Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ann Voss Peterson Interviews M.J. Rose

My writing partner Ann Voss Peterson (Flee, Wild Night is Calling, Babe on Board) recently interviewed self-publishing entrepreneur and marketing guru MJ Rose, and I'm pleased to post it here on my blog.

Rose's terrific thriller THE HALO EFFECT is now 99 cents on Amazon. I encourage folks to check it out. Now here's Ann and MJ...

Ann: First I have to make a confession. I talked Joe into letting me do this interview because I’m a big fan. I have your Butterfield Institute novels on my keeper shelf, and they’re some of the most suspenseful, sensual, gritty and emotional books I’ve ever read. So I’m excited to hear that you’ve self published THE HALO EFFECT, THE DELILAH COMPLEX and THE VENUS FIX as ebooks (Halo is 99 cents, the others are $2.99 each.) For those out there who aren’t familiar with sex therapist Dr. Morgan Snow and Detective Noah Jordain, can you tell them a bit about the series?

MJ: Thanks, Ann. As an author (and a terrific one) I know you know how much your kind words mean to me. Nothing is as wonderful as meeting a fan – even in email. :) So thanks for asking Joe and having me on your keeper shelf – I’m honored.

There are three books in this series – so far. Dr. Morgan Snow – or Dr. Sin as her fourteen-year-old handful of a daughter calls her- is a sex therapist in New York City - which is very much a character, too.

In each book, Morgan struggles with the conflict of preserving her patient's privacy and the dangerous and sometimes criminal things she hears.

Noah Jordain is a detective with the sex crimes unit in NYC, so their paths cross quite a bit.

They’re both pretty damaged and troubled in their own right and that’s not helped by what they deal with every day in their jobs.

On Morgan’s part she sees everything from the abused to the depraved, from couples grappling with sexual boredom to twisted sociopaths with dark, erotic fetishes, and the Butterfield Institute is the sanctuary where she helps soothe and heal these battered souls.

Ann: You are not new to the world of self publishing, in fact you were a bit of a pioneer. What was it like to self publish your novel LIP SERVICE in 1998? And how is coming back to self publishing the same/different now?

MJ: 1998 was the dark ages.

I had an agent and two finished and unsold novels. Publishers had been really excited about them but ultimately too uncomfortable with my genre-bending writing to bite. They wanted me to write either this kind of book or that kind. Not a bit of both.

They said there was no way to market a book that was so hard to categorize.

I was in advertising and didn’t like the words never or no.

So my idea was to print a few copies and offer an electronic download all in an effort to run an advertising experiment and see if I could figure out how to market the book.

I had no sense I was doing anything terrible.

But self publishing had quite a stigma. My agent was furious with me and we split over my decision.

My friends thought I was nuts.

Everyone told me people would think I was self publishing because I was a failure and that no one would ever take me seriously.

I remember one day that winter standing in the snow outside a bookstore in my tiny town and bursting into tears. I’d asked the owner if I could give her a copy and she wouldn’t even turn around and face me – “I don’t look at self-published books,” she’d said with utter derision.

I was such a neophyte – I’d had no idea self publishing had such a bad connotation. I had so many friends who were artist and indy film makers – individuals all who operated creatively and on their own. I didn’t see what I was doing as being very different.

The other thing that was so new was the internet. I’d gone on line in 1994 and been fascinated from the beginning with the marketing opportunities I imagined. So I was most excited about my electronic download - my book was an ebook before the phrase really existed.

The only place to even sell the electronic book was from my own website. And the only place I could sell the printed versions was Amazon – they’d just started the Advantage program for anyone with a book, an ISBN, and a dream.

No one was more surprised than me when the book started really selling. Or when, within six months, Lip Service became the first self-published book and the first ebook discovered online to go on to be traditionally published.

The publishing world could not be more different today. In a lot of ways it’s very gratifying. The world many of us – Douglas Clegg, Seth Godin, Doug Ruskoff and others – envisioned,is here.

As I’m answering this, one of the richest writers in the world announced she was self publishing. Times sure have changed since I stood outside that bookstore in the snow.

In many ways it has never been more difficult to make a living as writer as it is today and in other ways it’s never been more exciting. The rules have all been bent or broken and the future is wide open to anyone with a good idea and time and energy to devote.

