SPS-269: Postcards From Space: Self Publishing Science – with Miles Hudson
Miles Hudson has his fingers in several areas of publishing; he writes textbooks to strict guidelines, he’s crowdfunded a book, and then self-published a book. Now he’s working on a project to tell space adventure stories to children via the classic medium of the postcard.
- The cyclical nature of writing textbooks
- Writing novels in-between writing textbooks
- Crowdfunding a self-published book
- Telling a story via postcards
Resources mentioned in this episode:
PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page
MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.
SPS-269: Postcards From Space: Self Publishing Science - with Miles Hudson
Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show.
Miles Hudson: The examination syllabus includes very tight statements of what the students will be tested on. You might have to explain nuclear power stations, and you've got 500 words. Go. So it really trains you to use your words wisely. Brevity is next to Godliness and that kind of thing.
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.
Speaker 1: This is The Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.
James Blatch: Hello and welcome to The Self-Publishing Show. It's a Friday. It's five o'clock, it's Crackerjack I was going to say, which takes us back to our childhood, Mark Dawson. I'm James Blatch.
Mark Dawson: Crackerjack.
James Blatch: Crackerjack. You have to say Crackerjack when someone says Crackerjack.
Mark Dawson: Sorry American listeners, and Australian listeners, and listeners apart from anyone in the U.K. Yes.
James Blatch: Over the age of 45, probably.
Mark Dawson: Yes.
James Blatch: Yes, childhood memories. There you go. Welcome to The Self Publishing Show. Really good interview. Inventive, creative project, self-publishing project to talk about today with Miles Hudson coming up in a few minutes.
Before then, I have a nice task, Mark. We give away, to our gold Patreon supporters, get an opportunity to win the Ads For Authors course worth $900 once a year and we have pulled a name out of the bag. Actually, Catherine has pulled a name out of the bag and it is Clive Weatherhead. So Clive, you have got an enrollment in Ads For Authors. You'll hear from us or you will have heard from us by the time this podcast goes out.
We've got another one of those coming up because we have the 101 course opening up in March, and we will do the 101 draw just before then. So you know whether it's you or not. And if you want to be in that draw, you can go to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow, although I think there was a qualification period for that particular draw. But check the Ts and Cs when you get to patreon.com/selfpublishingshow.
We also have a course to talk about, Mark, do we not? A mini-course. A shorts course, if you like.
Mark Dawson: We do yes, we did one on Scrivener, which is, we got Gwen Hernandez who wrote Scrivener For Dummies, and she put together a really good course. It's done very well, I think we've had over 300 authors sign up for it. It's quite cheap, less than 20 bucks, like a cent. I think 19.99.
James Blatch: Yes, so it's a cent less than 20 bucks.
Mark Dawson: So just under 20 dollars, but it's plenty value there. It goes through everything you need to know about using Scrivener. One thing worth noting is she does use the Mac version, so we've heard quite a few people saying, "Will this work with the PC version?" The two versions are reasonably similar, but not identical. So you need to bear that in mind. Best policy on that is to, if you want to, is just to-
James Blatch: Get a Mac.
Mark Dawson: Get a... Well, yeah, get a Mac. Or you could also get the course, have a quick look, go through it for a day or two, and if you don't think it's close enough for you, then just ask us and we'll refund the course fee, so you don't need to worry about that.
James Blatch: Gwen is, as we speak, she is updating the format section in the 101 course. The Scrivener shorts course is really about using Scrivener for writing books, which is it's main thing. And I personally wouldn't use Scrivener for formatting, but I know lots of people do. I prefer Vellum, but she's updating that formatting option.
Mark Dawson: We had one funny email. We get lots of funny emails, but we got one funny one, suggesting in the email I sent out, announcing this course, that Gwen shouldn't have called her book Scrivener for Dummies, because dummies was offensive.
James Blatch: Oh.
Mark Dawson: And I don't think, I think it was just a misunderstanding, but I wrote back to the correspondent and said, "'Dummies' is a quite well known brand by this stage."
I directed him or her to the Dummies page, and I think the sting of any potential offence was removed by that. But I thought everyone knew about Dummies. It was a really big brand. But perhaps not everyone does.
James Blatch: No. And I don't really know how it could be offensive. I understand there are some words that we don't use anymore that have... people's medical conditions.
Mark Dawson: It wasn't that.
James Blatch: But dummies, you can call yourself a dummy for getting something wrong.
Mark Dawson: It's self deprecating. So obviously, we're really good, we're English, we self deprecate all the time. Which is kind of what we're doing right now.
James Blatch: Well I'm terrible at self deprecating.
Mark Dawson: Very good. Well done. But yeah, I don't whether it translates everywhere, but that one was one of my favourite emails of the last week. And we ended up as good friends, so I was very polite when I replied, which isn't always the case.
James Blatch: Yes, and as you say the For Dummies brand, that yellow and black book, which I'm sure is obviously it's big in the States, it's big over here. If you get a commission to write one of those, that's a good trad deal, probably to have.
And, actually not dissimilar, Mark, from our interviewee today who has a similar sort of deal, but he writes textbooks for children about to take their exams. I guess it's the high school diploma level, GCSE, in the UK. So he writes, I think it's physics. It's in the interview, anyway. He writes those books. And they have a pretty much guaranteed level of selling every year, which is rather nice, for him to have that income. But he's been creative on top of that.
I think this caught your eye, did it not, when he first came to our attention?
