Get it Off Your Chest with this new poetry book.

Be still my beating heart! rayanne gwilliam

Carillon contributor Rayanne Gwilliam talks self-publishing and her “collaborative” book of poetry

University of Regina alumni Rayanne Gwilliam, a continuing education student who obtained business certificates from the program, has recently released a book of poetry entitled Off My Chest. On August 18, the book hit the virtual stands, having been self-published through Amazon in traditional paperback and Kindle versions. This week, I had a chat with Gwilliam about her innovatively styled book, self-publishing, and her previous contributions to The Carillon.

When I asked Gwilliam what motivated her to get into poetry from her business background, she says “I kind of asked myself the same thing… I suppose it was mostly a creative outlet, I guess you would say.” Despite the poetry being very personal and a therapeutic experience, helping other people through hard times was important to her. “I found that sometimes life happens,” she says, “you go through different things. You don’t always necessarily have someone you can go to.”

 Gwillian adds that during those tough times, “A pen and paper never leaves you. That’s always an option; that’s always a way to get things out of your system [and] that allows you to be creative and potentially share with other people, which is probably the best way to do it in my opinion. Then, you feel like you’re doing something productive that helps other people, which also makes you feel better.”

Off My Chest takes an innovative approach to the conventional poetry book. The word Gwilliam uses to describe her work is “collaborative.” She says that her “biggest intention with it was that I wanted it to basically be… something that people could express their own feelings [with…] The best way to do that was to create a space for people to express themselves [while they read.]” As a result, the poetry book leaves space with blank pages between Gwilliam’s work for readers to respond to what they’ve read.

Self-expression was important to Gwilliam, and that’s the main thing she wanted to encourage. Conventional books don’t leave any physical space between the lines for readers to interact and engage with them, and this is something she wanted to counteract. She says, “it seem[ed] kind of implausible to have just a book in itself that encourages self-expression without having some sort of other space for that to be done.” Gwilliam wants to make it clear that a person doesn’t have to respond with their own poem, or journal entry, however. “The nice thing is,” she says, “they’re just blank note pages […] if you want to express by drawing, writing, or heck, if you want to use it for a grocery list, that [space] is yours to deal with!”

Gwilliam was also inspired by the state of mental health care in Saskatchewan. She says that “[o]ur system when it comes to mental health, therapy, self-expression […] it’s very restrictive sometimes. People can feel very alone and like they’re not allowed to be themselves.” Mental health care is abysmal in our province, particularly in northern and remote communities, so Gwilliam really wanted to do what she could to combat that. [1]

Gwilliam queried the book through traditional publishers and didn’t find anyone willing to pick it up, but said that it was entirely possible she would have, noting that “you can get hundreds of rejections, but you just need the one yes.” The choice to self-publish was also symbolic for her: she says, “when I was thinking about it, [the book] was meant to be self-expressive […] A lot of times, people feel completely independent in those scenarios; they’re completely on their own.” She wanted to “show people things are possible, to be done independently. Most importantly, “it felt like the right thing to do.”

There are significant barriers to traditional publishing that many people have faced that likely have contributed to the rise of self-publishing. “It’s like the age-old “paradox” of “needing the job to get the experience,” Gwilliam says. “You need to be published and have a name in order to get published, and you need to be published in order to make a name for yourself in the publishing industry.”

A perk of self-publishing with Amazon is they don’t get to keep exclusive paperback rights, so Gwilliam is able to distribute a hardcover version through Barnes and Noble as well. She is also working on an audio version to be released soon. In the time the book has been out, most of her purchases have been to friends and family, but she is very hopeful of expanding the book’s reach with its addition to Barnes and Noble.

She also wants to reach out to independent bookstores and see if they would be willing to distribute it. For now, she’s mostly selling the paper copies from her personal Facebook page. The rights are within the library archives in Canada too, so she hopes the Regina Public Library and school libraries will also distribute it.

I had to ask Gwilliam about her contributions to The Carillon and how they inspired her book. She says she’s been writing for a long time, and the project was a long time coming. She says, “it was always something I thought I’d just have for myself […] I never thought it would go anywhere.” Writing for The Carillon proved to her that her writing was worth something, because she was getting paid for her work. Contributing, and getting that little bit of cash, gave her positive reassurance and incentive to pursue writing more seriously. As Gwilliam says, “you don’t have to be Emily Dickinson” to make it in today’s market!

She also joined a collaborative project via Submittable earlier this year to include her work in a poetry book with Poets Choice, relating to global warming. It was a heavy topic, but fun, she says. It was a widespread project that included many writers, and Gwilliam said it was quite a thrill to be chosen, and it taught her more of the process of publishing.

The cover, featured in this article, was done by a friend of Gwilliam’s in B.C., who she calls “very talented.” Gwilliam dabbles in art herself, having an independent shop with RedBubble, but says it’s more abstract style, and she wanted someone who she knew could execute her vision. The commission helped her friend add another piece to her portfolio, so the collaborative nature of the book was extended.

As of now, Gwilliam doesn’t have any social media other than her personal Facebook, but she plans on developing an author page on Amazon as well. She welcomes emails at, and notes that if anyone was wanting to pick up a copy through her directly, they can do so that way.

[1] There’s abundant information on this, but for a good, quick, overview, please see ”Mental health care access in Sask. ‘inconsistent and spotty,’ say advocates” from the Leader-Post.


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