Most days, M.J. Rose feels as if she is two people, working at two different jobs but with one common goal. There is M.J. Rose the author of 13 critically acclaimed novels, the latest of which is the historical suspense Seduction. And there is M.J. Rose, the owner of AuthorBuzz.com, which is considered to be the premier marketing site for authors.
Even her name is the combination of two people: M.J. Rose combines her first name, Melisse (her real name is Melisse Shapiro) and her mother's name, Jacqueline Rose.
But don’t think that Rose has an identity crisis. “I thrive on this dual personality,” said Rose. “I am definitely two people.”
THE RISE OF THE WRITER
Rose has been juggling myriad aspects of her career since she worked as a creative director for an advertising firm while writing screenplays and novels on the side. While her career at a mid-sized advertising agency was thriving during the 1990s, Rose’s fiction writing career was stalling. She had an agent who liked her first novel as well as her second and third but neither her agent nor the publishers she approached knew how to market Rose’s work.
“They didn’t know if it was mystery or erotica or literary fiction, and no one thought it had enough of each to be on specific shelves in the bookstore. They wanted me to pick a genre,” said Rose of what would be her debut Lip Service set at a sex therapy clinic called The Butterfield Institute.
Being in advertising, Rose was accustomed to looking for unusual solutions. She began researching the idea of publishing the novel on the Internet, which, in 1998 had not yet been done. She set up a website where readers could download Lip Service for $9.95. She also set up five different advertising campaigns for her novel.
“I knew I had a readership for Lip Service. I just had to find out how to find those readers,” said Rose.
Lip Service sold more than 2,500 copies in both electronic and trade paperback format, and its success did not go unnoticed by mainstream publishers. Lip Service is credited with being the first self-published ebook to be discovered online, and published by the Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club and a major publisher.
At the time, the term self-publishing was negatively associated with vanity presses and sloppy writing. Rose said her agent was so against epublishing that they “broke up.” They reconnected when Rose began receiving national attention for her Internet book being picked by the Literary Guild. After that, the agent was able to sell Lip Service to a major publisher “within days.”
Rose’s unprecedented success with ebooks led to a stint as the reporter for Wired Magazine, writing about the Internet, self-publishing, and how authors can market their own books. “I wrote columns in 2000 saying that books would rise through the Internet,” she said. “No one believed me at the time.”
When she got her second book contract, Rose left the advertising agency and began writing novels full time.
THE ART OF THE ADVERTISER
But writing left a void she didn’t expect.
“I really didn’t like only being a working writer. I was trained and brought up in the advertising world and I couldn’t turn off that part of my brain even if I wanted to. So I was coming up with ideas to help myself and other authors regardless of not being in advertising anymore,” said Rose who lives in Connecticut with her husband, musician and composer Doug Scofield, and their dog, Winka.
“Plus, the publishing business was drastically changing and I was not happy with how publishers did marketing. I didn’t think they were being very aggressive or innovative. And I felt that authors were very frustrated with their involvement with their own books. They wanted to do more, but they weren’t sure what they should do,” said Rose.
Fellow authors began asking her advice on publicizing their books and she began holding marketing seminars and workshops for authors.
But Rose soon discovered something about the authors who were taking her marketing workshops. “They wanted the classes," she said, "but what they really wanted, was for me to do the work for them.”
So she decided, why not do that work that she knew so well? In 2005, she formed AuthorBuzz.com to provide book marketing services and consultation to authors. She followed that up with her popular blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype, and has co-authored three books: Buzz Your Book with Doug Clegg, which she uses to teach an online book marketing class of the same name; How to Publish and Promote Online with Angela Adair Hoy; and What to Do Before Your Book Launch with Randy Susan Meyers.
“AuthorBuzz.com gave me the opportunity to not write my books to the marketplace," said Rose. "If you make a living as a writer, you are always very concerned with if your book is a book public wants to read, and I didn’t want to do that in my fiction. I wanted to write what I wanted to write, and pursue the subjects that interest me. AuthorBuzz.com gave me the opportunity to not have to worry about making a living solely as a writer. AuthorBuzz.com has happily turned out to allow me to use my creativity as an ad person and in my creative writing.”
THE BUSINESS OF BALANCE
Rose usually divides her day to accommodate her two jobs. She starts her day as an author, working on her novels from 6 to 10 am at least six days a week. Around noon until 5 pm, she switches to AuthorBuzz.com duties, for which she also has a small staff. Somewhere in there, she takes a walk or runs errands as a break.