Mark Dawson: I was just going to say that was the smoothest segue you've ever done. Basically Segues for Dummies, written by James Blatch. Yeah, I saw the email, so I see, well, most of the emails. We have a trio system, because we get quite a lot of emails, and I did see this one and I think I may have sent it to young Tom and said I think we should look into this, because it's quite interesting what he's done beyond just the publishing of books.
He's been quite clever with some of the associated material that he's made available. And it could be something that I could easily use when we launch The After School Detective Club books properly, in shops next year. That kind of thing, I think could work quite well.
An interesting interview, I haven't heard it myself, so I'm looking forward to listening myself.
James Blatch: I think he's chosen the right time, this year, as well. Lots of people at home and looking for things, and creative presents for their children. It doesn't involve leaving the house.
Mark Dawson: Or using screens.
James Blatch: Yes, indeed. Let's here from Miles.
Miles Hudson, welcome to The Self Publishing Show. Lovely to have you on here, from our fair Blighty. From England, just up the road.
Miles Hudson: Yes, indeed. I'm in Durham, in the north of England.
James Blatch: Just up the road. A mere four and half hours driving for me.
Miles Hudson: Something like that, yeah.
James Blatch: In America people are going, "That is up the road."
But yes. Well, they all speak differently up there. But you don't actually have a strong northern accent. Are you from somewhere else?
Miles Hudson: I grew up near London, went to university in Durham, some years ago, and stayed ever since. I love it up here. So fell in love with the northeast, and made it my home.
James Blatch: It's a beautiful part of the world, up there. Although it can be chilly.
Miles Hudson: It's always two, or three, or five, or 10 degrees colder than the southern temperatures on the weather forecast. But the good thing about that, I mean, we're right east, it's probably only 10 miles to the North Sea from here, and being on that side of the Pennines means we don't actually get much rain.
James Blatch: Oh, okay.
Miles Hudson: So it's clear and cold, is the general pattern for the weather in Durham.
James Blatch: Good. Okay, Miles, we've got you on here. You've been a bit of a serial entrepreneur, creative force, in this area. You've traditionally published, you've self published, you've crowdfundraised. And quite an interesting idea, I was having a look at before we came online about sending these postcards from space to engage children in a topic I love, of course, which is space.
We'll get onto all of those things, but I think you'll probably you're going to be better at explaining those situations than I am, so give us a little potted history of your experience, Miles.
Miles Hudson: My original career was a school physics teacher, and over the years, I got approached by a massive publishing company to write bits and pieces of stuff for them. Really started off just as little extra bits, like photocopiable worksheets. In actual fact, I've been doing it so long, they approached me to write some content for their first website pages for kids.
James Blatch: Their first website?
Miles Hudson: Yes, indeed.
James Blatch: So 1995?
Miles Hudson: It was a little bit after that, 1999 was when I first started with them. But anyway, that sort of slowly, as you do more and more for them, and they learn that you're reliable and produce good quality stuff, you slowly get bigger and bigger and bigger contracts.
It was probably 12 or 13 years ago now that I got my first solo contract for an A Level book, and so I've written three sets of that, three incarnations as the syllabus has changed over the years. But essentially, I am an ex-LA level physics.
And actually, just recently, they've started doing international version of that as well. And so my sales have now gone through the roof, because China is onboard with that. And so where I thought I was doing quite well with the domestic stuff, China has just overtaken it like you wouldn't believe.
James Blatch: Obviously, a massive population there, isn't it?
What's that experience like, writing a textbook? First of all just from the writing point of view? Curriculums are prescriptive, there's not much area for creativity in there, is there?
Miles Hudson: No, that's sort of good and bad. It means that I don't have to invent what's going in the book. I get a sheet of paper that tells me, "Right you need to write on all these topics."
To the extent that the examination syllabus includes very tight statements of what the students will be tested on. So there is a very set order for the whole thing, and with a big textbook publisher like that, they also organise the template structure of the pages. It's always a series of books, because there's biology, and chemistry, and geology, and psychology, and stuff. And they always publish them in the same series. So the format is identical, which again means that's dictated to me.
So that's constrictive, especially as we'll talk about later, I'm a very creative kind, love fiction writing, and so on. But the real discipline from it comes in that you get a very small word count. So a double page in one of those books, where you might have explain nuclear power stations, and you've got 500 words. Go.
There's no way I could do it in only 500 words, and so it really trains you to use your words wisely. Brevity is next to Godliness, and that kind of thing.
James Blatch: And what about the editing process? Whereas the company, is there like a quality assurance it goes through? Because the last thing they'd want would be an error in a book like that, which potentially could impact someone's exams.
Miles Hudson: The last thing I'd want is that, of course, because it's my reputation on the line as well. But the answer to your question is yes. They're very well established with a full calendared workflow systems. So there's several different editors.
They also send it out to customers, essentially. So reviewers who are physics teachers will look at it and send in their reports. Then there's a guy who checks it for safety, that I have suggested you do anything that might hurt yourself.
James Blatch: Get some sodium chloride, have small sit. Or some sulfuric acid, make sure it's-
Miles Hudson: There's all sorts of stuff. They're such a big, well oiled machine, that they have somebody doing all sorts. It amused me, really, but I would write questions, "Billy was the school bully, and threw so-and-so's bag on the roof. Calculate how much energy it gets on the roof."
All this kind of stuff, and when I got the published book, this was quite an early one. I looked, and I thought, "Okay, so that's the same question, but they've changed Billy's name."
