M.J. Rose: Q & A With A Novelist On Her Virtual Book Tour


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Today we are fortunate to have mystery novelist M.J. Rose visiting us on her Virtual Book Tour. Author of four previous novels, M.J. has also written a weekly column for Wired.com called E-Publishing Ink, and has contributed to O: The Oprah Magazine, Writer’s Digest, Poets and Writers, Book Magazine and Salon.com.

Her newest book, The Halo Effect, is a captivating, sexy, and well written crime thriller about a sex therapist. I’ve asked her 10 questions about her latest series of novels, and life as a writer. The inside scoop to M.J.’s literary journey, what she does to take a break from the grind, when she got her agent, advice for working with editors, how vital it is for an author to be a self promoter, and what she offers writers in her online workshops is fascinating.

M.J. is available today while on this virtual book tour, so just jump right in with a comment or question. And many thanks to Kevin Smokler for giving us this Virtual Book Tour opportunity.

JEN: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Butterfield Institute and how many are planned? Do they connect with each other? And are Lip Service, In Fidelity, Flesh Tones, Sheet Music, and Halo Effect their chronological order?

M.J. ROSE: The Halo Effect is the first of the Butterfield Institute Novels. To date there are three contracted but there’s a good chance they will continue after that—after all there are a lot of patients at the Institute.

All the other novels are stand alones but The Butterfield Institute was in Lip Service. In that novel, my first, Julia Sterling, a journalist takes a freelance job working with Sam Butterfield —the creator of the Institute—writing a book about his sex therapy innovations.

She winds up getting more involved than she expects and becomes involved in a dangerous situation as she tries to save a young girl from her father’s incestuous advances.

As it happens sometimes to novelists, the Institute became a very real place to me and I often thought about it and what happened there after Lip Service ended. About 8 years later, I couldn’t resist it’s pull anymore and went back to it, creating this new series.

And the right order is Lip Service 1999In Fidelity 2001Flesh Tones 2002Sheet Music 2003—and The Halo Effect 2004.

JEN: A while back I blogged about Readerville but I never took the time to get into it. Your website shows that you’re active in that group. What has your experience been?

M.J. ROSE: When I was the creative director of a NYC ad agency, in addition to actually working a few hours a day, there was a lot of socializing among the staff. We had a lot of fun together and I loved working there.

I’m extremely satisfied and thrilled being a novelist but it is a very lonely job for the most part and I missed the water cooler at the agency—the hanging out—the going out to lunch or out for drinks after work.

Readerville became my virtual water cooler. When I want to take a break from writing, schmooze, complain about a chapter that isn’t going well, gossip, or
just connect, I click out of Word and go online.

I’ve been there, as an active participant since the summer of 2000 and have made real friends, some of whom I see in real life, others who I only know
online.

I also treasure my time there because it allows me to connect to readers in a unique way. It’s like any community —virtual or real—it gets crazy sometimes—but that just makes it even more interesting.

There are a some terrific writers who are frequent contributors including Katharine Leavitt, Caroline Leavitt, Andi Buchanan, Gretchen Laskas, Ellen Sussman, Sandra Gulland, Roxana Robinson, Lauren Baratz-Logstead, Lisa Tucker, Russell Rowland and a host of others —some soon to be published, others who are just starting out writing — but all who share a love of the written word and the world of books.

JEN: In the helpful Q & A on your website, you caution young authors who want to publish themselves on the Internet.

”I don’t suggest they do. I believe self-publishing should be a last resort. I think authors should try to get agents and get published traditionally. They need editors to help them grow and improve. Self-publishing is very arduous and very speculative and a difficult journey.”

I like what you say about needing editors to grow and improve. Can you tell us a little bit about what to expect from an editor on a first book?

M.J. ROSE: No matter how good a first book is, there’s always room to grow and a good editor will nourish you and help that process take place.

Literally, an editor will read through your manuscript and send you an editorial letter, outlining changes. That’s basic. Then the editor talks through those
points with you, listens to your concerns and questions and together you come to a consensus about the changes.

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Writers shouldn’t be too precious about their manuscripts during the editorial process but be open to improvement.

What I do and what I recommend is making a duplicate copy of the book and making all the editor’s changes on that second copy. All of them. Even when I
don’t think they are right. Then put it away for a week or two. Then I go back to it and read it through and see what changes still feel wrong and which ones
now seem to work.

I find, when I’m working with a good editor, that 80% of the changes she or he asked for do, in the end make sense. The ones that don’t – I talk out.

The other thing a good editor will go is talk to you about your ideas for your second and third book and give you feedback and insight. And as well, a good
editor will keep you up to date on the publication process of your book and have patience with your questions.

JEN: What can a young author do to protect their sensitive egos, and be open to the lessons an editor can provide? Do you have any advice on how to handle the author/editor relationship?

M.J. ROSE: I was lucky in that I came from advertising which rips a writer’s ego to shreds. I remember one meeting where the client came in with MY script rewritten by HIS wife and insisting that we shoot the script as the wife had rewritten it.

Needless to say – she wasn’t a writer.

But in general, it helps to remember that the editor has more experience than you do and at the least, you can listen and try her ideas. After all you can’t grow if you aren’t open to new ideas.

Ego only gets in the way of the book your reader is going to hold in her hands.

