In this series, feature writer Kate Walker talks to authors with experience of self-publishing their books. This issue, best-selling author Maz Evans tells us all about her publishing journey.

Maz Evans

Maz Evans has sold over half a million copies of her Who Let the Gods Out, Vi Spy and Scarlett Fife series to 22 countries worldwide and received over 30 award nominations, including the Carnegie Medal, Branford Boase, and the Waterstone’s Children’s Book of the Year. Maz has featured at Hay, Imagine, Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham literary festivals and published her debut adult novel Over My Dead Body on 3 August. Maz has run free workshops with Writementor to encourage new writers, generously giving back to the Children’s book community.


Q. Your hugely successful and acclaimed Who Let The Gods Out series was originally self-published before it was taken on by Chicken House. Can you tell us what motivated you to self-publish and the key things you learnt through the process?


I’d love to tell you that grit, determination and belief in my own entrepreneurialism motivated me to self-publish Who Let The Gods Out… but in truth it was because no-one wanted to publish it for me! When I initially submitted it, I couldn’t even get an agent – my current agent turned it down! I then went into a creative strop for about five years, until I found myself running Story Stew creative writing workshops in schools. It occurred to me then that I had a direct route to market, so resurrected Who Let The Gods Out and learned how to publish it myself.


The complete Who Let the Gods Out series — 
a journey that began with a self-published book

My biggest piece of advice for anyone considering self-publishing is that the key word is “self”. Don’t use a third-party publisher and lose profit (and possibly lots of money – I’m afraid that market is swimming with sharks). You can replicate the publishing process at every stage – it takes a lot of work and research and you need to manage your budget and expectations very carefully. But it’s totally worth it in the end. My top tips?


  • Buy your own ISBNs. They come in batches from Nielsen and mean you can essentially create your own publishing imprint.
  • Don’t scrimp on proof-reading, typesetting, cover design etc. Unless you have a genuine ability (and you’ll never be able to proof your own work), get a professional to do it properly or your book will scream AMATEUR.
  • Your friends won’t all buy one. They just won’t.
  • Be prepared for a fight to get booked by festivals and stocked by bookshops. It’s not impossible and I managed both – but on the whole, these are not going to be your routes to market, so you’ll need to think out of the box.

Q. Before publishing you ran a school workshop called ‘Story Stew’. Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit or did Story Stew spark ideas for children’s books? Was Story Stew instrumental for marketing books to children?


Oh entirely. They gave me a direct sales channel. School visits are an essential – often majorative – income stream for children’s authors, so having a product I could take to schools was vital. I would say of the 2000 copies I sold of the self-published Who Let The Gods Out, 1950 of them I placed in hands myself. 


It was also important to offer schools something before I had any kind of presence as an author. Creative writing workshops meant that I wasn’t simply peddling my book – I was teaching the kids and their educators something. This was very important in the early days, I had to offer some value to schools beyond being an author, as no-one knew who I was!


I’m a passionate advocate for creative entrepreneurialism and whether you are self- or traditionally-published, you’re going to need it by the bucketload. Story Stew didn’t spark ideas for books, but it did mean that I spent a lot of time around my target market, which was incredibly helpful for my writing and promoting.


Q. How did you submit to Chicken House and were your self-publishing book sales an important factor in your book acquisition?


The story of Who Let The Gods Out is a weird and long one, but the bare bones are these. I wrote the book in 2009 and, as I said, couldn’t give it away. So, five years pass, Story Stew comes along, I self-publish and all is going well. But then in 2014, my scriptwriting agent checks in to see how I’m doing (and why I haven’t written her a script in forever) – I tell her I’ve been busy with the book. She asks me how many copies I’ve sold – and the next thing I know, she’s passed me over to her colleague, Veronique Baxter.  Now I knew Veronique – I submitted to her the first time and she sent me the loveliest rejection back in 2009. So, I couldn’t see her taking it on in 2014 – but that’s exactly what she did, apparently unaware she’d already turned it down. She put it on submission, Chicken House snapped it up… and the rest is infamy! 


Q. How different was the process of publishing with Chicken House vs. self-publishing?


Obviously, once you have a publisher, you have a team of very brilliant people around you doing all the stuff that you were having to do on your own – this frees up so much time and headspace for writing, so that’s great. I’ve worked with four fantastic publishers now – they all work slightly differently and it’s been interesting working with very big and very small outfits. 


What really strikes me, though, is the similarity between the two processes when it comes to getting your books out there. Unless you are lucky enough to have a stellar hit on your hands, it’s still all about the hustle – you’ve got to get out there and sell your wares. And that can be very time- and energy-consuming.  

One of the Scarlett Fife adventures by Maz Evans, 
illustrated by Chris Jevon's

Q. Your books are funny and exuberant, but they tackle quite serious themes. Do you think humour is a key factor to your success?


I think we all listen and learn better when we’re having a good time. The original Who Let The Gods Out didn’t sell because publishers and agents thought that kids wouldn’t get the blend of heart and humour – but I have always argued that kids swing between those two states very easily. Humour is good for sales, but not helpful if you want to win prizes. Funny books are consistently overlooked by the awards and it really gets up my nose as they are just as hard – if not harder – to write than dramatic fiction.


Q. What is the best advice you can impart to anyone considering self-publishing or publishing for children in general?


Write what you would loved to have read as a child – chasing market trends is a fool’s errand and publishing doesn’t really know what it wants until someone writes it. If you’re self-publishing, be very, very careful – and very, very realistic about how many books you are likely to sell. And I would say to anyone publishing in any way – try to stay in your lane. The second you look left and right to what everyone else is writing/saying/winning/promoting, it’s very easy to lose your own way. Everyone’s journey is unique to them – enjoy the ride.


Thanks, Maz, for taking the time to answer our questions, we really appreciate it.


My huge pleasure – love you and all that you do!


*Header image: Ell Rose and Tita Berredo;

all other images courtesy of Maz Evans


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


  1. Thanks for sharing your journey, Maz - and for the interview, Kate. I'm about to start down a self-publish journey myself (first picture book), and I'm trying not to get overwhelmed/disheartened by the sheer volume of (often contradictory) information and warnings everywhere. Trying to find someone who's 'Been ther. Done that. Got the scars. Succeded.' is really difficult, but gems like this are awesome, and help me think there might be a way...

  2. BTW - Anonymous - above - was me...


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