On Tour With Best-Selling Suspense Writer M.J. Rose From endless book signings to heated arguments with booksellers, author M.J. Rose knows the value of self-promotion. NPR's Lynn Neary joins Rose on the road for a taste of what it means to be a writer in today's new world of publishing.
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On Tour With Best-Selling Suspense Writer M.J. Rose

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

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

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Lynn Neary recently followed Rose as she went on the road to promote her latest novel, "The Hypnotist."

LYNN NEARY: It's about midday and M.J. Rose has spent this warm, sunny morning dropping in on bookstores around Manhattan in order to autograph copies of her book.

ROSE: Unidentified Woman #1: Hi. Nice to meet you.

ROSE: Unidentified Woman #1: Okay. Hop in on here.

ROSE: Okay. You walk in and you go, oh, my God. There are so many books. How is anybody going to actually find my book?

NEARY: Rose's book is supposed to be on one of those tables, but it's not.

ROSE: Unidentified Woman #1: Yes.

ROSE: Unidentified Woman #1: Sure, (unintelligible).

ROSE: Okay.

NEARY: Now you're signing these, but will there be any display that these are...

ROSE: Yes, she's going to put stickers on them that say autographed. They sell much faster, much faster...

NEARY: Really? Why?

ROSE: ...when they're autographed, so that's actually why we schlep around and do this. You know, I think 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.

NEARY: Back in the car, heading to the next store, Rose talks about how she got started more than a decade ago. Although she had an agent, she couldn't get published. Rose had a background in advertising and knew a thing or two about marketing, so she decided to experiment with the Internet.

ROSE: I figured I'll get a website and I'll put the book on the website as a Word document. There was no such a thing as an e-book. We didn't know what to call it quite yet. But 9.99 for this Word document, and I'll advertize it and I'll market the book and I'll see what happens.

NEARY: Within a month, Rose realized people didn't want to download the book, so she found a way to make printed copies, which she began taking around to bookstores.

ROSE: Nobody would even talk to me. I mean, there's - the bookstore - one of the bookstores in my hometown, the woman who owned the bookstore was on a ladder, facing the shelves, and I was talking to her from the ground, and I said I self-published this book. And without even hearing what I had to say, she said, I would never even look at a self-published book.

NEARY: Since then, Rose has had more success than a lot of writers - one of her books, the "Reincarnationist," even had a brief second life as a TV show - but she's not a household name, and that means she can never really rest.

ROSE: Hi. Is it in here?

NORRIS: It's here. I think it's just in the back. It'll be right out in a moment.

ROSE: Okay.

NEARY: At The Mysterious Bookshop in the village, Rose is heartened to see a big stack of books waiting for her to sign.

ROSE: Oh, you do have a lot of books, my goodness.

NEARY: Store manager Ian Kern says his customers have also become more adventurous in their taste.

IAN KERN: They've kind of stepped away from just liking the private eye novels and stuff like that. So we're starting to carry stuff that's everything from more literary stuff to just - stuff that's a little odder, taking more chances with them.

ROSE: It really means a lot to be able to sign this year because it was so depressing all those years. The publicist would call and - can she come down and sign? No, we won't carry her. She writes romances. No, she doesn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NEARY: But if Rose has won this battle in one store, she still faces it in others.

NORRIS: I know we carry some of your stuff back in another section...

NEARY: At an independent bookstore in Grand Central Station, she learns that her books are tucked away in the romance section. She tries to convince one of the store managers that it doesn't belong there, to no avail.

ROSE: Okay, it's just weird because...

NORRIS: Yeah, I know.

ROSE: Unidentified Woman #2: No, it's all here.

ROSE: Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah, it's about - yeah. It's a very crazy store, but it sells better.

ROSE: Unidentified Woman #2: It would sell better over there. (Unintelligible) other copies.

ROSE: Okay. So this is when a writer wants to jump into a pool of water because the problem is all the marketing and the advertising sells the book as what it is and the hope that the book will be displayed so your readers can find it. And the people that read this book, you know, they're just not going to ever go and look for me in romance.

NEARY: There's a difference, she says, between getting a book published and merely getting it printed. It's hard for a book to rise to the top of the pile. And with more than a million books published last year - about three-quarters of them self-published - it's not likely to get any easier.

ROSE: And there's nothing wrong with self-publishing a book if it's for your grandkids or it's a cookbook that you want to give out to your family at Christmas. But if you want to make a career out of this, then you really have to make sure you're really doing it in a very professional way.

NEARY: It all begins, says Rose, with the writing. And if Rose had her way, that's what she'd be doing most of the time.

ROSE: And I don't want to do this. I don't know any author that wants to do this. And ideally, I want to sit in my room and write books.

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

ROSE: Thank you so much for coming. I hope you like it.

NORRIS: Oh, thank you. Oh, I do. This is - I've read all...

NEARY: Lynn Neary, NPR News.

ROSE: Unidentified Woman #3: Yeah.

ROSE: Oh, thank you. That's great.

BLOCK: While you're there, you can also check out reviewer Alan Cheuse's summer reading picks, including new books from the likes of Robert Stone, Ann Beattie, Jim Harrison and more. That's all at our books page at npr.org.

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