Author of the Month

February’s author of the month – Poetry author Utanu Maa’s lessons in resilience

For February’s author of the month we are celebrating Utanu Maa! Utanu came into Tellwell without any prior publishing experience, and with little knowledge on how she could market her book. Over the last 6 months, Utanu has embraced her new role of authorpreneur and has successfully been featured on a number of blogs, received a beautiful review from IndieReader and is connecting with poets and readers all over the world through her social media.

“Utanu Maa’s RISE AND FALL OF MY BELOVED is a short biographical poetry collection, focused heavily on the themes of grief, mourning, recovery and resilience. The story is deeply personal, it speaks for countless individuals who are voiceless and marginalized. Nevertheless, the writing never seethes with anger at the injustice and unfairness. Instead, it is full of empathy, understanding and acceptance, and may be a cathartic experience for some readers, especially those trying to heal from trauma.” – Archita Mittra for IndieReader

1. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am Utanu Maa, also known as Utanu Adele Mafandala, my birth name. I published my debut book of poetry last year using a pen name, Utanu Maa, just to keep it short on the book. I live in Toronto, Ontario and worked as a public servant within the Ontario Court of Justice. I had previously lived many years in Montreal where I migrated from the Democractic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1991. I was born and raised in DRC where I studied French Literature and Civil Law, and pursued education in Paralegal studies and Fashion Management after moving to Canada. I am a proud mother of a young man who is building his career as a Fine Art artist after graduating from the Memorial University of Newfoundland Fine Art/Visual and Technology last year.

2. What inspired you to write your book?

I needed to heal from the profound grief and loss I carried after the death of  my only sibling and brother from my mother. I lost my brother to HIV/AIDS. He suffered a lot, and it was painful to him, and to me as a sister to witness my loved one going through a myriad of pains and health complications until he died. I cared for him for the last two months of his life. I was deeply sad and devastated. 

I grieved from April 2019 until April 2020; I felt weary and burdened, I desperately needed to talk to someone to share and ease my pain. But Covid-19 had forced the entirety of humanity into confinement. My anxiety, along with everyone elses, increased and I felt so lonely inside and out.  

My son was away for studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland. In solitude, the only voice you can hear is yours inside of you or your own murmure, and the only person you talk to is your own double. So, my only rescue was to write and pour all my grief onto a paper to start a journey to resilience, gratitude, and healing.

3. How have your personal experiences influenced your book?

In my book, I expose not only the pain and suffering caused by the HIV virus but also the shame, stigmas, discrimination, rejection, and isolation that our society inflicts to people living with HIV. So, I write about a virus that is still active, still very infectious, and deadly to bring awareness for protection, inspiration for resilience in hard times, aspiration for a healthy and compassionate society, a testimony and reflection about the voiceless and vulnerable people in our society. 

Each poem of my book depicts a true story and personal experiences.  I am the witness of the events happening throughout the journey that my readers embark in my book. I wrote about what happened to my brother, from his childhood as a vulnerable orphan infant, marginalized but resilient to survive and grow, to his rise as an accomplished and successful engineer, and to his fall and death as a HIV/AIDS patient. 

My writing is also a journey into learning to express gratitude despite challenges because life is a blessing.  Our life is filled with many blessings, big or small, but we tend to forget to count them when facing hardship, struggles. One morning as I was weeping, thinking of my brother’s struggles in childhood as a vulnerable and neglected six months old orphan infant when my mother died, recalling the bullies he endured because he did not speak earlier like other kids and was labelled mentality retarded and incapable of succeeding at school, and counting the pain, sufferings, shame and rejection he faced and how he beat all odds and became an accomplished Master in Structure and Building Engineer, a still small voice stormed me inside and spoke to me in this way: “count instead the blessings of his life and heal from that because death is not a punishment”. 

From that moment, my brother’s death became the beginning of a new life in everlasting peace.  My grief taught me to express gratitude, and with gratitude, I found resilience to overcome and heal. These are the two main lessons in my book: resilience and gratitude to overcome grief, and heal.

4. What were some of the more significant lessons you learned writing and publishing a book?

I self-published my debut book and I have learned a lot. Most importantly, I have learned that having a good publisher and the budget is the key to successfully publishing and marketing the book. Also, diligence and patience, good communication, trust and respect between the author and publisher is an asset to make the dream come true, and ease the stress. 

