Margo Thomas earned degrees in Accounting from the College of The Bahamas and Valdosta State University, respectively. She is the Director of the Take Stock in Children Program in Tallahassee, Florida where her team helps families eliminate the cycle of poverty through mentoring and providing students with resources and tools to help them navigate the pathway through high school, college, and a career.
As she was the first in her family to go to college, Margo fully understands how this opportunity makes a significant impact on the lives of the students she serves. A few years ago, while researching resources to help her parents navigate the college-prep journey, she was disappointed that she could not find information that would speak directly to them. A lightbulb went off and she asked herself, “Why shouldn’t I write exactly what I am looking for?” A year later, Margo published the book, Help! What I Tell Parents About Preparing Their Kids For College. This simple, easy-to-read guide has been preparing parents to successfully help their students transition from high school to college. Because Margo is passionate about getting students through college with limited debt, she also developed a college-prep planner for high school students called I Am College Bound, which was published in June 2020.
Margo’s other passion is educating women about basic financial literacy. She coaches and supports recent college graduates in getting their financial houses in order. She meets women who are overwhelmed in the rat race and are tired of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Many of these women are college graduates who have been saddled with crazy student loans and consumer debt. They are at the place where they would like to purchase a home, but because of their extreme debt, they do not know where to start. Margo uses her professional expertise and personal experiences to help women assess their financial situation, change their behavior with money, develop their money management toolkit, and crush their debt. Margo recently published a budgeting and financial planning workbook called, Get Your Financial House in Order.
Author | Trainer | Speaker | Certified Coach (Budgeting & College-Prep)
FB: Parents of College Bound Students
FB: Your Budget Coach
1) First, I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! When did you know that writing is what you were called to do? What is it about being a writer that you love the most? What about being a writer frustrates you the most?
Honestly, the writing bug just came about as a thought, maybe 8-10 years ago. I didn’t know what I was going to write, but I didn’t think it would be anything fiction. Then, I joined a group of authors with the Tallahassee Authors Network to learn about writing. I branched off a little to join the Christian author’s subgroup, which is where I got my first opportunity to write. I participated in an anthology with my short story called, When Fate Whispers.
What I love: I believe it’s looking back at what I wrote and thinking, Hmmm, I didn’t know I had that in me. I don’t think I’ve experienced any dislikes.
2) Can you tell us a little about your book(s) and where our readers can find out more about them and you?
All of my books can be found on Amazon. The first book, When Fate Whispers was a part of an anthology about the consequences of sin. That story started off one way in my head and went in a totally different direction. I’ve been told that it sounds like someone’s testimony, and in some ways, it is. The first book in my college prep books is called, HELP! What I Tell Parents About Preparing Their Kids for College. I wrote this while working as a director for a program that provided access to college resources for middle and high school students. That book essentially answers most of the questions I usually got from my parents after their students graduated from high school. This book is conversational and easy to read. It’s for the parents who want their child to go to college, but are not sure of the basic steps to get there. The I Am College Bound college prep planner is for high school students who need to stay on track with their college prep activities. It includes information and trackers for a variety of topics related to choosing a career, a college major, and the right college; what is considered financial aid and how to get it, speaking with a guidance counselor, etc. I wrote this planner to help my high school students navigate the college prep process to avoid waiting until their senior year to start this process. My final book, The First 28 was written as a way to heal myself after losing my husband a year ago. I recognized that the first month after losing my husband was a blur and it was difficult to even think about what needed to happen each day. In my search to find a book that spoke to me as a black woman, I realized that there was nothing there (or at least I couldn’t find anything). I knew that I wasn’t the only black woman dealing with this pain, so it made sense to me to write what I needed and share it with other women to help them navigate those first few days as well.
As I’ve said, all of my books can be found on Amazon.
3) Where do you draw your inspiration from for the stories that you manage to weave together and the characters that you create?
The only fiction book I’ve written is When Fate Whispers. Honestly, I just randomly came up with the characters and started writing. I had an idea in my head of how I wanted the story to be told, but it changed drastically throughout the story. Some of it became a part of my story, while other parts were made up as I went along. I am still in shock at how that one turned out.
4) Do you have a schedule for when you write? Do you outline your novels? How long does it generally take you to finish a novel? What projects are you currently working on?
I try to follow a schedule of sorts. I put my writing times in my calendar as a scheduled event and I try to do everything I can within that time frame. I’ve gone to the library to write and I’ve also had great success sitting in my car in a parking lot for a few hours with my timer on. I write until my timer goes off.
I do a mindmap for all of my books. If you’re not familiar with a mindmap, it is similar to an outline, but in a graphic form. I usually write about the main topics and subtopics and then go from there. Of course, my mindmap may not be as detailed as someone who is writing a fiction novel. The timing of my writing varies. My first college prep book took forever because I kept second-guessing myself and thinking about what others would think of it because I was trying to be as simple with the information as possible. My publisher and writing coach called me one day and we went through the book, page by page until I felt comfortable releasing it. The other book was written during the pandemic using ideas I planned to use for my high school students. It was low-hanging fruit, so that was completed within two months. The grief journal took a couple of months two write and organize as well.
