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Interview With Edward Trayer — ‘Billy Bob Buttons’ Brings The Joy Of Books To Children: Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast

Interview With Edward Trayer — ‘Billy Bob Buttons’ Brings the Joy of Books to Children: Inspirational Indie Authors Podcast

My guest this week is Edward Trayer, but many schoolchildren, parents, and teachers know him by the name Billy Bob Buttons. Edward went through a few incarnations before he settled on this persona, from a teacher to a pilot, but he found his life’s calling when he brought the joy of reading and writing to children.

Edward is also a fierce advocate for indie authors, launching an award that recognizes self-published authors in a way that does not just take their money.

So, here’s the story of Billy Bob Buttons.

Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.

A few highlights from our interview:

On His Reading and Writing Workshops at Schools

It’s easier for me to connect with the children’s market because you can visit the schools, the children are there, you meet the children, you can work with them, you can help them with their writing. And at the same time, you can encourage them to buy my books, and they tell their parents, and the parents buy the books, and everyone’s happy. Everyone wins. The school is happy, the children are happy, I’m happy, parents are happy.

On Why he Launched the Wishing Shelf Awards

I entered a few awards, many years ago, and I was so disappointed. It wasn’t about not winning, although I was shortlisted for one and so on, but I was always amazed because it was just a money grab. They just wanted your money and they never really contacted you ever again, whether you did well or not.

Listen to my Interview with ‘Billy Bob Buttons’

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About the Host

Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and Twitter.

Read the Transcript of my Interview with ‘Billy Bob Buttons’

Howard Lovy: I’m Howard Lovy, and you’re listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. Every week I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are an inspiration to other authors.

My guest this week is Edward Trayer, but many schoolchildren, parents, and teachers know him by the name Billy Bob Buttons.

Edward went through a few incarnations before he settled on this persona, from a teacher to a pilot. But he found his life’s calling when he brought the joy of reading and writing to children.

Edward is also a fierce advocate for indie authors, launching an award that recognizes self-published authors in a way that does not just take their money.

So, here’s the story of Billy Bob Buttons.

Edward Trayer: My name is Edward Trayer. I write children’s books under the pen name, Billy Bob Buttons, and I write young adult and adult books under the pen name, Hickory Crowl. I’m also the organizer of the Wishing Shelf Book Awards based over in the UK.

The first book I wrote was called, Felicity Brady and the Wizard’s Bookshop, and it’s still for sale today. It still sells pretty well, about a girl that finds a magic bookshop.

At the time, I was running my own bookshop, but I didn’t have any customers, so I thought I’d write a book. So, I sat down and wrote a paragraph. I didn’t plan anything, and that turned into a chapter, and then I started planning the story, and then I wrote that series of five books over about 10 years. And I did that as a part-time thing while I was teaching.

Howard Lovy: Edward taught around the world from England to Japan to New Zealand to the United States. Then he set up an antiquarian bookshop, which sold rare titles.

Edward Trayer: I had a bookshop and we sold a lot of quite rare books and often books that were just, you know, £1.95 paperbacks. We had all sorts in there.

It had an internet cafe, you know, back when you had to dial up the internet. You know those days when you dialed up and it took forever?

I had a little coffee shop in there as well, and it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. I did have quite a lot of customers, but I did have a lot of downtime as well, and I really enjoyed writing. I mean, I had a good friend then, still do, called Alison, and she, sort of, came in with me on this book.

We wrote Felicity Brady and the Wizard’s Bookshop, and it became like a hobby, if you like, that I just did for pure love.

Back then, we’re talking 20-odd years ago, KDP and all the rest of it didn’t exist. Amazon was just getting going, but, you know, there was very little help for self-published authors. It was just a few vanity presses around that you could publish with in the US and the UK.

So, I just did it for the fun of writing this story that ended up this 70,000-word magical bookshop type story that came out of me. It was a lot of fun to write, but I published it a lot later on when the whole self-publishing thing took off.

Howard Lovy: So, Edward wrote the story, but his writing career wasn’t quite ready yet. He put his manuscript into his back pocket and went off in pursuit of adventure in the skies.

Edward Trayer: After the bookshop, I became a pilot, of all things, so I became a commercial pilot. Don’t ask me how that happened, I just did. I woke up one morning, had a major midlife crisis, and realized I was going to be a pilot. So, I spent three years, and way too much money, becoming a pilot, which I also enjoyed, and I was writing the whole time.

