Interview With M.J.
Interviewed by Jenna Glatzer
M.J. Rose is the author of the widely acclaimed erotic/suspense novel
"Lip Service," originally self-published as an e-book, and later
printed by Pocket Books. She writes extensively about online publishing.
What sparked your interest in writing?
I was eight years old, sitting at my grandfather's typewriter pecking out a short story about a man who wore five hats and very large green shoes. My mother
asked me what I was doing and I told her I was practicing writing for when I grew up.
She loved that and at dinner that night announced to the family that I had decided to be a writer.
I took a detour away from writing when I was 17 and studied art in college. But I didn't stay away long and was back to writing fiction by the time I was 25.
Why did you decide to self-publish "Lip Service" online?
When I first wrote the book I thought my agent was going to be able to sell it to a New York publisher and it was going to launch my career. After the big publishing houses rejected it, I had to change the whole scope of my dreams. Instead of thinking of a book in a bookstore window with thousands of people buying it, I scaled down all my expectations and refocused my efforts on a finding just a few readers, one at a time, on the web.
How was it discovered by the Doubleday Book Club and Literary Guild?
Erika Tsang, an editor at the book clubs read about the book on one of the sites that ran a review. She went to amazon.com, read all the reviews, and wrote me e-mail requesting a copy of Lip Service. After I made sure she was legit and not a prank created by one of my fiends... I sent it off. Two weeks later, she called to negotiate.
Two weeks after that, in an auction, Pocket Books bought the North American Print Rights. Since then we've sold the book to Germany, The Netherlands, France, England, Australia and we are talking to Japan and Scandinavia now.
Did you encounter any difficulties with rights? (Were you able to retain electronic rights, or did Pocket Books assume those?)
Pocket Books wanted to assume the electronic rights and did. They just released the ebook version of Lip Service and its available from all the e distributors including B&N and
Many authors are hoping to jump on your bandwagon and "get discovered" by print publishers by e-publishing first. Is this a wise move? Why do you also suggest writers take advantage of print-on-demand services?
I do think it is a way to get discovered, though it takes an enormous amount of time and hard work to get buzz going about your book and reach readers. Or an ebook can be an end in itself for many authors who don't care about going into print. There are so many more opportunities now for authors than there were two years ago when I started out ... back then there was not even the word - ebook - we called them electronic downloads.
I recommend both e and pod because most people don't have reading devices yet and few want to read a book on a computer screen. Plus in many instances, reviewers prefer reading a printed book. Give it another three to five years and the devices will be improved and more people will have them. Right now there are only about 20,000 owners of Rocket Ebooks. By the end of 2001 estimates are there will be over a million owners.
Why do you think nonfiction is an "easier sell" electronically?
People tend to look for nonfiction titles. You want to learn about cooking with grits, you do a search and one book comes up. But if you are looking for a good mystery and do a search 3000 books come up. Its not easy to know from the title which is which and what's better. It's not just an electronic issue -- ask any book publicist -- non fiction is just easier to sell. People need those books.
Do you think the gap between print sales and e-sales will lessen soon?
No, not soon. There are too many eformats and the reading devices are too expensive. I think it will take three to five years for the gap to significantly lessen.
What are some of the differences between writing for an electronic market versus a print market?
Ah... a pet peeve of mine... a book is a book is a book. Only the delivery device between print and e is different. There are many people who are saying that ebooks not coming out of the top twelve NY publishers are for the most part are badly edited and really not quite finished, that authors are rushing their books and not putting enough time into them to get them out there. My agent who has read many in an effort to discover a few new voices says that she is not happy with the quality of the writing and fears that ebooks will not succeed until there are serious editors working on these books.
Do you believe writers who choose to epublisher are taken less seriously among agents and publishers?
For the most part, I know they are. I have interviewed a dozen editors at the big publishing houses and as many agents. They are not impressed by the quality of the writing. The almost unanimous complaint is that these books are not finished. It's not something I'm happy to report to you - but that is what they are saying.
One thing that I did before I self published Lip as an ebook is I took a few freelance jobs, saved some money and hired a New York editor to help me get my book into shape. I highly recommend that.
I see a very odd thing among e-authors - a desire to get many, many titles published in a short period of time. I wonder at that. It takes most writers a year to write a book. I don't understand the need to write three books a year just to prove you are prolific. Better to write one good book than three mediocre books. On lists all the time I see people lauding the writers who can write a book in three months and don't understand the logic behind this.
Why did you choose to team up with Angela Adair-Hoy for your book, "The Secrets of Our Success?"
Well, the book, which will has been rewritten and greatly added to will be published by St. Martin's Press in both print and e in January is now entitled How to Publish and Promote Online. And I chose Angela because she is a hoot ... no really, I chose her because she was the only epublisher actually making a serious profit from ebooks and because she specialized in nonfiction. Since I covered the fiction angle, it make sense to work with someone who knew what I didn't. And I liked her writing style. She and I have had a ball writing the book and we still have not met face to face.
You sent a hundred free copies of "Lip Service" to reviewers, and wrote free articles in exchange for links to your site. Are there any other ways writers can promote their self-published books?
Yes. They have to buy the above mentioned book in January to find out what they are.
You've said that if you had it to do over, you wouldn't have bothered setting up your own merchant account, and instead, left the sales to Amazon.com and sites like Booklocker.com. Why is this?
Because once I linked my book to Amazon and B&N, no one bought the book directly from me. People prefer to give their credit card info to stores they know and trust. For every 1 book I sold from my site, I sold 100 from the established online bookstores. Plus they handle shipping - I hated going to the post office every single day.
What kind of time and financial investment should a writer expect if he/she intends to make money writing e-books?
I don't think many writers should expect to make money from their ebooks yet. There just are not enough readers reading them yet. How much money can you earn from one book? If the ebook price is $6 and you get 50% of that ... that's $3 a book. The average ebook sells less than 1500 copies.
That said, I recommend going with an establishes epublisher and not investing in any thing other than a top editor ($2000) and at least 100-500 hours in promotion which you can do yourself and doesn't cost anything.
If you want to self publish instead -- look at an investment of at least $5000.
What's coming up in your writing future?
A film director and I are working on a joint project that's exciting. And I have a new novel coming out this January called In Fidelity. That plus the non fiction book coming also in Jan from St.
Martin's: How to Publish and Promote Online.
Also, I am continuing to write a twenty part series in the Writer's Corner at Mightywords.com on Writing your own Success Online.... and I have a novella up at Mightywords.com.
Plus, I am really enjoying covering the publishing world for Wirednews.com. I'm very proud that I have been able to break a dozen big stories there and that my reporting has gotten several awards and had been reproduced all over the web.
Any further tips for writers?
Two things - remember - writing may be an art - but selling your writing is a business. And love the process of writing because that is all about it that really matters. Whether you sell one book or 500,000 you have to love what you do everyday. Very few writers make a living writing fiction. We do it out of a passion for storytelling and the written word - if you are in it for the money - think about going into real estate instead.
Visit M.J.'s site here: www.mjrose.com