Toni Tone | 'My publishers have been great at highlighting the fact that there is a lane for me'

Toni Tone | 'My publishers have been great at highlighting the fact that there is a lane for me'

"I thought okay: you can cry, and you can dwell, and you can sit and be miserable about this person that you thought was the love of your life. Or you can rebuild your self-esteem, and your frame of mind, and your goals. And your concept of yourself.”

Anyone suffering after the break-up of a long-term relationship can take courage from how such heartache proved to be the catalyst for a whole new career and life purpose for writer, speaker and content creator Toni Tone. Her substantial combined following of almost 400,000 people on Twitter and Instagram was garnered after she began posting her pithy observations on relationships in the wake of becoming single again. It wasn’t long before her popularity was spotted by Nancy Adimora, talent and audience development manager at HarperCollins, who approached Tone about writing a book. The result is I Wish I Knew This Earlier: Lessons on Love, a relatable and insightful self-help handbook in which Tone—now in her early thirties—distils all that she has learned from her experiences for the benefit of other young women, aiming to help them navigate their own relationships more effectively in future.

When Tone and I speak via Zoom—she from the apartment in West London she has recently moved into with her younger sister—I ask her what it was that proved so seminal about her former relationship. “It was my most serious relationship: I was in it from the age of 23 until I was 30.  We had talked about marriage, about having kids, we were close to each other’s families. So when the relationship came to an end, it was really overwhelming, and it was like I had to reset because the majority of my twenties were dedicated to this other person. I came to realise that I had invested so much into this relationship, so I felt like I had lost a bit of myself. To start with I was angry, thinking, ‘I’ve invested seven years of my life!’ But then I thought: no, rewind and reset, Toni. No one put a gun to your head to be in this relationship. You willingly decided to be in it. What have you learned from it? That’s when I started to sit and write about how I was feeling.”

As the oldest of three children, Tone realised she could be the big sister she herself had never benefited from. So she began tweeting her reflections on relationships and love as a way of rationalising her thoughts. “I was using Twitter as something of an online journal, sharing my stream of conscious- ness with other people because I wanted to know, am I alone? Suddenly, lots of people—women in particular—started replying and saying, ‘this is so relatable’. Women in their twenties, women in their sixties; women posting things like, ‘I’ve just been through a divorce, and I’ve lost all sense of myself’. And I thought: ‘OK, this is no longer just an online journal. I need to talk properly about this because it’s obviously a common thing that women centre men and give 110% to their relationships, but do so to the detriment of themselves.’ Before I knew it, my tweets were ending up in so many random places: Oprah magazine reshared a tweet of mine on Instagram, and then Hayley Bieber and Khloe Kardashian shared my tweets, and I was like, ‘Woah, this is nuts’. Because I already had so much content from my journal, when HarperCollins reached out to me and said: ‘Have you ever thought about writing a book?’, I said: ‘I literally already have a book in the making!’”

Given Tone’s savviness when it comes to communicating with her audience, it’s no surprise to learn that she holds a degree in Communication and Media from Brunel University. Born in Nigeria, and of part-Nigerian, part-English and part-Norwegian heritage, she came to the UK aged five with her parents when her mother won a scholarship to study for a postgraduate degree at Oxford Brookes University. The family settled in Oxford, and Tone grew up there, moving to London only last year after giving up her job as student communications manager for Oxford University. Alongside her increasing reputation as a go-to guru for relationship advice, she has also carved out a niche as an expert on personal finance. After she launched a paid-for budgeting template on her website, she was invited to host a podcast for BBC Radio 1Xtra, “Money Moves with Toni Tone”. She is also an ambassador for the Young Women’s Trust, a feminist organisation working to achieve economic justice for young women.

It’s fair to say that Tone’s chief target audience for I Wish I’d Known This Earlier is young straight women in their late teens and twenties. However, even from the supposedly life-experienced vantage point of my fifties, I found Tone’s insights often gave me pause for thought, suggesting that the book could have broader appeal. Structured in three parts: The Dating Stage, The Loving Stage and The Healing Stage, the book consists of short, succinct chapters of two or three pages, headed by a nuggety Tweet-like observation. For example: “You will always appear needy to someone who isn’t giving you enough”; “Uncomfortable conversations are often required for comfortable relationships”, and “Missing someone who wasn’t good for you doesn’t make you weak”.

Tone’s approach could be characterised as crisp but kind, with a writing style that is eminently accessible and inclusive, providing just the kind of big-sisterly feel she originally aspired to. “I struggle to write long chapters because I’m naturally a social media person. So I thought, OK, I’ll write chapters of 500 words, and have lots of short and succinct lessons”. She tells me she was inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele: A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. “I love that book because it is full of lessons that are concise and straight to the point, but so valuable at the same time. When I read it, I’d already started writing my book and I took it as a sign of what I needed to do. I love how relatable words can be when they’re put in a succinct way, and I think the reason why I’ve been able to amass such a large following is because a lot of people struggle to articulate how they feel.”

As well as providing sisterly advice, Tone also hopes that her book will inspire writers who “feel like they could never be writers”. She praises the team at HarperCollins and Fourth Estate—including Adimora, and Tone’s editor Michelle Kane—for nurturing her as a writer and helping her to overcome her “imposter syndrome”. “One thing that I’m really proud and happy about is that historically I’d never really considered myself to be a writer or a literary talent. At university and at school, I was good at English but only averagely so—I wasn’t an A* student. And I’m still not a bookworm. I kept thinking, ‘Why would anyone want a book from me?' But when I’d written my first draft, Michelle gave me such positive feedback, it really helped to boost my confidence. My publishers have been great at highlighting the fact that there is a lane for me, that I should stand in it unapologetically, and that I should write about what is meaningful to me.”

Book extract 
One question I’m asked a lot is what advice would I give to my younger self? In truth, I’d tell my younger self to just keep going, because everything I’ve done has led me to this moment. It has led me to writing this book for you. But let’s pretend for a moment that I would still have written this book regardless of the choices I made when I was younger. In that case, I would most certainly give myself advice about love; this book is a manifestation of that. Why love? Love ties all of us together. Despite what some people might say, I believe we all crave it, we all want it, and we all love how love can make us feel. I love talking about love and reading about love, so it only makes sense for me to write about it too.