When Aija Mayrock was sixteen, she wrote a book called The Survival Guide to Bullying. She self-published it as an e-book, and the how-to guide became so successful, it was picked up and re-released by Scholastic. Aija is now a sophomore at New York University, where she studies writing, film, social justice issues, and politics. She spoke to Like a Boss Girls about how she healed her own pain, started helping others, and became an author and public speaker.
You have personal experience with bullying. What was it like for you?
I was really badly bullied from when I was eight years old until I was sixteen years old. I went to a school in Long Island, New York, and I was a different kid. I was really creative, I loved to write and tell stories. I had a lisp, and I think sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t understand, so I got really badly bullied in school, and then cyber-bullied and cyber-stalked.
When I was fourteen, I moved from New York to California, because my dad had a job opportunity there, and I had one year that was fine. Then, in my ninth grade year, a girl that I had never met dressed up as me for Halloween. She went to my old school in New York, and she had a sign around her neck with my name on it. She posted it on Facebook and it kind of went viral. There were hundreds of people writing the most horrible things about me, but I had never met or heard of any of them. It was so devastating.
I was really upset, but then I also realized I had to do something about it. I wrote a screenplay about bullying that was made into a movie, which won an award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. About a year later, I started to write The Survival Guide to Bullying, because I wanted to help the millions of kids in this world survive it.
What was the writing process like?
Writing it was really incredible, because it was my healing. When I first started writing it, I was dealing with a lot of depression and anxiety, and I had kind of hid my emotions from myself. Throughout the two years that I wrote it and self-published it, and then published with Scholastic, I was able to heal all of my wounds.
Did you intend to self-publish from the beginning?
I didn’t. I wanted a traditional publisher, but I was sixteen, and people weren’t taking me seriously. One day, someone told me to self-publish it, and that was the best advice anyone ever gave me, because I did it, and one month after, it kind of exploded online. So many people were finding it, and Scholastic did, too.
How did things with Scholastic get started?
After a Publisher’s Weekly article came out, I got approached by a lot of different publishers, and as soon as I saw Scholastic, I was like, “Yes! Absolutely!” We spoke to them, and the next day we spoke to more people over there, and the next week, I flew to New York to meet with them. It was very quick.
Why do you think The Survival Guide to Bullying became such a success online? How did you market it?
I did a lot of groundwork. I was speaking at local schools. I was cold-calling radio stations and TV stations. Ultimately I think what happened was Publisher’s Weekly found it online and wrote a front page story. The article was a great gift, and from there, many publishers approached me.
Even with a published book by a publisher, it’s all about the author’s footwork. I’ve been speaking at big events in schools every day this week. That groundwork is important. If I reach a thousand kids every day, that’s potentially a thousand books, a thousand Instagram followers, a thousand more people changed by this message. I love that part of it.
How do the school speaking arrangements get set up?
In the beginning, Scholastic was setting up all of my school events. Then New York State approached me to speak to all of the heads of schools. After that, I appeared on The View, and once that happened, the book kind of took off, and I got approached by school districts across the country. From there, the school districts put my book into the curriculum to be taught in middle school and they ask me to come and speak. I go to as many [speaking engagements] as I can. I also do book signings.
What was it like going on The View?
Raven doesn’t know this, but when I was being really badly bullied, I would go home and watch That’s So Raven. When I was on The View, I happened to sit next to her. I was so nervous before the camera started rolling and she was so sweet. It was the weirdest experience for me, knowing that a few years earlier I was on the couch crying, watching her on TV, and now she was interviewing me on national television.
After everything you’ve been through, what is it like for you to meet kids who are being bullied?
Last year, before my book came out with Scholastic, this girl had read my e-book. I was at an event in Baltimore, speaking to a bunch of girls in middle school and high school. She came up to me after I spoke, and she just started hysterically crying. It was before any of my “fan” experiences, so I was very new to it and very confused. She said, “Aija, thanks so much for writing this book. You saved my life, and I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t discovered your book and read your story.” I just started crying. I look at myself as the girl that was recently bullied, and dreamt of a career but didn’t have one. It’s happened quickly and wonderfully, but I felt like her, and it was such a wonderful experience. There are so many of those when I go into schools. I’ll have like a thousand kids run toward me afterwards, saying all this stuff. Those experiences really are the most memorable and the most gratifying.
On a technical note, how did you create a self-published book that looks so professional?
For good and bad, I’m a perfectionist. I wanted it to look beautiful and elegant and kid-friendly. I did a lot of research on graphic designers, and I wound up finding a graphic design company that was willing to do it pro bono, because they were three women who had all been bullied. I worked with them very closely and helped design it. Then, when it got picked up by Scholastic, it was great for them, because they got to be published all over the world.
What about the editing?
I gave it to family members and friends, but I remember sitting on the couch with my mom, reading over every single word out loud together, because we were so afraid before I self-published it that there would be spelling mistakes. It was hours. We must’ve spent maybe forty hours just checking spelling. It was crazy. I was very cautious about the editing side, and making sure it was all up to my standards.
If a friend of yours wrote a book and was considering self-publishing it, what advice would you give her?
Always take the untraditional path. Never let anyone tell you “No” or that it’s not good enough, because more people will tell you that than will tell you it’s great. I would say, be incredibly persistent. I think that’s why my book became a success. I am extremely persistent, maybe to a point that’s a little annoying. The last thing I would say is, If you have a passion and your passion is your book, then fight for your book as if you were fighting for yourself. Your book will be seen and your book will be a huge success.
What are you working on next, writing-wise?
I’m not going to say what it is, but I am working on another book for teens about different teen issues that we go through in middle school and high school–not bullying. I’m also working on a very exciting project that is going to include all of my fans and readers. I’ll announce it soon!
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