SELF-PUBLISHING Kate Darbishire (Part 2)


Words & Pictures feature writer Kate Walker continues her series in the second part of her fascinating interview with best-selling author Kate Darbishire.


(In Part 1, Kate talked about the incredible success of her self-published book, Speechless.) 

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

Your protagonist, Harriet, has cerebral palsy (CP). How has the Own Voices movement in traditional publishing affected your story and do you think that part of your self-publishing success is due to the uniqueness of Harriet as a character? 

I’m so encouraged to see a push in the publishing world for Own Voices work. In the case of Harriet, my character, the level of her disability would make it very hard for someone in that position to find the energy and time to write a book. That is not to patronise people with CP. I know from my daughter’s experience and many years working with people with CP, the day-to-day realities of living with the condition: everything they do is a full-scale operation – dressing, cooking, eating, etc, and many of them live with constant pain and poor health. If I can be an advocate, portraying a realistic and fully rounded character with the condition, then I’m pleased to be able to do so.


There are a few Own Voices books out there by people with CP who may be less severely affected and I 100 per cent encourage you to go out and buy them. It is important that publishers recognise how much readers value these works. I’m thinking especially of The Amazing Edie Eckhart by Rosie Jones, which is a wonderfully positive portrayal of disability for a younger age group (8+).


Some publishers will take books about disability that aren’t written by someone with the condition. Recent examples are I Have No Secrets by Penny Joelson (the main character has CP), published by Electric Monkey and the beautiful, brave Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon, with its depiction of an independent and determined young lady with Down’s syndrome, published by Usborne. It isn’t new that publishers are reluctant to take on books with a disabled main character. It’s a big thing to put your name behind something like that and risk getting it wrong.


And yes, I do believe the book’s success is due to the uniqueness of Harriet as a character. My daughter has CP, and I wrote the first draft of the book when she was quite small. She didn’t talk until she was five, but was able to use Makaton signing by the time she was 10 months old. She could name or request things (drink, biscuit, rabbit) earlier than my other children could say them. This is because the muscles in the larynx aren’t developed enough for speech for most children until they are over a year. With an awful lot of speech therapy, physio and determination on her part, my daughter has since learned to talk and even to walk. So, I wrote Speechless while I was very closely connected to someone with CP. I used my writing to articulate my concerns around the difficulties and prejudice my own daughter might face in mainstream school.



Your book has been bought in large quantities by schools, how did you get schools to notice your book and do you think that their interest is due to the content, themes, etc, or down to marketing?

Definitely themes and not marketing!


I love doing school visits where you get to meet real readers and I enjoy speaking at writer’s events about either self-publishing or children’s publishing more generally. I’d also be really keen to talk to teachers about using books and stories to encourage conversations about inclusion and diversity. I want to use the platform that is now developing to really give people like Harriet a voice.


I’ve tried lots of things to promote my book online. Over lockdown, I read a chapter of the book every day and created a whole writing course for children. Virtually no one looked at it, but I learnt a lot of useful things about creating and editing videos and producing content! Some of the chapters were narrated by a lady with CP and it was lovely working in collaboration with someone who was totally isolated and on the very strictest of lockdowns.

I wrote Speechless while I was very closely connected to someone with cerebral palsy. I used my writing to articulate my concerns around the difficulties and prejudice my own daughter might face in mainstream school

I have a website and use social media. But I’m not on there every day and I hate doing any kind of hard sell. I always respond to readers though. Once, a teacher contacted me to help him get a copy of the book for every child in his class. Then he told me he had cerebral palsy and he saw himself in the way Harriet was treated at school. Another young lady contacted me to say she wanted her speech therapist to read Speechless so that she could understand how much a communication device would help her. And I must admit to getting insanely happy when readers of all ages contact me to say they finished the book with tears streaming down their face. That’s when I know I did my job.


What are the key things you learnt through the process of self-publishing and what do you wish you’d known from the outset?

  • Research, research, research. Join the many Facebook groups for indie writers and ask lots of questions. YouTube and Google are your friends.
  • Get the very best cover you can afford and make sure it fits the market. Your reader needs to know from the cover what kind of book they are buying.
  • Just because you aren’t with a traditional publisher, that doesn’t mean you can’t use a professional editor and proofreader. I really wish I’d known this – hitting publish would have been so much less daunting. Buy your own ISBN. If your book takes off, you are really going to thank me for this piece of advice. (Don’t ask… it was horrible!)
  • Research categories. It’s super important that your book is showing up in the right categories. Not just the enormous ones like ‘Young Adult Romance’. Be more specific. If you’ve written a romantic thriller where a climate activist falls in love with the son of an oil baron, you may need to be in ‘Suspense and Thrillers’, ‘Romance’ and ‘Climate Change’. If there’s a category called ‘Climate Change Romance Thriller’, that’s where you need to be.
  • It’s worth creating an eBook, especially for middle grade or YA books. Surprisingly, nearly half my income comes from digital copies.
  • Take the time to learn how to use Amazon adverts. I’ve never managed to do anything but lose money on US ads, but my UK ads work a treat.
  • If you find a spelling mistake, even after you press ‘publish’, it’s not the end of the world. Even trad published books let the odd mistake through. The good news is you don’t have to sell 2,000 copies before the next print run. You can change the file and reupload it and within 72 hours the mistake is gone.
  • Make sure you have some kind of online presence. You never know when someone might come knocking on your door to find out if you can sell them rights for a translation!
  • Oh, and use Inclusive Minds if you want to write about a condition that isn’t your own. I did have a sensitivity read, but not until after I had published.


Anything else you'd like to add?

Thank you for asking me to be a part of this series of interviews on self-publishing. I hope what I’ve said gives people hope that if their story is important, it will reach the people who matter. Please get in touch with me via my website or socials if you are weighing up whether self-publishing is for you, and I will try to help – or signpost you to relevant resources.

*Header image: by Ell Rose and Tita Berredo.



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! Speechless is available on Amazon.


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:


Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact

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