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Mark Malatesta Interview and Review with Mike Croissant

During this interview and Mark Malatesta review, author Mike Croissant talks about his book, his best tips for writers, and his experience working with former literary agent Mark Malatesta, who helped Mike get nine offers of representation from literary agents. Mike is the author of Bombing Hitler's Hometown: The Untold Story of the Last Mass Bomber Raid of WWII in Europe, published in hardcover by Citadel Press, an imprint of Kensington Publishing.



Crew with Judith Ann Bomber on airfield

Mark Malatesta Review by Mike Croissant


Headshot photo of Mike Croissant in front of USA and CIA flags
Book cover for Bombing Hitler's Hometown with bombers flying

"After spending a decade on this project, my book is finally out. Thanks to you, I got nine offers of representation from literary agents—in less than one week. I was blown away, it's been surreal. My book is now available in hardcover by Citadel Press, an imprint of Kensington Publishing. When I finished writing my book, I was still an active CIA officer, so doing things like making a website and promoting myself to build my platform went against every fiber of my being. I'm still not a big self-promoter, but I'm growing more comfortable with it. I'm glad, because me doing that led to me getting a blurb from General David Petraeus, who read my book and called it a brilliant page-turner!"


Mike Croissant

Bombing Hitler's Hometown

(Kensington Publishing/Citadel Press)


The Mark Malatesta review above is an edited excerpt. Click here to see the complete Mark Malatesta review, and click here to see more Mark Malatesta reviews.


Mike Croissant Interview


During this 57-minute interview with Mark Malatesta, author Mike Croissant talks about his book, Bombing Hitler's Hometown, published in hardcover by Citadel Press, an imprint of Kensington Publishing. During this interview, Mike also shares his advice for other authors, and he talks about his experience working with former literary agent Mark Malatesta, who helped Mike get nine offers of representation from literary agents.



Part 1 - Mark Malatesta Interview & Review

 

Mark Malatesta: Mike Croissant is the author of Bombing Hitler's Hometown: The Untold Story of the Last Mass Bomber Raid of WWII in Europe, published in hardcover by Citadel Press, an imprint of Kensington Publishing. Mike got nine offers of representation from literary agents—in less than one week—which allowed him to choose an agent who's responsible for multiple New York Times bestsellers in Mike's genre. General David Petraeus has called Mike's book "a brilliant page-turner."

 

During the waning days of WWII, 5,000 American airmen embarked on a white-knuckled mission to bomb one of Europe’s most heavily defended targets—Linz, Austria—the town Hitler called home. This riveting account reveals the never-before-told true story of the mission, and the epic journey the surviving airmen endured to return home.

 

Mike Croissant is a retired CIA officer and student of history who lives in Texas. He holds graduate degrees from Indiana University and Missouri State University. He's published two books as well as journal articles about security issues in the former Soviet Union.

Mike is an avid practitioner of what he calls “full-contact history”—locating and exploring neglected historical sites. His travels have taken him to his uncle’s abandoned WWII air base in Italy, a German mortar pit overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy, the remains of a fortress attributed to Alexander the Great in Uzbekistan, and many places in between.

 

Mike comes away from each expedition with dust on his shoes, dirt under his fingernails, and—most important—a renewed belief in the need to study history and pass on its lessons.

 

To learn more about Mike, visit mikecroissant.com.

 

One more time…that’s mikecroissant.com.

 

So welcome, Mike!

 

Mike Croissant: Thanks, Mark. How are you?

 

Mark Malatesta: I’m good, and I’m excited. Your story is unusual. Not only the book, but you getting nine offers from agents in less than a week. That is absolutely not normal. So we won’t pretend for a second it is. But I’m happy to be able to celebrate it with you, and the book being out. And I'm looking forward to you sharing more about the book. I’m glad you’re doing this.

 

Mike Croissant: Thank you.

 

Part 2 - Mark Malatesta Review & Interview

 

Mark Malatesta: Let’s start with, I’m sure you’re familiar with my format...I always like to start at the end and then work backward. So, I just want to get you talking about the book a little bit first. Then I’ll do a follow up to that and ask you to talk about how this unfolded with getting the news from the agents and all that. But first please talk about the book a bit. I know the number one thing everybody listening to this or reading the transcript will be after is your advice for writers. But I know a lot of people will also be interested in purchasing the book, and hopefully posting a review if they like it as much as we do. So, talk about the book a little bit more.

 

Mike Croissant: Sure. The story is about the last mass bomb raid of World War II in Europe. What does that mean? The United States Army Air Forces were engaged in a strategic bombing campaign in Europe in World War II. By late April 1945, that campaign had largely ended because of how deeply allied ground forces had penetrated into Nazi Germany. However, in late April, Vienna, Austria, fell to Soviet forces and the Germans were able to pull back many of their anti-aircraft artillery guns to Linz, Austria. Linz happened to be not only a main communications center, primarily a rail yard for the Germans, but it was also the town that Adolf Hitler spent most of his adolescence.