And, of course they've got a diversity officer, whose job is to go through and alter, so there's a fair representation of gender and ethnicity and all sorts. Which obviously is a good thing, but to answer your question, it's to the nth degree that it's controlled. And that can be really frustrating at times, because there's so many links in the chain, and I like to think I'm never the weakest link, but it does mean, like you say, that errors come in.
I've had the situation where I've had proofs to check, I've checked the proofs, I've highlighted some problems, and either they've actually still been published. Which is a nightmare, but there was one case where, from the proofs, new errors had been introduced. So the actual published thing was worse. So it's minimal, but I would suggest there is no school textbook out there with zero errors.
James Blatch: Yes, of course. I'm sure that's the same for everything.
Miles Hudson: I guess that's true. There's always a typo, isn't there?
James Blatch: And for people thinking about this sort of work, how does it work from an IEP point of view. So Edexcel are an exam board, I believe, right? In the UK?
Miles Hudson: The trick with Edexcel is they are owned by Pearson. So there is a real arm's length thing there, where I'm not allowed to talk to anyone from Edexcel. It's an arm's length, separate company. But because they own them, they recommend that Pearson is a good book to do, if you're studying that. So that's why it's printed on the front of it.
James Blatch: Is there anything stopping me writing a physics book based on the Edexcel curriculum?
Miles Hudson: No, not at all. There might be the occasional restriction if you try to use genuine exam questions as examples. But apart from that, physics is physics. You're writing a book about physics, and by chance, you're putting it all in the same order as their exam syllabus. So there isn't anything like that, but the crucial element there is that endorsement. So the fact that it's endorsed by the exam board makes a lot more sales, essentially.
James Blatch: Yes, and if you're going to be sitting that exam, you're going to by that book. You're not going to buy the book made up by me about... I mean, because the earth's flat, right? As far as we know, so...
Miles Hudson: Yeah, you can have a chapter on that in your book, and I'll be happy to compete with you.
James Blatch: I am not a flat earther, just to make that little joke there.
That's really interesting introduction to publishing, isn't it? A very tight framework that you're operating within.
Miles Hudson: Yeah, I mean the real beauty of that was it taught me the profession.
James Blatch: The process.
Miles Hudson: It taught me all the steps that are required, and the fact that you never miss a deadline, and that kind of thing. And it gave me a real strong insight into where the pitfalls might be when I'm doing my own books. When I'm coming up with the ideas and writing fiction, and, in the most recent set of novels, actually publishing them myself. So it was really powerful, in that regard.
And the other beauty of it was, I suppose, is because I managed to go get more and more work in the textbook field, I managed to reduce how much school teaching I did. So it's about five years ago now, I went fully freelance. I stopped working in schools. Because there was enough money coming in from textbooks to allow me, financially, to do that.
But the thing about textbook writing is it's very, very intense for a six month period, and then you're fallow for six months, 18 months. It depends on how quickly they change the syllabuses, how often they need a new book. But, of course, for me then, that's free time to write.
I haven't yet managed to make fiction profitable, but it's what I spend most of my time doing. Which is kind of a good situation to be in, although I'd like it to be profitable.
James Blatch: And the contracts, the royalties on writing those textbooks, are they more generous than fiction writers would be offered, are they similar, equivalent?
Miles Hudson: So industry standard in textbooks is 10% across all authors. So usually it's a team, they prefer a team of authors. So you're then sharing that 10%, depending on how much you write. Because there are so few physics teachers in the world, they struggle to find physics authors. So it's quite unusual that I've managed to be a solo author on so many books.
But the advances and so on, I think, quite generous actually. I don't actually know, I've never had a fiction contract with a traditional publisher, so I don't know how to compare, or how it does compare.
James Blatch: Well that's interesting. Well done. Are you still doing those? Is that still your thing?
Miles Hudson: Yeah, like I say, there's so few people who could write physics textbooks, I have to turn work away. So it took a while for them to try and organise it, but during lockdown, when the postcards really took off, I actually then had to go back to somebody who was trying to recruit me to do a new piece of work and say, "Look, sorry, I can give you three days a month, but that's all."
And in the end, she said, "Well, yeah, we won't get it done in time."
But at the beginning of lockdown, the first lockdown, I wrote the teacher's guide for the new Egyptian science curriculum in physics. So it's still ongoing.
James Blatch: And lockdown has its own, potentially, opportunities. There's a guy called Joe Wicks, if you're in the UK, you'll know who Joe Wicks is. He's a school teacher, I think he was a school teacher, but he basically does a YouTube get fit thing in the mornings, and it's been a huge hit with the younger children to wake them up.
Miles Hudson: And so his spinoff books are just-
James Blatch: And spinoff books, and-
Miles Hudson: Hotcakes, aren't they?
James Blatch: I'm just wondering if there's scope for you doing your physics lessons on YouTube. I've got a son, by the way, who's 14 and doing physics GCSE next year. So if you could do every Wednesday mornings, that would be great. Because we've just gone into lockdown again, of course.
Miles Hudson: So that's not really my thing. There are quite a lot of people that do that stuff online. I'll talk about it probably in more detail later. But this postcards idea, I'm hoping, will be something that parents will latch onto as useful for remote learning, as well. So I'm going to say no at this stage.
James Blatch: Okay.
Miles Hudson: But I'm going to push you into a slightly different scenario.
