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 métier. Do the best you can.

Ann: As a follower of your blog,, 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.


John Y. Jones said...

It's a fine line indeed for the self-published. You can't spend ALL your time writing because marketing requires attention. You can't spend ALL your time marketing because if you do, you won't write the next book.

Finding that fine line seems like a totally individual process. Joe seems to have found his, to the point of turning down interviews so he can write. For others, an interview might jump-start a lucrative career.

So how do you know when you've found that line?

Donald Wells said...

@M.J. Rose
You had an eBook out in 1998?
That's impressive and I think it marks you as a pioneer in the industry.
Sometimes those of us who don't know any better are the ones who move things forward.

J Randall said...

Enjoyed the interview. And I enjoy your books M.J..

Marilyn Peake said...

Congratulations on your success, M.J.! And I know exactly what you mean about how radically things have changed for self-published authors. I first self-published in 2003, then shortly afterward was picked up by an indie eBook publisher – both self-published books and eBooks were looked down on back then, and eBooks weren’t even considered "real" books. Times have definitely changed!

Kathleen shoop said...

Thanks to Joe for sponsoring this interview and to Ann and MJ for the fantastic conversation!

MJ is one of the most generous writers I've ever met. I first heard her speak years ago in Oakmont when I was attempting to become traditionally published...when I made the move to self-publish she was at the top of my list to contact for help in marketing.

As green as I was she could have just written me off, but she worked with me to find a marketing plan that worked...and BOY has it worked!!!

Her kind praise for book hasn't hurt my confidence either. She is so so so supportive.

As alwYs thanks to Joe for his fantastic blog and the opportunity to publicly thank MJ!
(sorry for typos--typing on phone)
The Last Letter--May 2011

Jon Olson said...

Really great interview.

The Petoskey Stone

Walter Knight said...

I love to read about an author breaking the rules. 'Never say no.'

After my first book, of course I got rejection slips. An agent said write another, so I did. More rejection slips. I gave up, but kept writing. For 2 years I wrote, until I had 9 books.

Then I started again, submitting only online. Submission guidelines usually insisted a few chapters of the first book "or else" they would get mad. By that time I was upset, and attached all 9 books to my query E-mails. Let them 'delete' if they want. After all, it's not like I was submitting a heavy paper manuscript. Why would they have the same rules for E-book submissions?

I found an honest small publisher, and after selling a modest 20,000 E-books I am very happy.

I was amazed at how fast each book could be edited and published online. The back and forth with the editor was quick and efficient. A friend who got a NY contract at the same time is still waiting for the final edit to be finished, and I know now she will have the same marketing problems I had being noticed.

After I signed it was satisfying to politely decline a few publishers' offers. I still cannot get on a bookshelf, but validation of your work still comes with each online sale.

Power to the people, Joe! Ny York City can go to hell.

Michelle Muto said...

Thanks, M.J. Of all the things I wasn't prepared for when I self-published was how to balance my time despite my love of David Allen's GTD.

I'm slowing figuring out what works best for me. As John says, it's an individual process. What makes it harder still is that the whole process and evolution continues to shift.

Anonymous said...

M.J. Rose thanks for the information and the inspiring story. I'm going to check out those links.

M.J. since you forsaw the advantages of the Internet and Amazon's advantage program before many others, I was wondering if you see any other tech advantages that are being overlooked now?

Best of luck to you.

And thanks Ann for the interview and Joe too.

Adam Pepper said...

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

1998 may have been the stone ages, but some things still haven't changed as much as we'd like. This attitude is still pretty pervasive.

Werner said...

I can’t believe ‘Lip Service’ came out 13 years ago. I remember when MJ was being touted by Angie Hoy’s Writers Weekly newsletter. Good for you MJ, you had the grit to pursue your dream.

Selena Kitt said...

Wow, a true pioneer! What an amazing story.

Imagine the changes fifteen years from now. The mind boggles.

Joe Flynn said...

Congratulations, MJ, from another former ad alum (Foote, Cone; J. Walter; Doyle Dane).

By the way, what ever happened to that condescending person in the book store?

Phillip Thomas Duck said...

I vividly remember reading about MJ's journey when she first started. Because of her sound advice I seriously considered self-publishing. Fortunately--I thought--I was able to garner a traditonal publishing contract, and so the self-publishing route was quickly abandoned. But the trad route wasn't nearly as well-paved as I imagined it would be. In fact, it was rife with potholes and confusing road signs and scary hitchhikers. Not enough rest areas in which to catch my breath and re-energize. Fortunately, the world of publishing is changing. A great deal of the credit for this change should be given to avant-garde authors such as MJ. I cannot begin to describe how much her voice has rang in my ears throughout the years. (poetic?) Anyway. Now I do a little of both--trad and indie ebooks. And I couldn't be happier.

