Killer Year–The Class of 2007

A Killer Interview with MJ Rose
September 14, 2007, 5:24 am
Filed under: JT Ellison, Killer Year Founders

by JT Ellison

My guest today needs little introduction. MJ Rose has become an icon in the publishing world, a true success story, starting with her first novel, which she self-published as an experiment, to her ninth, the amazing and complex THE REINCARNATIONIST.

I found it difficult to be objective in this interview – MJ has been more than just a writer to look up to in the past year – she’s given advice and solace, inspired me to work harder and learn the business, has shown me how to celebrate being a writer and reap the rewards when a satisfactory goal is met. There’s a word for people like this, the ones who profoundly affect your life. Mentor, advisor, teacher – all these words come to mind when I think of MJ. Most of all, I’m honored to call her my friend.

So sit back, glean, enjoy, and learn. For those are the gifts MJ gives us every time she writes a single word.

Thank you for taking time out of your insanely busy schedule to talk to us!

ITW (international Thriller Writers) has been a shining beacon for both the most established bestsellers AND for new authors with no track record. What do you think is the common denominator?

ITW had two goals when it began that were slightly different than the goals of other writers organizations: to help raise the level of awareness of the genre and to find a way to help get books in front of readers even if it meant creating those ways. That made us outer directed. We weren’t just saying join ITW. We were saying join ITW and let’s attack the problems we’re facing as authors and try to do something about them.

That gives us a common ground whether we’re starting out or high up on the ladder because even the most successful author among us has to take on a lot himself… or herself… just ask James Patterson.

You’ve been an inspiration to all us this year. You are a writer, a marketer, an all-around business guru, a friend and a mentor. HOW in the world do you fit everything in?

Thank you, I’m flattered. I just got asked that in an interview that’s posted at January Magazine. The answer is I don’t. This last year I took on a bit too much and found I gave up almost all my free time. My work didn’t suffer but I fell behind in movies, art galleries, museum exhibits, dinners with friends. I don’t sleep a lot, I don’t have kids, and I love to work, but still… this was one crazy year.

I’m working at balancing things better now that ThrillerFest is over. I’m staying on the board of ITW for another year but the amazing Jon Land has taken over as head of the marketing committee and I feel like I can breathe again.

Many new authors are getting small advances. What’s the most important marketing aspect for a debut who is looking for bang for the buck — website, advertising, book tour?

For a debut my advice is learn as much as you can about the business of being published. Then keep your day job – or get one – and spend as much as you can on marketing your book.

But don’t do it alone.

Sit down with your publisher – specifically ask your editor for a meeting with him/her and the marketing and pr people. Be a grown up, tell them in the meeting you’re a realist, you know not every book can get everything… but they have 100 books coming out and you only have one and you need to do everything you can to ensure that one succeeds. To do that you need their honesty.

What are they doing for your book? What aren’t they doing? What can you do? Can you work as a partner? What don’t they want you to do?

If you do this right, they will be thrilled to have you as an author and they will give you an idea of what they’re doing and what you need to do.

In terms of money: the website should be simple and inexpensive. Readers don’t go searching for websites for authors they never heard of anyway. You need a website like you need a business card. But no one buys a book because of a fancy website.

A tour is great if… and there are a lot of ifs.

You don’t just want to fly around the country and show up at bookstores, sign some copies, and fly out again. It’s cost prohibitive.

The goal is to go to bookstores in cities where you can get media coverage. You can’t get an article in the LA Times if you are a New Yorker staying home in NYC. But if you are going to be on tour at Dutton’s and you have a good publicist who has a great pitch, you might be able to get in the LAT.

Ideally, a ten city tour with ten bookstores would include ten TV shows and ten radio shows and some book reviews in those local cities and stock signings that would get autographed copies of books on the front tables.

But very few debuts get that kind of tour. Or anyone else for that matter except for the mega sellers.

But you can get a few cities like that if you work it right with the right people helping.

Another kind of tour that works well is the mystery bookstore tour. Get to as many as you can, get to know the owners of the stores. Most of them have newsletters or write reviews. A lot of these folks can help more than anyone else in the biz to get your career started.

Then there’s the driving tour you do on your own. Get in the car and meet as many booksellers of all kinds as you can and sign as much stock as you can. That can work too, if you’re the kind of person to charm and engage.

