Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Interview with Jamila Tiaira

The debut author of a new collection of poems discusses the inspiration behind her work and the decision to self-publish. ♦ 
In today’s market, the question for a lot of young writers seems to be how to get a book published. Traditionally, there was one and only one way to go about it—the usual method of trying to find an agent, trying to find a publisher, seeing that path through to publication—though that model, in addition to being a long and arduous process, has always favored the novel over other traditionally underrepresented (and noncommercial) literary forms such as short story collections, novellas, and poetry collections. But with the rise of self-publishing over the last few years, the rules have been rewritten . . . and books which might’ve been a hard sell through the old model are now finding not just publication but receptive audiences.
    I recently had the privilege to sit down with the poet Jamila Tiaira to discuss the publication of her first book, Love is a Beautiful, Painful Story. Released in February 2016, the book is a collection of intensely personal poems written about Tiaira’s own relationship experiences . . . and a book that Tiaira chose to self-publish through the online platform Lulu. In this interview, the author talks with me about her life and writing from personal experience, putting the new collection together, and the process she experienced as both a first-time and a self-published author.

When did you start writing? 

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was younger I actually used to want to be an author, then I got interested in journalism in high school and stuck with that for much of my adulthood. But I would still do creative writing here and there.

Tell me a little about your writing process. 

With two kids, I do not set aside “time” to do much of anything . . .  Though I’ve tried to get back into writing creatively more (I write all day at work), so I try to make myself write an hour a day, but that doesn’t always happen. A lot of times, an idea, phrase or whatever will come to my mind, and I will find the nearest notepad and jot it down. (I also have several ideas/verses in my phone).

When did you decide you wanted to write a book? How long did it take to finish? 

I’ve had this collection of poems for quite some time, so in the summer of 2014, I decided why not compile them into a book? Some were written years ago, others were written recently. I can’t really say how long it took to finish, since a lot of the poems were already complete. I was just sitting on pieces of notebook paper.

Did you have a purpose in writing this collection? What was it? 

I just wanted to get my work out there. I know I’m not going to make millions, but at least I got my words and my feelings out there.

Did you have your theme in mind as you were writing the poems, or did you discover it after looking through your collection? 

For the most part I knew my book would focus on love and relationships. That’s what all my poems centered on.

These poems about love are relatable and universal. Was that the intent, or are they personal stories? 

Some of the poems are personal, but like you said love is universal. Love is something that I pray everyone has the opportunity to feel and have. The title touches on that. Love can be a beautiful thing if it’s with the right person. If not, it can be a painful experience. I’m sure every woman has been there . . . or will be there at some point.

What made you decide to put such personal experiences out there? 

There was no real reason why I chose to publish my personal experiences. I feel as though no matter what, women can relate. And as far as the poems being personal, the only person who knows which ones are truly about me and my own personal experiences is me.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

It was in the summer when I decided I wanted to get a book published. I sent out letter after letter to publishing companies. For one, getting an agent is fairly difficult, and I soon found out so is getting a company willing to publish you without an agent. So, after getting several rejection letters, I sent a letter to [Kareem Simpson from Bookmark Publishing] in Cincinnati who helped me through the entire process.

What has your role been in the publishing process? You obviously wrote the book, but did you design the cover? Have you done your own marketing? has templates for the cover, so I picked something basic. My goal was just to get my book out there and share my stories. [Simpson] from Bookmark Publishing edited it and sent it to me for final edits. I held my book release in February, and I have been in charge of my marketing . . . mainly through Facebook and word of mouth.

Your book is available on Can you tell me more about what this website is? 

I had never heard of until I was told about it from Bookmark Publishing. He had already uploaded my work, and I took it over from there. For the most part, the website is fairly user friendly and fast when it comes to printing on demand. [also] networks with other e-book providers such as Amazon and Apple iBooks, so they distribute the e-books on those sites.
    I knew I wanted an e-book version; it was just a matter of when. I knew the hard copy version was obviously more important, so much of my focus was on that first.

Some poets don’t publish e-books because the format doesn’t always support the layout of poems. Did you have that problem? 

I have not seen that as a problem . . . yet. I am in the process of working on the e-book format, so we will see!

What advice would you give to a young writer aspiring to publish? 

Get used to hearing “no.” That doesn’t mean your work has no value. Keep pushing. And keep writing. Also, read! You can’t expect people to read your stuff if you don’t even read other works. It’s always good to see other writers’ styles, ideas etc.
  • About the Author
    Maci Alf is a senior at Miami University graduating in May. She has previously been published in Happy Captive Magazine and is the web designer for Diversity University, an online artistic magazine. Besides writing, Maci enjoys media work. She is currently the producer for the short film Limbo and is employed as a writer for WLWT Channel 5 News.

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