James Blatch: That's fine. They get to that point at primary school and you can help with their homework. And there comes a point, honestly, it's actually about year six in primary school, their last one, when they're about 10 or 11, when I start to struggle with the maths, because it's been a long time now.
And their physics now, I look at his physics, it's great, he loves it, he's good. But I think also the language changes from, they don't use potential energy, and words that we probably used back in the day. So I can't really help him.
Miles Hudson: It's important to keep up to date with it. I said that I left the classroom five years ago, so writing physics textbooks, obviously you do need to keep up to date. And, in fact, I've now moved into training student teachers in physics. And so that gives me an opportunity to keep up to date, with training teachers.
But more than just the school based stuff, physics is developing. There's several bits and pieces in those books that have been discovered since I left university. So I have to keep on top of all of that myself.
James Blatch: I can remember the age of the universe. When I was at school, the age of the universe was somewhere between eight and 40 billion years, and they didn't really know. And now, I think we've settled on 13.8 billion, and it's pretty widely accepted.
Miles Hudson: 13.82 is the most recently published thing. There was paper about two or three years ago, and that was from data of 10,000 galaxies they were measuring. So it's fairly tight, they think it's pretty accurate.
James Blatch: So that's one example, isn't it, of things changing in the textbook?
Miles Hudson: Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, I've had to change my PowerPoint presentations about the big bang and the expansion of the universe to reflect that change in the age.
James Blatch: Of course, I was at school 13.8 billion years ago, so... It was early days of the universe.
Miles Hudson: Well you can talk about it from personal experience.
James Blatch: I loved cosmic soup for lunch... But anyway.
Let's move on to the fiction side, and then we're going to move on the postcards, I'm excited about talking about.
Miles Hudson: Sure, yeah.
James Blatch: Which are perhaps more closely liked. So the fiction side.
You obviously got a bug about writing, the publishing services, and you've got a creative mind, I guess?
Miles Hudson: Yeah, I absolutely love words, and ideas, and so on. So that creative element is really exciting for me. I much more enjoy writing fiction than writing physics textbooks. Which is perhaps a truism, anyway.
So as I've had those fallow periods between textbooks, I've had an opportunity within the last few years to actually put that fiction writing to full use, to actually write several novels. I've kind of got two series, there's a dystopian future series. The first one of those was 2089. That was the Unbound, crowdfunded one.
And then I've self published a series of detective stories based in Durham, called, these are the first two Cricketer's Corpse and The Kidney Killer.
It's interesting, actually, when people read several of them, they can identify the order that they were written in, because they say, "Your writing's improved over the years." It's very clear that the latest one is much better than the previous ones.
James Blatch: I'm getting round that by re-writing the same book over and over again before I publish it. So I get my work in them. Anyway. More about you, less about me.
The crowdfunding thing. Unbound, just explain what to me what that was, what you remember of that.
Miles Hudson: So if any of your audience aren't familiar with Unbound, they're a London based publisher, just a regular publishing house. So the trick is that you have to crowdfund the capital expenditure. The upfront costs like paying for editors, proofreaders, cover designers, all of that is so that the publisher isn't actually taking a big financial risk, which means that they can publish slightly more books than a regular publisher would.
They don't publish everything that gets submitted to them, but they do publish more than most. And that means that they can publish slightly more what you might call market risky titles. So my dystopian future novel, I've had rejections from numerous agents and publishes previously. So there's an element where there's less risk for them, and so more opportunity for people to get published that way.
The downside, of course, is you have to do the crowdfunding. Which I hated. When I've got the book in my hand, I'm standing in Smith's talking to somebody, I do find it reasonably straight forward to sell, to close a sale. But I don't consider myself a salesman. I hate it, but I'm kind of gregarious enough, I suppose, I can do it.
But the crowd funding thing, you've not even got something to show them. You're saying, "Could you pay a bit over the odds, in fact, for a book that might appear in 18 months time?"
And so there's a big element of it where you're asking people really to support the arts, rather than just to buy a book they want to read.
James Blatch: What's the reward like for you? Bearing in mind they're not taking the risks and the upfront costs? What's the return like?
Miles Hudson: So the contract is a 50/50 profit share.
James Blatch: Okay.
Miles Hudson: But actually, when you drill down into that, it's 50/50 profit share. Whereas, when I mentioned earlier about the textbooks, it's 10%. That's 10% of money coming in. So in the end, there's actually not a huge amount of difference in that. But they're very open and honest, and they're a great publishing house. I love Unbound. I just didn't like crowdfunding.
The other side of your question, though, is about the marketing element of it. And if you're own the lower end, the novel paperback thing is relatively small, unimportant end of what Unbound deals in. You don't get much marketing support from them. And so it's basically down to me, as much as it is when I'm self publishing, pretty much. Which is another reason why I haven't retired to my yacht in the Caribbean on the strength of 2089.
James Blatch: So do they get the book into bookshops? What do they do?
Miles Hudson: Like I say, there's different segments of what they publish. I'm on what's known as the digital list. They're trying to sell the eBook versions more than anything else. So it is available as a paperback, but they don't push it. They don't have salespeople hassling Waterstones to take my book across the country. But they do sell, they have hardback books, and stuff for different genres and marketplaces, and that sort of thing. And those might get more of a sales push, if you like.
James Blatch: And although you've crowdfunding the cost of editing, cover design, and so on, they organise all of that. So you just pass the money to them?
