Meet Promotions Expert/Author M.J. Rose

- by BlogMistress

M.J. Rose is the International bestselling author of nine novels and the creator of the first marketing service for authors – AuthorBuzz. com. She’s also on the founding board of ITW and runs the blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype.

M.J. had this to say:

Staying Alive

I think the single most difficult and yet liberating moment I had in publishing was when I found out that ultimately my success depended not on me or the reader, not on my talent or the responsiveness of the audience but by the vagaries of the publishing industry.

That truth was provided to me by a friend, who happens to be a very good agent, one day over lunch, when he simply said, no matter what you do for your book, you can’t make yourself a bestseller.

And he was right. Only a publishing house can get behind a book to the extent that must exist for a book to take off and become a bestseller. And it takes the whole house – from your editor all the way up to the publisher – to anoint your book and say – this is it – this is the one of the two or five or ten books this year that we are going to give “it” to – it being the push” onto the list.

And when “it” happens – you know it. “It” authors don’t wonder if enough is being done for their books, don’t wait for phone calls that never come telling them what the print run is or if they are getting two weeks of co-op or not.

There are over 8000 novels published by traditional publishers a year. So what are the 7500 of us who aren’t already bestsellers or who are not going to be anointed this year to do?

That’s where the issue really is, isn’t it?

Joe Konrath is someone who has done everything possible to make himself a superstar and yet isn’t a bestseller yet.

Has he failed? Fuck no.

He is still being published. He is still getting paid to write novels. As opposed to the hundreds – or probably thousands – of writers who published their first novel the same year Joe did but are no longer writing at all. Some who as talented as Joe, some even more talented (no offense, Joe) who will never be heard from again.

The difference is “staying alive” that I mentioned in my previous comment. Joe is fighting to stay alive and doing what it takes and he’s winning.

Yes, it’s great to be a bestseller and it certainly is an admirable goal. But the truth is 99% of authors won’t even have a chance at that golden ring if they don’t stay alive long enough to write the book that the publisher is going to get behind and anoint.

There are the occasional meteoritic rises to success. Every year, of the 8000+ novelists who get published, there will be five debuts that make the list because they were anointed and the system worked.

Those five aren’t worth analyzing. They are the lottery winners – the five with just the right book and just the right agent at just the right time to just the right publisher who has just the right line up with just the right foresight to make it happen.

The list of authors to pay attention to and learn from are the other 99% on the bestseller list who got there after 5, 7, 10, or 18 books. Jodi Picoult became a bestseller with her 8th. Janet Evanovitch with the her18th. Carol O’Connell, who is one of my favorite writers, made it last year with her 10th.

It’s a rare author who gets anointed right off the bat.

Your goal can’t be to make yourself a bestseller – because as my friend told me at lunch and as Lee Child also said – you can’t do that yourself and you’ll just eat yourself up alive with aggravation.

But you can help write better and better books. You can become educated about marketing and promotion and do something to help your career. Joe Konrath has done it. I’ve done it. I can list hundreds of authors who are still in the game because they’ve embraced the realities of the marketplace.

The bottom line is if you want a to keep writing you’re going to have to work with your publisher to find out where you stand and then do as much as you can to stay alive.

And to do that you have to accept to some degree that – and I say it so often it should be tattooed to my forehead – no one can buy a book they don’t know exists.

You don’t have to help your book. We’re authors not publishers. Not marketers. We got in this to write. Not to spend our advances on marketing. But this is the business we’re in. Publishers don’t have the time or money or ability to treat every book equally. So no matter what you choose to do – at least choose. Then you’ll never look back and wonder if you could have made a difference in your career because regret really sucks.

Interesting thoughts — what’s your response? Comment to be eligible for a free book at the end of the week.

Patricia Rosemoor, BlogMistress

32 comments

  1. At this point, I’d be happy to be a midlist author. I’m doing everything I can afford to do (marketing-wise) to make this book a success. Sometimes it’s exhausting, but I hope it will be worth it in the long run.

