PUBLISHING My relationship with an indie press

It seemed an impossible dream that she would ever see her illustrations in print, until one day author-illustrator Dawn Treacher attended a local literature festival. She shares her experience of indie publishing. 

As a children’s book author and illustrator, like many other members of SCBWI, I too have spent years chasing the dream of traditional publication. Despite training in children’s book illustration, it seemed an impossible dream to see my illustrations in print. I built up a portfolio of work and submitted it to illustration agents and literary agents who considered taking on both authors and illustrators, but it became a path filled with rejection. 


That is until one day I attended a local event as part of the Ryedale Literature Festival back in 2016. The event organisers had invited local would-be authors to network and among the speakers was Rose Drew of Stairwell Books, a small book publisher from my local city of York. That day I met a lot of local authors, and I had the chance to talk to Rose, who just happened to be looking to branch out into children’s books. She was looking for a picture book that would help attract customers to her book stalls at the various book events she attended each year. I had a submission-ready picture book concept with a complete dummy book, text, and three completed double-page spreads. The chat we shared that day changed the course of my publication journey in ways I could never have anticipated.

The chat we shared that day changed the course of my publication journey in ways I could never have anticipated.

A week later I signed a contract for Stairwell Books to publish my picture book Mouse Pirate, and it was published in 2017 but that was only the beginning of our relationship, one we have nurtured ever since. A small book press may not be everyone’s idea of success but being small, in fact, a family-run business, Stairwell Books is the most supportive of publishers. We kept in communication long after I’d done the round of book events the publication of my book made possible. One such library event was attended by a library volunteer who also happened to be an author who had submitted a picture book idea to Stairwell Books. In the search for an illustrator for that project the author suggested I would be the perfect illustrator, and so Harriet The Elephotamus was born, a collaboration between Fiona Kirkman and myself. As fellow authors of the same publisher we embarked on a round of book events together, her with Harriet The Elephotamus and me with Mouse Pirate

But I wasn’t just a picture book author, I was an all-round trained illustrator too and so this is still not the end of my story.

It became apparent to Stairwell Books that I had more to offer them as an illustrator, and when they signed a contract with Rebecca Smith for her first middle-grade children’s book Shadow Cat Summer, they asked me not only to do the cover art but also to consider doing 28 black and white chapter heading illustrations too. I had never even included black and white children’s illustrations in my portfolio, so it came as quite a surprise but a challenge I accepted none the less. 

This project helped me grow as an illustrator, and discover a kind of illustration      I had never considered before. 

This project helped me grow as an illustrator, and discover a kind of illustration I had never considered before, and I was delighted how good it looked when it was published. I had at this stage in my journey written a number of middle-grade fantasy adventure stories myself and indeed had self-published one in 2020. Now I submitted my new novel to Stairwell Books which they accepted. They asked me to illustrate the cover along with doing the black and white chapter heading illustrations for all 39 chapters. Pandemonium Of Parrots was published in October last year.

And as a children’s book illustrator this really should be the end of the story, only it isn’t because this small book press had realised that my illustration abilities went beyond children’s books. As a publisher of many different genres, they commissioned me to do the cover art for two adult books, a historical novel and poetry collection, both of which are due out soon. 

So, for me, with no agent and in a relatively short period of time, I have six books traditionally published with my illustrations, across all genres and styles. It is the kind of commissioned portfolio of work I could only have dreamed of, and I hope it will help pave the way to new challenges and new opportunities in the future.

If I was asked to give advice to fellow illustrators, it would be to look for opportunities beyond agents and grab networking opportunities when they present themselves because you never know where they may lead. 

*All images courtesy of Dawn Treacher


Dawn Treacher is an author and illustrator of children’s books, both picture books and middle-grade fantasy adventure novels. Her books include, Mouse Pirate, The Curse Of The Goldicoot, the series The Kringleset Chronicles and her new release, Pandemonium Of Parrots. She is also a joint co-ordinator of SCBWI NE.


Stephanie Cotela is the new Network News & Events Editor for Words & Pictures Magazine. 

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