Miles Hudson: Now the beauty of that, I guess, for me, personally, at least, is I've now written the sequel to 2089, but I'm going to self publish it. And because I had to have personal contact with the editors, and proofreaders, and cover designer for the last one, I just approached them directly and said, "Look, we did this before. Are you okay to do another job for me independently of Unbound?"
And they've all said they were happy to do that, and so we negotiated the fee for that. And essentially by project managing it myself, that was then cheaper. Now, of course, it meant I have to have the money up front to do that, but it still works out cheaper.
James Blatch: How long ago was the Unbound edition published, and how long ago the sequel that you've self published?
Miles Hudson: 2089 was the original, the first in the series, which was the Unbound one. That came out in September 2018. And The Mind's Eye is the sequel, which I'm publishing on the fourth of February 2021.
James Blatch: Okay, so it's not published yet. I was going to say it would be very interesting to see the financial returns based on self publishing versus that Unbound model.
Miles Hudson: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's an element where you're not comparing like with like, because in the two years since I've learned a huge amount about marketing my own books. So I'll be doing a better job of it, then I was able to do two and a half years ago. But then, also, you're right, there is an element where you can just compare the outgoings and income, to a certain extent.
James Blatch: There's a bottom line, isn't there? You're going to be keeping 100% of the profits. But it's still profits, rather than revenue.
Miles Hudson: Well, exactly. Yeah.
James Blatch: That's the key thing.
Miles Hudson: So I've still got to sell a load of books.
James Blatch: We'll see how that goes. All right, so that's your self publishing. And the dystopian... so physics goes into that a little bit, or is it not related at all?
Miles Hudson: I'm very conscious not to over-tech the story, but there is, just by the nature of who I am, I can't get away from thinking about tech stuff. So the dystopian future has surveillance system which is remotely, kind of wiretaps your brain, if you like. But it is remote, so your phone and the phone towers are... It's like a 5G conspiracy, really.
James Blatch: The 5G conspiracy, the flat-earthers are back.
Miles Hudson: Yeah, so I've actually developed what is a logical and coherent science behind that. It's just one we haven't actually completely realised yet. And some of the scary thing is, that as I'm going through the process of writing it, I might do some research, or read something. And I suddenly discover, lo and behold, Nottingham University are investigating exactly what I'm writing about.
So they actually have a thing for doing brain scans on children, which is you just put a bicycle helmet on, and there's magnetic sensors inside it, which can detect inside the head. So without any kind of invasive procedure. Which is not quite what I've come up with, but essentially the same sort of idea, the fundamental basis is there.
James Blatch: That sounds like the sort of thing that's going to get funded, probably by the military, and other people.
Miles Hudson: They can probably already do it. That's your 5G conspiracy theory coming back at you, yeah?
James Blatch: I once went to speak to a group at a university in the UK, and four of them, PhDs all looking for funding. And one of them was working on theoretical invisibility, got massively funded straight away by the military. And the other three were doing much more academic stuff, and got no money.
Miles Hudson: Much more likely to actually happen though, the other three.
James Blatch: Yeah, almost certainly. Well, I don't know, I can't see her anymore, so maybe.
James Blatch: We wouldn't know though, would we, if that's happened, so...
James Blatch: Okay, great, well good luck with your February book.
So we're into 2021 now, you're on the runway for launching that.
Miles Hudson: Yeah, everything's ready. It's just a case of actually producing the book now. Putting it up on KDP. I watched the edition of The Self Publishing Show you had with the American guy who outsourced printing the books to China in a collective.
So on the inspiration of that, I've been investigating what it's like to do a print run myself rather than just printing on demand through KDP, as long as I can... Again, it's about upfront capital investment, but as long as I can finance it, and then find space in my small flat to store all these books, it is a lot cheaper to do it that way.
James Blatch: That was Jason Miletsky, and that was last year. The episode 259, if people are interested in that. And I'm sure Jason would probably help you out with that.
Let's move on to the final piece of the marketing empire that is Miles, is PostcardsFromSpace. And I can see this, if you're watching on YouTube, there's one behind you. So just tell us about this idea.
Miles Hudson: Well again, this was the fruit of my lockdown cabin fever, I suppose. I'm a big traveller, and one of the things that I often do when I'm in other parts of the world is send postcards, still. Because it's so rare these days that we actually get any mail, and so people really like receiving it. So one of the things I did in lockdown was I kept in touch with a lot of friends and family by sending them postcards.
And about, I can't remember, two or three, maybe five years ago now, I had come up with this idea for a story, so an epistolary story, written in the form of letters, but the sort of USP of this book was going to be that you'd actually receive each chapter as the real letter in the post.
That idea, I thought, is brilliant, when I had this light bulb idea. But the trouble with that, was of course, I'd have to write a novel. And so at that point, that got shelved as a great idea. So whilst I was in lockdown and sending friends and family these postcards, it came back to me. And I thought, "Actually, maybe there is something in this, in postcard form."
The beautiful images you can get from NASA these days are so rich and intense, and everybody loves space, that I came up with idea of basically.
It's aimed at ages eight to 12. And each week, your kid will get, in the post, a postcard with a beautiful picture. So again, like you say, if you're watching on YouTube, you can see there's one of Venus there. And then on the other side, the writing side of it, is written as if it's been sent to you by junior colleague.
