Last November, self-published author Aija Mayrock was driving to a meeting in Los Angeles when her mother called. “My mom had just gotten off the phone with my agent and said, ‘Scholastic is going to publish your book!’ ” Mayrock recalls. “I slammed on the brakes in the middle of L.A. and was in shock. It didn’t sink in until that evening. I remember driving around L.A., blasting Eminem’s album ‘Not Afraid.’ It was a great day.”
Mayrock’s path to publishing wasn’t what most would call normal. Just a month earlier, the 19-year-old had self-published The Survival Guide to Bullying as an ebook to coincide with National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. “I didn’t want to wait the minimum 18 months for a publisher to publish my book. I felt that it was very important for kids to have this book as soon as possible, so I decided to self-publish,” she told PW last November.
What Mayrock didn’t know at the time was that The Survival Guide to Bullying, filled with “roems” (rap poems), quizzes, and strategies on how to combat common teenage stressors like anxiety and cyber-bullying, would not only attract the attention of kids across America, but of publishers as well.
A Fateful Phone Call
In the weeks prior to and following National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, much change was taking place in Mayrock’s life. She moved to New York City in fall 2014 to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, to study film and TV production. In her off time, she did the occasional media interview and visited schools and libraries to promote The Survival Guide to Bullying. And she picked up an agent – Jay Kramer – just in case a publisher might be interested.
Mayrock also took a shot in the dark and did something bold. According to Samantha Schutz, associate publisher, nonfiction and licensing at Scholastic, Mayrock pitched her book in an email directly to Ellie Berger, Scholastic’s president of trade publishing. The tactic worked. “We saw the article about her in PW and that [Aija] was already getting so much press on her own, so we downloaded the book,” Schutz says. “We were just so incredibly impressed by her. Yes, her book was self-published. That being said, [we thought] it was really well done. It very much felt like it was from a kid, but had polish to it and was relatable.”
By Thanksgiving, Mayrock had inked a deal with Scholastic. “I knew I wanted to sign with [them] because I was so proud to have won [a Silver Key] in Scholastic’s Art and Writing Awards just a year and a half before,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it! My dreams came true when [I found out] Scholastic was interested.”
On June 30, Scholastic will publish a revised ebook, and a paperback version of Mayrock’s original ebook, newly vetted by Deborah Temkin, an expert in the field of bullying; a hardcover library edition will follow in September. They contain most of the original roems and anti-bullying quotes like “Do NOT let being bullied define your success in school.” They also include new elements, such as an epilogue, a Q&A containing answers to some of the frequently asked questions Aija has encountered during visits to schools and libraries, and a chapter entitled “Getting Help: Becoming Your Own Superhero” that explains why talking to teachers or parents about bullying is a crucial step, and provides realistic tips on when and how to do so.
Schutz explains, “[Aija’s] self-published book was really amazing and she did have it vetted [by psychotherapist Myrna Fleishman, Human Rights Watch West founder Dr. Victoria Riskin, and director of teen program AHA! Dr. Jennifer Freed]. But I felt one big piece that was missing was more of a parental involvement, and really urging kids to start by speaking to their parents. If a kid doesn’t know what to say or how to say it, [Aija’s] really giving them some options now.”
Promotion to Come
Mayrock has already been hard at work promoting The Survival Guide to Bullying prior to its June 30 pub date. On June 13, she appeared on Snapchat’s “Pillow Talk with Poppy” show. She gave away signed copies on Instagram using the hashtag #SurvivalGuidetoBullying, and created a Post It Forward video on YouTube called "Something About Bullying." And during BEA last month, she signed copies of her book and performed one of the book’s roems.
Scholastic plans a two-pronged publicity and marketing campaign for the book, during the summer and again in September and October for back-to-school and National Bullying Prevention Month. Girls’ Life will include a “Speak Out” piece written by Aija in its August/September issue. Scholastic’s online teen destination This Is Teen will host signed book giveaways, an author feature in its librarian-facing e-blast, and promotion across Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. And Kid Lit TV will run an interview with Aija in the fall.
Mayrock will also hit the road for book signings and speaking events. In addition to school and library visits, she is slotted to be the opening keynote speaker for ALA’s 2015 Young Adult Services Symposium on November 6 in Portland, Ore., and will appear on the ALAN nonfiction panel during the National Council of Teachers of English conference in Minneapolis on November 23.
Now that her book has been picked up by a major publisher and her calendar is about to be full once again with book-related engagements – at least until her NYU course load resumes in September, Mayrock couldn’t be more thrilled. She’s come a long way since the days of being bullied in her middle school’s cafeteria. “It has been a wild, exciting, busy, and wonderful few months,” she says. “Quite the journey!”