An Interview with SJ Whitby!

Ever wonder what self-publishing is like? Are you considering going into self-publishing? Amber speaks with prolific self-published author SJ Whitby to find out more about what inspired their publishing journey (and whether or not we’re going to get more Cute Mutants books)!

SJ Whitby (they/them) is an author who’s responsible for the increasingly sprawling Cute Mutants series about queer superheroes. They’re nonbinary and live in New Zealand.

Twitter: @sjwhitbywrites | Instagram: @sjwhitbywrites | Email: sjwhitbywrites@gmail.com

You can find their books at the following links: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Path2pub: First up, the Big Question – Why did you decide to pursue self-publishing?

SJ: There are a lot of reasons I chose this, but I’ll start with the biggest one: pace. I like to write fast, and I knew I wanted this to be a series. Even when publishing is moving fast, it would’ve been at least two years between writing Cute Mutants and getting it in stores. In self publishing, that was only six months! Then it meant I could release the series at my own pace (which is possibly too fast!) without worrying that publishing might cut things off at the knees. Other reasons were wanting to retain as much creative control as possible and also a healthy fear of querying (lol)

Path2pub: Totally valid! And your pace of writing is incredible! What has been the highlight of your publishing journey so far?

SJ: There have been a whole bunch of cool things (like blurbs from truly amazing authors!) but I think the best thing is still knowing that my book is out there being read by people who love it, and who it resonates with. There are even people out there who have this as their favourite series, which blows my mind!

Path2pub: What was the greatest challenge you faced during your publishing journey?

SJ: Marketing! For the most part, self publishing is a whole lot of smaller tasks that you need to figure out and each one is manageable even if they’re sometimes difficult. Marketing is a whole other mysterious realm operating on magic nobody seems to fully understand, even the ones who seem like adepts. Despite all that, I’ve managed to get my book into a fair few hands, but it’s mostly been word of mouth from people who love it.

Path2pub: We love the Cute Mutants series! What inspired you to write it?

SJ: Thank you! I started this book in a terrible writing slump after applying to AuthorMentorMatch in early 2020. To soothe my pain, I decided to write a self-indulgent book about a chaotic teenage superhero making friends. The tagline from the beginning was “X-Men, but make it gay(er)” and that’s really both the inspiration and the goal. It was really my homage to the New Mutants comics (which the book doesn’t shy away from) and I never really expected it to gain any real traction because it felt like one of those passion projects that you fall back on when you’re on the verge of giving up. It was the reaction from people on Twitter that led me to take the step of making it real.

Path2pub: It’s amazing to know you only started in 2020 and have written SO many books since! Who is the favourite character that you’ve ever written about and why?

SJ: I have to say Dylan Taylor. From the moment she woke up in my head, she hasn’t shut up and it’s still the easiest writing experience I’ve ever had to play in this world (and why I find it hard to leave!). Their voice is my voice in a whole bunch of ways, but they get to do way cooler and more dangerous things. Beyond that, I wanted to write a character who’s a bit of a mess and far more lovable than they realise, and to show a bunch of queer characters who find so much joy in each other, even if they’re in a world that doesn’t hold much love for mutants. Honorary mention goes to Violet, who unfortunately gets to deal with a bunch of my religious trauma. She’s one of the POV characters in spinoff book Project Himbo, and there are more plans for her too. It’s really hard to stop there, but otherwise I’d keep listing characters! I really love these disasters, and I’m over the moon that others love them too.

Path2pub: What does the future hold for you in the publishing world (and how many more books are we going to see in the Cute Mutants universe!)? 

SJ: Who can tell the future? There are definitely five books in the sequel series THE MUTOPIANS (first one is out in June!) and I’ve got at least six spin-offs planned (most of which are standalone enough). Then there are the four AU novels I’ve got sitting in my drafts, a future anthology or two planned, plus a bunch of short stories I’d like to collect up too. The way things have developed over the series means there’s a huge amount of scope for all kinds of stories and it’s a sandbox that’s easy to experiment in.

Beyond Cute Mutants is a scary realm, although if I ever write something standalone and marketable, I may dip my toes back into trad to try and experience that. 

Path2pub: What advice would you give to an author who’s considering self-publishing?

SJ: That it’s less scary than you think! It’s more achievable than many people believe, and there are heaps of supportive people and resources out there. Talk to people who’ve tried it (like me) and take as much advice and input as you can. There are definitely low points, because you’re struggling to get people to pay attention to your books in an already crowded market (which is hard enough in trad, let alone in self pub where there are some certain beliefs held!). I genuinely think it’s worth a try if you’ve got a book you believe in that’s not really fitting into the trad pub market. At the very least, you’ll learn a lot about a whole bunch of other things (book formatting! Cover design! Typography!) The main reason I think we need more people to try self-publishing is that we need more voices out there in the world, and trad pub doesn’t seem to have space for them all (let’s hope that changes!)

Path2pub: Anything else you would like to share with our readers? 

SJ: Thanks for reading! Hopefully you’re inspired to check out my books, and if you’ve got any questions, reach out to me on social media or email as above. I’m passionate about writing and people getting their stories out, so I love to support people where I can.

Path2pub: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences with our readers and congratulations on the launch of THE MUTANTSITTERS CLUB! We look forward to seeing more of your work in the future 🙂

Amber is a PitchWars ’20 alum and a Wattpad Star. One of her Wattpad novels, The Cutting Edge, has recently been adapted for television and is streaming on meWATCH. She is represented by Anne Perry at The Ki Agency.

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