SELF-PUBLISHING Kate Darbishire (Part 1)


Words & Pictures feature writer Kate Walker continues her series in a new two-part interview with best-selling author Kate Darbishire.

Kate Darbishire is the author of Amazon bestselling teen novel Speechless for 10+ readers. This debut novel was self-published in 2018 and currently has over 1400 reviews. It has also outsold the average children’s debut book 15 times over! It has been an Amazon number one bestseller in both the Disability category and in Prejudice and Racism. It follows eleven-year-old Harriet, who has cerebral palsy, she can’t speak, she can’t walk, but when she starts secondary school she faces her biggest challenge yet!


Kate Darbishire (credit: Kate Darbishire)

Thanks, Kate, for taking the time to answer our questions for Words & Pictures, we really appreciate it. What led you to self-publish Speechless

I finished writing Speechless in 2008 and spent about three years querying everyone in the children’s publishing world. Although I had a few full requests and plenty of positive feedback, no one wanted it. I put the manuscript away and tried to forget about it. But I always wanted to be a writer and I just couldn’t focus on new work because I thought Harriet’s story was important and I believed there was a market for it. In 2018, I discovered by chance that you could self-publish on Amazon. It wasn’t like vanity publishing where you buy a stack of books and hand-sell them at every street fair for the next 20 years. Amazon is a legitimate retailer, visited by thousands of customers globally. It’s a level playing field for indie and trad publishers, and you don’t need a huge marketing budget. It’s down to your book to stand out on its own merit. I thought Speechless could do that.


What were your expectations? 

I’m not sure what my expectations were. In some ways, I just wanted to write the next book and I kind of left Harriet to do her thing. I did gift paperbacks to all my friends and family and lobbied them to leave honest reviews because I’d heard reviews were important. And I have always gone out of my way to give copies to teachers and schools because I know there aren’t many books they can use to talk about disability, and particularly cerebral palsy (CP).


CP affects around four in every thousand children, so it is quite a common condition. It is a spectrum, which means there is a vast range of experiences and problems faced by people with cerebral palsy, but 50-70 per cent do NOT have learning difficulties. This means that many of these children ought to be in mainstream school. One of the biggest problems with CP is a social one, to do with how other people perceive someone with the condition. Your body can be seriously disabled, and you might need to use a wheelchair to get about and have difficulty articulating speech, but this doesn’t necessarily mean your brain function is impaired. I wanted to make sure that children in mainstream schools had a way of knowing this about people with CP. And I wanted people with CP to have a book where they could see themselves.


Speechless by Kate Darbishire, self-published via Amazon, 2018 (credit: Kate Darbishire)

You have translated your book into other languages, how did you achieve this on your own?

Yes! Speechless has been translated into Korean for South Korea and is soon to be released in Turkey. I didn’t go out and sell to these regions. On both occasions, I was approached by the publishers. It’s one of those things you dream about happening, but when it does, it’s terrifying! The Society of Authors do a great job though, and I had them read the contracts for me which is a free service they provide when you are a member. Networking is also invaluable, and I emailed Karen Inglis, a prominent indie author who writes for children and the author of the excellent book How to Self-Publish and Market a Children’s Book. She was very kind and helpful.


How did you approach bookshops for sales and was it successful?

I haven’t been very successful selling to bookshops. My local independent bookshop took a few copies. They sold them and never paid the invoice I sent them! I’ve found you have to be very proactive and organised about bookshops, and I’m probably not the right kind of person for that. Also, they expect a big discount. However, I know of lots of authors who have built up excellent relationships with booksellers, so it’s something you really should try to do if you can.


You mentioned your largest sales are via Amazon and you have sold more books than many traditionally published children’s books – how did you manage to get your novel noticed in such a crowded marketplace?

It’s this thing about Amazon being a level playing field. When you walk into Waterstones, the big publishers buy up the best tables to promote their new titles. They have enormous banners saying, ‘buy me’ and their books are beautifully stacked in the shop windows. That’s not the way it works with Amazon. Everyone has the same tiny space on the screen in which to market.
Amazon is a legitimate retailer, visited by thousands of customers globally. It’s a level playing field for indie and trad publishers, and you don’t need a huge marketing budget. 
You need a fantastic cover which tells the story of your book – massive shout out to Peter Haillay who produced my cover and has always refused any payment. Then you get to sell your book in the fewest words possible.


I do paid ads on Amazon which increases my visibility. Then, once people start buying your book and you move up the best seller ranks, Amazon puts your book in front of customers they think will buy it. And that is one thing Amazon are very good at.


You have over 1400 reviews on Amazon – that’s phenomenal. Many traditionally published books never achieve this. Do you think the freedoms of self-publishing have allowed you more time and space to develop your platform?

Maybe. Most publishers would have moved on to the next book by the time Speechless started to take off, but Harriet will always be my baby and I will continue to talk about her – and pay for adverts.


Another thing that helped me (and lots of other ‘backlist’ books) was lockdown. By the end of 2019, Speechless was ranking as number one in several relevant Amazon categories, ideally positioned to ride the coming wave. Very few new books were published by traditional publishers over lockdown and people had more time on their hands. Many turned to reading. Sales of Speechless went through the roof – by that, I mean I was selling several thousand copies a month and the positive reviews were flooding in. That’s when I really knew how important the story was.


By July 2020, Speechless was featured on the primary school reading list site for teaching diversity and inclusion. This also made a massive difference.

(Read Part 2 in August)

*Header image: In-house collaboration between Ell Rose and 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


Ell Rose is Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Contact them at

Tita Berredo is Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and Art Director of Words & Pictures. Contact her at:

1 comment:

  1. A really interesting interview; thank you!


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