Distracted: A Thriller

wannabuy said...

Wow... Path-finding in unknown territory. Kudos to You MJ!

It does make one wonder, as Selena noted, what publishing will be like in 15 years.

Great interview,

Joe Cleary said...

I'm glad to see that professional writing organizations are starting to get on board with self published authors. With the industry as a whole changing so rapidly, it's very important for writers to continue to support each other, and organizations like ITW and others are vital lifelines to one another.

Thanks for sharing, M.J. and Joe.

Idiot Cook said...

Great Q&A -- we talk a lot about the "pioneers" in the industry, but you truly were/are a pioneer. Congrats on all of your success, MJ.

Question -- I'm probably totally reading this wrong, but is AuthorBuzz just for traditionally published authors? I was checking it out and interested in some of the packages, but then saw a note about the books needing to be traditionally published. If yes, is there a chance you'll be releasing some packages for self-pubbers in the future? :)

L.J. Sellers said...

You've always been an inspiration to me! Thanks for being a pioneer.

Kendall Swan said...

Thanks for posting this interview. I had no idea MJ Rose was a pioneer in self pubbing. Who knew?

I really enjoyed the Reincarnationist series and so it's a no brainer to buy the Halo Effect.

It sounds like you enjoy self pubbing but honestly don't mind giving up a lot to unload some of the work involved with it.

Thanks Joe, Ann, and MJ.

Kendall Swan

NAKED Vampire

Mary Anne Graham said...

Thanks to M.J. Rose for blazing the trail. It's a steep and rocky path, but worth the climb.

I wonder if M.J. has been back to that bookstore?

Stephen Prosapio said...

MJ - thanks for the time. We corresponded a few years back. It's great to see you doing so well. I just got Halo Effect and look forward to the read!

MJRose said...

Thanks everyone. It's nice to be "rediscovered" as one of the people who started all this mess:)

And thanks for the kind kind words about the books!

And yes we take self-pubbed books at Authorbuzz - in fact next week we have 4 - but there are certain packages I don't want self-pubbed authors to waste money on b/c they go primarily to booksellers and they won't buy enough to make it worth the $.

Also that bookseller is still there and now carries my fiction but to this day I don't think she ever connected up me with me. I don't think she ever heard me say my name - she certainly never looked at the book:)

Kim Wright said...

Congratulations on being one of the pioneers in epublishing. Great post. There's always the question of time management, but I'm also interested in the psychological aspects of splitting yourself between writing and marketing. They seem like they come out of such different parts of my brain that I have trouble gearing from one to the other and sometimes feel as if I'm doing a compromised half-assed job of both.

Christopher Hudson said...

Nice to hear about an indie author doing well ... kinda like reading about a lottery winner ... but even when I know the odds are horrendous, I keep buying tickets.

Silver Bowen said...

Really interesting read. Seems like, as always, the biggest nugget of wisdom here is - write a great book(s) and keep plugging away. e or p, you will get your work into the readers hands if you keep at it.

Unknown said...

J.A., love your blog, your unvarnished opinions, and all the great information you share. Thanks much for taking the time to give back. However, I'm wondering if you might consider bolding the questions when you post interviews. Doing so would make the posts sooo much easier to scan for pertinent info. Thanks!

P.J. Hafner said...


I remember reading about your success story years ago in Writer's Market. Great to hear; thanks for sharing your story with us.

Thanks to Ann & Joe also.

Shéa MacLeod said...

Great interview! Very inspiring. Thanks for sharing with us, MJ.

ReadLisaScott said...

Congratulations on your much deserved success. And that cover is just gorgeous.

membership card said...

Thanks, M.J. Of all the things I wasn't prepared for when I self-published was how to balance my time despite my love of David Allen's GTD.

Author Scott Nicholson said...

The Halo Effect gets your juices flowing. Really enjoying it.


Gabriella Gilbert said...

I've been reading on your blog for a while, and it seems like self-publishing is a lot easier than traditional publishing. But self-publishing has got to have its cons, and I was just wondering what they were?

Christopher R Taylor said...