It's a junior astronaut, and their space dog. And the two of them have these adventures on the different planets and send you stories about what's going on. So the idea is it's aimed at combining space science, because I'm a physics teacher, with a bit of fun adventures, trying to keep the stories exciting and engaging.
And then there's an overarching narrative in that there's a series of 12 postcards from all different places around the solar system, and so you follow their adventure as they go from one place to the next. And they're actually searching for a missing rocket, so they have to keep chasing to the next place, and they actually never end up finding it.
James Blatch: Spoiler alert.
Miles Hudson: I don't know how your demographic for this show goes, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed we haven't got too many eight to 12 year olds that will suffer from that spoiler. But, of course, what the beauty of that is you see it leaves me open for the next series.
James Blatch: Exoplanets.
Miles Hudson: Exoplanets do feature. Yeah, absolutely.
James Blatch: Well that's a great idea. The printing I guess is relatively simple, compared to getting books printed and distributed.
Miles Hudson: Yeah, absolutely. So the hard part, I suppose, was making sure I had a quality product. So occasionally, some of the photographs aren't actually as easy as it might seem to source. One of the beauties is that the big scientific organisations like NASA and the European Space Agency and so on, they give away all of their photographs for free.
So you're allowed to use them, even for commercial products, as long as you credit whichever mission it was that took the pictures. But you don't have to pay for using the pictures. So that's a real bonus, and one of the reasons I started with space, actually.
That was the first thing, to source good pictures. Neptune was a real struggle, because it's only been visited by one spaceship ever. And that was launched in the 70s. So if you imagine the quality of the camera on it.
James Blatch: Was that one of the Voyagers?
Miles Hudson: Yes, that's right. We had to do a little bit of jiggery-pokery with Photoshop to make it look rich and beautiful. And actually it came out a lot nicer than I was anticipating, so I'm quite pleased with that. But then on the text side, I wanted, like I say, I had all those elements: fun, adventure, some scientific instruction for the students, but I didn't want it to just sound like a school book.
The actual creative process of putting those 12 stories together was the thing that took the most time. And then I consulted with a bunch of teacher friends, both secondary and primary, to confirm that the level was age appropriate. Because I'm not really that familiar with primary vocabulary and scientific level.
There was an element of that quality control. I wanted to make the product great, because that's what will really sell it. And then, as you say, having done all of that work the actual printing was very straight forward. I got a local printer in Durham to do it, and did me a great deal on it. And so that came out really well.
Then, of course, the big problem that we always have when talking about selling writing, is selling it. So how do I get this unique, strange, new thing into the marketplace?
I had to build a whole website so people can order it and pay for it, but that had to then include explanations. And I think one of the things that the teachers had asked for, which I think actually will help a lot in the lockdown sales thing, is that they wanted activities.
So each of the cards has a QR code on it, which will take you to a special associated webpage, which has more information, and pictures, and stuff, plus an activity for the kids to do. And so building that website, it didn't take quite as long as writing the postcards, but it took me a lot longer than I'd anticipated.
I finally launched on the first of December and had quite a good little run up to Christmas, because obviously it's a nice little thing that grannies and so on can buy for their grandkids, and I deliberately set it up so I would post the first one just in time for Christmas. And then you get one every week. So every week I have to take a batch of them to the postbox, but that's kind of where we're at.
But that flurry died off now that Christmas is finished, and this week, and in the next few weeks, trying to work out how do I get this into the public consciousness? So that people, if they're looking for something like that, know to go there, to look at it, and see if it's something they want to buy.
James Blatch: Did you say you've done some Facebook advertising with it, or not?
Miles Hudson: No, so far I've only done organic marketing. I haven't actually paid for any advertising yet. That's the next step, if you like. Partly I wanted to get the system in place, so that I was ready to process orders, and so on.
James Blatch: I would have thought it's definitely worth experimenting, putting some budget aside for Facebook ads. Because especially at the moment, we're going to lockdown again, there's people around here, I can tell you, with young, primary school children who are tearing their hair out now because they're faced with several weeks ahead of us having to home school.
Miles Hudson: They'll be stuck at home, scrolling through Facebook all the time.
James Blatch: Yes, exactly yes. There you go. So you know what to do after this interview, get on there.
Miles Hudson: Fingers crossed, yeah.
James Blatch: And I can see, so it's £19, which is 25, $26. And you get 12 weeks of weekly postcards.
How's the distribution done. Are you licking envelopes yourself at home, or is that done elsewhere?
Miles Hudson: At this stage, yeah. What I'm hoping obviously is that it just goes through the roof and becomes so crazy that there's too many stamps for me to actually deal with on my own, so that I can employ somebody to do it. Also I'm keeping it in house, at the moment, if you like. So that I can make sure that the system functions properly, and that it's working well enough that it's easy to get somebody else to do the grunt work on it.
However, one of the other aspects is that I already told you I'm writing postcards from deep space, the follow on series. So, of course, when they get the last one, I can then email them and say, "Look, I hope you liked this. There's another series, if you want to follow on, and here's a discount code if you want to take the next step."
But then, that's postcards from deep space. I'm also now spreading my tentacles a bit to school teachers in different subjects, because if you think about it, you could have postcards from anywhere. Postcards from volcanoes, postcards from the jungle, postcards from oceans, postcards from ancient Egypt, postcards from the Tudors.
It's just mind boggling what kind of a mushrooming monster I could end up with here. And fingers crossed you could develop a kind of loyal following who get series after series.