 

At that stage in the war, that target had to be taken off the board. So, the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy was tasked with bombing the railyards in that city. It’s a personal story to me in that my uncle was on the mission. He was a bombardier in the 459th Bomb Group. He, fortunately, survived, as well as all of his other missions, twenty-one missions in all. He went home and was awaiting discharge in South Dakota when he received an opportunity on short notice to go home for the weekend. He caught a military transport for Wisconsin, and unfortunately it crashed, killing all aboard. So, I never met my uncle.

 

We’ll probably talk about this more later, but I was able to piece together the missions that he was on, this being one of them, and it led me to this story. I eventually interviewed about fifty-five survivors over the course of several years. And I also made two research trips (to Linz) during which I interviewed some of the people who were underneath the bombs. This story is an incredible tale of courage and survival, perseverance, patriotism, terror, death, and post-traumatic stress. I’m looking forward to it getting into the hands of a lot of people who can read it and hopefully benefit from it.

 

Mark Malatesta: It’s always hard to remember because by the time a book is out or coming out it's been a while since when we brainstormed strategy to get the agent, who then had to sell it. I know it takes a while, even though you got an agent quickly. But what were some of the differentiators? I remember one of them being like you talking about it not just being the raid but the things after, and  PTSD. Talk about that for a second, that uniqueness and why you felt that was important, and everything about the families.

 

Mike Croissant: Sure. Only about the first half is the actual battle. The second half of the book I delve deeply into how the men got home. Fifteen aircraft were shot down that day because the Nazis defended the target area ferociously. About a hundred and fifty men were fighting for their lives when they got out of the aircraft. One crew landed in or near the worst concentration camp in Austria called Mauthausen. Another aircraft made an emergency landing in Hungary. One of its crewmen was wounded and left behind. He ended up in the hands of the Soviets and even though they were nominally our allies, the Soviets tortured him ferociously for a few days before handing him over.

 

These and many other stories I uncovered through initially writing letters to the veterans who were on the mission and then speaking with them. I became quite close with a few of them and got to understand not only what it was like but how it affected them. Most of the men were suffering in some form with PTSD that manifested itself differently over the years. Some had taken their memories of the war and locked them away because it was just too painful to deal with. Only over time, and with the intervention of their children or myself they got to talking about it. So, the book became kind of a group therapy session for the veterans and for me and the children to discuss the war and its impact and how the men got over it. I tell you, I made some incredible friendships that I will never forget with some of those men that I will treasure forever.

 

Part 3 - Mark Malatesta Interview & Review

 

Mark Malatesta: I think that’s definitely unique that you dive deeper into kind of the internal journey of those people and the people around them and those relationships. And, in my view, I’m sure I told you this at the time, I thought that would give the book broader appeal for female readers because it’s not just about the bombing, right? I mean it’s never just the bombing, but like many books or movies it can feel like it’s mainly that or just that.

 

Mike Croissant: To think these men were 18, 19, 20 years old, and how many people get to save the world at that age? It’s really about the pinnacle of your life coming so early in your life. How do you go on after that? I think a lot of the men didn’t really grasp that they had accomplished so much at such a young age. You know, myself, I served over twenty years in the CIA, and still look at myself in the mirror wondering if I've done enough.

 

Mark Malatesta: Right.

 

Mike Croissant: These guys, they literally saved the world when they were teenagers. It’s truly incredible to think about and the responsibility thrust upon their shoulders, and how they handled that. Gave up their lives and then asked practically nothing in return when they got home.

 

Mark Malatesta: It’s clear your passion and heart are in the project, and I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves with the tips for writing...but not every writer has to have that deep personal connection or passion in the project that way, but boy, it sure helps. Right? As you were describing the interviews with all those people, I was thinking, "Wow, Lord knows how many hours you put into that." I mean not even the writing, but just the research and collecting information, and the conversations. Unless you love it and have that drive, it’s not happening.

 

Mike Croissant: Certainly a labor of love, no doubt about it.

 

Mark Malatesta: You and I both know how hard it is to get a publisher. Everybody probably knows. Let’s talk a bit about the happy part. You know, how the news came in and how it unfolded. I won’t remember all of it. I just know that once you got the first offer, I would have said, "Hey, what else is pending?" And you would have said, "All these others." Then we would have narrowed it down and you would've chosen. But relive that. Your story might be how someone else's story goes down. So relive the short version of the first offer coming in to choosing who you were going with. And then share the same thing for the publisher interest, and anything you’ve done to celebrate.

 

Mike Croissant: Sure. I sent about two hundred agent queries by email over the course of three days. I started on a Tuesday. I got my first offer Wednesday morning. That same day I set a personal record. One agent responded within eight minutes.

 

Mark Malatesta: Wow!

 

Mike Croissant: She went on to give me an offer of representation. I was dumbstruck. I just couldn’t believe how successful it was. It was all about the preparation.

 

Mark Malatesta: Right.

 

Part 4 - Mark Malatesta Review & Interview

 

Mike Croissant: You had given me a spreadsheet of prospective agents as well as their areas of interest and their contact information and so forth, what their submission guidelines were. I had that all ready and I just started sending a whole bunch of emails and again, was just absolutely flabbergasted with the response. To celebrate, I called the only remaining veteran I had interviewed for the book that I knew was still alive. Like I said, I interviewed about fifty-five, but at that age, you know this guy was in his late nineties.

