Guest Post by Brook Allen
You Just Never, Ever Know
What am I talking about? Let me tell you a story.
Since high school, I wanted to write about ancient Rome in the 1st century BC. Of course, life got in the way, so I tried to pacify the urge to write by reading lots of other historical fiction instead. My favorites were novels by Margaret George, whose lengthy, but well-researched and best-selling books never failed to lure me in. Still pacifying my hunger for ancient history, my favorite was her Memoirs of Cleopatra. Yeah, I really liked that one. I read all 900+ pages—three times.
Fast-forward Twenty-five Years Later
I was finally writing that book on ancient Rome in the 1st century BC. And more specifically, it was a trilogy on the controversial life of Marc Antony, one of the main characters in George’s Memoirs of Cleopatra. One day, on a wild hair, I decided to jot Margaret George a brief note, letting her know how much I appreciated her book, and how it had inspired me to write on Antony. Naturally, I sent the email to her agent, hoping he’d pass it along to her in the near future.
Two weeks later, I opened my email and my jaw dropped! My favorite author had written me back!
In my initial email, I had shared that I had recently visited Nero’s Domus Aurea in Rome, while doing research in the Eternal City. As it turned out, Margaret George was writing a duology on Nero at the time. She appreciated my “thank you note”, but was also interested in how to visit the Domus Aurea.
Soon, we were writing one another and it was like we’d always known each other and we chatted about personal experiences, sad things in our lives, and—
WAS THIS REALLY HAPPENING?
Finally, I actually talked her into going to Rome to tour the Domus Aurea and even shared details about a guide I always use over there. Since that incident, she and I have become very special friends. Margaret encouraged me to attend a writer’s conference at which she was speaking. It was in my area, so I did. We had dinner together, and she told me more about her incredible career, and charged me to “keep in touch about Antony”.
Turned Out That Agents Weren’t Quite As Excited About Marc Antony As Margaret George
In fact, I only had one bite. They were all looking for “strong, female protagonists” and ancient Rome wasn’t the trending period for historical fiction.
However, as I prepared to self-publish my book—
Margaret George became my mentor
How many indies get to have dinner with their FAVORITE author, much less have their debut novel blurbed by that favorite author?
This petite, lovely, grande dame of historical fiction believed in ME. She shared my work with a friend of hers who hosts a nationally syndicated radio show. That friend—PatZi Gil, read and loved my book, too! Suddenly, just weeks after my debut novel’s launch, I was booked for an hour interview on JOY ON PAPER. And this was a radio show that hosted authors like Baldacci, Cussler, and Higgins-Clark as frequent-flyers!
And There I Was—On The Radio
First of all, I didn’t panic. I was fortunate, really. I had a background in the arts, and didn’t have a problem with public speaking, stage-fright, or coming up with stuff to say. I could do this!
Then PatZi wanted a press-kit.
What the hell was a “press-kit”?
I had to Google it!
But now it’s one of the most important folders on my computer. Every author should have one!
What's In A Press Kit?
Basically, it’s all the stuff you want the public and media to know about you—both as a writer and as a person. Some of it you probably already have one, but if not, here’s a short-list of seven items I keep in mine:
An updated bio (Focus on your work as a writer/author. Keep personal info. to a minimum.)
Professional photos (PatZi suggested I collect LOTS of them. Authors need pix of themselves.)
Interview questions/answers (I have a series of these for each book. That way, I can refer to them prior to an interview. They also make great fodder for book-club discussions)
Contact information (You NEVER want an interviewer, agent, publisher, or HBO mini-series producer struggling to find you. Include your website, email, social media addresses and any other pertinent info. inside your press-kit.)
Synopsis (This may help in case your interview is at the last minute and the host doesn’t have time to read your work. Be their HERO and then they’ll want you back!)
Back-cover blurb (For my interview on JOY ON PAPER, PatZi created a lovely spread about me on her website. She used my back-cover blurb to entice readers to my work. So they’re even useful OFF of the book!)
Book-cover graphic (As always, it’s one of the selling factors of your book. Encourage interviewers to use it. Recently, a local paper included mine on their FRONT PAGE! Talk about a rush when I got my copy!)
How To Prepare For An Interview
Research your host and venue. Know what you’re getting into before the big day comes by reading about the host/hostess and learning the background of the show on which you’ll appear.
Go over your questions/answers that YOU have prepared. That way, if nerves set in, you will have information rehearsed and ready. If it’s unscripted, prayer is always an option. 😊
If it’s a phone interview, choose a quiet setting. Be sure you pick a spot away from screaming babies, barking dogs, and spouses wondering what time the dinner date is!
CHARGE YOUR PHONE!!! Dear Lord, let me NEVER be the one whose phone battery dies in the middle of an interview. Eeeeeeekkkkk!
Dress for success. If you appear as part of a panel discussion or on television, be sure to ask what attire is preferred.
My hour-long interview on JOY ON PAPER was nine months ago.
It was a phone interview and it was LIVE and cold-turkey. In other words, there was no pre-recorded, easy to edit discourse. BOOM—I heard the intro music, PatZi’s enthusiastic introduction, and then I was live and didn’t have a clue what would be asked. It was really not too difficult, however, because any author loves sharing about their book. And that’s exactly what I did.
Margaret George continues to champion me and my work. And it all started because I wanted to thank HER.
What Exactly is the Moral of this Story?
Let me answer that for you.
Whether it’s on a nationally syndicated talk-radio show, writing an email or spending time on social media, ALWAYS use that time to display the very BEST of you. Not politics, pet-peeves, and grumbles, but YOUR PERSONAL BEST. When you have a public speaking gig and not many people show up ... if you have a signing and only a few readers seem interested … it doesn’t matter.
BE PROFESSIONAL! DO YOUR BEST!
People: you just never know. The lives we touch as authors are diverse. You could make someone’s day with an autographed copy of your book, you might be the very first author a child ever meets, you might share a tidbit of information that dramatically changes the way another writer approaches their subject matter.
YOU can make a difference.
And just as importantly, you might just run into somebody who has strings to pull, encouragement to give, and find your favorite author or agent by accident. You may gain an invaluable mentor who will speak out on your behalf and help take your authorship to the next level. It might result in a fabulous and productive professional relationship that will be unforgettable and an enhancement to your work.
Life is full of surprises.
You just never know.
Brook Allen has a passion for ancient history—especially 1st century BC Rome. Her current work is a trilogy on the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony, which she has worked on for the past fifteen years. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published in March 2019. Brook’s new book is Antonius: Second in Command.
Though she graduated from Asbury University with a B.A. in Music Education, Brook has always loved writing. She completed a Masters program at Hollins University with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies. Brook teaches full-time as a Music Educator and works in a rural public-school district near Roanoke, Virginia.
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