E-Books with M.J. Rose
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TERENCE SMITH: We’re looking at e-books both as a technology and as a publishing phenomenon. So tell us how it worked with you and with the book “Lip Service.”
M.J. ROSE: Well, I had an agent and she sent it to the New York publishing houses, and the editors loved the book, but the marketing departments at those publishing houses said that it fell between too many genres. It was a little bit too intelligent, a little bit too erotic, a little bit too much of a mystery, a little bit too much of a thriller, so they passed.
TERENCE SMITH: Tell us maybe just briefly about the book so that we know what it is.
M.J. ROSE: “Lip Service” is an adventure that a woman goes on. She’s 38 years old. She’s in a bad marriage. She winds up getting a job writing a book for a man who has a sex clinic and it involves phone sex. And she winds up doing some phone sex in order to learn about it, which is where the erotic part comes in.
But it’s really a story about her struggle in, in taking different parts of herself and merging them together and coming to feel like a whole person again.
There’s a little bit of a love story in it. There’s a mystery. It gets a little bit like a thriller. So when everybody passed my agent said, just go write another book, they love your writing. But I was at a point in my life where I really needed to know that I had readers. I could keep writing books forever for me and my agent, but I needed to know that readers would respond to what I wrote.
So I had this idea. It was in 1998. There was no such thing as e-books. But I was working on the Internet a lot and I was downloading files all the time. And I thought, if I put my book up on the Internet as a file that you could download, and I told people about it, maybe some people would download it and read it and maybe I could get some response.
And if I did a good job at that, maybe we could go back to a publisher with my next book and say, look, readers don’t mind all these mixed up genres. So I started doing that. And it turned into a much more involved project than I thought.
I put up an e-book and I realized “Great, I have a Web site, I have an e-book , nobody knows it’s out there.” So I started marketing it. And I started writing to Web sites where I believed my readers lived. And I targeted them. I offered them free copies of the book. I offered to write articles for them about self-publishing a book. And one by one people started reading the book and giving me reviews. And I actually had to print the book at a certain point, because I was getting a lot of orders for the e-book , but I was getting a lot more requests for, “I’d like to read it, but do you have a print book.”
So I actually sold the jewelry that my ex-husband had given me. I had just gotten divorced. Sold the jewelry and printed 3,000 books and then really started marketing the book, because now I had a warehouse with 3,000 books sitting in it. And it started working.
And it was a year later and I sold 1,500 books and an editor from a Doubleday Book Club and the Literary Guild was on Amazon which was selling the book and she came across “Lip Service” and she read all the reader reviews, because I only had reader reviews. And she loved the reader reviews. And she wrote me and asked me if she could have a copy of the book.
Two weeks later, they offered to buy the book for the book clubs. Book clubs only buy 158 novels a year, and they’re usually all the best sellers. So it got a lot of attention, made a lot of news that they had shows on the self-published novel. It was the first time that had ever happened. And two weeks later I got picked up by Pocket Books and they came out with “Lip Service” as a hardcover.
TERENCE SMITH: And how has it done?
M.J. ROSE: It’s done incredibly well. It’s sold almost 80,000 copies. It just, the trade paperback just went back for its third printing. And it’s published in six other countries. I personally only sold close to 2,000. I stopped selling my own self-published version when Pocket Books bought it.
TERENCE SMITH: Is it available as an e-book now?
M.J. ROSE: It’s available as an e-book, a trade paperback and Amazon and Barnes & Noble still have the hardcover.
TERENCE SMITH: How many e-books have been sold?
M.J. ROSE: Well, it’s sold in the thousands in e-books. It was on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list of e-books for 16 weeks. And what’s interesting is not how many books it sold as an e-book , but the marketing that I’ve been able to do with the e-book to help the print sales. Because that’s really one of the best uses of an e-book right now in the marketplace the way it is. Because there aren’t any reader devices that are inexpensive enough for them to have been embraced by the mass market.
TERENCE SMITH: What does it say to you that people start reading it electronically and then want the physical printed copy?
M.J. ROSE: It says a lot to me in a couple of different levels. On one level there’s a lot of conversation now in publishing about are e-books going to replace books. And I don’t think in the long run that they’re going to replace all forms of books because I think books are possessions.
They’re not just something you read and then you throw away, which is what an electronic file is. You can’t put it on the shelf. But mass market paperbacks do get thrown away.
So I think e-books eventually will start to replace mass market paperbacks. But we’re five years from that until we have the devices to read e-books on that are really friendly and comfy.
So I think when it’s priced like a Sony Walkman, it will start really taking off. I think when the screen glare is solved, it will really start taking off. When it’s multi-functional, it will do really well.
TERENCE SMITH: Have you read a book length work off a screen?
M.J. ROSE: Yeah. I’ve read a lot of them. I’ve read them on a palm. I’ve read them on a rocket book, which you can’t really buy anymore, but that’s what Gem Star REB now is. And I’ve read it on my computer screen.