5) What’s the first book you ever read that really moved you emotionally? Who is your favorite author to read? What book are you currently reading?
Hmm. Honestly, I don’t remember. I’ve been an avid reader for so long. I just read anything. Like most girls my age, I started sneaking my mom’s Mills & Bones (I think that’s how to spell it) books. Then I read a lot of young adult books, such as the Babysitters Club and the Girls of Canby Hall. As I got older, I started reading lots of Daniel Steele, until I got wind of John Grisham and James Patterson. Recently, I’ve been reading a lot of books by Melinda Michelle, Ann Marie Bryan, Waletta Dunn and E, J, Brock. I am currently reading Crazy Faith by Michael Todd.
6) What has been your most significant achievement as a writer thus far? Where do you see yourself within your career in the next five years?
I got an opportunity to supply some of my college prep books and planners to a local high school for their AVID classes. This increased the number of sales on those books and produced a decent profit. Also, a couple of organizations purchased my college prep books and gave me an opportunity to speak to their students about different college prep topics. That is something I really enjoy.
7) How have you dealt with rejection within your writing career? What is your advice for other writers to better be able to cope or navigate their way through the publishing process, be it traditional or self-publishing?
I haven’t had a lot of rejection in my career – or at least I haven’t paid much attention to it. Every perceived failure for me is considered a learning opportunity to help me determine what I could have done better. Maybe I didn’t communicate well enough. How can I do a better job next time? Maybe I didn’t show up as prepared as I should have been. How can I prepare better next time? I am usually open to constructive feedback from others. I know our projects are our babies and it hurts when someone calls it “ugly”, but we have to take the parts of the feedback out that could work for us. We also have to think that maybe the publisher or the publishing route we are approaching is not the right fit for us. I suggest having a few people you can trust, and who understand the genre you’re writing in read your manuscript before sending it off to a publisher. Get feedback from a few sources and take the feedback without feeling attacked. I wouldn’t put it in a book group for feedback because some people can be brutal, just because…..
8) Do you find it hard to juggle the creative side of being a writer against the business side of being a writer, in terms of marketing and promotion and things of that nature? How hard has it been (or easy) for you to build up your author platform?
I think promoting our books is work, but it’s necessary. Many of us enjoy the writing part of the process but hate promoting it. It’s all a part of the process and if you don’t get it out there, no one will know that it’s available and no one will buy it, and we can’t complain that they aren’t. I’ve realized that many of us are afraid or ashamed to share our projects on our social media platforms because we feel people are going to say, “Here she goes again trying to sell that book.” I don’t look at it like that. I share so many posts from others on my social media platforms that I’m ok sharing my own work. Plus, I am not on my page saying, “Buy my book, please buy my book.”. I try to tell stories about my projects. For example, when I travel, I always try to locate colleges or universities on my route. I often visit those schools and take photos with my book. I started calling it #CollegeTour. I share those pictures with information about the school. That’s how I got the books in high school. a Facebook friend reminded another friend that I sold college prep books, so he purchased some from me. I don’t remember who sings the song, but the young folks liked to say, “Closed mouths don’t get fed”, so if you don’t share your work consistently, no one will remember that you wrote a book and therefore, no one will purchase it. This week, part of my promotions for my grief journal was to go to local funeral homes and give them a copy of my book to share with a woman who recently lost her spouse. I included a letter that introduced myself, shared why I wrote the journal, and shared that my book could be purchased through Amazon or directly through me. When I dropped it off, I briefly shared my story. Most seemed surprised that I was doing this, but they also immediately thought of a client who could benefit from it. My hope is that the funeral homes would purchase a few of them to give to their clients. I plan to do the same with my college prep books. I also purchase ads and other paid opportunities to promote my books. I do interviews on podcasts and other platforms and am currently planning to pay to be a vendor at some major conferences. They will be an investment, but I am trying to sell in volume, so I believe the investment will pay off.
9) What unique quality is there about you, about your art, that you feel represents your authenticity? How does writing help you to be more empowered in your purpose?
Of course, since I’ve worked in the college prep space, I understand what type of information and assistance parents and students need as it relates to preparing for college, even when they don’t know what they need. Because of this, I believe I can be authentic in how I share that information, also taking into consideration that sometimes information should be as simple as possible. People in academia and some at other financial levels may look at my books and consider them too basic, but they are not the readers I’m trying to reach, so that is ok. With my grief journal, I am transparent about how I’ve been feeling, knowing that other women are going through the same grief, but feel as if no one understands what they’re going through. When I write, the hope is that someone will say, “Yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about.”
Obviously, writing has helped me to process my response to the loss of my husband. This grief is so in-your-face that I had to find an outlet to stay motivated to do simple things, like get out of bed every day. The writing process has helped me in that way, but it is also empowering to share my experience with others, so putting it in a book for the world to see is definitely up there for me.
10) How can readers find you and your books?
Book links https://amzn.to/3z1SSdL | https://bit.ly/FateWhispers | https://bit.ly/college-prepforparents | https://bit.ly/college-prep-planner
Social Media Handles Facebook: Author Margo Thomas & Parents of College Bound Students | IG: margothomas20;