SELF-PUBLISHING Stuart White (Part 1)


In a new series on self-publishing, Words & Pictures feature writer Kate Walker chats to Stuart White about his journey to self-publishing his debut novel Ghosts of Mars this year.


Stuart White at his online book launch for Ghosts of Mars
[Picture credit: Emma Finlayson-Palmer]

Stuart White is the founder of WriteMentor, a learning hub and supportive online community where children’s authors share knowledge to help other writers progress. He has produced podcasts and YouTube videos offering writing advice to demystify publishing.


Welcome to Words & Pictures, Stuart. You’ve recently self-published your middle grade novel Ghosts of Mars — what made you decide to take this route?


It’s a long story. I wrote a piece in The Bookseller here on that and explain it in full on my 1000/100 podcast, but it was all about regaining control of the direction of my writing. For years I’d spent every creative moment thinking about what agents and publishers would think about my work and totally neglected what I or the readers, kids, would want. I decided I wanted a paradigm shift and a power transfer.


What restrictions and freedoms have you discovered through the process?


Restrictions? Budget is the biggest one. I’d like to have spent more on editing, ARCs and marketing but I have a family and a mortgage etc. so I can’t be silly. I’m also looking at my writing as a business not a hobby, so you have to balance expenditure with likely income. 

Freedoms? Almost everything else. I can think specifically about kids with every decision — what do they want in a cover, in a book, in a blurb, etc. That said, I also have to accept full responsibility when I get those wrong.


What’s been the hardest or most unexpected part of self-publishing?


It’s all been hard. Don’t do it if you expect it to be easy. But I always think that if there are two choices in life, one is easy and one is hard, the hard choice is usually the right one. Unexpected? The level of support I’ve received from people, both established friends and new ones.


What is the number one piece of advice you would offer to any children’s authors starting out on the self-publishing path?


Read everything first before you decide. Listen to all the podcasts. Talk to someone else who’s done it and will give you a ‘real’ account. It’s REALLY hard work and takes lots of research, so if you are happy to do those things then maybe it’s for you. You also need some money if you want to do it well. Not loads necessarily, but some.


I always say self-publishing is for anyone, but not everyone.


Which apps and platforms have you found most useful and easy to use?

Vellum is great for formatting — don’t hire someone, that’s a money drain. Learning yourself is VERY time-consuming but obviously the cheapest option if funds are limited. But Vellum is a one-off cost for your whole life; that’s usually less than you’ll pay for the one-off formatting of one book. If you don’t have a Mac, you can use Atticus, which some believe is better and it’s available on all computers.


Canva is great for A+ content on your Amazon page and for social media posts to show off the great artwork your illustrator has created for you.


Substack for my mailing list — it’s free and has a page associated with it so people can find you via the site as well as signing up directly to your list. My growth has been much bigger on that platform than anywhere else, including Mailchimp.


Cover of Ghosts of Mars by Stuart White

You hired an illustrator for your beautiful book cover. How did you find them?


Jennifer Jamieson not only sounds like a superhero alter-ego but literally is one when it comes to illustration! I found her via the SCBWI Facebook page. I just posted, with a vague scope of work, asking if anyone knew anyone or was interested. I saw her portfolio and was immediately sold. I knew she’d be able to recreate my vision and she actually way surpassed it.


You set out to sell one thousand copies and receive 100 reviews, a process you documented on YouTube. How close to this target are you and what has helped you get there?


I mentioned the 1000/100 podcast earlier, where I’ve done 13 episodes, giving out advice at each stage for anyone who wants to follow in my footsteps and self-publish their own book.


As of 12th March 2023, (just under a month after publication), I’ve sold 274 copies, not including the class set I sent to a primary school and around 50 copies I’ve given to people for reviews/giveaways. I’ve also had 35 unique reviews, (I’m trying not to double count those that are the same on different sites), so about a quarter of the way on the sales and a third on the reviews.


But it’s worth remembering it’s a long game. Sales are compounded by new books and for self-published authors and traditionally published authors, the best thing to help your sales is to write and publish the next book, so I’m not sweating the numbers right now.

*Look out for part 2 in two weeks' time!

*Header image by Tita Berredo


Kate Walker is a feature writer for Words & Pictures. Her work is published in Aquila magazine. She mainly writes MG, chapter and picture books. Kate has won SCBWI’s Slushpile challenge, she was shortlisted for the Chicken House Open Coop and longlisted for both Guppy Publishing’s Open Submission and Writing Magazine Chapter Book prize. Kate lives mainly in her imagination but also in Sussex with her two children who she tests her story ideas on — when she’s not writing about gardening for her day job! Twitter: @KatakusM


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