We took our dog, our golden retriever, and there’s a stretch where you can literally see a mile in both directions. Just this big track. On the right is a big forest. On the left used to be a big forest that’s all been cut down, and you can see across the hills. It’s a lovely walking spot.
So the dog one day ran into the trees, and it would not come back. We were shouting. We were shouting. The dog would not return. My daughter, who was seven, started to get really worried, thinking the dog had gone missing, so I told her to wait there while I went in and found the dog.
So I went in. I was gone for about 90 seconds before the dog came running up to me. When I came back, my daughter was gone, and I had this icy cold moment of terror when I thought, “I can see a mile in both directions. She’s not here. Therefore, someone has taken her.” And I had no phone signal and I was just in a just seconds of panic before she popped up from behind a bush, laughing her head off, and she’d just decided to hide on me.
So driving home, we finished the walk, bundled the dog in the car and driving home, and as I was driving home I thought, “But what if someone had taken her? What would I have done? What would have happened next?” And by the time I had got home, I’d had this vague idea for a detective novel plotted out in my head. Very vaguely, loosely plotted.
And that’s what happens in chapter one of A Litter of Bones. There is a man walking his dog with his son, and the son goes missing. The son gets taken while the dad’s looking for the dog in the trees. And it ties into an old case that this detective down in Glasgow has dealt with in the past. There was a series of child abductions and murders, and the person responsible has been locked up for the last 10 years. But there are so many similarities between this abduction and those abductions that he gets brought in to lead the case.
And over the course of the book, he starts to doubt whether he has arrested the right man for these previous crimes. And I won’t tell you any more than that.
James Blatch: We should say, for people wondering where you are, you are in the Highlands of Scotland.
Barry Hutchison: I am indeed, yes. I’m up in Fort William, right at the foot of Ben Nevis. So the first book is based around Fort William. Book two is based up near Loch Ness, which is about 50 miles from where I am. 45, 50 miles. And then the third book is based in Inverness itself, which is the city at the other end of Loch Ness. So about 65 miles from here. So they’re all Highland-based, all featuring the same lead character.
James Blatch: A beautiful part of the world, I have to say.
And very sort of LJ Ross in that inspiration that she uses the landscape and localities as very much a feature of her books?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. I think when you’re looking at a genre as big as crime, I think trying to go and trying to appeal to all crime readers, you’re not going to get anywhere. It’s too big an ask. So if you can focus on one element of that, LJ Ross has done obviously that kind of northeast area, like you say. And then she has an element of romance in it as well. So she’s created her own thing there, which is great, and she’s doing really well as a result.
This is set, like I say, around the Highlands. There’s not really any romance in it particularly, but a lot of people locally are reading them because they’re based in an area they know. And a lot of people love Scotland. A lot of people internationally love Scotland, have ancestors who come from Scotland.
So it seems to be appealing to people that like murder and Scottish things, which is nice. There seems to be a big crossover between those two groups.
James Blatch: Another Venn diagram. All right.
How’s it going with sales?
Barry Hutchison: Fantastically well. At the moment, book one is number 19 in the Amazon UK chart. Book one, two and three are number one, two and three in the Scottish crime charts on Amazon. Book one quickly began to outsell everything else I’ve ever written combined.
James Blatch: Wow.
Barry Hutchison: So I had for book three, I had about six and a half thousand, seven thousand pre-orders, I think. So yeah. Going fantastically.
And I’m actually getting, for the first time ever, I took my wife to the dentist the other day and then when I came out, one of the dental nurses came running out after me and asked me to sign the book. Because they know locally that I am J.D. Kirk. So she came running out of the dentist, and I was standing in the dentist carpark, signing her book.
It’s gone brilliantly. I’ve been approached by a TV production company who are interested in it. It couldn’t be going better at this stage. And I have a BookBub this next time week, on the first book, which should be amazing. So I’m hoping to crack top 10 on Amazon UK with the BookBub.
James Blatch: That’d be amazing. And maybe in the States as well. So let’s talk about marketing, then. You mentioned BookBub then.
What was your marketing strategy for this series?