Well I've put my first book Old Habits out as an e-book on Amazon to start with. I hope I got the basics right, I've had the book carefully proofed by several people including a professional. My biggest concern is the cover and the description; you can be a bang up writer but be lousy at writing ad copy.

Nicholas La Salla said...

This is a really great interview. It's nice to read from someone who really was out there struggling in the trenches . . . e-publishing back in the late 90's? M.J., you deserve a medal for your hard work. I'm glad to see it's paying for you now.

I put my first novel, One More Day, on Kindle because I knew that this was a good book first and foremost. It did help my decision that back in 2005 Wizards of the Coast bought the rights to publish it, opting ultimately to cancel their entire line of speculative fiction.

I knew I had a good book. I just didn't have a buyer.

No agents would touch the book after I was dropped from WOTC. Book publishers sent me back a nice rejection letter saying, "It's well written, but we don't know how to sell it."

Somehow unfair. Isn't it supposed to be about presenting good books to the public, not about how each can be packaged like a Big Mac?

The result has worked out well for me. I'm nowhere near any kind of meaningful success, at least not financially, but it is gratifying to see people buy it and enjoy it. I even got a great review for my trouble.

It's not fair that people look down at self publishing so much. There are so many great books that have been rejected for the most artificial and ridiculous reasons.

Sink or swim on your own merits -- that's what self-publishing allows us. That's the way it should be.



kathleen shoop said...

just bought your book--looks eerie and awful and fantastic.

MJRose said...

Thanks again for all the new comments... and esp to everyone who is reading the books - I really hope you like them!!

Anonymous said... has very interesting things to say about the new discipline of covert pr, which is used to support dictators, criminals and corrupt nations world wide.

konrath, do you think this is a legitimate area for a writer to work in, as they are recruiting writers to create blogs, movements, make comments and infiltrate group forums.

I have struggled as a writer but have been offered paid employment with them

Helen Hollick said...

I almost feel I'm reading about myself here - with a few changes. Several years ago I was dropped by Random House UK because Historical Fiction wasn't selling - and also dumped by my ex agent because she wanted me to write my specifically written for adults pirate-based adventure for YA boys. I had no intention of changing what I'd written. I found myself a small "indie" company and republished my back list with their even smaller mainstream imprint - and launched my Sea Witch Voyages. I did OK, but not very well - because the company was, being tactful, not very good, the books were not produced very well. The company went bust in March this year (2011). I am traditionally published in the US - and have even managed to climb onto a bestseller list. But that's for my straight Historical Fiction. Tha US publisher does not want my Sea Witch Voyages because they are a mixed genre, hard to market blah, blah, blah. Historical Adventure Fantasy novels, it seems, are classed as Round Pegs and are not acceptable to Square Peg Publishers. So with no UK publisher for the second time, I was faced with giving up or going self publish (well assisted publish, no way can I do all the technical stuff required) I found a fabulous company - it has cost quite a bit, but quality does cost, and the result is beautifully produced books. But there is still the stigma of I am now a self published author here in the UK. The big associations will not accept SP for awards - why is this? SP books can be just as good as traditional - and don't say because a lot of them are rubbish. I've come across more than a few rubbish mainstream books! The other excuse is "we will be inundated with submissions". Sigh.
This interview has hit the nail on the head though - if we want our self published books to be taken seriously, and to become as respected as any mainstream author it is up to us to ENSURE that our books are correctly edited by a professional editor and are produced and published to a high standard. Then we market professionally. I am in the middle of a fabulous blog tour at the moment - at least one review blog a day for an entire month. Fantastic reviews, wonderful exposure - and all by lovely Bloggers who have offered me their support and enthusiasm.... why? Because, although I say this myself - I write damn good books. Despite what my ex agent said. Proving people wrong is a great incentive isn't it? :-)
Thanks again for the article! Very inspiring!

Archangel said...

Joe, what was it you said before about you'd be willing to pay an agent or other for packaging your ebooks, formatting etc. I've been trying to find it in your posts. Did you say you'd be willing to give 15-25% if an agent of other did all covers, layout, formatting, uploading, updating as new tech came along. Or did i dream you said that not too long ago?

I wonder if that applies to ebooks you own rights to, but a publisher owns the print rights on same books?


Ellie Great said...

Great interview.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. I still worry I am making a mistake with self publishing my works as ebooks rather than seeking a traditional agent/publisher. I've heard that many of them still will not consider a previously self-published work. I don't want to close the door on the possibly of going the traditional route in the future but I thought it best to try to build a brand for myself before I did.