WRITING Self-published success stories (part 1)


In this two-part feature, Fran Benson talks to four successful self-published authors about their journey to publication and where it’s taken them. Part 1: BB Taylor and Tola Okogwu.

We’ve come a long way from the early days when self-publishing was looked down upon. Maz Evans’ Who Let the Gods Out series and Sufiya Ahmed’s Secrets of the Henna Girl showed that self-published children’s books and authors could do well. 

BB Taylor

 BB Taylor

BB Taylor has been writing and daydreaming since she was a child. From a working-class background, she was told that people like her were only destined for certain roles. Seventy books later – 23 of which have been published - and with a Master’s degree in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University, she has proved them wrong.

BB published her first book almost accidentally when someone asked her who wrote the stories that she was telling in schools as part of her animal therapy job. Embarrassed that they might say the stories were rubbish, she made up the name BB Taylor on the spot. Instead, they asked if the author could do a school visit! As a result, BB self-published her first book.


“The self-publishing process was difficult because it was like a secret society that nobody wanted to give me the keys to. A lot was trial and error, and I made mistakes and had to learn along the way,” says BB.


BB Taylor's first traditionally published book came out in 2020

She learnt that the process, if done properly, is not an overnight thing. From editorial to design and marketing, each stage needs to be treated with care and attention to ensure a book stands the best chance it can in a massive market of books that have had teams of professionals pouring over every detail. 


From that first book, BB has published more books either self-published or as commissioned work. In 2020 her first traditionally published children’s book, The Vigilante Tooth Fairy was published by Tiny Tree Books and her next book with them is scheduled for 2023.


Self-publishing has given her permission to dream and the drive to push herself.


BB says, “I never would have gone back to university and done my Master’s or been traditionally published without self-publishing first.”


BB’s Advice


  • Don't rush – give your work the best chance you can.

  • Connect with others and learn from their journeys.

  • Don't let anyone tell you that you can't, only you can decide that.

  • Don't compare yourselves to others; carve your own adventure.

Twitter: @bb_taylor_
Website: www.bbtaylor.co.uk


Tola Okogwu

 Tola Okogwu

Tola Okogwu has a degree in journalism and had been a blogger for 10 years before she began writing creatively in 2015. She now has eight books published with another four yet to be published.

With her first book, she queried several agents and publishers. After silence and rejections, she was faced with the prospect of abandoning the story or doing it herself. Luckily her mother had self-published a non-fiction book a few years earlier, and between them they decided to set up an imprint as they knew they wanted to write more books.


Tola's first novel is being adapted for Netflix

Self-publishing however, was incredibly difficult because of the lack of information on how to do it. On top of that, the costs involved in producing a quality picture book made the process more complicated. They approached a few companies who provide publishing services, but quickly realised that would require them to make too many compromises and probably wasn’t the best value for money. So they did it from scratch, sourcing their own illustrator, editor, printer, distributor and sales agent, as well as a PR agency to market and promote the book in the lead up to publication. (After publication they relied on social media and events, and word-of-mouth.) 

The sales agent and distributor ate into profits, however it took away a lot of the admin and meant that their books were widely available to order.


Self-publishing gave me an understanding that publishing is a business and I have to be able to separate that from the creative aspects of being a writer

This first book is now out of print as the series was picked up by Simon and Schuster with a new edition just released and an entirely new book coming in 2023. Tola also has a chapter book series published with Macmillan through StoryMix and her first novel, Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun published in June with Simon and Schuster, with two more picture books slated for 2024 and 2025.

Tola has also just signed a new deal for two more novels, and Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun has been optioned by Netflix, with Will Smith (yes, that Will Smith!) and David Oyelowo producing.


Tola says, “Self-publishing gave me an understanding that publishing is a business and I have to be able to separate that from the creative aspects of being a writer. It taught me what I want and don't want. I've discovered that I have to be an engaged and educated part of the process, no matter which route I take to publication. I love that I have several avenues to publish my books and I'm not dependent on the whims of traditional publishing. It can be incredibly rewarding and makes it possible for books that would otherwise die to find an audience. It is also a lot of work, often with very little to show for it. I wouldn't change my journey for anything though, because it's made me the author I am today.”


Tola’s advice

  • Know what your objectives are. There’s a difference between publishing a few copies of a book to give or sell to friends and family and publishing a book to make money and have wide distribution. Knowing this from the outset will help you set the appropriate expectations and create the right plan of action. 

  • Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. If admin, finance, marketing and promotion is not your forte, then self-publishing might not be the best route for you.


Twitter: @tolaokogwu
Website: www.tolaokogwu.com
Tola's books are available online and from any good bookshop.

*Header image courtesy of Tola Okogwu


Fran Benson trained as a journalist, has written short stories for women’s magazines and now writes magical middle grade. Her work has been longlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel Award and Penguin Random House Write Now. She is currently studying on the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. Find her on Twitter: @franbenson_


Fran Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact: deputyeditor@britishscbwi.org


No comments:

We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.