I’ve always wanted to write a book. When I was younger, I wrote and illustrated a children’s story. I printed and bound it at a cheap print retailer and gave the books to all my friends’ children as Christmas gifts. It was a small achievement but didn’t quite fulfill my dream.
So as an older, wiser soul, I finally decided to tick off another item on my bucket list by writing my book. Little did I realize what a journey it would be. I wrote in dribs and drabs and after two years of writing, I decided to get serious and finish the job. I signed up for NaNoWriMo and committed to finishing my work in the month of November 2016.
I did it. By the end of November, I had finished the story of my life thus far. A rollercoaster of events bringing me home. For the next six months, I edited, sought advice from friends and colleagues, wrote a whole lot more, and procrastinated. I was afraid to submit my baby to a publisher – fearful of the inevitable rejection. There is something extremely personal about sharing your writing and I felt vulnerable.
I heard about a first-of-its-kind event hosted by Jacana Media, offering to choose twenty participants to pitch their book to a panel for possible publication. We were to present to Jacana’s publishing director and the submissions manager, along with the publisher and founder of BlackbirdBooks, the GM of Marketing at Exclusive Books, and the contributing books editor of the Sunday Times. A rather intimidating group of people. I applied and sent in all that was required, thinking that it was rather a long shot.
Well, thank goodness for long shots. I was chosen as one of the twenty. Oh my word, the excitement levels were ridiculous. And then as the time drew closer, the nerves kicked in. I prepared myself, practiced my Powerpoint presentation on my poor work colleagues, and hyped myself in every way that I could think of until the big day arrived.
I took the day off work and had my hair done in the morning, babbling on to my stylist as we feverishly planned book launches and photoshoots at the salon. I made my way to the venue, making sure not to be late due to our infamous Jozi traffic. Arriving early I was told that they were running late. Very late. So I joined a group of other hopefuls drumming fingers on the table, pacing the reception area, or chewing their nails.
We shared our different writing experiences with each other and the group morphed as some went in to pitch and others arrived for their turn. Interacting with the other writers helped to calm my nerves and I found the variety of people and their passions extremely interesting. I experienced a warm sense of belonging with these people – a sort of brotherhood.
Next, it was my chance. As I entered the den, my mouth went instantly dry. I hoped that I could speak at all. I held my hands behind my back to control the shaking. The panelists were chatting amongst themselves and I stood there feeling like the new kid in class.
I was then introduced to each one of them and to my surprise, they were warm and friendly. They asked me to tell them about the story, which made it easy for me to simply share myself.
Twenty minutes later, I walked out of the room buzzing. I beamed at the group waiting outside, telling them to relax and enjoy it. I felt like I could take on the world. The panelists were encouraging and gave me enough feedback to give me more hope, without promising a thing. The entire session was videoed on Facebook Live, which I hardly noticed at the time, but gave me something to look back on and evaluate later.
It’s also a great tool for exposure. My fear of the publishing world dissipated and I realize now that even if nothing comes of this pitch, I have other options. I am encouraged to keep writing. I’m gearing up for this year’s NaNoWriMo and my next book. There is a bubble of anticipation for what could be. My love of writing is growing by the day. It was a worthwhile experience and I’m so glad I applied, despite my misgivings.
This has opened a door for me. I have been overwhelmed by the support that I have received from friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and strangers and I look forward to whatever lies ahead.