Barry Hutchison: I have only targeted the UK. Scottish crime fiction, although it’s doing well … I mean, it was number one in Amazon Australia, completely off its own back. I don’t quite know how that happened. I don’t think you need to sell many copies to be number one in Amazon Australia, though. So it wasn’t that impressive. But it was still an Amazon number one bestseller, and I am claiming that.
James Blatch: Good.
Barry Hutchison: US, Canada, organically I think in the US, it’s sitting about a thousand overall in the store. I’ve wanted to focus my marketing efforts on the UK.
So I have been using Facebook advertising, and I’ve been using AMS ads, and I just started dabbling with BookBub advertising at the moment.
The series is exclusive to Amazon, so I was really lucky to get a BookBub out. I was very surprised that I got a BookBub on it, because it’s in Kindle Unlimited and it’s in KDP Select, so I was very surprised, but delighted, obviously.
Actually, I had a car accident a couple of weeks that I mentioned before. We hit a cow coming back from Glasgow. And I got the email from BookBub as we were standing at the side of the road after this car accident. I was thinking, “Life is terrible.” The car written off. Dead cow a couple of hundred yards away, and myself and my son standing in the pouring rain.
And I got the BookBub email saying, “You have been selected for a BookBub,” so that really brightened the evening up actually. It was like a silver lining to an otherwise pretty terrible evening.
James Blatch: For you, not your son.
Barry Hutchison: He didn’t care, no.
James Blatch: Because it’s like, “Well, how is that good news for me?”
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Absolutely. He didn’t quite get my excitement. Nor did the police, when I told them.
James Blatch: You were telling them as well? We should say, it was a rather serious road accident. I think it’s shaken you up a little bit.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah, yeah.
James Blatch: So wish you speedy recovery from that.
Barry Hutchison: It was kind of miraculous that we escaped relatively unscathed. We turned a corner and there was a cow standing in the middle of the road. It was dark, and the cow was black, so all I saw was feet. The light hit the feet and I thought, “Oh.” And then, impact.
And somehow we walked away unhurt. I’d hurt my wrist when I was holding the wheel. But otherwise … My son had a bruise the size of like a five pence piece on his knee. But otherwise intact.
And when I look at the photographs of the car, I don’t quite understand how we escaped intact, or how, after hitting the cow … We couldn’t see anything. So we hit a cow, then we hit a road sign, and the car actually stopped in a lay-by parking space at the side of the road, just perfectly off the road, out of the way. So, yeah. We were really, really lucky that we escaped it.
James Blatch: Well, if you follow Barry on social media, you can see pictures of the car, and it’s … Yes. A nasty experience.
But it also sounds like something that could go into a book at some point?
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s already in the plan for book four.
James Blatch: Oh, it is? Okay.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. I’ve already been and plotted it in book four. And the two policemen who came out to help us, there was a point when I was on the phone to the insurance company outside. There was no signal in the car, so I had to go outside, and my son was telling them about the crime fiction. So they basically petitioned for parts in the next book. So they’re insisted they’re going to be in book four, so I’m writing them in.
James Blatch: Fair enough. Good. Well, it’s an amazing story, and it’s not an untypical story for writers who were there before the whole digital thing took place, and afterwards. Those people have embraced it. It’s a democratizing movement.
And you used some pretty strong words, I think, when we spoke at LBF when you look back at how the traditional model doesn’t really benefit authors.
Barry Hutchison: I would absolutely say that. It benefits some authors. There are some authors who will get a six figure advance, and then they’ll go and write their book. Or someone else will write their book for them, as is often the case, and they will put their name on the front, if they’re a celebrity.
But yeah, they’ll get big deals and they’ll do well out of it. For the rest of us, mid-list and down, it’s not a fair model, really. If I sell a 6.99 book through a traditional publisher, I will get, at best, about 15 pence of that money. If I sell a 2.99 book on Kindle, I’ll get £2.10. So, from that point of view, there’s no competition.
But what I’ve enjoyed most about going indie is I feel creatively recharged. I spent 10 years trying to appease publishers and trying to come up with ideas that I thought publishers would like. And then changing those ideas until the publisher agreed to publish them and give me a small amount of money.
