Author Interview: Thomas Lee, Author of the Nonfiction Guide REBUILDING EMPIRES

I love interview debut authors when I can. It’s important that aspiring authors be able to see their journeys to publication, so they can understand what they did right & wrong along the way. This interview is with Thomas Lee, author of the nonfiction business guide REBUILDING EMPIRES (Palgrave Macmillan Trade, Dec. 2014).

Thomas Lee is a nationally-recognized business journalist whose work has appeared across the country, including the Star Tribune (Minneapolis), St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Seattle Times,,, and China Daily USA. In 2013, Lee won the Gerald R. Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism Award, the highest honor for a business journalist. He currently is a business columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle.


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What is the book’s genre/category?

Nonfiction business.

Please describe what the story/book is about.

Rebuilding Empires describes how big box retailers like Best Buy and Target will adapt to the digital age.

What was the time frame for writing this book? 

I started writing Rebuilding Empires in September 2013 and took a three month unpaid leave of absence from my job as business reporter at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. During my time reporting the book, I took trips to Nashville to attend a Best Buy store managers conference and then to Dallas for a Best Buy video game tournament played on the jumbotron at AT&T Stadium where the Cowboys play. In January, while finishing the book, I took a new job at the San Francisco Chronicle. So I obviously had a lot on my plate with a new job, new home, and my first book to complete.

How did you find your agent?

I found my agent John Willig at the Writers Digest East Conference in New York in February 2013. I attended the pitch slam and spoke to eight agents. All eight expressed interest in the project and I ultimately chose John.


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What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?

Believe it or not, I found the writing and editing process of the book to be relatively easy, partly I suppose because of my background as a journalist. But I was surprised by the conservative nature of the publishing business, that a good deal of the economic risk of the project falls on the author. People should realize that an author is not only selling a project to the publisher but selling himself/herself. That the author must do most of the promotion and develop a marketing strategy, using every single contact and platform at his/her disposal.

Looking back, what did you do right that helped you break in?

It sounds like a cliche but just taking the initiative is probably the biggest factor that allowed me to succeed. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of journalists out there who are way more talented than myself and who want to write books. But many of them don’t take the risk and actually do the damn thing.

On that note, what would you have done differently if you could do it again?

I can always be more organized and disciplined in the writing process.

Did you have a platform in place?  On this topic, what are you doing the build a platform and gain readership?

Since I am a journalist, I already have a natural platform in place. I’ve been using my column at the San Francisco Chronicle to promote the book. I also enjoy a deep list of connections within the news media to help get the word out about Rebuilding Empires. I’ve already done a lot of interviews with radio and television stations so I’m pretty comfortable in front of the camera or behind the microphone.


You can find the book on Amazon here

And a little about me here.

Favorite movie?

I have many favorite movies: Inception, The Dark Knight Returns, Birdman to name of few.

Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed?

Always use active verbs. Avoid passive voice if you can.

Something personal about you people may be surprised to know?

I guess you can say I’m an amateur actor: I performed in The King and I and Into the Woods in the Twin Cities.

What’s next?

A second book I hope!


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