James Blatch: You ought to trademark Postcards From. Although Carrie Fisher may, because she wrote Postcards from the Edge, didn't she?
Miles Hudson: Yeah, in fact, actually that was one problem I had, is Postcards From was my initial plan, but both the dot com and the dot co dot UK are taken. And so I've got PostcardsFromSpace, and I'm trying to work out what I'm going to do it. So I might have to alter the thrust of that, I guess.
James Blatch: Well that sounds like a really fabulous idea. I really love the idea of it. So I think the trick with all of it is going to be getting it in front of the right people, and that is the trick, isn't it?
Miles Hudson: One of the things I'm hopeful is that it is kind of a unique idea. The way it's being delivered is something that hasn't been done before. Now the only competitor I've come across is that UNICEF have a system where you can get a postcard from Paddington Bear each month, and he takes you around different countries and shows you what kids are doing in different countries.
But it's very much a different... I mean, it is a competitor, but because it's UNICEF, it's overpriced, because you're paying a charity donation at the same time, and it's only one a month. And so, hopefully, like I said I'm looking to hopefully find a niche that is a different, special kind of thing.
James Blatch: Sounds great. Well you've got a nice little freelance career. A very modern, very, I would say probably, pandemic immune business model going on at home. With your textbooks and the postcards books.
Miles Hudson: Fingers crossed. I found that I did more work during lockdown than I normally would. Which kind of annoyed me, but of course it meant I was very productive. I published one novel in November, another one coming out in February, and the postcards. So it's been productive, certainly.
James Blatch: And I love the fact that, I didn't realise that European Space Agency allow their pictures to be used as well. I know NASA do, and I don't think people realise, necessarily, that that fantastic NASA archive, one of the best photographic archives on the planet, and off the planet, is available for use, and you can use it commercially.
Which is why you see adverts for cars and watches with Apollo 11 photography in it, because anyone can use it. And I, at some point, will write a stroppy letter to the Imperial War Museum, that have their back catalogue of official government photographs from the British military, including the RAF. And they don't allow anyone to use it, and they're very snotty about it. I got a letter from them saying, "I don't think a book cover is quite the right environment for these photographs."
And I'm thinking, "This is UK history." I think they were put off by self-published, you know. They're not dealing with Schuster and Schuster, say.
Miles Hudson: Mickey Mouse, yeah.
James Blatch: But for me, it's a part of British history, and it needs to be available, accessible, and out there. And I think that's exactly the right decision for NASA.
Miles Hudson: They're very conscious that it's public money that's funding all of that, and so they want to give it back. But I guess one of the other reasons that people love space is because it's so freely accessible. Because everybody's using it exactly as you suggest, that actually puts it in everybody's face, so that they're always seeing great pictures of space, and therefore NASA gets bigged up on the back of that, and therefore they've got more of an opportunity to bid for more funding. So I'm really worried, to a certain extent, about the privatisation of the space missions, because I can't see Elon Musk giving his photos away for free.
James Blatch: Right.
Miles Hudson: It's a different kettle of fish entirely.
James Blatch: Well if he's clever he will. And he is clever, so maybe he will.
Miles Hudson: Well, fingers crossed. I might have to tweet him to campaign for it.
James Blatch: I am quite excited about the commercialization of the trips into space, the Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk I think has his own plans. And of course Jeff Bezos as well. That's an exciting aspect, because I don't think NASA are ever going to be doing space tourism, but these guys will.
Miles Hudson: I think there's room for both, absolutely.
James Blatch: And when we have the Holiday Inn on the moon, I can see your postcards in the gift shop.
Miles Hudson: Now I'm going to make a note for that for future marketing opportunities.
James Blatch: "James Blatch said I could have a slot in this."
We're running towards the end of our time. Thank you, it's been really interesting talking to you. I've been very full of admiration for everything you've done to create these projects out of almost thin air, the last two. Well, novels, I guess, are always created out of thin air, aren't they? But a unique idea, the postcards idea. I think a lot of people will be ticking over in their minds about the possibilities there.
My advice to you to look seriously at, I think social media advertising, paid ads. Organically is only going to get you so far these days, but cleverly written headlines, clear headlines that will attract the attention of granny and grandad particularly I think would work well for you.
Miles Hudson: Now I'm certainly intending to do that. For me, it's all kind of a slow burn to build up. Because of course the thing is if I get a thousand orders tomorrow, I can't fulfil them.
James Blatch: No. Nice problem to have though.
Miles Hudson: I suppose if I got a thousand orders in one day, I'd probably have enough money to employ somebody to do it.
James Blatch: You'll find everything is automatable at some point.
Brilliant. Miles, thank very much indeed for joining us.
Miles Hudson: Thanks so much for having me, it's been great fun.
James Blatch: Again Miles Hudson with his PostcardsFromSpace and the solar system. It's a really good idea, and very nicely done. And I think there's still a place in this world, is there not, for receiving something physical through the post that you hold.
Perhaps when you and I were kids, we had to write our thank you letters, and we got letters occasionally. It was always quite exciting to get a letter. That's definitely tailed off a bit. My children hardly ever get a letter now. I guess birthdays...?
Mark Dawson: No, no one writes letters. But I think there is that whole kind of artisan movement, with, you see it all the time, vinyl being a bigger medium now that it has been for years. And people harking back to those... Usually adults, but it's also nice for kids to get those things as well. I know that at Christmas time, my kids both get letters from Santa that come from the North Pole.
James Blatch: Of course.