TERENCE SMITH: And what did you think?
M.J. ROSE: The last one I read, I got to page 25 and I went and bought the book. It was great for a sampling device. I really didn’t mind reading the first 25 pages, but two things happened. One is I didn’t want to read it any more on the screen. The second thing was I wanted to own the book.
And I think there’s a psychological element that we have to take into consideration here is that we are a society that books become part of our lives. They line our rooms. They’re wallpaper. They’re possessions. They’re a connection to the author.
Those things are good things and they shouldn’t go away. E-books are going to become a different category like audio books are. A lot of people take audio books out of rental places. They don’t buy them. You don’t want to own your audio books. I think e-books right now are more in that camp.
TERENCE SMITH: However, from an author’s point of view, e-books, electronic publishing really served a purpose for you?
M.J. ROSE: Yeah. So then there’s this whole other world that when you’re talking about new authors who can’t get published or midlist authors that want to reach a broader market, it’s an incredible way to introduce yourself, because it doesn’t cost anything for the author. I spent a lot of money because it was new. There was no easy way to do it. But now there are a lot of companies that make it incredibly easy for an author, an independent author which is what is basically a self-published author, or a small press author.
For $150 you can make an e-book . You can do print books and print on demand. And for probably $500 total you can have a book for sale on Amazon and on your Web site. Whereas, I had to spend $10,000 to get to that point.
One of the wonderful things about e-books right now currently [is that they could bring back] short fiction and novellas, because you don’t mind reading 20 pages. And companies that are currently selling short fiction are doing incredibly well, especially in the science fiction, mystery, and horror genres. They’re selling 10,000 to 20,000 copies a month.
TERENCE SMITH: Now, your book is available both as a print book and an e-book . What are the prices of those two products?
M.J. ROSE: My trade paperbacks are $13.95. And the price of the e-books are right now about $11.00, which, if I was pricing them, it’s not what I would price them at.
TERENCE SMITH: Where would you price them?
M.J. ROSE: I would make them $4.95.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. So they’d be less or less than half?
M.J. ROSE: Yeah. I don’t believe that they would cannibalize the market. I don’t believe that anybody who would buy my e-book is somebody who wouldn’t buy the print book. I think they’d buy the e-book, start reading it, and go buy the print book.
TERENCE SMITH: Right. So is there, is there a stage down the road in your mind or imagination or expectation where it is comfortable enough for people to read full length works?
M.J. ROSE: Oh, absolutely –
TERENCE SMITH: Electronically?
M.J. ROSE: I’ve seen some prototypes of things that they’re working on. One is electronic ink, where you’re actually going to be turning pages and the, the ink is electronically created so that as you turn the page, the new page comes up and there’s no glare on the screen and you really feel like you’re reading a book. That’s one.
I’ve seen another that’s a laptop where the screen itself clips out and you turn it around and that’s a book that you can hold. But I don’t think that hardcovers and trade paperbacks are going to be replaced in the next 10 or 20 years.
TERENCE SMITH: For, for all the would-be authors out there who have not been able to get published through conventional publishing, what should they do?
M.J. ROSE: It’s the most empowering thing for an author to go this route. Because even if they don’t sell hundreds and thousands of copies, if you work the net and you really try to get your book to the right audience and you do sell your books, to know that people are reading what you’ve put all this hard work into is an amazing feeling.
One of the things they should do is they should try to go the traditional route first. Because that will give them an agent’s opinion of their work and in a lot of cases publisher’s opinion of their work. I wouldn’t ask their mother, their sister, and their best friend if they should publish this book, because there’s nothing worse than putting a bad book out there.
So I suggest really going out, getting an agent, seeing if that works. And if the agent says, you know, this is a great book, but we just can’t sell it now, then absolutely you should do it.
I’ve actually written a book called “How to Publish and Promote Online,” which really takes you through all the steps of doing this, because too many people were writing and asking me. There’s supposed to be 23 million people in the United States who consider themselves authors. So there are a lot of people who like to write. And this really is a wonderful way. Even if all you do is make 10 copies of this book and give it to your grandchildren. All this work exists now.
You know, painters get to put their paintings on the wall and musicians can have their friends come over and say, listen to my CD, but until now writers never had a way to make their work real. And now we do.
TERENCE SMITH: What kind of response have you gotten from would-be authors both to the book you wrote about how to publish and your own experiences?
M.J. ROSE: It’s hard to say this modestly, but I get a lot of gratification out of this: I’ve kind of become the patron saint of unpublished authors. I get five to six letters a day from people who write and tell me that I gave them hope and I made them believe it was possible. And I have a list online at a place called Yahoo! Groups called the Novelist and I talk to them every day and I give people advice.
It really means a lot to me that I can take the 10 years of torture that I went through of not being published and turn it into something that can give other people some amount of hope. It’s totally changed my life.