 

Unfortunately, they had all passed. I called him. He had actually been wounded in the raid and nearly died. He processed the information and I was out with my buddies doing the second part of my celebration, having a cold adult beverage, when he called me back and he thanked me for telling the story. He said that now the children of these men would finally be able to understand what it was like. That was an incredible moment. It’s emotional, a couple years later, being thanked by a man who bled for his country, because I told his story.

 

Mark Malatesta: Right.

 

Mike Croissant: That made all the work worth it, and it will continue to be, knowing that the children of veterans have gone through their lives not having any idea what their dads did. Knowing now at least some part of what they went through. I hope that that will benefit people.

 

Mark Malatesta: Absolutely. I know some people are probably flabbergasted and shocked hearing that you sent out some two hundred plus queries, and not over a year or two, but in a very short span of time. But part of that is strategy. It depends on your book. If you had something like Christian fiction you would've only had about sixty agents you could query, total, working at about forty companies, so you couldn’t have sent out two hundred. But when you have a book like yours and there are six-hundred-plus agents interested in general nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, history, or military nonfiction, then all of a sudden there are that many good agencies.

 

Two hundred plus agencies where you could query one person at every one. And why do we do that? Well, you know, because that gives you a greater chance at getting more than one offer, and even though that one lady you said offered representation, we don’t need to name names, but responding in eight minutes. Well, she wasn’t the one you decided in the end was the best one for the project. So, we’re glad you sent out that many and had that perfect scenario. And you know, usually, I tell you this and everybody this, you usually get one offer and you’re just happy to have the one. Right? But, boy, it’s better when you have nine. Right?

 

Mike Croissant: It was not an easy decision. I went through all of it, and you know we did a little phone interview and they heard me out. I heard them out and it was really hard. There were three, it came down to three and you and I talked about this. You steered me toward the agent who had experience getting some war stories with the big publishers and that’s what I went with. It was successful.

 

Mark Malatesta: Sometimes it’s easy to choose, sometimes it’s not. I’ve got a client right now who has, not as many, not nine like you, but he has like five or six with three top contenders and he’s having a devil of a time right now. Like, oh, which one? This one has this, this one has that, but you’ve got to choose. I can’t choose for you because you’ve got to live with it. But we were on the same page with yours. Okay, so let’s get into the case study content, so to speak. Let’s go back in time, the very beginning of your journey as an author, before this book, because I mentioned in the bio you had written some other things. When did you first get an inkling you might want to be a published writer or could be? How did that unfold?

 

Part 5 - Mark Malatesta Interview & Review

 

Mike Croissant: I believe, Mark, that we all have a God-given talent, some particular skill we’re meant to use to do good. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people go their whole lives, or much of their lives, without knowing what theirs is. I was fortunate that I figured out pretty early on, probably in middle school, that I was a pretty good writer. I think back, one of my earliest forms of writing was a short story. Again, I was probably in sixth or seventh grade and it was about me as a swashbuckling fighter pilot over Europe in the opening hours of World War III. I was a child of the Cold War and World War III was a real prospect, and I wrote this story. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep it, I should have, but it was about a page and a half, just a little story about me fighting the commies over Europe.

 

I think it goes back to a life-long love of reading. My mom tells me a story that my grandpa would take me shopping and would give me the choice of candy or a book and I would always choose the book. I just couldn’t stop reading. I think, as I grew older, I developed a deep respect for good storytelling. Tom Clancy and Stephen Pressfield on the fiction side and Rick Atkinson and Tom Holland on the nonfiction side. Gifted storytellers. When I became a father, I found myself, unconsciously I think, trying to pass on life lessons to my kids through stories. Then a few years ago I led a thirteen-mile hike at Gettysburg with Boy Scouts, and I tried to relate to them the history of the battle as a story in a way they’re not going to get out of textbooks. Speaking for me is much harder than the written word. It was effective and I could see the light bulb go off for many of them and that was very pleasing to me.

 

Mark Malatesta: Right.

 

Mike Croissant: Storytelling is a difficult craft, and some people are naturally good at it, and some have to work at it. I think I’ve certainly put in the work, and I think the story in Bombing Hitler’s Hometown is one that needed to be told. One that will move people, and that’s what I wanted.

 

Mark Malatesta: That was your original title right, when we met? Or did you have a different one?

 

Mike Croissant: You know, Mark, the publisher took my title and subtitle without a change.

 

Mark Malatesta: Did you have that title and subtitle when we met?

 

Mike Croissant: I did.

 

Mark Malatesta: Okay. Yes, because if you had a terrible one and I came up with that brilliant one, I would have wanted to get credit for that. But yes, yours was one of the few where I was like, "Oh, yes, that’s money. We need to keep that, that’s good." I think you were talking about maybe changing it and I was like no, no, no. Or I could be misremembering. But, anyway, wasn’t Stephen Pressfield, hasn’t he written some books for artists and writers as well?

 

Mike Croissant: He has.

