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Interview with Expat author - Toni Hargis

08 October, 2013 08:27  Erin Erin

Toni HargisI’m Toni Hargis, otherwise known as blogger Expat Mum. I am from the north east of England and currently live in Chicago, USA. I have been in the USA for 23 years and have 3 Yankee-Brit children.

1. Why did you move abroad?
I married an American who was working in London for three years. I didn’t really think too much about it at the time, - just got on a plane and moved here.

2. How do you make a living?
Are you a fulltime writer? I am a part-time writer and it certainly doesn’t pay the bills. As well as writing my Expat Mum blog, I write for the BBC America “Mind the Gap” web site, and have a monthly column at the Expat Focus web site. I also run a charity called Caring Kid Connections, which helps fund a school in Ghana. Having three children and a dog also comes with some responsibility!

3. How did you start the process of writing a book and get it published? Did you go to a publisher? Self-publish?
My first book, “Rules, Britannia; An Insider’s Guide to Life in the United Kingdom” was published by a traditional publisher (St. Martin’s Press). I took the traditional route of acquiring an agent who then got me the deal with St. Martin’s.  My new book “The Stress-Free Guide To Studying In the States”, is published by Summertime Publishing, an expat specialist house. This project is more of a hybrid publishing process where I bear some of the financial cost upfront, and am much more involved in the development of the finished product. Both books came about because of questions I was being asked at the time. Almost as soon as I moved to the States, Americans began asking me for tips and advice on going to the UK, hence “Rules, Britannia”. My new book addresses the questions I have recently been answering about how international students should apply to colleges in the USA. In each case, it was almost like the book idea found me.

4. What was the hardest part of taking your writing to a book format? Did you blog before writing your book?
I started blogging after my first book came out, so there was no transition from blog to book format. When I write, I start with a clear idea of my target audience and what I’m trying to deliver in the book. Then I start amassing facts and writing down the points I want to make. Eventually the material starts forming itself into chunks, which then become chapters. As I near the end of the brain dump, I often have to move information around and put it into a different chapter than I originally thought. The hardest part with “The Stress-Free Guide To Studying In The States” was that every word I wrote had to be solid fact and not just my opinion. That meant a lot of research and crosschecking, which I find quite tedious even though it has to be done. I’m much more into sweeping generalizations and gentle teasing!

5. What is your perception of the expat book market?
Has it changed throughout the process?  Hmm… I don’t think I have a “perception” of it. Obviously it’s a niche market in most cases, but it’s also a growing market given that more people are moving around the globe and are in need of help and advice. The expat memoir/fiction market is also growing and the stories being told are fascinating to expats and non-expats alike.

6. What is your favorite part of the book?
The final chapter is for parents of international students who are interested in attending college in the States. With many colleges, parental involvement is encouraged and sometimes required. This is probably not what most international families will be expecting and some of my examples will make them roll their eyes in disbelief. For example, my daughter’s college sends us regular e-mails on everything from visiting rock bands to campus security updates. We are reminded to send care packages so that our student won’t feel left out at exam time, and of course, there’s a huge Parents’ Weekend every October when all the hotels are booked solid with parents.

7. What was the most difficult part to write?
A lot of it was really difficult. As I mentioned, it had to be solid fact with citations and web links. I usually try to inject humor into my writing and also give a lot of my own opinion about matters, but this book doesn’t really lend itself to that.

8. Besides your book, what book should everyone read?
I don’t have a favorite book, and actually a lot of what I read goes in one ear and out the other. The one that seems to stick in my mind more than most is “The Historian” by Elizabeth Kostova. It’s probably the scariest book I’ve ever read and yet completely credible at the same time. Apparently it took her ten years to write, which gives me some encouragement.  Writers I believe, should read as much as they can about the writing process; there’s so much to learn, both about the art of writing itself and about the science of marketing one’s work. I subscribe to Writer’s Digest, which is incredibly informative and encouraging.

9. What advice would you give to other expats that want to write a book?

The same advice I give to anyone wanting to write a book – Do Your Homework. Make sure you have a market for your book before you do too much work on it. There’s nothing worse than realizing there’s another book out there just like yours. You need to be able to differentiate your book from everything else on the shelves, otherwise how can you persuade people to buy it. I’m not a fiction writer so this relates more to non-fiction, but I would also say that a work of fiction needs to stand out in its concept too. I would also say Do Your Homework with regard to the content. If you’re writing NF, make sure your facts are actually factual and not just hearsay or urban myths, because there’s always someone ready to highlight your errors. With fiction, make sure you know your characters, the geography of the setting if relevant, and details about their work, hobbies or anything else you bring to the story.

10. What are you working on now? Do you have plans to publish another book?
As writers will know, the real work starts when the book is finished, so I’m now working on Toni Hargis The Stress-Free Guide To Studying In The Statesmarketing and publicizing “The Stress-Free Guide To Studying In The States”. I love writing, so I will definitely start thinking about another book, but not until I’ve done all I can to get the word out about my current book.

In today's global world, many students attend universities outside the country, culture and education system in which they were born or grew up. For an increasing number, the USA will be their aim, but few will have an understanding of the US education system, the best universities for their field of study, or the application requirements for international students. Where do you start? With this book. For the first time crucial information is in one place, answering all your questions on US universities - applications, academics, visa requirements, arrival on campus and beyond. The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States is an essential first resource for any student, or parent of a student, looking for a comprehensive, easily accessible, stress-free guide to studying in the States.

For more about Toni and her current work, go to her website at You can also folow her expat blog at



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