And I’ve worked with some really good publishers, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to say all publishers are terrible. Some of the publishers I’ve worked with have been amazing. I just think it’s the model that has the problem.
Because now, as I say, I get to write the books that I want to write. I get instant feedback from readers. I don’t have to wait two years for the book to come out. I can put it out three days after finishing it if I want. And I get instant feedback from readers.
Obviously there’s marketing involved, there’s advertising involved. But as a traditional author, you’re expected to do that anyway. But now I have control over it. I can set the price of the book, which I can’t do if a publisher’s put it out. And I can instantly see if my marketing efforts are having any impact.
If a traditional publisher puts a book of mine out, they set the price. If I do advertising, I will find out eight months later how that book has sold. And I can’t correlate those sales with anything I’ve done. I just have to go, “Okay, well, maybe it had an effect.”
Whereas marketing as an indie, I can immediately go, “Okay, I spent that much more on advertising yesterday. I’ve targeted these groups of people, and I’ve sold these many books as a result of that.” And if I stop that marketing and I see a decline, I go, “Okay, I can now go, ‘That definitely sells books.'” Or, “This thing I’m doing doesn’t sell books, because I’ve seen no increase in sales.”
So the ability it gives you to take charge of your own career … Because nobody cares about your books as much as you do. No editor in the world, no publisher, no marketing team, none of them care about your books as much as you do. The only people that care about your books as much as you do are your readers and your fans.
So if you can cut out that bit in the middle, about those people who aren’t as invested as the people at either side, then all the better, as far as I’m concerned.
James Blatch: Yeah. And you say the system works for people who get six figure advances. But if Macmillan came up to you, or any of the other … Other publishers are available. And said, “Here’s a £150,000 for a new crime series from J.D. Kirk, £50,000 a book over the next three years, and then 15%,” what would you say? You’d say no, wouldn’t you?
Barry Hutchison: I would say no, yeah. Because, again, at the moment, I get to write the books that I write, or that I want to write. And financially, yeah, I couldn’t justify it. If they came and offered me a million, I might do it and write it off and go, “Okay. I’m not invested in that series.” But yeah. Financially, for that sort of figures, I couldn’t justify it, no.
James Blatch: Captain Kirk doesn’t get out of bed for 150,000.
Barry Hutchison: Exactly, yeah.
James Blatch: The author is J.D. Kirk?
Barry Hutchison: The author’s J.D. Kirk.
James Blatch: You can’t make him Captain Kirk.
Barry Hutchison: No, he’s DCI Jack Logan who is the detective.
James Blatch: Logan’s Run, little reference, but I don’t know.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah.
James Blatch: Okay.
Barry Hutchison: Wolverine was actually the thinking. It was Wolverine from the X-Men.
James Blatch: There you go. So obviously you’re writing book four now.
Do your plans extend beyond this series?
Barry Hutchison: I’ve got plans for up to book six in this series. The seeds of book six are actually sown in book one, and I knew before I started book one, I knew what book six was going to be. So I have that planned out very loosely, and then I plan each book individually as I do it. But the overall story arc is planned out to book six.
I have promised Space Team fans that I’m going to write another Space Team as well, so I’m juggling another Space Team in there somewhere, too. So yeah. So that’s all I have planned at the moment is another Space Team, and then the next three books in the DCI Logan series. And then we’ll see what happens.
I fully expect to do more crime writing. I have an idea. I might continue this series up to book 12, or I might go in a different direction and try something else, but still within the same crime genre.
James Blatch: It’s a bit like that other famous Scottish author, Iain Banks, Iain M. Banks, who had his science fiction series that he went and he obviously loved writing, and his more sort of literary fiction that are … Although I think I definitely read an interview once, he said, “People always assume that I write the science fiction for the money, and the literary books for the kudos.” He said, “It’s the other way round. The literary books are the ones that made all my money, and I love writing the science fiction.”
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely. He loved science fiction. Actually, Iain Banks was instrumental to me becoming an author. I’d wanted to be an author since I was nine, and I had an English teacher in high school who told me not to be so ridiculous, that it was never going to happen, and to focus on maybe go and be an English teacher instead. I think he was maybe going over some old trauma of his own.