Ann: What tips would you give someone who is considering self publishing?

MJ: Do you have a week?

But seriously - I think the most important advice is the same no matter how you are being published… it’s all about the book.

You have to write the absofuckinglutely the best book you can.

Readers have such a huge choice when it comes to what to buy. And they don’t have to buy blind. They can read excerpts, reviews, etc. So whether you self or trad publish your book is going to sell because it captures the reader. Because it makes them want to keep reading. Nothing else matters. And there are no shortcuts to that. Find your voice. Find your m├ętier. Do the best you can.

Ann: As a follower of your blog, http://mjroseblog.typepad.com, I know you have many thoughts on the current state of publishing. Care to share some of those thoughts here?

MJ: I have been saying this since the early 2000s– writing is an art but publishing is a business and an oft broken business at that.

We are in the middle of a total revolution – which is always the most difficult period to live through. Even the best minds who think they know what is going to happen - don’t. There are no good guys and bad guys here. There are a lot of people trying to keep up with the changes – adapt – and succeed. Some are managing that. Others aren’t. It’s the wild west in so many ways.

When I was in advertising my boss used to say that when the creative department – the men and women who wrote and art directed the ads—left for the day, the company’s inventory walked out the door.

That’s why writers will survive no matter what.

Publishers need books to publish. Editors need books to edit. Agents need books to sell. Readers need books to read. Booksellers need books to sell.

At the same time it’s dangerous for us writers to think we don’t need any of those people. I have so much respect for Amanda Hocking. I’ve been on both sides of the publishing /self-publishing paradigm and am here again, and she’s right – it takes a ton of effort and is an amazing amount of work to do it on your own. And it’s not for everyone.

For instance –I would never try to publish without a terrific editor. I can’t see my own mistakes. I can’t get the distance needed to make the book the best it can be.

Everyone needs to figure out what they are good at and what they aren’t - no one can do it all. Being an auteur sounds sexy but it’s not always smart.

Ann: You have an advertising background and provide a treasure trove of information to authors looking to market their books, from AuthorBuzz to your fabulous blog. Can you tell us a little bit about these resources?

MJ: No one can buy a book they never heard of... and once I got into publishing I realized how few people were hearing about so many books.

So I started teaching authors about guerilla marketing and how to do more fortheir books. But ultimately I realized marketing – like anything else – is a learned discipline. Writing ads that work isn’t easy. Not every author is good at self-promotion. Not every author can do or wants to do what needs to be done.

So in 2005, I started AuthorBuzz - the first marketing company for authors.

I was lucky – it was the right idea at the right time I had the right skill set- I understood Internet marketing and had a strong knowledge of the world of publishing and a deep background in theadvertising world.

What we do at AuthorBuzz is try to do is come up with ways to do promote books in the most economical way.

Ann: A little while ago, there was a big discussion here on Joe’s blog about writing organizations and their attitudes toward self-published writers. You are a founding member of International Thriller Writers. Can you tell us about the organization’s take on self-publishing?

MJ: I am not speaking for the ITW board here, but I am a past ITW board member and still active in the organization.

What most people don’t know is how open to self publishing ITW is – in fact ITW itself has self published.

In 2008, we did a unique publishing deal with Audible – breaking ground with The Chopin Manuscript – an original audio book which went on to win the Audio Book of the Year award for 2008.

We then self published the ebook of Chopin in July of that year.

When it comes to membership, ITW does not exclude self-pubbed authors out of hand. Anyone can apply. Many have and many have been accepted. Some have not.

As writers we want things to change as fast as we can rewrite a sentence – but organization and companies need to work through certain issues. ITW is committed to being innovative and be supportive of writers and I expect they will continue to look at this issue and figure out the best way to help authors.

Ann: You’ve most recently written the fascinating Reincarnationist series (THE REINCARNATIONIST, THE MEMORIST, and THE HYPNOTIST). What’s next for you? Would you consider self-publishing new stories (like more Butterfield Institute books? hint, hint)?

MJ: My next book will be published in March of 2012 – The Book of Lost Fragrances. And yes I would consider doing more Butterfield books – I’d love to – I have to see how these books work first. If they do really well – hint, hint – I think I’ll be able to pick up the series again.