SELF-PUBLISHING Stephanie Cotela

In this series, Words & Pictures feature writer Kate Walker talks to authors with experience of self-publishing their books. This issue, debut children's author and SCBWI volunteer Stephanie Cotela tells us all about her publishing journey so far.

Stephanie Cotela

Stephanie Cotela is an art historian turned fiction author who writes across genres from picture books right through to adult murder mysteries. Her new book, The Ghosts of Hawkthorn will be released early 2024. Stephanie has published many articles over the years in arts/culture magazines, such as Dazed & Confused, Soho House and Art Review. She contributed the foreword for Monet (The World's Greatest Art) and wrote Vincent Van Gogh Masterpieces of Art with Flame Tree Publishing. And she is our very own Network News and Events Editor for Words & Pictures.

Q. You’ve recently self-published your middle grade novel The Ghosts of Hawkthorn: what made you decide to take this route?


I could say that I wanted more creative control and higher paying royalties but the truth is, I got impatient. I was discouraged by the submission process, the agent rejections and the woeful statistics for debut authors looking for a traditional publishing deal. I had enough positive comments from beta readers and professional editors to convince me to take a chance. At least, it would be a learning experience and insight into the industry. At best, I will sell a lot of books.


Q. You write across genres from picture books to middle grade, YA and adult fiction. Of all these markets, why have you decided to self-publish your middle grade book in particular?


The Ghosts of Hawkthorn was the first book I wrote, mostly during lockdown, so I thought it would be a good place to start.


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


First and foremost, there will always be snags. Something will pop up in at least one stage of the process that wasn’t expected and inevitably this will delay the final publication. This could be anything from developmental changes suggested by an editor to issues with cover art, such as colour saturation, as was the case with Ghosts because of its dark purple and black hues.


The Ghosts of Hawthorn, by Stephanie Cotela, publishing early 2024 

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


Marketing! Social media is one thing — getting my head around BookTok hasn’t been fun. Never mind all the conflicting advice regarding algorithms. Do I have to post every day? What if I don’t have anything interesting to say? (This is when photos of the cat come in handy). And there’s so much more than the online stuff. You have to think about things like advance reader reviews, school visits and launch and/or signing events. Of course all of this is optional, but you will want to get your book in front of as many readers as possible. Despite the fact that with self-publishing you're swimming in a much smaller pool, you have to work twice as hard to be noticed.


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


  • Do it. You can always keep pursuing a traditional publishing deal. Many competitions accept self-published authors. You may even discover that you prefer self-publishing over traditional publishing.


  • Research the market — definitely do not write to market, but it is worth knowing current trends and different methods of marketing yourself and your book. For instance, an author website can be invaluable — sure, your readers can find you on social media but your website has everything about you and your book(s) all in one place, which is way more convenient.


  • Never underestimate the power of a good cover - the benefit of self-publishing is that you can choose your own illustrator and collaborate with them on a design that you both love. Ghosts’ cover was designed by Words & Pictures' Art Director, Tita Berredo and I do love it!


  • Last but not least, creative control is the biggest benefit of self-publishing.


Sorry, that was more than one piece of advice.


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


I use Instagram and Canva a lot for marketing. But most of the process was taken care of for me by Grosvenor House Publishing. They handled everything from editing, typesetting and printing to online and wholesale distribution. This was not the most cost effective way to do things — authors can use Ingram Spark or KDP, for free — but for me, it was the best option in terms of streamlining and ease. GHP are extremely professional, helpful and I would highly recommend giving them a call if you want to let someone else handle all the complicated stuff.


Q. As an American, will you be publishing in both the UK and USA markets, and if so, how do they differ?


I will mostly be promoting in the UK but Ghosts will be available internationally on websites such as,, Waterstones, Foyles, Barnes & Noble, etc.


Follow me on instagram @stephaniecotela for publication date and launch information.


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


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


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. As a self publisher, I have experience many challenges but marketing and social media in particular has been the biggest , hardest and annoying one! I have been dragged kicking and screaming to embrace it and the jury is still out...I have no regrets though and as long as you work hard , do your research and ask for help as and when you need to, self publishing could be the right path for you. It is not an easy option or for the faint hearted though!


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.