'I published a book in the middle of a pandemic - Here's what I learnt from the process'

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Maria Pillay
Maria Pillay
Photo: Supplied
  • Maria Pillay, author of Love Always, Jesus, shares her experience of publishing a book in the middle of a pandemic.
  • Part devotional, and part journal, Love Always, Jesus started as a way for her to deal with the anger and pain she endured from the loss of a loved one.
  • Whether it's finding the courage to put pen to paper or what to expect once your book goes to print, Maria talks us through her journey.

So, I published a book in the middle of a pandemic.

Why on earth would anyone be interested in your story? Hasn't it all been written already? You don't have anything new or interesting to share. Who would read it anyway?

Those were just some of the thoughts that went through my mind every time I entertained the idea of writing a book.  

But still, I wrote and wrote and saved my stories in my "maybe someday" folder, hoping that one day I'd finally write the book that would end up on Oprah's Book Club list. Yes, I am that person.

That hasn't happened - the Oprah's Book Club bit, at least, but a girl can dream.

But I did finally write and publish my first proper book. I guess living through a pandemic had its perks - if you could call it that. And my book did form part of a weekly reading with a group of women in Westbury, a suburb in the west of Johannesburg, so I'll take that.

You may be thinking, 'What's the big deal?'. She's not the only person who published a book during the pandemic. And yes, you're correct. But, I know that there are many like me out there who want to see their books published but don't know where to start or are just too afraid to take that step.

At the beginning of 2021, I lost a close family member to Covid. My way of coping with the loss was to write even more. My faith plays a very big part in my life, so my writing started as letters to God, expressing my grief, disbelief, and anger. For months I just poured my heart out onto those pages, and then it was done.

Now what?

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Finding a publisher

The idea of actually turning this into a real book terrified me. I mean, I'm no Toni Morrison or Maya Angelou, so it's not like publishing houses were storming my door.

My first self-published "book" was written for my niece and nephew. I had a few copies printed, and to be honest, it looked like a school project. So I shared it with the kids at church and they seemed to love it. I figured it was safer to just distribute it among family and friends. At least they would be kind - even if they had to lie.

But this time, especially after experiencing such a great loss, I decided to stop being afraid and just go for it. If there's one thing this season has taught me is that we need to make the most of the opportunities that come our way.

I attended a self-publishing masterclass by Darren August a few years ago, so I contacted him. Darren is the author of A Teacher Changed My Life and the founder of Inspired Publishing.

This was one of the best decisions I made as the team at Inspired Published were very hands-on. Darren walked the road with me, talked me through things when I was unsure and was always available to answer any questions I had. There is obviously a fee involved, but it helps to have people guide you through the process.

Maria Pillay
Maria's first self-published book, Annabel and the Mustard Seed Mountain, was distributed among friends and family.

Time to market

The one thing I've learnt is that writing the book is the easy part; the hard work comes afterwards. By that, I mean the marketing process. When you go the self-publishing route, you have to be willing to promote your book at every given opportunity. And, trust me, that's not always easy. If you're a bit of an introvert like me, it can be extremely awkward.

Since my book is faith-based, I had to speak to churches about setting up a table in their foyer and selling to their congregation. There's no book signing at Exclusive Books, with rows of people waiting to get a selfie and post on social media. But my friends and family did oblige and post the book on their social media.

And once copies of the books have been printed and orders have been sent out, there's the wave of panic that hits you. What if no one likes it? My book, Love Always, Jesus, is part devotional, part journal, so I have shared a bit of my life experiences in there. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but suddenly I felt so vulnerable. I worried about what my colleagues would think, and also what my family's reaction would be.

Also, you're not going to suddenly make millions or even thousands from book sales. That would be wonderful but, let's be honest, not everyone loves reading. Some would rather wait for the movie.

But thankfully it's too late to turn back now; the book is out there.

Maria Pillay
Part devotional, part journal - Maria's book, Love Always, Jesus, started as a way for her to deal with the loss of a loved one.

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The journey so far

It's been six months since my book was published, and nearly every week, I receive messages from women who have read it. Some have found the book triggering, and many have found that it has brought them a lot of comfort. I was surprised at how many could relate to the book on different levels. It's a reminder that we are not alone in this thing called life.  

We are always holding ourselves back because of fear of failure. It's time to take the plunge - write that book, take that trip, get on that stage. So what if you fail? At least you tried. And there are so many lessons to learn along the way.  

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