I was writing the Felicity Brady books as I was flying. And then I worked as a commercial pilot, for, it must be four years, five years, based in the UK.

I was a commercial pilot, but I flew for an aerial photography company. So, what we did was, we went up to about 5,000 feet, and we took lots of pictures of huge, huge factories that were for sale. And then, because they couldn’t take the pictures from the ground because they’d end up with just half a wall, so we’d go up really high, take these wonderful pictures and then the companies would sell these factories using these aerial photographs that we did, and it was a big business back then because Google Maps didn’t really exist. So, we did all that.

So, what I had to do was, I would take off in the morning and I would fly all over the UK. Stopping here, there, everywhere, taking pictures, going to the next site, taking pictures. Then I’d fly into, say Oxford airport, land, have lunch, take off, fly another five hours all over the place taking pictures, return to Manchester, land. So, it was really a fun thing to do. It was like a whole day job and you really enjoyed it.

At the end of it, you’d done like 10-hours flying, and it was very much hands-on flying. So, you know, there wasn’t any autopilot in these planes. So, it was quite exhausting, but it was a lot of fun.

Howard Lovy: So, with that bit of adventure out of his system, Edward Trayer decided to become a full-time writer of children’s books.

And the first thing he decided was that he was no longer Edward Trayer. Billy Bob Buttons was born.

Billy Bob ButtonsEdward Trayer: Well, I needed a name that everyone would remember, and Billy Bob Buttons does a really good job when it comes to that.

So, I have a very different business model to most authors. I’m not a big fan of promoting myself on the internet because I think, when you’re selling your books on the internet, you can’t see the woods for the trees because there are so many books for sale, and going on Facebook and telling everyone to buy my book, buy my book, I personally don’t think that works.

So, what I do is, I visit the schools and I visited about 2,000 schools in the last 10 or 12 years, and I deliver literacy workshops at those schools. Now it does help that I’m an ex-English high school teacher, but I designed all these different workshops for schools.

So, I’d go into the school, I’d do my workshops, and I’d base the workshops around my books. I’d use my books as examples when teaching, planning or teaching how to develop a character, et cetera, et cetera. And then at the end of the day, we’d do a big book signing for the children and parents, and it works really well. It still works really well.

Billy Bob ButtonsHoward Lovy: While Edward has dabbled in books for adults, he’s happiest when writing for and interacting with children.

Edward Trayer: I’ve always just been attracted to writing children’s books. I’ve always found them a lot more fun to write. I’ve written one adult book called Bewitcher, under the pen name, Hickory Crowl, and that’s a sort of horror murder mystery set in the 1600s during the plague in the UK, in England.

And I enjoyed writing that, but it’s a lot of work writing adult books. I mean, that took me near on five years to write. So, I do enjoy writing children’s books and also, it’s easier for me to connect with the children’s market, because you can visit the schools, the children are there, you meet the children, you can work with them, you can help them with their writing.

And at the same time, you can encourage them to buy my books, and they tell their parents, and the parents buy the books, and everyone’s happy. Everyone wins. The school is happy, the children are happy, I’m happy, parents are happy.

I’ve been to 2,000 schools, met 600 children per school, you know that’s, I don’t know what that is, is that 180,000 children I’ve met with over 20 years?

And I’ve sold hundreds of thousands of books, and unlike most authors, self-published authors, where the majority of the sales are eBooks, let’s say I’ve sold, I don’t know, a few hundred thousand, I would say 98% of those are paperbacks, not eBooks.

I’m not very good at putting morals in my books and I tend to write everything for every age group. So, I’ve written picture books for zero to six-year old’s and seven-year old’s. I’ve written magical fantasy. I’ve written mystery books, comedy, a lot of comedy, myths and legends, all sorts. So, I like to write different genres and different age groups. It keeps me fresh. I don’t like to just stick with one character, you know, having adventures over 25 books. I might do a trilogy, but I like to mix and match, it makes it more interesting for me and I think it makes it more interesting for the children.

But also, of course, when I go to a school and I do a book signing, if I have books for all different ages and all covering lots of different genres, then, of course, it’s a lot easier to sell the books because there’s a book for everybody.

Howard Lovy: What Billy Bob Buttons enjoys most about being a children’s author and visiting schools are the workshops he gives.

