Author Interview: Najiyah Diana Maxfield of Daybreak Press

I’m on a quest to reveal the mysteries behind the book publishing industry. Where better to find this info than from the experts themselves?  Join me on this journey while I interview multiple published Muslim authors and share their insight with you.

Next in my Author Interview series is Najiyah Diana Maxfield, author of Sophias Journal, and Editor of Discover: The Magazine for Curious Muslim Kids.

Tell us a little about yourself?

I was raised in Kansas and miss it dearly. I’ve lived in Syria and Saudi Arabia and am now in Canton, Mi. Best thing about Michigan: kayaking! I love sushi and singing and soccer. I hate traffic.

I am the Managing Editor of Discover: The Magazine for Curious Muslim Kids. It is the sister magazine of Sisters, both published in the UK. I’m also the Editorial Director of Daybreak Press, an indie publishing house giving rise to women’s voices. I’m a student at Ribaat, an online program training female scholars and creating a strong global sisterhood.

My husband and I have six grown children, two granddaughters and a third grandchild on the way (yaaaay!).

What is the title of your first published book? What category does your book fit in?

Well, my VERY first published book was called “The Day the Earth Ate Supper”, circa fourth grade, writing project. Speaking as an adult, though, my first novel was Sophia’s Journal, a YA time travel adventure. I have also had several short stories published, including The Quandary, which won the 2012 Islamic Writers Alliance Short Fiction Contest.

When did your love for books start? How old were you when you first thought “hey, I think I want to write a book!”?

In the fourth grade when I read Beverly Cleary’s “Fifteen”. When I was really young, though, my dad would tell me stories of old Japan and 1,001 Nights. That’s when I fell in love with stories. I began my first novel then; it was called “Jeanie”. When the writing bug finally revisited me as an adult, I was about 39.

What was the inspiration/motivation behind your first book?

I always loved Kansas history and was fascinated with pioneer life. Once, when I was driving across Kansas, I thought, “What if someone climbed up a tall tree like that one, and when they came down they were in a different time period….” That was the beginning of Sophia’s story. I was also teaching high school history at the time, at an Islamic school. The students were very engaged in current atrocities like Palestine and Chechnya, but when we arrived at slavery in American history class, they were like, “…ok. When’s lunch?” They didn’t have any emotional connection to that oppression. I wanted to write something that would take them inside that experience, make it more personal and real for them. And I wanted a way to present the normalcy and value of the Muslim teen experience to non-Muslim young people.

People are interested in what you have to say. So go for it! - Najiyah Diana Maxfield - Creative Muslim Women

Did you use a publishing house or self- publish?

Sophia’s Journal was first published by Muslim Writer’s Publishing. I was blessed to belong to the Islamic Writers Alliance Alhamdulillah, and Linda Delgado, one of the founders, was the owner of MWP. She agreed to read SJ after she heard its synopsis, and wound up finishing it in one night and publishing it right away, even though her publishing calendar for the year was already full up. Allahu Akbar! I absolutely cannot emphasize enough the importance of networking and outreach and becoming part of the arts scene, supporting your fellow writers and artists, etc. These both enrich your life as an artist and help create future opportunities to both help and be helped by other artists. We are nothing without each other. (I know this firsthand, because I wrote a children’s story back in 1990 and there wasn’t a community to care nor a choice of publishers to send it to!)

Why did you choose that route?

Alhamdulillah it happened the way it did. I wouldn’t have had the know-how nor the money to self-publish at the time. And probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to send it out again had it been rejected. That is a fatal flaw I’ve since overcome lol. As Editorial Director for Daybreak I see from the other side of the envelope how many totally non-talent related reasons there are for a ms to get rejected.

Please walk us through your own step by step process of writing/illustrating/publishing your book.

OK, are you ready for this? As soon as my kids would go to school each morning, I would sit down and write a bit. It was hard because I had to scramble later to get all the housework and cooking done, etc. Then I had a friend who was divorced with kids and having an increasingly hard time. I asked my husband what he thought about marrying her and, long story short, they got married. So every time my husband walked out the door to go to her house, I would write. I may never have finished SJ if it weren’t for them getting married! It was a blessing in many, many ways. I highly recommend it, and that’s one reason. You have time for your own creativity, activities, projects, fun, etc.

Once SJ had been accepted for publication, the publisher did most of the rest of the work, including hiring an illustrator and commissioning a teacher’s guide Alhamdulillah. All I did was work with the editor on revisions.

