On Tour With Best-Selling Suspense Writer M.J. Rose

M.J. Rose

M.J. Rose is the author of the best-selling Reincarnationist series and the founder AuthorBuzz.com, a marketing company for authors. Mary Regan hide caption

itoggle caption Mary Regan

It's midday in New York and suspense novelist M.J. Rose has spent much of her morning dropping in on area bookstores to promote and autograph copies of her new book, The Hypnotist.

After 11 novels and multiple book contracts, Rose still works tirelessly to promote her books.

"It's all a game of what can we do — what on earth can we do — to make books more noticed and stand out from the crowd," she says.

That can be especially tricky when it comes to big bookstores like the Barnes & Noble she stops in at for another round of book signing.

"You walk in and you go, 'Oh my god, there are so many books. How is anybody going to actually find my book?' " she says.

One way is to pay for better visibility — publishing companies often buy space on those display tables that are featured so prominently at the front of bookstores. Another way is to show up and do book signings so that precious, signed copies can get a special sticker. That special sticker is the key to selling books — and selling them fast.

"That's actually why we schlep around and do this," Rose says.

Twelve years in the book-writing business and a background in advertising have made Rose a pro at selling her work, but it wasn't always that way. When she first got started in 1998 — with an agent but no book deal — she optimistically turned to a young Internet for help.

"I figured I'll get a website and I'll put the book on the website," she says — "$9.99 for this Word document and I'll market the book and I'll see what happens."

After a month, it became clear that people weren't really interested in downloading her novel — "there was no such thing as an e-book," she says — so she found a way to make printed copies that she began taking around to bookstores. But even that was an uphill battle.

"Nobody would even talk to me," she says. One local bookstore owner actually told Rose she would never even look at a self-published book.

But Rose kept at it. Through industrious self-promotion she managed to get enough media attention to catch the eyes of The Literary Guild and the Doubleday Book Club. Within a few weeks, she had a book deal. Since then she's seen more success than a lot of writers — her book Reincarnationist had a brief second life as a TV show — but she is not a household name. And that means she can't rest quite yet.

Back on the road, Rose visits the site of one of her more recent successes. Until recently The Mysterious Bookshop in Greenwich Village wouldn't carry her books because they thought she was a romance writer, the genre her publisher at Harlequin is best known for. Rose worked hard to set the record straight — she writes suspense, not romance, novels — and while she won the battle at this store, she still faces it in others.

At an independent bookstore in Grand Central Station she learns that her books have been shelved in the romance section, but when she tries to persuade a store manager to move them, all the manager has to say is, "It just sells better there."

"This is when a writer wants to jump into a pool of water," Rose says. "All the marketing and advertising sells the book as what it is and hopes that the book will be displayed so that your readers can find it. The people that read this book — you know, they're just not going to go and look for me in romance."

These are the experiences that make Rose skeptical about the recent hype surrounding self-publishing. With more than 1 million books published last year alone — about three-quarters of them self-published — it's hard for a book to rise to the top. And according to Rose, it should be.

"You are going to have to break through," she says, "but if you want to make a career out of this then you have to make sure you are doing it in a very professional way."

And most important, Rose says, is to remember the writing. If she had her way, she'd spend her time writing instead of touring area bookstores.

"I just want to sit in my room and write books," she says.

But for the moment, the writing will have to wait because at the end of a very long day M.J. Rose still has more books to sign.

Excerpt: 'The Hypnotist'

The Hypnotist
The Hypnotist
By M.J. Rose
Hardcover, 416 pages
Mira
List price: $24.95

"Were I called on to define, very briefly, the term Art, I should call it the reproduction of what the Senses perceive in Nature through the veil of the soul."

— Edgar Allan Poe

Twenty Years Ago

Time played tricks on him whenever he stood in front of the easel. Hypnotized by the rhythm of the brush on the canvas, by one color merging into another, the two shades creating a third, the third melting into a fourth, he was lulled into a state of single-minded consciousness focused only on the image emerging. Immersed in the act of painting, he forgot obligations, missed classes, didn't remember to eat or to drink or look at the clock. This was why, at 5:25 that Friday evening, Lucian Glass was rushing down the urine-stinking steps to the gloomy subway platform when he should have already been uptown where Solange Jacobs was waiting for him at her father's framing gallery. Together, they planned to walk over to an exhibit a block away, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When he reached the store, the shade was drawn and the Closed sign faced out, but the front door wasn't locked. Inside, none of the lamps were lit, but there was enough ambient twilight coming through the windows for him to see that Solange wasn't there, only dozens and dozens of empty frames, encasing nothing but pale yellow walls, crowded shoulder-to-shoulder, waiting to be filled like lost souls looking for mates. As he hurried toward the workroom in the back, the commingled smells of glue and sawdust grew stronger and, except for his own voice calling out, the silence louder.

"Solange?"

Stopping on the threshold, he looked around but saw only more empty frames. Where was she? And why was she here alone?

Lucian was walking toward the worktable, wondering if there was another room back there, when he saw her. Solange was sprawled on the floor, thrown against a large, ornate frame as if she were its masterpiece, her blood splattered on its broken gold arms, a still life in terror. There were cuts on her face and hands and more blood pooled beneath her.

Kneeling, he touched her shoulder. "Solange?"

Her eyes stayed closed but she offered a ghost of a smile.

While he was thinking of what to do first — help her or call 911 — she opened her eyes and lifted her hand to her cheek. Her fingertips came away red with blood.

"Cut?" she asked, as if she had no idea what had happened.

He nodded.

"Promise," she whispered, "you won't paint me like this…"

Solange had a crescent-shaped scar on her forehead and was forever making sure her bangs covered it. Then, catching herself, she'd laugh at her vanity. That laugh now came out as a moan. When her eyes fluttered closed, Lucian put his head on her chest. He couldn't hear a heartbeat. Putting his mouth over hers, he attempted resuscitation, frantically mimicking what he'd seen people do in movies, not sure he was doing it right.

He thought he saw her hand move and had a moment of elation that she was going to be all right before realizing it was only his reflection moving in the frame. His head back on her chest, he listened but heard nothing. As he lay there, Solange's blood seeping out of her wound, soaking his hair and shirt, he felt a short, fierce burst of wind.

Lucian was tall but thin…just a skinny kid studying to be a painter. He didn't know how to defend himself, didn't know how to deflect the knife that came down, ripping through his shirt and flesh and muscle. Again. And then again. So many times that finally he wasn't feeling the pain; he was the pain, had become the agony. Making an effort to stay focused, as if somehow that would matter, he tried to memorize all the colors of the scene around him: his attacker's shirtsleeve was ochre, Solange's skin was titanium white…he was drifting…

There were voices next, very far-off and indistinct. Lucian tried to grasp what they were saying.

"…extensive blood loss…"

"…multiple stab wounds…"

He was traveling away from the words. Or were they traveling away from him? Were the people leaving him alone here? Didn't they realize he was hurt? No, they weren't leaving him…they were lifting him. Moving him. He felt cool air on his face. Heard traffic. Their voices were becoming more indistinct.

"…can't get a pulse…"

"We're losing him…quick, quick. We're losing him…"

The distance between where he was and where they were increased with every second. The words were just faint whispers now, as soft as a wisp of Solange's hair.

"Too late…he's gone."

The last thing he heard was one paramedic telling the other the time was 6:59 p.m. A silence entered Lucian, filling him up and giving him, at last, respite from the pain.

Text Copyright © 2010 by Melisse Shapiro. Cover Art Copyright © 2010 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited. Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved.

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