 

Mark Malatesta: Okay, I thought so. I’ve read those and they're amazing. I just couldn't remember if that was him or not. There’s some tough love in there but it’s good stuff.

 

Mike Croissant: Mm-hmm.

 

Part 6 - Mark Malatesta Review & Interview

 

Mark Malatesta: What else did you write in between this book and that first story?

 

Mike Croissant: I cut my teeth with academic writing. The first graduate program I attended was very focused on long-form writing. We’re talking eighty- to one-hundred-page research papers, and master’s theses were regularly five hundred pages or more. Those came fairly easily to me and after a couple of years of watching my master's thesis gather dust, I submitted a proposal and got it published with an academic press at age twenty-seven. Not long after that I started working as an analyst at the CIA, and the pendulum swung in the opposite direction. CIA writing is stripped down to absolute bare bones. There is no personality to it.

 

Mark Malatesta: Right, right.

 

Mike Croissant: It’s just the minimal writing required to convey a message to the busy policy maker. They need to be able to read and understand your point within the first few sentences.

 

Mark Malatesta: Like briefing the President.

 

Mike Croissant: Yeah. You may get a page for the President at most. You may get five or ten pages for a lower ranking person, but your language is stripped down to the bare bones. And if I could go back and tally how much I wrote during my two decades, it had to be in the thousands of pages. So, I have a varied background. Academic and government, and Bombing Hitler’s Hometown turned out to be neither of those things. I think that’s a good thing.

 

Mark Malatesta: Now I know this, but I’m going to ask for everyone else, how did you get the idea for the book?

 

Mike Croissant: Sure. I am the child of a World War II veteran. My Dad served domestically. Fortunately for me he was not sent to combat because he had bad eyes. He’s now passed on. His brother, my uncle, Ellsworth Croissant, did go into combat and I’ve already discussed him. He survived the mission but did not survive the journey home. I became interested in his life late in my father’s life. My dad very rarely talked about him and never talked about the war. I got my dad talking, I got my aunts talking. We wrote letters to each other, and eventually I got my uncle’s letters that he had written during the war. I pieced together the bombing missions that he was on. He served only in 1945, he got in right at the very end of the war.

 

I pieced together the missions that he was on, and I started to look into each target. You know, where is Klagenfurt, Austria, for example? Why did we bomb it? Is there anything historically noteworthy about it? And I’d go on to the next target. Well, I come to Linz, Austria, the town Hitler calls home. It is the town where he planned to retire and be buried one day. It’s also the town where he planned to build a museum to house all the artwork his minions stole throughout Europe during the war. That changed things for me. That really put an interesting spin on the mission. And when I began doing Internet research about that particular mission, I would find accounts written by veterans who were on the mission, and they described it in the most horrifying terms. They were expecting, with the war winding down, an easy mission.

 

Mark Malatesta: Right.

 

Mike Croissant: They were shot to pieces. Like I said, fifteen aircraft were shot down, twenty-eight men were killed. Every veteran who went on the mission knew that they were lucky to have survived. So, within the space of a few months I went from mentally thinking I could write a book about this to I have to write a book about this. It was like a light bulb went off and I just started to dig deeply into archives, into whitepages.com and contacting veterans.

 

When there were sixteen million men serving in a war it can be hard to find a Bill Johnson or a Joe Smith, but I was able to find Achilles Kozakis, Hal Millett, and Dale Shebilsky largely because there aren’t that many men by that name. I reached out to them through letters, and I’d say the majority, certainly the majority who are still alive, called me and then that’s how it all started. I did a lot of interviewing the first couple of years and sat down without a plan or an outline and just started writing the story. It took, start to finish, about ten years.

 

Part 7 - Mark Malatesta Interview & Review

 

Mark Malatesta: When did you start looking around to see how much of this was out there already in other books...what did you find...and how did that impact your journey and how you wrote the book?

 

Mike Croissant: There are a couple well-known figures who were on the mission and sadly one of them just passed away today, Norman Lear. He was on the mission as a radio operator. He wrote about it and spoke about it at various events, his time in the service. And there was George McGovern, who ran for President. An entire chapter on the mission is in one of Stephen Ambrose’s books called The Wild Blue. That’s pretty much it. Everything else was buried deeply in unit histories or newsletters or in the National Archive’s materials. I had to roll up my sleeves and really dig in. It was not easy. For example, my uncle’s bomb group, a lot of the records had been lost. For some of the units I could find practically nothing. But every time something like that would happen, I would find a treasure trove of information on other men in other groups. It was clear pretty quickly that I had enough of a story to put it into a book.

 

Mark Malatesta: So, I’m assuming agents and publishers are having the same reaction I did. Why hasn’t this been done already in a book, and as a movie or a streaming series or something? It’s surprising.

 

Mike Croissant: Yeah, and I’m a pretty visual guy. I retain information primarily from reading, but I do learn visually. I wrote the story as if I was seeing it happen. This is not an academic portrayal. It’s very much as a person would experience it if they were there. One of the best compliments I got was from one of my veterans who told me that I had come very close to describing what it actually felt like. That was high praise.

 

Mark Malatesta: Not what it looked like and smelled like and everything else, but what it felt like.