But I’d never spend all my money on a tour and not do any marketing.

The problem is it takes more than 12 times for someone to see the name of your book or your name before they remember it. So you have to do a lot of things – some in person, some on line, some off line – before you even start to get any name recognition.

No one thing works when it comes to selling books. Reviews, interviews, websites, ads, pr, TV, radio, magazines, appearances… they all work, but it’s better all together.

That’s why it’s so damn hard.

You’ve been getting amazing reviews and press coverage for THE REINCARNATIONIST, it seems to be the ultimate break-out novel. What did you do to make this happen? How much of your publicity campaign is from you, and how much is from Mira?

I have a wonderful relationship with my publisher. We’re definitely partners in this. They knew who I was when they bought The Halo Effect in 2003 (the first book of mine they published) and have been great to work with ever since. This is unusual, but it’s also unusual that before I was an author I was the creative director of a top NYC ad agency, and that since ‘99 I’ve been creating some solid marketing solutions for authors and publishers.

I’m very grateful they treat me the way they do and I’m very proud to be published by a group of people who care so much about what they do and have put so much faith in my book.

As for who did what, we did a lot together like the TV commercial that’s been running. For the price of a 1/4 page ad in a national newspaper, I produced the spot (co-written with Chris Grabenstien and produced by and Mira bought the media and ran the spot on national TV, reaching over 2 million people in the exact targeted audience we thought would be interested in the book.

You can see the commercial and read all about that at my blog – Buzz, Balls and Hype.

As for what I did on my own – I’ve used every single service that I sell through (my marketing company) for this book plus have done a few new ones that if they work will be part of next year.

Where did Josh Ryder come from? Do you like writing in the male POV?

Josh was born in New York City – his father was a photographer and his mother was — but you don’t mean that do you?

When I first thought about writing this book the main character was an entirely different person. As I started doing the research and thinking about the book the original character started to morph. I don’t remember when exactly he stopped being the other person and became Josh.

And I loved writing from this very different point of view. It was a great change for me and a great challenge.

Reincarnation is a fascinating theme. You’ve talked about your past having glimpses of the possibility of reincarnation. If you were to forecast a future you, what do you think you’d be like?

I think I’d like to be pretty much who I am except more inclined to go to the gym…

What inspired you to put your successful Dr. Morgan Snow series on hold to do something new? And is it on hold? Do you plan on returning to Morgan?

It’s on hold. And I want to return to Morgan. I have a contract for three more… but I’m not sure when I’m going to go back to them.

For those who don’t know, Dr. Morgan Snow is a NYC sex therapist and the books are psychological suspense. Very gritty. I wrote three books in that series and each of them required extensive research, a lot of which haunted me. But the most disturbing was the third, The Venus Fix. I worked with a lot of teenage boys who were addicted to internet porn and the girls who interacted with them and it was heartbreaking.

I wanted to take a break after Venus and wanted to write something else. So the idea was I’d do two books a year. One Morgan – in paperback – and one in this new reincarnation series – in hardcover. And then I started writing the Reincarnationist and realized that it was a crazy idea.

I’m not a fast writer to begin with and the historical research I needed to do for this new series was very time consuming. As it turned out, the Reincarnation took almost two years to write.

It was time to take a break.

If you had a full day off, with no deadlines, no expectations, no interviews or commitments, what would you do?

Do I get to magically wake up somewhere and get that day? I’ll assume yes. Paris. Get up early. Go swimming at the Ritz hotel. Then go shopping on the left bank all morning. (I assume on this day my wallet is constantly replenished.) With lots of shopping bags in tow, I’d meet my husband for lunch — sitting outside at Café Deux Magots. We’d spend the afternoon at a museum, whichever has the exhibition I’m most anxious to see. Winding up at Café Palette at five we’d have a glass of wine and then wander into the wonderful art galleries there. Later we’d have dinner at Chez L’Ami Louis and then take an endlessly long and magical walk by the Seine watching the city of lights reflecting in the river.

What an amazing day!

MJ, we know how busy you are. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and for always being the most graceful and gracious author we know.


1 Comment so far
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Great interview with a very smart and classy author. Good job, JT.

Gregg Olsen

Comment by killeryear

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