    Thank you, Patricia, for this interview.

  2. There’s also something to be said for the fact that, if you really want to write, just write and work on your craft and that should be enough.

    As you say, Patricia, a writer is just going to end up aggravated if their goal is to be on the best-seller list, and, frankly, as a reader and editor, I’m not sure I’d want to be reading someone who has that as their primary goal and/or reason for writing, because I don’t even necessarily like everything that makes it to the best-seller list.

    As a writer, I try to remember the passion I have for the art and make THAT the reason I want to write, definitely not the fame (especially since I’m not even published yet). And for those of us that DO make it to the best-seller list, awesome! Hopefully more of us are lucky enough to have the stars align to allow for just that right mix of editor-behind-the-book, agent support, publisher-backing (and everyone included at the publishers), and audience interest to allow for such success in the future.

  3. Thanks, MJ, I needed that. Per usual, you’re right on target. Joe’s a good pal, but it wears me out just thinking about all the bookstores he has visited. And to what end?

    My fourth one, A DEADLY SILVER SEA, comes out in December and I have no expectations of it being an instant NYTimes bestseller.

    But that fifth one …

    What we all have to keep in mind, when we’re touring and going to signings where only a handful of people show up, is that we’re really selling the next book, the one we’re working on now, the one we’re putting our heart into more than ever before, the one that will put us on The List.

  4. I agree that Best-Sellerdom is ultimately publisher driven and not within an author’s control. But if no one can buy a book they don’t know exists, I think an author needs to do some marketing just to stay alive long enough to have that chance. At least, that’s the choice I’ve made!

  5. Writing is a passion, but I think you’re right that passion alone (and a good book) won’t keep you going in the publishing world. There are many many books out there and devoting time to promotion and networking is one way to make sure people know about you and your books.

    Is it hard? Heck yes. There are many times when I’ve got to juggle between family, full-time job, writing and promotion, but like many of the others who have commented here, it’s part of having an ongoing career in the publishing world.

    Thanks for sharing your insights with us!

  6. I loved this. I needed a pep talk right now.

    Stay alive.

    Can’t get more basic than that, can you? I’ve got eighteen books contracted to come out in the next four years and I’m working pretty hard to promote the one just out at the same time I’m writing the next one and thinking how to make it the best book ever.

    It’s a lot of hard work and sometimes I wonder if the marketing part is worth it, but it is.

    Thanks for putting that into words.

  7. At the risk of sounding redundant I must say, “Me, too.” I suspect it may even be a potential hazard for an unknown to hit best-sellerdom right out of the gate. What if the fickle powers-whut-be hate the next book in line, or the “push” fails to generate sell-through despite all the hand-waving? Only one way to go (down!) and must be incredibly difficult to maintain that nosebleed level of achievement.

    Sure, I’d love to achieve best-sellerdom. But even more, I want to keep existing titles in print and grow my readership, keep getting paid to write. It’s my career, it’s what I do. I know how to write to my nonfiction market–and am studying like crazy to now do it with novels! (May it be so…)

  8. Hi MJ.

    Thanks for your insights! Hearing that achieving bestsellerdom largely depends on my publisher choosing to add more rocket fuel behind my book than others on its list is a liberating notion. It’s one of those things I sort of already knew, but needed to have someone else put in front before I could begin to believe.

    I write erotic historical paranormal romance. Like most authors, I do marketing, and I try to find a way not to spend all of my advance doing it. But I find that if I don’t spend money, I spend more time. That’s time away from my writing. So it’s freeing to think that most of my time should be devoted to writing (duh!) and what’s left over to marketing. And then just hope I dazzle my publisher into boosting my book.

    What would you say is the one thing authors don’t do that they should do to market their books?

  9. MJ, thanks for the sobering, brutal and honest advice. As much as I wish it were otherwise, what you state is true. Longevity is certainly the key in this nutty business.