 

Mike Croissant: Right.

 

Mark Malatesta: Alright. Anything you did along the way prior to us meeting as far as author education outside what you already mentioned, like reading books on how to be a better writer, other than the Pressfield stuff, writers’ conferences, workshops, seminars, working with editors, coaches...anything whatsoever?

 

Mike Croissant: I didn’t do any workshops or conferences. All of my author education was done on the job at the CIA. I wrote many times for the President of the United States. 9/11 happened not long after I began, and I sort of learned on the job. I did receive expensive analytical writing training as I went. Thankfully a lot of it came through, like I said, I believe everyone has a certain talent and mine was writing. I was able to do the job pretty effectively as I went. But you should get an education in a way that works best for you. We all have our own ways of learning. Find one that works best for you whether it’s books or workshops, or seminars, social media groups, a coach. Keep looking until you find something or someone that makes it all click and then go with it.

 

Mark Malatesta: Like the analytical training you had to help you write clearly. It should help you write concisely though, we’ll talk about that in a minute. Your book was kind of long there at first.

 

Mike Croissant: It was a little long.

 

Part 8 - Mark Malatesta Review & Interview

 

Mark Malatesta: (laughing) Alright, so, okay, let’s get into your best advice for authors on how to write a book. It doesn’t matter if they’re writing narrative nonfiction like you or whatever it is. Any tips you’ve found helpful that potentially could help someone writing a book in the genre, or any other. You decide. It could just be a habit thing, it could be something internally, how to think, how to plan, plot whatever, just a few things that you think might be helpful.

 

Mike Croissant: My advice again is to find what works for you individually as a writer. Some people may write a detailed outline at the beginning or have a quota. Like today I’m going to write 700 words, or 7,000 words, whatever. I just was not wired that way. I couldn’t impose a deadline or goal on myself during the writing process. I never once made a list, like finish chapter ten by Sunday or whatnot. I would sit down and when I felt like my head was clear and the creative juices were flowing and bang out whatever I could on the keyboard. If I started to struggle, I just walked away.

 

One thing that sticks out in my head, I was deployed overseas in a war zone and there I wrote part of the chapter on my uncle’s death. We were working 16 to 18 hours a day most of the time, but on Sundays we typically got to sleep in or show up a little late. My quarters were a retrofitted shipping container, and one Sunday I just sat down and wrote some passages that turned out to be pretty powerful about my uncle’s death. I have no idea why it happened that way, but it did. Did I ever get frustrated with myself and with my pace? Of course, I mean it took me ten years to do this. But I always took the attitude it’s going to be okay. When you have a good story, the story will almost tell itself. Don’t force it, don’t impose a draconian deadline or quota. It will kill your motivation and stress you out. Just go with whatever works for you. And if it takes you a decade like it did for me, that’s okay.

 

Mark Malatesta: I like that. And what about with publishing a book, you know, traditional verses self-publishing? Did you think about self-publishing at any point?

 

Mike Croissant: I did and fortunately I had a wise coach who quickly dissuaded me of that.

 

Mark Malatesta: (laughing) That’s good.

 

Mike Croissant: I wanted to get the story into as many hands as possible. The book is a love letter to the men of World War II, and to their children. Most of us whose fathers served knew very little about what our dads went through. And I wanted the child of a veteran of any war to walk into a bookstore one day, and see my book, pick it up, and hopefully find answers as to why their mom or dad never talked about war. I wanted veterans to read it and understand that what they did in the service mattered, even if they feel like it didn’t. Could I have done that by self-publishing? I doubt it, and you convinced me that was not the way to go in our very first conversation, and you were right.

 

Mark Malatesta: It certainly can happen. I mean I did one of those introductory coaching calls with someone today, and they were asking me about self-publishing. I said self-publishing is an awesome option, like but usually option C. Option A is a literary agent and a big publisher. If that doesn’t work, trying to go direct and get a legit non-fee charging small- or medium-size publisher who will print and distribute books and promote the book. If none of that works, then self-publish rather than put the book in the drawer, and it’s a legit option. But as you go progressively down that rabbit hole from A to B to C we’re having less chance of reaching as many readers, and that’s just the bottom line.

 

Lightning can hit and self-publishing can lead to becoming a bestseller. That happens, but it’s a lot more likely if you have a big publisher like yours, and they print and distribute a lot of books and do things to promote it. You’re much more likely to reach people. So, what about marketing and promotion? You probably weren’t expecting me to push you to do all the things I pushed you to do prior to going out to agents to make your platform bigger. What are some tips, insights to help people get a better sense of that reality, and if there’s anything you think they could or should be doing while they’re writing their book, or you know building their platform to help them get an agent once their book is finished or whatever, some thoughts on that?

 

Part 9 - Mark Malatesta Interview & Review

 

Mike Croissant: The marketing piece was challenging for me, but it’s one that I ultimately came to really enjoy. Obviously, by nature of my work in the CIA, you know I was living a fairly secretive life, and I tried to minimize my digital footprint. I was on Facebook, but mostly used it to keep in touch with family, I certainly didn’t use it to splash my life out there. And as an introvert, you know, promoting myself is something that goes against the grain.

