If you’ve read my first post, you will remember that I credited three sources of inspiration for my return to the blogosphere – Luvvie, my favourite blogger; Amelia, a fictional character in a romance novel; and my friend Janeth Benjamin, who took the bull by the horns and self-published a book. I also promised that she’d be the first person I featured in what I hope to be monthly interviews or profiles with some of the cool, interesting and enterprising people I know. So, here goes:
I met Janeth while studying at the University of the West Indies. We lived on the same block of the same cluster (Fidel Castro! Cluster 9!) on Rex Nettleford Hall. We chatted and shared stories and laughs here and there, but it was only through Facebook, years later, that I learned she was also a writer. She published her first book, a compilation of poetry called Bloom by 30: The Miki Chronicles, in April. The book, which captures moments along Janeth’s journey from ages 17 to 31, essentially started out online, where she has been blogging since 2010. “A few people kept asking about a book when I posted my poems on Instagram in recent years. I would also go back and read my poems on my blog, and I realized that the words were more intense as I got older. I was about to turn 30 and it made perfect sense – a tribute,” she shared.
Thirty is such a pivotal age. To many, it symbolises the decisive end of ‘youth,’ the true beginning of ‘adulthood.’ You’re supposed to know who you are and what you’re doing at 30. Your life is supposed to be in full bloom. Otherwise, what are you even doing here? It’s a lot of pressure, and Janeth certainly felt it: “A few months before my 30th birthday, I began to feel like I could’ve done more with my life. Weeks before the actual date, I was in no mood to celebrate. I wondered, what’s there to celebrate?” But she soon adopted a new perspective. “I realized that we all have our own journeys, and it’s not up to society to dictate when we bloom. I announced that I would be working on the book on my 30th birthday, and it was published about two weeks prior to my 31st.”
Janeth, who has been writing since she was about seven or eight, took the decision to self-publish on the advice of a friend who had gone that route with a few on his own works and was enjoying some success. “Some publishers offer the same service for a fee, and I couldn’t afford it,” she said. So she turned to CreateSpace, a self-publishing service from Amazon. “They have a very simple platform that allows even the technologically challenged to master it. They tell you what you need to get in order to self-publish.”
That actually turned out to be the easy part, and Janeth has some advice for any aspiring writer who wants to take this route to get their work into the public sphere. “The challenges have actually come after, with marketing, branding and eventual sales. Having a product is great, and you get some support, but building your community is not as easy as, ‘buy my book,’” she shared. “I’m still working on the branding and promos and such. My advice: start all of that before you publish. Establish a reliable and confident community, collaborate with like minds and be prepared to work harder than ever. There are resources out there, some free, some you have to pay for. If you’re new or even if you’re not new, educate yourself. If I had a publisher, then I wouldn’t have these issues, but I appreciate them. I’ve been learning a lot, so I’m sure I can help some enthusiastic minds.”
Post-publishing challenges aside, Bloom by 30 has been receiving positive feedback. “I get the ‘I’m so proud of you’ smiles. My neighbor told me it’s an inspirational book. I surely didn’t expect that,” Janeth said. I asked her if she had a favourite poem from the book, and she confessed: “I still haven’t read my book cover to cover. I started and got emotional, and it’s been sitting on my bookshelf. I don’t think I have a favorite. They all mean so much to me, it wouldn’t be fair.”
Q: Who is your favourite poet/writer and why?
A: This had me thinking for a while. I’ve never claimed a favorite writer or poet. My friend introduced me to Emerson and he’s been a constant. I fell in love with Alex Elle after reading the first page from her first book, Words from A Wanderer. It felt like I was reading my own words. My chest was in a million knots.
Q: What would you say to someone who hasn’t yet ‘bloomed’ and is worried or scared?
A: Stop worrying. The blooming is continuous because you are always learning and growing. Stop comparing your journey with someone else’s. You have to make peace with what didn’t happen for you when you wanted it. If you believe that God is steering you in the right direction, then you need to let him steer you. Where you are and what you have is what you need.
Be proud of your accomplishments and be grateful. I understand we always want more. I should have this, or I should have that. You have all you need right now. Everything will fall into place when the time is right. Easier said than done, but be patient, work for what you want and believe that you can do it.
Q: What is your philosophy in life?
A: Love God. Love yourself, all of you. Be good to people, all people.
Q: What’s the last thing you read?
A: The last book I read was What Did I Learn Today: Lessons on the Journey to Unconditional Self-Love by Akosua Dardaine Edwards.
Q: What’s the last thing you wrote?
A: My thoughts on accountability (blog post or a chapter for another book). It’s more of my blueprint for survival.