The first step is finding an indie publisher and choosing a package according to your budget and services needed for publishing and marketing.  As an author, it is very rewarding to be committed to do your assignments from the process of uploading the manuscript into the publisher platform, Octavo, then responding to important questions such as: Who is your ideal reader, what is your goal for writing the book, how you like readers to relate to the manuscript…? 

Effective, polite, and consistent communication with your publisher is important.  I learned to be patient and wait for a good result.

5. What advice do you have for authors considering self-publishing a book?

It is false to believe that you can publish a book without spending a penny.  Publishing a book is a complex process and requires specific knowledge in publishing to navigate through important stages, including uploading your book on different platforms for listing and publishing.  

This process can become costly if mistakes occur. So, I would advise any author considering self-publishing a book to deal with an indie publisher like Tellwell who will assign you a book manager to take care of all of your needs, from editing, cover design, interior design, listings and marketing consulting services depending on your budget. 

Your book manager  will do fantastic work for you while you are taking care of your other matters. I would advise them to consider investing in marketing services to promote their book.  My book manager was very dedicated to fulfill all my needs and provided great work. My marketing consultant is my mentor and a key person for advice and support, and she is savvy and wonderful. They made my experience of publishing my first book so easy and rewarding at the same time. 

Also, publishing a book is a learning journey, and you have to research, read a lot and educate yourself in all the forms of resources available to you, mostly online.

6. What have you been doing to market and promote your book?

I paid for a package including the marketing services with Tellwell. I have a great marketing consultant, Katie, who provided me with advice and tutoring. She built my website utanumaa.com where I promote my book, and blog. She also set up my Facebook author page, and Goodreads account, where I am running right now a giveaway promotion until February 21, 2021.   

She submitted my book” Rise and Fall of My Beloved” to the IndieReader review.

I participated in a virtual blog tour with promotional excerpts of my poems posted for hundreds to read and enjoy. 

I am active in group discussions about books on Goodreads, and I recently contacted a few book reviewers and influencers who are willing to read my book, and post their reviews to help generate more buzz for the book.

I post excerpts of my book on my Facebook page and personal account, and on Instagram.  I have a small budget per month for advertisements through my social media. 

I have built a community of followers and still continue to work on increasing it. I am a member of groups of interest in literature, books or poetry where I post about books, excerpts of my poetry or other writers.

7. Tell us about the success you’ve been having with your book.

Success does not come quickly and easily for a first time, and unknown, author. It requires patience, enthusiasm, resilience and dedication in promoting the book using all the tools possible and available. My first book is a cornerstone for all the books I want to write in the future. So, I have been working on setting the grounds by following the advice of my marketing consultant to achieve success sooner or later, while continuing to work as a public servant to make a living.  

Publishing a book is like giving birth to a child that you have to nurture to see him/her grow over time.

8. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced with marketing your book? How have you overcome it?

Before publishing my book, I was not active on any social media, and did not have any followers. I had to learn quickly how to use it and do it effectively, and build a community of followers, know how to speak, and introduce my book to them through my posts.  

I soon realized how time-consuming social media is. So, I decided to schedule my posts. I also read blogs about subjects that matter to me to find answers to my questions. But my marketing consultant, Katie, has been my biggest resource since the beginning.  She is always prompted to answer my questions and has provided me with tutorial materials that I constantly refer to. 

Due to Covid-19, signing book events and engaging in person with readers is not possible. Instead I mailed a few signed books to my interested readers, participated in a virtual book tour, and hope to do a Zoom book signing and media outreach soon.

9. What’s next for you?

I am currently working on my next books. I am simultaneously writing another poetry book and a short stories collection. The short stories will focus on telling the true cases of instances where HIV/AIDS was a criminal offence.  

In the future, I would like to have my poetry as an audio book. As a Francophone first, I would be working myself on rewriting my books in French in 2022 if God still blesses me with life.

10. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to thank Tellwell for making my journey in publishing stress free, especially my book manager Jun and my marketing consultant, Katie, for providing great work. 

Connect with Utanu Maa:

Website, Facebook, Amazon & Goodreads

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