Tell us about yourself and what inspired you to start writing.
My name is Jamila Mikhail and I’m a 22-year-old Canadian author of several books. I’m a polyglot and a human rights student with a passion for writing about important (and often controversial) topics and social issues. With whatever I say and wherever I go I manage to cause a stir but that’s something I enjoy, and that’s part of the reason I’m both a human rights student and an author!
Although I’ve always loved writing and it’s always been my way to cope with life, I was inspired to go big and actually publish these writings because I know for a fact that books can be revolutionary. I don’t expect to change the world with my books, but I know that the stories I have to tell will leave a lasting impact on the reader. My inspiration to write and publish is precisely to inspire others much of the same way I’ve been inspired by books ever since I was a little girl. I guess you could take that as paying it forward being a source of inspiration to write.
Tell us about your books.
I currently have two published books available for sale and several more available to download for free on my website. My first published book was “Innermost” which is a collection of poetry that I’ve written and compiled over a period of about half a dozen years. To me poetry is one of the most beautiful art forms in the world and several of my poems have won me local awards over the years.
My second published book is called “Don’t Let Me Go” and it’s fiction aimed at teens and other young people. It’s a little mix of fantasy, history and philosophy with contemporary social issues that young people face today including bullying, domestic violence and mental illness. Tough themes are presented in an uplifting fashion to promote a message of hope for the future. This is the kind of book I wish I’d come across as a teenager facing many of the things written about in the book.
As for the many free ebooks available on my website, they are a wide range of short stories (funny ones, weird ones, depressing ones, touching ones, a little bit of everything really), more poetry and more full length novels about contemporary issues. “The Distant Factory” is a contemporary crime novel told from the perspective of a street kid wrestling between wanting to fix her life and get revenge on a particular person who wronged her in the past. “The Florence Nightingale Effect” is exactly what the title implies it is: a nurse who develops inappropriate feelings for a patient. This novel also deals with other issues in the background, such as crime, redemption and the justice system.
How did you go about getting published?
Going down the self-publishing route was an easy choice in my case for several reasons, but the biggest one being that I retain complete control at all times. If I ever decide to change something, delete something or unpublish a book entirely I don’t need anybody’s approval or permission to do so. I don’t have to answer to anybody and that enables me to hire (or fire) anyone that I please at any time. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s been 100% worth it because I get to carve out my own path instead of being put on one that may not have been right for me.
While I have no doubt that there are many perks to using a traditional publisher, it’s just not what’s right for my vision as an author. I have some fellow author friends who ended up losing the rights to their precious works going down that route and that’s actually my biggest fear as an author. I’ve also met people who have certain books self-published and others traditionally published depending on their vision for that book and I don’t believe that you have to pick a single route for your entire career.
Nowadays you have a legitimate chance of being very successful at self-publishing with the wide reach of the internet and the many tools available out there so for me this was also a safe way to dip my toes into the publishing waters and it turns out that I’m completely comfortable in these waters.
What is your writing process? Do you have a time, day or place you like to write?
The writing process just sort of happens for me. I have to let it come naturally otherwise it doesn’t come out right. Inspiration can strike me anywhere at any time and I always bring a notebook to take down notes when that lightning strike does happen because otherwise it’s gone forever. To put something together “officially” I always sit in the living room, sometimes at my desk and most often in the rocking hair because my desk is a junk magnet for everything except the laptop.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Full-time job, pets, hobbies?
When I’m not writing I’m usually busy with school or other classes that I take part in to learn a new craft or refine an existing skill and that can be pretty time-consuming even as a part-time student on top of daily responsibilities. I now also have two cats living under my roof and my newest addition is quite the handful! Squeaker and Carling don’t allow me to sit still and get bored I can tell you that! I also keep my mind down to earth with various hobbies including collecting postcards, writing snail mail letters, participating in community events, doing activist work and lurking around thrift stores and flea markets looking for old or neglected action figure parts which I then recycle and turn into brand new creations. This doll-making of mine is in part what inspired “Don’t Let Me Go” and I actually made the doll of Adler’s character too!
Any advice for authors about book covers?
The only thing I would tell other authors is to look at the covers of other books in the same genre. This will give them an idea of what is mainstream but I would also advise them to not be a carbon copy of others. There needs to be a balance of both your book fitting in to where it belongs and standing out enough so readers will be drawn to your novel instead of another. For those with some experience in design there are many beautiful pre-made cover templates that you can edit and rearrange to your taste but for those who have no experience I would suggest getting a cover made by someone who knows what they are doing. You don’t have to pay a lot of money for something beautiful either!
Any marketing tips you’d like to share with other authors?
First off, authors should make their books available in as many formats as possible (for me that’s paperback, ebook and audiobook) and distribute them to as many retailers as possible too. It may be tempting to capitalize on a single big market by going exclusive, but you also lose a lot of potential customers this way! I’ve personally sold books on very small and often ignored channels, plus I generally don’t buy from some of the biggest names in the business either. I want readers more than I want money and if you put people before profit you should be successful in creating a solid fanbase!
My second tip is to not underestimate the power of in-person marketing! Get cards, bookmarks or posters promoting your work printed and be loud and proud! Give these materials to people you know, your local library, academic institution, bookstores and other places where people might be interested in what you have to offer. Offering someone something tangible, even just a small business card, can go much farther than we think!
What’s your favorite book?
It changes just about every single day, but right now it’s the Diary of Anne Frank.
What are you reading now?
I’m currently reading “A Mother’s Reckoning” by Susan Klebold and although I’m not very far into it yet, I already recommend it to anyone who wants to read one of those books that will stay with them forever.
What’s your next book project?
I’m currently about ten thousand words into “After Anderson” which is my latest attack on social issues expected in 2019. Like my other writings, this won’t be a book for the faint of heart or those seeking to escape the real world. It’s a hard to swallow story about a school shooting and the people whose lives have been turned upside down in the aftermath. Having witnessed much violence at school, including gun violence (though thankfully not a massacre), this is a topic that is particularly important to me. This is a book project that I also hope will help me in healing from those experiences at school. You know when they talk about whether you write for yourself or write for others, “After Anderson” is definitely writing for myself.