On the surface, 18-year-old Aija Mayrock seems like any other artistically inclined teenager. She enjoys reading and hanging out with friends. She dabbles in poetry and has written a few screenplays. But for the past two years, Mayrock has also been immersed in a project particularly close to her heart: she wrote The Survival Guide to Bullying and self-published it earlier this month.
For Mayrock, the self-publishing process wasn’t easy. She started from scratch and didn’t know where to begin. But with the help of a few influential contacts, Mayrock completed the e-book just in time for an October 1 release date—the start of National Bullying Prevention Month.
Like many young people, Mayrock was bullied throughout her childhood. As a third-grader growing up on New York’s Long Island, she was called fat, ugly, and stupid. “A nothing.” When her classmates weren’t making fun of her during gym, in the lunchroom, or in the girls’ bathroom, they took to the Internet and lambasted her on Facebook, posting mortifying photos and calling her names. It was a humiliating experience, Mayrock admits, and despite her parents’ frequent attempts at intervention, the situation only got worse. To this day, Mayrock says she’s still unsure why her peers hated her so much.
When Mayrock was a freshman in high school, she and her parents relocated to Santa Barbara, Calif. “I was not bullied in California the way I was bullied in New York,” Mayrock remembers. “[But] I was just not welcomed socially. I was the kid who wasn’t invited to parties or social gatherings.” After two years, she transferred to a smaller high school where she thrived.
But despite living nearly 3,000 miles away from her New York tormenters (who were still taunting her on social media), Mayrock wasn’t ready to move on from what she endured. Instead, in 2011, she wrote a screenplay for the Santa Barbara 10-10-10 Student Filmmaking and Screenwriting Competition about a bullied girl who commits suicide. “A Heart’s Journey,” which was then made into a film as part of the contest and screened at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, was 10 minutes long and starred Mayrock as the sister left to pick up the pieces. The film won. At 14, Mayrock became the youngest high schooler to take the top screenwriting prize since the competition began in 2004.
“I have continued to work with the Santa Barbara International Film Festival ever since,” Mayrock says. “I owe the discovery of my passion to them. I met them as a 14-year-old girl with big dreams who never expected to be accepted into this prestigious festival. I was able to work with professionals on my film and discover my craft.”
Writing a Book
Working with other screenwriters and directors was an eye-opening and validating experience for Mayrock. In 2012, she submitted another film to the 10-10-10 Competition—a comedy called “Diego” about a boy who didn’t want to grow up. The film earned her runners-up distinctions in both directing and screenwriting, and a Silver Key from Scholastic’s Art and Writing Awards.
But even after those successes, Mayrock was still haunted by what happened during her childhood, and wanted to do something for other bullying victims. At 16, she gathered up her middle school journals filled with roems (rap poems), drawings, and painful rants, and started writing a roadmap on how to survive both in-person bullying and cyberbullying with your self-esteem intact, including advice, quizzes, and contact information for organizations that can help. “I had notes, poetry, and stories that I had written and collected for many years. These journal entries and my reflections were the beginning of my book.”
For the next two years while she finished high school, Mayrock conducted the bulk of her research. She interviewed parents and teachers from her community. She talked to hundreds of kids who had experienced bullying. And she solicited the help of psychotherapist Myrna Fleishman, Human Rights Watch West founder Dr. Victoria Riskin, and director of teen program AHA! Dr. Jennifer Freed, who vetted the advice Mayrock includes in the book and supplied her with up-to-date statistics from the field. She also picked up an editor named Michael Harkavy, an acquaintance of Mayrock’s mother, who walked her through many revisions.
“The best part about writing this book is that it has helped me heal. The more I revisited my past. The more I began to be able to put things into more of a perspective,” Mayrock says.
Making Magic Happen
Unlike most authors, Mayrock didn’t even consider publishing the book through traditional channels when she completed the manuscript in March 2014. “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 says.
Mayrock knew nothing about how to publish a book herself, so she started gathering information by reading articles online. She found a graphic design company she liked called Omnivore that designed the book’s layout and cover. Additionally, she hired Rowland Holmes, an independent contractor from the programming and design network Arturan, who shepherded the book from paper manuscript into its digital form. Finally, she chose Book Baby to handle The Survival Guide to Bullying’s distribution through iBooks, Amazon Kindle, and smaller affiliates like Oyster and Scribd. The book is priced at $4.99 “so any kid can afford it.”
Now that The Survival Guide to Bullying is finally published, does Mayrock feel her mission is complete? Quite the opposite. As soon as her e-book became available for purchase on October 1, she created a website and enlisted her mother as publicist. Many hours of cold-calling and blind email pitches to editors have garnered a number of radio interviews, including SiriusXM Stars “The MOMS,” ABC Radio’s “The Larry Elder Show,” and a segment with the NPR-affiliate KCBX Central Coast Public Radio-’s “Issues and Ideas” Mayrock is also taking time off from attending New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts to embark on a nationwide tour to educate kids and teens about the dangers of bullying. Her first stop was on October 6 to more than 100 fourth, fifth, and sixth graders at Montecito Union School in Santa Barbara.
“It was an incredible experience and they even stayed during their recess to ask me questions,” Mayrock says. “I’ve been getting more and more emails to speak at schools [and have] been reaching out to educators, sending them press releases, and getting lots of requests!”
Though Mayrock is certainly proud to be a published author, her mind is never far from the real reason she wrote the book: to help kids. Some of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to nonprofits working to raise awareness and put an end to bullying. “There are many organizations such as Whisper and Your Voice that want to be connected to this work,” she says. “I am also considering the Robert F. Kennedy Center: Project Seatbelt or Human Rights Watch: Children’s Division. This book is my gift to the next generation of kids who will be bullied.”