Mark Dawson: But probably not. And they enjoy that, and I think there is a role for that kind of thing. And you're seeing that kind of personal, or personalised, physical artefact becoming quite popular and trendy again. It created hipsters like me, going into that kind of thing.
It's a good idea and a good time to be doing it.
James Blatch: I love my vinyl. I've had for a couple of years now my vinyl setup in here, and every now and again I dig out an album. I've got my AC/DC Back to Black, which is a classic album, of course. Back in Black I should say. Back to Black I think was Amy Winehouse. I always get the two confused.
Mark Dawson: Easily done.
James Blatch: Easily confused.
Mark Dawson: I mean Angus Young and Amy Winehouse. Very similar.
James Blatch: Sounds really good. And I know it probably is a hipster thing to say, but there is something about vinyl, and there is something about, in the same way, holding a postcard.
Mark Dawson: There is. As we develop the operation car shed, I've mentioned on the Facebook group. The new office, which hopefully, touch wood, we'll have bought that in the next, well, quite soon. One of the things I'm going to do is have the audio visual guys instal the speakers and everything, but I want to have a really good vinyl turntable in there. So I've got tonnes of vinyl that I haven't played for years, so quite looking forward to getting that.
James Blatch: It is fun to do.
A couple of other things just to update you before we go this week. We have actually bitten the bullet and booked some flights. Which is a very exciting moment in our lives.
Mark Dawson: Oh yes. We have.
James Blatch: We've bought flights for Florida. John and I will also do a couple of testimonial drop-bys on the way there. And that will be for NINC in September. Obviously, we're very hopeful about actually being able to travel. We're very hopeful to be able to go on to 20 Books Vegas, in November as well. So I can't wait to be back out there.
Mark Dawson: Well you have been jabbed, because you are what, 62, aren't you? Right at the start of the line.
James Blatch: I check my phone every day. I have not yet received that jab, but it's coming.
Mark Dawson: My PA had hers yesterday.
James Blatch: Oh did she? How old is she?
Mark Dawson: Younger than me.
James Blatch: She has a condition?
Mark Dawson: But she has few underlying, nothing serious, but she went Salisbury Cathedral, which is over there, as we record this, and she had it in the cathedral with the organ music playing.
James Blatch: Wow.
Mark Dawson: Which was quite nice.
James Blatch: What an experience.
Mark Dawson: Yeah.
James Blatch: I'd like to have it with AC/DC playing.
Mark Dawson: Or Amy Winehouse, even.
James Blatch: Or Amy Winehouse.
Mark Dawson: And her famous song Back in Black.
James Blatch: Yes. Good, well we should all be jabbed. And, in fact, I was reading today, in fact John alerted me to this, that the administration in the States are very confident of having the adult population done by the summer.
Mark Dawson: Yeah, they're going fast. We go fast, it's just unless you're German, or French, or Italian, simply sometime in 2024 you'll be jabbed, I should imagine. Let's not go there.
James Blatch: No, let's hope-
Mark Dawson: We can't go there, we're just not allowed.
James Blatch: Yeah. We'd like to help, but we can't go there. Good I think that's it.
Oh, the other thing to say is I did get my book off, on time, to the copy editors, for the first of March, in fact, a day early. And I have a call with the editor tomorrow just to go over his first look through and agree on some consistencies. So I'll get an initial feedback from him as well.
Mark Dawson: And how many comments did you have in the Facebook group when you posted that?
James Blatch: Very many comments.
Mark Dawson: 500.
James Blatch: I think it's been 500 interactions with the post, and 160 something odd people have wished me well. And it's incredibly nice and humbling to... But you've all been along this journey with me. There's the J word.
Mark Dawson: Oh God.
James Blatch: I have had this experience, my heart on my sleeve, all the way through it. And I don't mind doing that, it's not been a problem. Occasionally you get the odd button pushed. But most people, vast majority, have been nothing but supportive, and hopefully have learned something along with me, along the way.
I've got the big bit to come, of course. Publication. And we'll talk about book launch, hopefully, with a new asset from you, to help me along the way. If we can get that timing right.
Mark Dawson: Yeah I've been recording this new course, a little mini course, which should be, again, very cheap. Certainly less than $20. There's going to be a couple of other ways you can get that course. Which hopefully will have that finished in the next six or seven days. So we'll have that ready, and young Tom has been editing away, so it will be ready to go quite soon.
James Blatch: Good. Okay, well look that is it from us, from The Self Publishing Show for this week. I want to say a big thank you to Miles Hudson for being our guest this week. We have a good interview next week about another power couple in the indie space whose surname, weirdly, is also Hudson. But I don't believe they're related, they are also British. But a really interesting interview of how their little business, their writing operation, has taken off in 2020. Big business now.
We've got that coming up. Well done again to Clive Weatherhead, who won the Ads for Authors course. Don't forget your chance to win 101 and get other goodies at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow. That is it. All that remains for me say is that it's a goodbye from him.
Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me.
James Blatch: Goodbye.
Mark Dawson: Goodbye.
Speaker 1: Get show notes, the podcast archive, and free resources to boost your writing career at selfpublishingshow.com. Join our thriving Facebook group at selfpublishingshow.com/facebook. Support the show at patreon.com/selfpublishingshow, and join us next week for more help and inspiration so that you can make your mark as a successful indie author.
Speaker 1: Publishing is changing, so get your words into the world, and join the revolution with The Self Publishing Show.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.