 

Mark Malatesta: Especially before you even have a published book. I was like, "Hey, reach out to people..."

 

Mike Croissant: I used social media and my author website primarily to market the book. Social media is a great way to engage the audience directly. I’d provide updates on the book’s progress through the publication process. I’d have little giveaways, announce signing events, promote the dust jacket blurbs that several experts had given me, things like that. But on the other hand, I would try not to overdo it. I don’t want to burn people out or brag or be a nuisance. So, I’ve been very optimistic and excited about this book, so I had to tamper down my excitement occasionally and just try to trickle out the marketing.

 

Mark Malatesta: Mm-hmm.

 

Mike Croissant: The website is very important, and this is another thing that you encouraged me to establish at our first meeting. You know, firstnamelastname.com, you told me to do. I did it, and I've used it to pretty good effect to showcase the book and give people a place to buy it. I also approached the website as kind of like the bonus content that you might find on a DVD or Blu-ray.

 

Mark Malatesta: All that stuff I suggested you cut from the book doesn’t have to disappear. You can use it. (laughing)

 

Mike Croissant: You give the reader a little something extra, something that’s not in the book. In the blog on my website, I published a lot of the stories that I cut. I also use the website to entice those who haven’t read it yet to do so. I made a book trailer, which I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Essentially a two-minute video about the book, just like a movie trailer but it’s about the book. And I had the voices of actual men who are in the book in the book trailer. It’s something I put a whole lot of time and effort into, but I think it turned out really well, and I think it’s going to help sell books.

 

Mark Malatesta: Right.

 

Mike Croissant: There are a lot of tools on the internet that I recommend people use for creating marketing materials. I use Canva, C-A-N-V-A.com regularly. It’s very useful for creating graphics and videos. It’s user friendly, and most importantly most of it is free. But going back to social media, I’d say just be mindful of your tone and content. If you’re trying to reach a wide audience, think first before you wade into controversial issues unless your book is about one of them. And if it is, go for it. Again, my thing is do what works for you. Check out other author’s websites and social media sites. There are even web pages dedicated to ranking the best author sites and why they work so well. Use them and see what you like and what you don’t and then emulate it in your own way.

 

Part 10 - Mark Malatesta Review & Interview

 

Mark Malatesta: I want to make sure people understand I only push authors to create an author website prior to querying agents if they have nonfiction. Because for nonfiction, agents and publishers are demanding or expecting or hoping you have a decent following or ability that you can prove you’re capable and committed to promoting the book when it comes out. The easiest thing to do in that area is create a website. You don’t need a book there for sale yet, but you can talk about the content in the book. You don’t even have to say there is a book on the website. But you can say, "Hey this website is devoted to this topic." Whatever. There’s a blog, a contact page, a bio page. You might have a media and a speaking page even if you’re not doing that yet.

 

Telling the world that you’re available for speaking and interviews looks more real and becomes more real once you get that out there and start then reaching out to potential promotional partners, like you did prior to querying agents to get more people saying, "Oh yeah, I’ll accept or read a copy of your book when it’s published. Oh yeah, I’ll have you on my podcast. I’ll accept maybe an article from you for publication." You start gathering those and that goes into your marketing plan in your proposal, and all of a sudden the agents are a little less scared about them losing money on the book because they know you’re going to be a hustler when it comes to promotion, in your way. Again, not everybody needs to go out and be a speaker. There’s a lot you can do just from your laptop.

 

Mike Croissant: Yep, and with all of the tools available it’s pretty painless and doesn’t cost a lot.

 

Mark Malatesta: Right, right. You’ve got to tell the Petraeus story. I think you made this happen and got that contact and the blurb already after you had the book deal. But I remember you telling me you heard me in your ear. Do you remember telling me that story?

 

Mike Croissant: Sure. I had retired at the end of 2021 and had a lot of time on my hands as I looked for work, and I was using LinkedIn and I linked up with General Petraeus, who used to be the director of the CIA, among many other things. I heard your voice in my head say that the only thing he can do is say no. So, I reached out to him in a message. I knew that he was a fitness fanatic, and I said something to the effect of, "Hello General. You know, I think I ran into you once at the gym, would be happy to connect with you." And he responded and accepted my LinkedIn equivalent of a friend request, and gave me a nice little message. So, I just asked him. I said, "You know, I would be really honored, I know your time is short, but I’ve written this book, and it would be very meaningful to me if you would consider taking a look and providing a quote for the dust jacket." And what do you know, he said he would. I sent him a hard copy and about a month later I got an amazing quote that is far beyond anything I could have asked for. So, Mark again proves that he is wise in all things.

 

Mark Malatesta: (laughing) Or you know the simple fact that hey we've got nothing to lose sometimes, and if we put enough stuff out there some good stuff is going to come back. It can help. Did your agent or publisher have a little flip out when you shared that news, or to them they’re just used to things like that?

 

Mike Croissant: They did. They very much did.