James Blatch: Yes.
Barry Hutchison: But Iain Banks came to my school when I was about 17.
James Blatch: Wow.
Barry Hutchison: And I’d been really disheartened by this English teacher, because he repeatedly shot me down saying, “Forget this.” Iain Banks came and did a talk to my class, and we had a chance to go and speak to him afterwards. I told Iain what this English teacher had said, and he used quite a lot of creative, colorful language about the teacher and told me to go and do it.
So fast-forward about 20 years … No. Not quite 20 years. About 15 years. And I found myself at a book festival that I’d just done a talk at, and I was put at the signing table next to Iain, next to Iain Banks.
James Blatch: Wow.
Barry Hutchison: So we were both sitting, signing books together, and I told him about this, when I’d spoken to him in the school. He remembered going to the school. So I said, “Thanks very much. You’ve helped put me on this path.” And then, to his eternal credit, a little bit later, he came up and caught me and he bought a copy of the book and he said, “Can you sign that for me?” And it was like, “This is amazing.”
James Blatch: Wow. Wow.
Barry Hutchison: An absolute gentleman, and just such a loss.
James Blatch: Terrible.
Barry Hutchison: He was an amazing author and just such a nice guy. Iain Banks put me on the road to becoming an author.
Interesting, another little side-story to that, a couple of years after that, I was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and I was doing an event there and the English teacher who’d told me that I would never be an author came wandering into the festival venue. And I made an immediate beeline to him and said, “Hello. Do you remember me?” And he said, “Oh yeah, what are you doing here?” And I said, “I’m talking about my book series.” And his face fell, and he said, “Oh. Oh, well, I might come and listen.” And I said, “You can’t. It’s sold out.” And then walked away.
It hadn’t sold out, but I was damned if I was telling him that. So yeah. Life doesn’t give you those moments very often. But it gave me that one. So yeah, that was good.
James Blatch: In the same way that that one teacher can be the massive inspiration, you could also get that one teacher who just squashes it and damps it down.
Barry Hutchison: Absolutely. And I had a couple of teachers who were really, really inspiring. But he had chipped away at that. I was in that 14, 15, 16 year old, really a bit self-conscious, not quite sure of yourself, and he had chipped away at my confidence in terms of writing. And then Iain Banks said … as I say, he’d used some colorful language and told me to just go out and do it, and I did.
James Blatch: Good. Well, fantastic story about Iain Banks. To my shame, I’ve never read any of his big literary books like The Wasp Factory, his most famous, and so on. But I’ve devoured almost every one of his Culture series science fiction books.
Barry Hutchison: Amazing books.
James Blatch: He is the most brilliant writer. Brilliant, brilliant writer, yeah. A sad loss.
Barry Hutchison: You should read his other stuff as well. Read Wasp Factory and Crow Road are great, great. Really good Scottish fiction.
James Blatch: Definitely. Definitely on the list. And yeah, very sad. He was quite young when he passed away, maybe early 60s or something like that?
Barry Hutchison: Yeah.
James Blatch: Far too early. Right. We have been chatting for 50 minutes. Barry-
Barry Hutchison: Good grief.
James Blatch: … I knew it’d be brilliant talking to you. It’s gone really quickly. What I wanted to get out of this was the process of switching genre and going about as a writer, choosing something that’s going to pay, effectively, is going to make your writing worthwhile and so on. And that’s, I think, what you’ve explained very clearly to us.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Space Team did pay in the sense that I managed to find, I think, pretty much everyone in that niche, in that comedy sci-fi niche.
James Blatch: 100% conversion rate.
Barry Hutchison: Yeah. Because there wasn’t a lot of comedy science fiction available at that point. There was obviously Douglas Adams, going way back, Hitchhiker’s Guide. But there had been a bit of a drought in terms of comedy science fiction, and Space Team came along and filled that gap. So Space Team did well.
I spent 10 years never knowing if I could pay my bills in two months’ time, as a traditionally published author. And then Space Team came along and we’ve bought a house with Space Team’s money. So Space Team did well, but it’s been dwarfed by the crime fiction, that bigger genre. Yeah, it’s just been dwarfed by that at the moment.