  10. So now Ninc is censoring our comments? I wrote questioning the unnecessary use of profanity in this blog post and my comment was removed. I wonder what other Ninc members think about censorship of this nature.

  11. Almost every author I know is searching for just the right miracle to make our books popular, but I’ve come to realize there is no miracle. All I can do is write a good book and do what I can to get as many people as possible to know it exists.

  12. As far as the anonymous comment about the use of profanity in the article, I have to agree the F word was not necessary. (I use it myself, but never would consider it in a post to the general public)

  13. I agree, it’s one thing to use the f word personally and another to use it in a publication representing Ninc. This blog post is distributed under our name. While I don’t argue M.J.’s right to use it (free speech and all), with that right comes responsibility. She is representing us all.

  14. Oy vey. For the record then:
    Ninc is not responsible for my language.
    I am not speaking for Ninc.
    I am not representing Nicn with my post.

    I made a very very very important point and wanted to use very very strong language. In a million years it never occurred to me that a writers site anyone would object.

  15. Plus, the F-bomb was used in conjunction with Joe Konrath so it was appropriate…

  16. No, MJ represents herself, no one else, when she blogs here. Ninc just provides the playground where she brings her ball, so to speak.

    However, for the remaining five months of my term, -I- do represent you all when I speak here. (Tough break, folks.) Which is precisely why I’m speaking up on this now:

    Libel, slander, hate speech, or copyright infringement will get anyone shut down instantly on the Ninc blog.

    Apart from that, posteurs here can use whatever language they want. Others may criticize them, just as we writers are criticized in public all the time for our writing. It goes with the territory.

    Our blog team was, however, caught off guard by finding an ANONYMOUS post on the blog. Ninc is new to blogging, and the problem of anonymous posting hadn’t occurred to us. (Duh.) Now that it has been brought to my attention, it’s under consideration. Ninc has had a policy against anonymity since its founding, because anonymity in public commentary breeds irresponsibility. (NINK has sometimes agreed to withhold an author or source name when publishing material; but ONLY when the author/source is identified to at least one Board member.)

    However, having deleted the first anonymous post, Ninc has realized this will happen again, so we have to decide on an actual policy about anonymity in the replies section of the blog. (This is how thrilling it is to be ME. There’s a brouhaha of some sort, and I have to go consult various Ninc leaders and tech staff, develop consensus, and formulate a policy.)

    As for colorful language on the Ninc blog, readers and fellow Ninc members are entitled not to like it, and to say they don’t like it, as long as they don’t cross the line here into threats, flames, attacks, etc. But as long as I am president, at least, Ninc has no policy on the blog about any language that doesn’t cross the line into libel, slander, hate speech, or copyright infringement.

    Laura Resnick,
    2008 Ninc president

  17. I am a total newbie at all of this. My first book came out last week, and ever since I signed the contract I’ve been wondering how far to go with marketing. I’ve kind of taken the “half-way” route. I’ve done what I can, and hopefully that will be enough. I write as a hobby, so no matter how many other people buy my book, I’m going to be so thrilled to hold it in my hands at the end of the month!

  18. Great post, MJ. And vagrancies of publishing is right. I had a book published here in the US a few years ago that sold roughly 15,000 copies in paperback. Certainly not great. But the exact same book sold close to 65,000 copies in Germany and debuted on the bestseller list. Go figure. The writing certainly wasn’t different between the English and German language editions, which just leaves the publisher and how they push the book. Clearly my German editor believed in me more than my US editor – and look at the results.

  19. <>

    Are you sure about that? Whenever I’ve been translated into German, the book’s always twice as long!

    LauraR

  20. Um, sure about the language not being any different, I meant.

    LauraR,
    g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y learning how to use a blog….

  21. I am a reader. I am just glad that all of you authors keep writing and making sure your books get enough publicity that I am aware enough of them to be able to purchase them.