 

Part 11 - Mark Malatesta Interview & Review

 

Mark Malatesta: Okay good. Alright, let’s see, we’ve talked a little bit about our work together, but I’ll give you the ultimate open-ended question so you can share anything you think is helpful about that. I like to frame this generally, more about why is it a good idea to possibly work with a coach or consultant? Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s somebody else. But if you can frame it that way I think that can help people not just be totally isolated. Because no matter what, whenever I have a client or I’m talking to somebody, maybe on an intro call, and they’re like, "Hey, I’m thinking about hiring an editor. Should I hire an editor?" I’m always going to say yes.

 

If you can afford it and you have the patience, a good editor is always going to make the book better. It’s a no-brainer, right? It’s no different with a coach or a consultant or whatever. I never met a query letter I couldn’t help make better. I never met an author platform I couldn’t help make better.

 

It's like Tom Brady. I love this, in his final years, I think in, I don’t know I think in some interview he was saying that he still worked with quarterback coaches privately. He said, "If they make me one percent better, that could be the difference in the Super Bowl, right? So, this is kind of the Super Bowl we’re going after here.

 

So, any thoughts about the most valuable things for you in working with me and/or a coach generally? You can talk about the intro call we did, the stuff we did with the manuscript, what we did with your platform, your mindset, absolutely anything.

 

Mike Croissant: I finished the manuscript during the COVID lockdown. I was about a year from retirement. I was going to spend my last year in Afghanistan, so we were selling our house in Virginia, and we were going to move, to place my family in Texas so they would have a support network. I was going to go off to Afghanistan, hopefully survive, come home, and join them in Texas. So, while in lockdown I finished the manuscript, and then the Agency for various reasons canceled the assignment. I moved to Texas anyway and while surrounded by packing boxes that had not yet been unpacked, I pondered my next steps. I was completely lacking any kind of plan or idea of what to do next.

 

I did an internet search for literary agents in Houston, Texas. And Mark Malatesta comes very high on the list of search results. I clicked your website, and it was like the lights went on. Everything I was seeking, everything I think I needed was right there in front of me. I read your testimonials, which were very powerful. I read people you had worked with, including some names I had recognized, speak so highly of you. I continued to scroll, saw the offer to schedule an initial one-hour one-on-one consultation and I did that. You packed a lot of information and hard truth into that one hour, but it certainly put me on track. I did everything you asked of me. No matter how much I didn’t want to do some of it, I did it.

 

Mark Malatesta: (laughing)

 

Mike Croissant: At the tail end of that process, I was back where I started. I still had a better idea of what I wanted to do but I still wasn’t sure I could do it myself.

 

Mark Malatesta: Right.

 

Mike Croissant: So, I reached back out to you and said, "Let’s do this." That kicked off our working together. We worked over the course of several months, I believe. It was self-paced, you were very generous with your time, and we did some great things.

 

Part 12 - Mark Malatesta Review & Interview

 

Mark Malatesta: Thank you. You get to know somebody a bit throughout the coaching process: multiple calls and emails. I think I told you on a couple of calls that you were making me nervous. You eventually, I’ll put words in your mouth, said something like, "Listen Mark, you’re good, we’re good. It’s just my CIA stuff, so you’re going to have trouble reading me." The thing that makes me the most nervous is a client that doesn’t talk because then I don’t know if they're happy or what I'm sharing is sticking. I just don’t know.

 

I’ll confess to you if I haven’t already told you this. I love working with people like you with the CIA or NSA or FBI or whatever because you’ve probably got a good BS detector. I like that for you know the nervous Nellies out there thinking, "This guy I found on the Internet, can I trust him?" Well, the CIA guy probably has a pretty good sniffer. Right? When you were signing on with me, were you just like, "I don’t know if I can trust him but I’m desperate I’ll do it anyway?" Or you felt pretty good about it? What got you over that hump for someone else that might be in that place?

 

Mike Croissant: What got me over the hump was the testimonials, and after the first call it was pretty clear that you speak the same language as me. You’re very concise, you’re direct, you’re frank. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It was always a respectful conversation. You always listened and gave me clear and direct advice on what to do and why. And you made me trust you. You earned my trust, and I never looked back.

 

Mark Malatesta: Thank you. I am so grateful, you can imagine and I may have told you this, I’ve been doing this more than twelve years now and I’ve worked with so many people I can’t count, all types of people...and I most admire, respect, appreciate, and honor people like you who've done big important things in life. I mean you’ve written stuff for the President, for goodness sake, right? And yet everybody listening to this or reading this know you're humble and coachable. It’s not always like that.

 

I can have somebody who hasn’t done anything at a high level in life who also isn’t coachable, but I so appreciate that part of you, your humility and work ethic. You haven’t talked about that, but I’m talking about it. That’s one of the main reasons you’re where you are. I definitely have some tough cookies. You can be super patient, explain everything and try to get them to do stuff and they just get in their own way. Then they don’t make it and maybe get grouchy about it. There’s only so much coaching can do. I honor that part of you and I’m really grateful. I've enjoyed working with you. I don’t have to enjoy working with somebody, but again I appreciate it when someone is like that.

 

Mike Croissant: My side of the story regarding me being quiet is that I'm a CIA guy and introvert. But to me, you were the master, I was the apprentice. I was just going to shut up and soak it all in and do what you said because I believed that this was the way to get it done. You proved me right.

