Self-Published Author Becomes Major Documentary Film Producer essay

Self-Published Author Becomes Major Documentary Film Producer

by Dr. Amy Tiemann

In two distinct professional Quantum Leaps, I have grown from an anonymous, stay-at-home mother to an award-winning author and media producer. 

I have fulfilled every self-published author’s dream of landing an $80,000 book deal with a major New York publisher. I have appeared on national TV and radio platforms including the Today Show and NPR.

During my Quantum Leap membership, I have become the Executive Producer of the award-winning documentary Olympic Pride, American Prejudice. Our filmmaking team even accomplished our “moonshot” goal: taking the families of our 18 overlooked African-American athletes who competed in the 1936 Olympic Games to the White House, to receive the presidential recognition they had been denied for 80 years. 

Let me tell you how Quantum Leap and all the fantastic training I have received from Bradley Communications has made this success possible.

The Media Training Helped Me Land the Today Show and a Major Book Deal

My Quantum Leap “before and after” story goes all the way back to January 2005, when I was a truly anonymous stay-at-home Mom who was determined to break through as an author. I had the smarts and the drive, but not all the tools and marketing knowledge I needed to succeed. 

I had pitched my book Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family to many literary agents, but they had all told me I would not get a book deal without first having a platform. That felt like frustrating “chicken-and-egg” circular logic, but I accepted the reality that a platform would not magically appear, so I set out to build my own, starting with the website and continuing with writing and publishing my book independently.

My first National Publicity Summit experience came at a great time, when I was ready to learn how to pitch journalists and producers and bring my story to the world. I learned a great deal from all the presenters and, of course, through the pitch meetings themselves.

I booked radio, TV and magazine coverage through my own outreach and through ads in Radio/TV Interview Report. Radio became my favorite medium, and I ended up doing radio appearances across the country and internationally, and created my own Mojo Mom Podcast, which ran for five seasons.

Through the initial launch of Mojo Mom, I worked with many talented people who have appeared at the National Publicity Summit. A book cover designer and copywriter helped me self-publish a book that could stand proudly alongside any book from a major New York publisher. I also benefitted from image consulting services to get me camera-ready for television appearances.

As an independent author and publisher, the biggest waste of money I ever spent was to pay a publicist's expensive retainer month after month. That expenditure yielded some media hits, but those results never paid off in comparison with the huge monthly fees.

I accomplished more on my own by attracting the media to me. My biggest media win was appearing on the Today Show—just in time for Mother's Day. I participated in a lively roundtable discussion, and the show featured a close up of my book cover on air. This appearance gave me national prominence and sold thousands of dollars’ worth of books in one day. One key fact about this appearance is Today called me as a result of what I wrote on my blog. After all my hard work to build my platform, it was truly satisfying to have three national shows reach out and invite me on as a guest!

I also booked a solo in-studio appearance on the CBS Early Show and more as a result of my own outreach. The National Publicity Summit and Quantum Leap have given me a wealth of tools and opportunities that can help any author or expert land their own media coverage.

My media success fed into the strong author platform I was building, and I was finally able to land a literary agent and receive competitive interest in a new edition of my book from three major New York publishers. I signed with Gotham Books (a division of Penguin) for an $80,000 book advance, and Gotham published an updated and expanded edition of Mojo Mom.

Winning White House Recognition for Overlooked Black Olympians

My success with Mojo Mom led me in several interesting directions as an author, educatorm, and media producer. 

Since joining Quantum Leap, I took on a major new role as a documentary film Executive Producer. I signed on to make a significant professional investment in Olympic Pride, American Prejudice, and being a member of Quantum Leap gave me confidence that I had the skills and knowledge I need to make our film successful on several levels: creating an artistic and significant film, reaching our audience, and becoming profitable.

Our film’s writer-director-producer Deborah Riley Draper had solid command over the artistic element. As an Executive Producer, I wanted to apply my skills to enhance our media outreach, build our audience, and turn a profit. It is important to mention profitability because in the documentary filmmaking world, there is a systemic poverty of thinking, where filmmakers generally have to chase grants to make their films, aren’t paid very well for their work, and as a result don’t think that much about the bottom line.

Deborah Riley Draper and I don’t think that way. We each own our own production companies, we are investing our own funds, and for our work to be sustainable, we must be able to make our money back so that we can fund more projects in the future. As filmmaking partners we are willing to turn our industry’s old limiting beliefs upside down and chart our own paths. The entrepreneurial, efficient, effective techniques I have learned as a Quantum Leap member have been extremely valuable in this new role.

I had an incredible Power Day with Steve Harrison just a few weeks before our film’s world premiere at the L. A. Film Festival. Steve and I had an incredible moment during our day that proved a turning point. I had been working for a month to get the attention of the White House for a possible event with our film. This was our dream because the 18 amazing African-American athletes who traveled to Berlin to stand up to Adolph Hitler’s message of white supremacy were never given the recognition they deserved when they came back to America. Not even Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals, was invited to the White House for recognition of his efforts. The other 17 athletes almost faded from history altogether. As filmmakers, we were determined to bring their stories back to life through our film and get the athletes’ accomplishments recognized by President Obama.

My connections paid off! An email message popped up with a message that we had gotten through to the Office of Engagement, and the White House was going to call me to talk about working together! I couldn’t believe this happened while I was literally in the middle of my Power Day, sitting at a table with Steve Harrison discussing what my next career leap could look like.

We put the rest of our discussion on hold, as Steve outlined a specific plan for speaking with the White House and how to talk to them in a way that dovetailed with their goals. We talked strategy and thoroughly roleplayed the call. Later, when I did talk to the White House representatives, I was confident under pressure. The first person I spoke with was somewhat discouraging because there was so little time left in the Obama administration and so many events they were trying to squeeze in, but she put me in touch with a second person, who was very positive. I made a lot of progress with him. He and his bosses reviewed the film and wanted to bring find a way to work together.

We were pursuing such a narrow path and a closing window of time, but we finally found the right opportunity through a corporate partnership with Procter & Gamble. The successful path turned out to be just like Steve described: Find out what kinds of events they want to put on, and make plans in harmony with meeting their goals.

We landed a big one—a historic role in the Welcome Home for the 2016 Olympic Team! Our filmmaking team made it possible for the families of the 18 Olympians to attend the festivities put on by the US Olympic Committee, including the White House ceremony, where they received honors and recognition, and a screening of Olympic Pride, American Prejudice at the National Portrait Gallery.

This was more than a dream come true. I think it is fair to say the families never dreamed that this would happen, as they were skeptical the film would even get made. Some of families had heard from journalists, writers and filmmakers in the past who made inquiries that never went anywhere. To actually get the athletes recognized by President Obama was our top goal.

For me this goal was even more significant than it would have been to win an Academy Award for Best Documentary, because we were actually correcting a historic wrong and securing these athletes’ legacies for all time. We have been writing their stories back into the American history narrative, as we share their accomplishments through our film, curriculum, and activities for Black History Month and beyond.

I have so much to be thankful for with my work with Steve and Bill Harrison, Quantum Leap, and the whole Bradley Communications team. 

This post is adapted from an essay Ann wrote as her entry in our "How I Made My Quantum Leap" contest, in which Quantum Leap members wrote about the difference the program made for them and their careers.