On the other hand what makes this so tough is that writer’s need huge egos.

The very concept that our ideas that are worth spending a year, or two, or five writing and then believing that work will see the light of day and be printed and then being certain that strangers will find it moving or entertaining or funny.

We have to have egos to believe that ours is the one of 30,000 that an agent will decide to take on.

So we don’t want to damage our egos. We just need to know when to quiet them down.

I think there are two places our egos have no place – in the editorial process and with readers and the booksellers. Editors can be our teachers, readers and booksellers are our bosses. If we think of them that way, I think it helps.

JEN: I saw on your website that your bookstore appearances for The Halo Effect are fairly limited. Is it difficult to get marketing momentum from publishers that specialize in women’s fiction or is the promotional side of the book world not very interesting to you?

M.J. ROSE: On no, the promotional side of the book world is very interesting to me. And my publisher is very much behind this novel and this series – but July is not the best time of year to do a bookstore tour. It’s summer and people can’t be counted on to leave the beach or the backyard and show up for an author reading or signing. So we decided to do a big tour in April when the next book in the series comes out and concentrate this July with Internet marketing and in store stock signings. I’ve done about thirty stores in the last two weeks and have about twenty more to get to.

(A stock signing is just the author going into the store to meet with the manager and sign the copies in the store. Then the books go on the front table with an autographed sticker which tends to get more attention from the reader.)

JEN: How vital do you think it is for an author to be a self promoter?

Unfortunately, very vital. There are 100,000 books published a year. (175,000 if you count self published) There are 10,000 novels published a year.
(17.5000 if you include self published.) Let’s just focus on fiction.

That’s up from 6000 in 1998 but readership is down since then. And the price of books has gone up.

There are 200 novels published a week. Review sources are down 20% -50% across the board. Only 500 novels a year get any review attention – that’s 5%. And then readers say they don’t care about reviews anyway. There is no real advertising for 90% of the books published.

So what’s left. Table placement for books in bookstores? Yes, but the reader has to want to pick up the book on the table. The only thing that makes them do that is word of mouth or attractive covers. And only one of those is something the author can do something about.

The way I explain it is this: If you don’t get involved and become a marketing partner with your publisher, if you don’t get online engage with readers, if you don’t go into every bookstore you can and make nice with the booksellers, when you book fails you have no idea if you would have made a difference. If you do all the right things and the book still fails to find an audience, you can never blame yourself. Knowing you did your best will make a difference. And I find that in general, authors who get involved the right way, do help their sales.

Unfortunately most of us are writers because we love being home, in our robes, or sweats, not talking to people, living in worlds of our own creation to the exclusion of the real world out there. So getting out and promoting can often seem like the most impossible job. It’s counter to everything we are.

It helps to have a split personality if you want to be a successful author. Or have a twin who loves to socialize.

And that’s why tours like this one online are so important. The web really does allow writers to connect to readers. Hopefully, something like this tour will encourage readers to take a chance on my book – to pick it up if they see it – to go to my website and read an excerpt.

Writers too have to make a huge effort to support other writers and buy each others books. It’s a known statistic that writers who read and buy other writers books have more successful careers and get published sooner.

JEN: How often do you teach “Procrastinate Your Way Into Writing A Novel”? Do you teach it anywhere in person or only online at Writers Weekly?

M.J. ROSE: I only teach that class at Writer’s Weekly in Sept, November, January, March and May. It’s a six week online class where I work with each student one on one to work through his or her procrastination. I love teaching it almost as much as I love writing. And one of my students is having her novel published next year. I’m very excited about that.

JEN: The class description says that everyone who takes your class and finishes their novel will get their query letter and synopsis seen by an agent. Is this because you pass it to your agent? Or do you have a stable of agents in New York that have asked you for leads?

M.J. ROSE: I have several agents who are friends who have agreed to look at the queries. In the last three years, four of my students have gotten agents.

I also teach a marketing/PR class. It’s also one on one, six weeks, same months. But this class empowers authors to come up with ideas they can implement themselves to promote their books. Creative, out of the box ideas. One of my students got her publisher to increase her print run by 300% based on her idea. Another student created a pr event that attracted so much press she got a movie deal.

JEN: At what point in your career as a writer did you get an agent? Have you changed agents since?

I got my agent after I wrote my third novel. The first one doesn’t exist anymore except as recycled paper somewhere. The second is still in a drawer. I want to get back to it one day. The third became Flesh Tones and was published third. But my agent, Loretta Barrett took me on based on that book.

And no, I’ve never switched agents. I’ve been with her for ten years. But it took five years for her to get me my first deal. (Thank heavens for agents who do
not give up on new writers.)

JEN: Do you have a set contract for a book a year with your publisher, or do you renegotiate after every book?

M.J. ROSE: Its different all the time. My first deal was a one book deal with an option to look at the second. They bought the second. My next deal was a two book deal with an option to look at the next. I moved publishers then and The Halo Effect was the first of a three book deal with Mira. Is that confusing enough?

JEN:M.J.’s virtual book tour is also taking place at these websites today. Let me know if you’ve read Halo Effect. I can’t wait to talk about it! Here is an excerpt to get you started.

Contemporary Lit
Beatrice
Zulkey
Big Pink Cookie
LockHart Steele
Hello, Typepad
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
The Elegant Variation
Gothamist