Sandrine Barberis (EDHEC BBA 2005) alias Tamara Balliana : from wedding planner to romance author

Published on 17/02/2021
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Sandrine Barberis (EDHEC International BBA 2005) is an entrepreneur at heart. From wedding planner to successful romance author, Sandrine tells us the story of how she became Tamara Balliana. A story of weddings, books, family ... and love.

  • Tell us about your career since leaving EDHEC

When I graduated from the EDHEC International BBA programme, I was destined for the hotel sector and quickly joined my husband Thomas, who had founded an event planning agency. We used to mostly organise weddings, so I became a sort of wedding planner. In 2011, we bought out one of our caterers and I looked after that side of things, which developed so much that we closed the agency. We then bought out two other competing caterers.

  • At what point did writing become a part of your life?

I’ve always been a big reader. In 2015 I lost my grandmother, who left us a small notebook in which she had written about every year of her life. I decided to do the same thing for my daughters … Later I wondered whether I would be able to write fiction even though I had never written anything. I started out thinking it would stay hidden away on my computer. I told the story of a wedding planner that was inspired by my work. I used to regularly see ads on my e-reader for Amazon’s self-publishing platform, and so I was curious to publish what I had written. I didn’t expect much and had spoken to know one about it. A few days later there was a huge surprise in store for me: I was among the 100 top sellers on Amazon!

  • Do you write romance because it’s the genre you read yourself?

Yes, it’s a style I enjoy reading, a genre I feel at ease with, and the fact that I have been so exposed to weddings also influenced my choices. With romance, you can talk about topical issues, even difficult ones, while keeping it light-hearted. As a reader, I used to enjoy spotting the different stages that would systematically emerge in romantic intrigue, and now I enjoy reproducing them myself. I have since diversified a bit with a preference for romantic comedy and romantic suspense. Contrary to what you might think, romance is one of the most widely read genres in France, even though few people admit it. People have this vision of romance involving book covers with smooth-skinned muscle-bound young men aimed at bored housewives and dreamy young girls ... That’s probably why at the beginning I didn’t tell anyone I was writing.

  • Your nom de plume is Tamara Balliana. Why did you create this character?

Initially I wanted to write under another name to protect my identity, particularly in relation to my professional activities. Tamara and Balliana are the names of my two grandmothers. She’s a real character, and the people who know me tell me there’s a difference between Sandrine Barberis and Tamara Balliana, especially in terms of what I have to say and the way I talk on social media. I sometimes kind of feel like a schizophrenic, even having to think about the way I should introduce myself! Now I like the mystery it creates: people don’t know exactly who I am.

  • When did you decide to really take the plunge and become an author?

After the first novel, people started telling me (on Tamara Balliana’s Facebook profile and by email) that they liked my book and wanted to read more. Then Amazon called me and asked me to write a paper version. I put together a cover, it was all a bit home-made at the beginning! After the fourth book, Amazon told me that I was among the bestselling authors on the platform. When they informed me they were launching their own publishing house in France (Amazon Publishing), they wanted to sign a deal with me and buy the rights to my books, so I started working with their publisher. It was only then that I decided to tell those around me about it, 2 years after my first novel!

  • Did your experience in entrepreneurship help you to manage your new activity?

Yes! My entrepreneurial reflexes quickly came to the surface. I started wondering who my target readers were, about their needs, the market and how to market books, etc. I had to publish content on the social media accounts I had set up. My background is in marketing, so I took to it quite naturally. Indeed, people often tell me that for an author I have a good grasp of the market! I love the fact that I get to do a bit of everything, as someone who has already managed a business. I look after accounting, commercial aspects and marketing, as well as the writing.

  • What did you learn at EDHEC that continues to be of use today?

I learned about marketing at a time when there was no social media, we didn’t even have smartphones! Above all EDHEC gave me a fully equipped toolbox. I also learned the importance of being rigorous, through all the projects we worked on at the school, and that’s something that is of huge benefit in my professional life. I’m told that my commercial presentations, arguments and proposals are very clear, precise and well put together. I rely on those skills when working with publishers to facilitate the work of the teams involved (marketing, proofreading, sales). And even more when self-publishing, where the writing only represents 30% to 40% of my work. Everything else also has to be managed, it’s a veritable business!

EDHEC also gave me a desire to learn. I put time and money aside to do online training courses on writing, communication strategies, social media strategies, marketing in publishing, etc.

  • How is your “Tamara Balliana” business structured?

You need a certain amount of organization and strategy. I set 2-year objectives and think about the readership I want to develop, the dates I want to release the books and how to market them. I’m currently working with Hugo Publishing, a French publishing house, with whom I’ve written two books. I’ve also developed collaborative writing with other authors. I’ve released “4-handed” books, where each author writes every second chapter: you can drive each other on and publish more books that way.

  • How is the romance market doing in the publishing sector?

Romance, particularly in digital publishing, sells very well. If you look at the top digital sales on Amazon or Kobo, 80% are romance, whether fantasy or historical. In France you also find disguised romance, like the novels of Guillaume Musso or Marc Levy, which are just marketed differently. There is more than 50 Shades of Grey out there! These novels have a vision of women that I really don’t like, although they’ve helped show that romance isn’t all jaded Harlequin books.

  • Do you know anything about inter-EDHEC marriages?

I’m married to Thomas Barberis, from the class of 2002. I met him in second year, when he had just graduated. Our first conversation took place in a lift … Pretty romantic, no? He was on his way to announce proudly to one of my friends that he had just done his viva voce.

As well as being an EDHEC couple, we’ve also organised many weddings for others from EDHEC! For years we were the people whom graduates from our respective classes would call to organise weddings or get some advice. It was a way for us to catch up with loads of classmates and keep in touch!

Career change? Moving house?