There are many contemporary writers that delve into interesting topics, but I believe few are as interesting as M.J. Rose. Her writing bridges the gaps between art and artifact, fiction and nonfiction. She weaves historical events with fictional characters, moves plot across and through multiple eras, and makes connections between eclectic and seemingly disparate things and people, to leave readers with a sense that everything is truly connected.
M.J. is the international bestselling author of the novels: Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, Lying in Bed, The Halo Effect, The Delilah Complex, The Venus Fix, The Reincarnationist, The Memorist, The Hypnotist, and The Book of Lost Fragrances: A Novel of Suspense.
She is also the co-author with Angela Adair Hoy of How To Publish and Promote Online, and with Doug Clegg of Buzz Your Book. Her newest novel Seduction, became available on May 7.
She is a founding member and board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She runs two popular blogs: Buzz, Balls & Hype, and Backstory.
M.J. has been profiled in Time, Forbes, The New York Times, Business 2.0, Working Woman, Newsweek and New York Magazine. She has appeared on The Today Show, Fox News, The Jim Lehrer NewsHour, and features on her have appeared in dozens of magazines and newspapers in the U.S. and abroad, including USAToday, Stern, L’Official, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.
She currently lives in Connecticut with composer Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled dog, Winka.
Let’s get to know M.J.!
One place in the world that M.J. hasn’t yet visited, but would like to see:
“I’d love to go to Egypt and sleep in one of the pyramids overnight.”
M.J.’s favorite book(s):
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
M.J.’s favorite movie(s):
Sabrina (the orginal with Audrey Hepburn)
Portrait of Jennie
M.J.’s favorite food:
One little known interesting fact about M.J. that she would like to share with readers:
“I was left back in seventh grade—I’m dyslexic and they didn’t figure it out till then and decide to leave me back to give me a chance to catch up and spend a year doing exercises to make it less severe.”
M.J.’s Publishing and Business Adventures
Your book Lip Service made book-publishing history as the “digital age” was beginning. Can you share the details of your publishing journey—from initial rejection to NY publishing house?
“It was 1998, the dark ages in publishing.
My agent couldn’t sell either of my two novels. Publishers had been really excited about them, but they were ultimately too uncomfortable with my genre-bending to bite. They wanted a suspense novel or an erotic novel, something less sophisticated…or more sophisticated. What they didn’t want was an erotic novel with a mystery at its heart and a strong female main character.
There was no way to market a book that was so hard to categorize, publishers said.
But I was in advertising and had been online since 1994. I was fascinated with the marketing opportunities I imagined possible. What if I did an online marketing test for my novel and got some sales? Then maybe my agent could take my marketing plan to publishers and show them how to market my work.
I figured I could print up a few copies and also offer an electronic download online.
At the time the only place to sell an electronic book was from my own website. And the only place to sell the printed book online was Amazon—they’d just started the Advantage program to “level the playing field” for anyone with a book, an ISBN, and a dream.
I didn’t think that running a marketing experiment was anything terrible. But my agent said if I self-published, no one would ever take me seriously again. She said it would end my career before it began.
That seemed absurd to me. I had many friends who were painters, photographers, sculptors, musicians, and indie artists who operated creatively and on their own. I didn’t see what I wanted to do as being any different.
Oh but it was. I remember the snowy day the books arrived from the printer. As soon as I unboxed them, I grabbed a few and drove over to my local bookstore. The owner was inside, on a ladder. I told her about the book and asked if I could give her a copy.
She wouldn’t even turn around to face me. “I would never look at a self-published book,” she’d said with utter derision.
I walked back outside, stood in the snow and burst into tears. And out of those tears came determination. I became tireless in marketing the book, and within the next few months I sold almost 3,000 e- and print-copies. Lip Service became the highest ranked independent press title according to an Amazon press statement.
Six months after that snowy day, Lip Service, which featured a privileged New York City housewife who works as a phone sex fantasist as a means of liberation, became the first self-published book and the first e-book discovered online (at Amazon by Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club Editor Erica Tsang) to go on to be traditionally published (by Pocket in 2000) bought by my current publisher at Atria, Judith Curr. The news landed me in the New York Times, the Wall St. Journal, Time magazine, Newsweek, The Today show, Bloomberg News, NPR, Fox News, and more, with every host and reporter (including Katie Couric) blushing when they talked to me about the topics in the book (very explicit phone sex) and the cover (x-rated).
Lip Service sold modestly in stores—booksellers said the cover just made it an embarrassing hand sell— but at the mail-order book clubs and with online retailers, it sold over 75,000 copies within the first month, and rights were eventually sold in 10 countries.
Thirteen years later, Atria reissued Lip Service with a brand new cover. It’s never been out of print. The publishing world could not be more different today than it was when I began this journey.
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. The rules have all been bent or broken and the future is wide open to anyone with time, energy, and a good idea.”
You have since gone on to publish 12 other novels, including your newest release Seduction. Do you find that the same challenges in the writing process exist, or do you find that as you have continued to write, the process has become easier with consecutive publication.
“Certainly there are pasts of the process that have become easier in that I know what to expect from the business and how to navigate the landscape. But the writing itself is more difficult since I feel more pressure with each book—to find a story worth telling—that I want to live with for a year or two.”
You have also since gone on to launch a marketing company for authors, Author Buzz. What inspired this business? How do you balance your time between writing and running your company?
“My needs as a writer made me start AuthorBuzz.com in 2005. I had been the creative director of a 150 million dollar ad agency before I got published and saw a lot of gaps in what could be done in book marketing and what was being done.”
We’ll earn more about M.J.’s creative writing in the next post. If you liked this interview, be sure to check out M.J.’s publications and the next post! Thanks for reading!
Copyright © 2013 Kelly Lydick