James Blatch: Well, congratulations, Barry. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy. Really thrilled for you.
Barry Hutchison: Thank you very much.
James Blatch: It’s going to be more and more, I’m sure. And I think as we speak now, we’re recording this in September ’19, but I know that you are signed up for SPF Live in London in March-
Barry Hutchison: I am, absolutely. Cannot wait.
James Blatch: 2020. So we’re going to get you down there and-
Barry Hutchison: Really looking forward to that.
James Blatch: I know you’ve signed up just to come along as a punter, but you will probably be roped into doing something for us at that point. I know people will want to hear from you.
Barry Hutchison: Always happy to talk.
James Blatch: Superb. Thank you, Barry.
Barry Hutchison: Excellent. Thank you.
James Blatch: There you go. That lovely Scottish lilt. Very nice guy, and he and I are big Douglas Adams fans, and I really enjoyed reading his first Space Team book.
Now, I didn’t mention it in there, because I wanted to check with him first, because he wrote a very nice little essay at the back of his first Space Team book about his mother dying of cancer and coming up with the story, and I should probably have mentioned it in the interview. But at the time, I think I wasn’t sure … I’d normally check with somebody first about that kind of personal detail.
But it’s worth reading that book to see how these ideas come to you, and a very personal way that he’s written a relatively anarchic science fiction. Even more anarchic, I would say, than Douglas Adams, but very funny. I’m looking forward to getting through the rest of his Space Team books. That’s my level.
Mark Dawson: Pretty much. Yeah. My level at the moment is six year old … Pirates Love Underpants I read last night.
James Blatch: Pirates Love Underpants?
Mark Dawson: A thrilling story with a big twist at the end. Samuel enjoyed that very much. So that’s my level at the moment.
James Blatch: Good. Okay. Well, look, a reminder that you can sign on for a webinar, how to get your first, or next 10, reviews, with Mark Dawson, next Tuesday night. So that’s Tuesday the 15th of October. If you go to selfpublishingformula.com/101-webinar, that will take you to the sign-up page for that.
And if you want to check out the 101 course, which is the platform building course that every self-publishing author shouldn’t be without. Did I say that correctly?
Mark Dawson: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Blatch: It helps you set up your platform for a commercial future for your writing. And if you want to learn more about that, if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/101.
Mark Dawson: Where did you go last week, James?
James Blatch: Where did I go last week? So last week, where did I go last week? Where did I go last week?
Mark Dawson: Pugwash. There’s a clue. Operation Pugwash.
James Blatch: Ah, yes. Last week, I went to the ship that we’re going to book for the evening do for SPS Live next year. And it’s marvelous. It is a Mississippi steamer. It’s not really a Mississippi steamer. But people taking us round it didn’t know anything about its history, but I was looking at a few plaques here and there and pretty certain it was built somewhere in Europe as a replica. But nonetheless, it is amazing, and it’s going to be a hugely fun evening.
Mark Dawson: It is, yes. 600 people is it? 600 people on the boat, something like that?
James Blatch: It takes 620, yeah, and we will fill it without question.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: And we have a jazz band ready, from our own community. Buster Vertua’s stepped forward and said he’s going to provide the jazz music. So yeah, details of that. And if there are any tickets after we’ve gone through everybody who’s going to the event, if there are any tickets left, we’ll offer them out to people who aren’t registered for the event.
I’m not sure we’ll get to that point. But if you join the Facebook group, if you search for SPS, Self-Publishing Show Live, there’s a Facebook group. You can join it even if you’re not going to the event, just to keep in touch with what’s happening.
Right. My camera is literally about to overheat, so I’m going to very quickly say it’s been an absolute pleasure, Mark, talking to you. Enjoy the Joker.
Mark Dawson: I will do, yes. I’m going to be seeing what all the fuss is about.
James Blatch: It sounds really good. Only one newspaper hated it, and it’s the newspaper that I hate-
Mark Dawson: The Guardian?
James Blatch: … so I think it’s probably a good film. It was The Guardian, yeah.
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: So I think it’s a good film. Great. Mark, thank you very much. That only leaves me to say that it’s going to be a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And it’s goodbye from me. Goodbye.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
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