The second time around, we hired an illustrator and a typesetter and found an editor. The process of going back and forth with the typesetter, getting everything perfect, re-editing, choosing styles and fonts and paying for the rights to them, working with different cover illustrators (we went through I think three), then different concepts and sketches, then trying to fit the files into the correct format for uploading to the printer…..OMG I’m having a panic attack now just listing it all! It was intense and we were on a tight deadline as we wanted it to launch at ISNA in September. And we were going through the same process with three other books at the same time!!

Sophia’s Journal has just come out in its second edition, published this time by Daybreak Press. Both publishers provided editing. Although of course this time around it was me who found them because that’s my job.

I found an editor by putting feelers out into the (enormous) Rabata community. Someone knew someone who was an editor, and it turned out we worked well together, alhamdulilllah. I also surveyed my facebook friends and solicited the more bookish types (we needed more than one editor for different projects). One of my friends was happy to collaborate and she edited another of the books.

Did you have a business plan set up prior to starting on the book or did you just go with the flow?

I didn’t have a business plan. I wish I had. By business plan I mean really a marketing plan. I was living in Syria when SJ first came out so I couldn’t really market it at all, and this time around I’m still on a steep learning curve. As far as business plan related to managing profits, etc., I’m not really there yet. Bismillah on getting there!

How long did it take till you started seeing some profits?

Ummm……I’m still working on that. I have seen some profits in both editions, but nothing that would enable me to quit the day job, LOL.

What are your books’ measurements, is there a reason why you chose that size?

I chose the standard 5.5 x 8.5, because, to me, that’s what a novel looks like. And it was standard so there weren’t any extra fees involved in the printing.

When was your book’s first release date?

April, 2008. This time around it was September, 2014.

And how many books have you sold to date?

About 500 so far this time around. Ugh. So few. Ya Rabbi, help us market better!

There are many different types of paper, which kind was best for your type of book? And why?

Crème colored soft – I looked it up and can’t find the weight of the paper.  Cover is a matte finish. We hired an illustrator to do the cover design and a typesetter to do the interior design.

If a kid walked up to asking for your advice and you only had a few minutes to give ‘em your best tip, what would it be?

Don’t think because you’re a kid, you can’t get published! There are even places that specialize in publishing kids, like Lulu Jr. People are interested in what you have to say. So go for it!

Also, keep a journal in addition to your writing. You never know what fleeting ideas or experiences might be the seeds of a future work.

People are interested in what you have to say. So go for it! Click To Tweet

So in a nutshell, what priorities should an aspiring author (like myself) keep in mind while planning their book?

Writing the book is about 10% of the work. The real work comes after, so plan for that. Build community and social media presence, etc., before you finish your ms. Don’t be shy about making cold calls for readings, etc. Support all kinds of online efforts like we co-sponsored Multi-Cultural Children’s Book Day and Islamic Book Day, etc.

Print lots of ARCs (Advanced Readers Copy) and send them out like mad to create advance buzz and get reviews and blurbs.

Another note of advice here: keep a project journal. Write down how all this happens and who helps you along the way and how you found people and even the contact info for the people who didn’t work out. That way, for your next project, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Go to writing conferences! Study others’ methods. I’m so impressed by the Ilyas and Duck guy, for example.

Submit ideas/papers for things like the ISNA Education conference, for example, and other national/international gatherings. Speak on any topic you’re interested in – it doesn’t have to be directly related to your writing. These are great platforms for getting your work out there and, just as importantly, meeting people and building community.

Write whenever you have a moment. Not just when you have a solid two hours to sit down and concentrate (note to myself first of all!).

Get a writing partner or group. It was a BOOK SAVER for me. My writing partner, Jamilah Kolocotronis (Allah yarhamha), was an invaluable sounding board, hand-holder and partner-in-crime.

That was awesome! Thank you so much for your time!! Is there anything else you would like to add?

Daybreak Press is the publishing arm of Rabata.org. We provide a platform for female writers to enrich the world one piece of writing at a time by promoting their voices in literary and scholarly works that are sound, inspirational and socially conscious. We host an annual writing contest called New Day, and the theme for 2016 is creative non-fiction. We also welcome queries for other works and enjoy collaborating on events and outreach campaigns. Daybreak maintains a global bookshop and gathering space in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Thank you so much for this opportunity! May Allah bless your efforts and the community you’re creating! Keep Daybreak in mind when your ms is ready to be considered!

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Samantha Salem

Samantha Salem

Samantha Salem is a Mom of three little kiddos. Born in New Jersey, raised in Gaza, Palestine. She craves creativity and hates laundry with a passion. Has a dusty blog full of Arabic/Middle Eastern Recipes, kid related crafts and much more. Jack of all trades, master of none! Way too many hobbies to list, with doodling being her latest obsession.
Join her on her rollercoaster ride of a life, while balancing life as a mom and running home based businesses.
Samantha Salem

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