  22. Joe,
    My co-author Lynn Sholes and I have had similar experiences. Our domestic sales (trade paperbacks) have been modest, similar to yours, and yet our foreign sales have been great—over 20 languages, numerous bestseller lists and lots of hard covers. It’s obvious which publishers really got behind our books and which didn’t.
    Joe

  23. MJ,
    Wise words and essential ones. I’ve been in the PR biz a long, long time and have come to believe in its efficacy less and less for the really big hits.

    But the building is essential to create the right atmosphere for your publisher and fans to finally carry that torch and push for major success. That’s where staying alive counts.

    The minute we give up or become bitter, that’s the moment when we give our publisher and everyone else permission to ignore us.

  24. While I essentially agree with MJ’s explanation that it’s publishers who make bestsellers, not authors, not books, I will take one exception to that—
    Most of the big bestsellers out there now have become bestsellers because there is something inherently appealing to the mass market in their voice, their stories, or what they have to say. I believe mass market authors do need to cultivate their talent for finding that vast middle ground. (and that which hits the right note in the U.S. will not necessarily hit the same note in other countries, and vice versa, but I’m not going to learn German to figure out my audience there!)

  25. Pat – you misunderstood – the given is that the book is great/has appeal/ has “it”? but the post is about even with a great book it won’t happen if the publisher doesn’t want it to.

  26. MJ,
    Great post. You brought home the intended point very well.

  27. Hi MJ and all!
    I love to read both new authors and my favorites. So I’m one (I’m not a writer, just a reader) who will go through shelves checking out blurbs and all to see what i’d like to read, same with going through Amazon and the like. I go beyond the books out that are displayed as the ‘Bestsellers’ and I hope too that as a shopper, i’m making a difference by buying the authors book to help them get to the Bestsellers list so their books get more attention for others to see what they are missing! So I still will do that even though that its explained through here that alot has to do with the publisher (and I do check out publishers too for their books because I like authors I read from there). So know as a reader I’m digging for lots that I enjoy reading and reading the debuts, new and favorites. Great article to read! Thanks.

  28. great post something to think about. i stick with alomost the same authors.

  29. Hello MJ,
    Three cheers for someone standing up and speaking out. I watched and listened how hard you tried to get the “powers that be” on the panel at Thrillerfest to step up to the plate, but they danced a good dance. It amazes me that you can have a bestseller before the book even hits the stands–that’s because the lists (except for USA Today) are based on orders not cash register sales. That certainly tells the story.

  30. Great post. Just the kick in the pants I needed. :D

    As for the F word. I agree, strong point, passionate post. Strong language makes it hit home harder. No problem with it here, especially as Ninc is an adult playground.

  31. I can’t believe we’re discussing the F word. People, grow up. The best thing to do if representing NINC is to be brutally honest. Thanks to MJ for doing that. Often the four letter variety of honesty is all that works.

    MJ, awesome post.

  32. To address Pat Rice’s point and MJ’s response to it – It’s not that the publisher doesn’t want “it” to happen. They do, and that’s why they choose to publish the books they choose to publish – because they think they will sell, because they think these writers have potential. Just because the publisher cannot give equal attention to a book that costs $6.99 (read: mass market) that it does to a book that costs $24.00 (read trade hardcover) does not mean that the publisher doesn’t want “it” to happen. It’s common sense. It’s the real world. The publisher does choose whether or not to publish a book in mass market or trade, but that depends on a variety of factors (and you’d probably have to talk to a managing editor for the specifics) – not whether or not they want the book to sell and make it big. It’s more complicated than that. One can’t generalize like this. Yes, we understand the world though generalizations, but this, in all reality, is more complicated than that. It’s a crap shoot to a large extent, I think. Publishers, publicists, sales teams, authors do what they can to make “it” happen, but isn’t a large part of it dependent on luck? After all, who’s to say why a person decides to buy a book? It could be the fabulous cover for one person and the back cover flap praise for another. Is it the overall package? Who’s to say?