Edward Trayer: I designed 12-13 different workshops, and because I’m an ex-teacher, and having done this job for so long, I’m very comfortable in schools and working with kids. So, I enjoy giving the workshops and we do a big Q&A at the end with the kids and they ask the strangest questions you can imagine. And that’s always very interesting as well. So, it’s always a very good day. The teachers are always lovely, and then it’s nice to meet the parents in the day as well. So, it’s always a nice experience. There’s nothing really negative about an author visiting a school. It’s just all positive, you know, nothing can really go that terribly wrong, really.

Howard Lovy: So, Edward enjoys writing for children, working with them, and above all, being an indie author. A little while back, he noticed that there were a lot of awards that claim to recognize indie authors, but many of them are simply money grabs. Edward’s answer was to launch the Wishing Shelf Awards.

Edward Trayer: I entered a few awards, many years ago, and I was so disappointed. It wasn’t about not winning, although I was shortlisted for one and so on, but I was always amazed because it was just a money grab. They just wanted your money and they never really contacted you ever again, whether you did well or not.

And this was, you know, 15-odd years ago, and I remember I got this feedback from this award, I won’t say the name of it because it’s still going. It was, you know, 16-18 words long this feedback. And I was like, you didn’t even get the title right.

And I was like, they’re so poorly organized, the bar is so low, that I thought, you know, I’m going to set my own up, and that’s what I did. And I basically decided that I didn’t really have this, you know, panel of expert judges, so what I did was, I know a lot of big readers, so I got all the people I know that read books and said, do you want to be in my reading group for these books?

And then I spoke to all the headteachers at the schools I go to and said, you know, “can I send you books that are entered in the children’s categories and can your children read them and maybe write some feedback?”

And my friends and the reading groups, it’s grown hugely now, there’s like 60, 70, 80 of them. And the schools, we have about 130 children now, and they read the books and they give feedback to the authors and it’s really nice, it’s lovely.

The Wishing Shelf Book Awards is run not-for-profit.

So, what we do is, every penny or dollar that goes into the awards is used to run the awards or for prizes and so on and so on, and what happens is, we have a closed Facebook page, and then when authors enter the awards, they become a member of that page and then they help in running the award. So, all the authors can be involved in running the award.

So, they will suggest how we should spend the money. So, I will say, okay, we have a budget of this much money. You know, where should we use this money to market your books the best? So, we all sort of work together. So, I’m on first-name terms with, like, 7,000 different authors over the last 15 years.

Howard Lovy: Like everybody else, Edward is on lockdown now, but he’s with his family and is coping pretty well and, in fact, it’s a busy time for his Wishing Shelf Awards

Edward Trayer: Were pretty good. We have twins who are just turning 11, and Albert, who is a little boy who’s nine, and they’re pretty good kids and they’re getting a lot of work from their school and I try and work with them. My wife is brilliant with them as well, so that’s, that’s not too much of a problem. We do sport every afternoon. We go out and pretend to do the Olympics and all sorts. So that keeps me busy.

Writing is going pretty well. Now, I do know that a lot of writers find it difficult to write during this time because they got a lot of people running around and the stress of everything, and it’s hard to relax. But I’m not too bad. So, I’m pretty busy writing those books, but also, actually, the Wishing Shelf Book awards is very busy right now. Since the lockdown three weeks, four weeks ago, it’s been extremely busy.

So, I guess that a lot of authors have simply got time on their hands and they’re looking around and thinking, okay, well I’ve got this time, I can’t write, so I’m going to do some marketing. And they’re finding the book award. So, it has been very, very busy. So, I’ve been busy running that as well.

And the good thing is that all the readers in our reading groups are all stuck at home with nothing to do, and so we’ve been throwing loads of books at them, PDFs for them to read. So, we’re getting lots of feedback, which is the main thing we do.

So, unlike other awards, we give loads of feedback to the authors who enter, whether they win, or they don’t win.

If you recently finished a book or if you finished a book in the last two years and you’re interested in getting involved with the Wishing Shelf Book Awards because, you don’t really enter our awards you, you get involved. So yes, you’ll enter the book, but then you’ll join the Facebook page and you’ll be sort of mingling with all these thousands of authors. And if you want to get involved, then just go to our website, www.thewsa.co.uk or Google the “Wishing Shelf Book Awards” and get in touch and we’ll see if we can help you.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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