 

Mark Malatesta: In that realm. If we were going into some battlefield or CIA world I'm going to be, "Mike, lead the way." You know? I know my place too. Alright, any other closing thoughts, ideas for anyone that you think might be helpful?

 

Mike Croissant: I would say the most valuable lesson learned from working with you is that being a writer is one thing, but becoming a published author is completely different. A person who can write well, and have a great story on paper, may not be able to get a book deal...not because they’re not good at what they do but because they don’t speak the language of the literary agent or the publishing industry. You speak the language of both. And you helped me realize that being a storyteller isn't enough. I have to also be a salesperson, selling my story to an agent and then to a publisher. And you helped me become a salesperson. So much of the credit for Bombing Hitler’s Hometown goes to you. I happily share it with you.

 

Part 13 - Mark Malatesta Interview & Review

 

Mark Malatesta: Thank you and, going forward in everything you’re doing and sharing your book with people, I never think of it as selling, I just think of it as helping people understand what the thing is. Just connect with them. So, I hope you feel that way going out and doing your talks. You come from the heart, so you don’t have to sell a thing. But I get what you mean when you’re trying to get to an agent, they definitely think in terms of selling your book. So, I think you’re going to light the world on fire. I know you’re in the early stages of the book being available, but I’m looking forward to tracking it and connecting and doing some cross-promotional things that will be good for both of us. Thank you again for doing this, and for putting a lot of time into the tips. I know everybody is going to appreciate that, and your advice is going to help a lot of authors.

 

Mike Croissant: Certainly, the decision to invest in a coach is not to be taken lightly. You know if you have a story you believe in, that you poured your heart and soul into, you want to see it through to the end. And by all means, take the plunge, invest in yourself and in your story. Approach the work with humility and patience, trust Mark, and do what he asks because he won’t let you down.

 

Mark Malatesta: Yes. The agents might let us down, but I absolutely won’t! I’m so grateful you had the Cinderella story with the nine offers. And full disclosure, I work with people who do the intro call and and/or long-term coaching who are humble and committed and patient and do everything I suggest, and they don’t make it. So, there’s no promise of anything. I can tell people how close I think they are, what I think their chances are, what they can do to give themselves the best chance, but then we’re still at the mercy of the publishing gods. We’re not going to win every war, so to speak. All we can do is what we can do. Sometimes it works out well, and this did for you. So, thank you for everything you said about our work together.

 

Mike Croissant: Thank you.

 

Mark Malatesta: Okay everyone, this is Mark Malatesta, founder of The Bestselling Author, with Mike Croissant, author of Bombing Hitler's Hometown, published by Kensington Publishing, now available in hardcover. You can get a copy everywhere books are sold, and you can learn more about Mike at mikecroissant.com.

 

And…


If you’re interested in a private 1-on-1 coaching call with me to talk about the best way to write, publish, or promote your book, visit AuthorConsultation.com.


Again, that’s AuthorConsultation.com.


Lastly, if you’re listening to this interview…or reading the transcript… and you’re not yet a member of my online community…register now at TheBestsellingAuthor.com for instant access to more information, and inspiration, like this to help you become the bestselling author you can be.


Remember…


Getting published isn’t luck, it’s a decision.


See you next time.


Who Is Mark Malatesta?


Mark Malatesta wearing rectangular eyeglasses and a brown suit

This interview and review of Mark Malatesta were provided by Mike Croissant, author of Bombing Hitler's Hometown: The Untold Story of the Last Mass Bomber Raid of WWII in Europe, published by Citadel Press, an imprint of Kensington Publishing. Mike worked with Mark Malatesta, who is now an author coach and consultant, to get literary agents interested in his book.


Mark Malatesta is a former literary agent, and the creator of the well-known Directory of Literary Agents and this popular How to Get a Literary Agent Guide. He is the host of Ask a Literary Agent, and founder of The Bestselling Author and Literary Agent Undercover. Mark's articles have appeared in the Writer's Digest Guide to Literary Agents and the Publishers Weekly Book Publishing Almanac.


Mark has helped hundreds of authors get literary agents, including the Best Literary Agents at the Top Literary Agencies on his List of Literary Agents. Mark's writers have gotten book deals with traditional publishers such as Harper Collins, Random House, and Thomas Nelson. They've been on the New York Times bestseller list; had their books optioned for TV, stage, and feature film; won countless awards; and had their work licensed in more than 40 countries.


Writers of all Book Genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children's books) have used Mark's Literary Agent Advice coaching/consulting to get the Best Literary Agents at the Top Literary Agencies on his List of Literary Agents.


Mark Malatesta Reviews - Former Literary Agent


Here you can see more Mark Malatesta reviews from authors like Mike Croissant who've worked with Mark to get literary agents and traditional publishers interested in their books. You can also see reviews of Mark Malatesta from publishing industry professionals. These reviews of former literary agent Mark Malatesta include his time as an author coach and consultant, literary agent, and Marketing & Licensing Manager for the well-known book/gift publisher Blue Mountain Arts.


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