AuthorBuzz.com generally handles about 200 books a year with another 100 for Kidsbuzz, the division that handles children’s books. AuthorBuzz.com is a full-service marketing company focused on reaching booksellers, librarians, readers, bookclubs, bloggers, and reviewers through ads, advertorials, and sponsored promotions. Clients include authors, publishers and publicity firms.
“A lot of writers will say that the happiest time they had as a writer was the time before their first novel was published. All they had to do then was write. Just writing and living inside that book. That time was so pure, when there is no business [of writing]. It’s just you telling your story and working on your craft,” said Rose, who is in her fifties.
“Writing is an art and publishing is a business, a very broken business," said Rose. All writers, myself included, struggle with the balance. How do you turn off the worry about the sales numbers if those numbers are down. And should I worry about those numbers when I am in the middle of writing a tense scene?”
As much as she enjoys AuthorBuzz.com, Rose also is happiest when she is writing. Her last two novels have featured mythologist Jac L'Etoile, the heir to a storied French perfume company.
“I have strange of process of coming up with characters. I take them with me to places and try to see the world through their eyes and that will tell me about who they are. I have an incredibly difficult time coming up with characters. My weakness is creating these people out of thin air,” said Rose.
A mythologist is an unusual character for a mystery series. To make Jac believable, Rose headed to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, her “go-to place museum for research and inspiration.” She said she was walking through the galleries “with Jac in my mind” when she saw the painting "Pygmalion and Galatea" by Jean-Léon Gérôme. The painting depicts a major myth—of a sculpture turning into a woman. “Using that painting, and its story, Jac evolved into a mythologist.”
While a mythologist opens the door for myriad story lines, Rose says it’s also “almost too much. Writing Jac has been very overwhelming because of the scope of what she is interested in is vast. It is overwhelming what I don’t know about mythology and what Jac would know. It is almost intimidating to write her.”
THE SCENT OF SUCCESS
But that hasn’t stopped Rose. Jac’s first appearance was in The Book of Lost Fragrances, about the search for a mythical scent dating back to Cleopatra’s time that allows the wearer to remember the past. Rose learned much about the perfume industry working about six years on advertising campaigns for Charles of the Ritz and Yves St. Laurent fragrances. She also was involved from the creation to the marketing of the perfume Xie Xieng while working for an advertising firm.
For The Book of Lost Fragrances, Rose spent months studying with perfumers and getting a refresher course on the industry. During the writing phase, Rose burned candles, especially those created by Frederick Bouchardy of Joya, “to keep scent as part of my consciousness and to see the world through scent.” She sent an advanced copy of the book to Bouchardy with a note that she would love to have a perfume made for The Book of Lost Fragrances. “He happened to be working on an orange blossom fragrance that fit perfectly,” she said.
The result was Âmes Soeurs (pictured right), which is still sold at Henri Bendel and Fred Siegel stores and online. About 600 samples of the perfume were sent out when readers ordered The Book of Lost Fragrances in hardcover.
“Perfumes are dreams in scent. Our olfactory center is next to the memory center in our brain and they are actually touching. That is why scent can be such a memory trigger. Scent enters the brain at the same time. We are making a memory while we are smelling something,” said Rose. Her favorite perfume is Shalimar, which also was her mother’s favorite. But, she added she has been able to wear Shalimar since her mother’s death.
Seduction, her latest novel, mixes fiction with fact. Seduction is based on novelist Victor Hugo’s grief over the drowning death of his 19-year-old daughter and his desperate attempts to connect with her through hundreds of séances from his home on the Isle of Jersey during the decade after her death. Hugo claimed to have communed with Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and was asked by Lucifer to write poetry. Hugo's transcriptions of these conversations have all been published.
“She was the child of his heart and Hugo never got over her death. At the time, table tapping [similar to an Ouija board] was all the vogue. He became obsessed with communicating with her. I loved writing Seduction so much because I took a real person [Victor Hugo] and used his life to tell the story.”
Rose is working on her third novel about mythologist Jac L'Etoile and then she plans “to let Jac live life without me, at least for a while.”
“Jac has gone through a life crisis in each book. It’s not realistic to ask her to go through anything else right now,” said Rose, who added she might go back to Jac after a break.
“I really got involved with Jac’s life. I feel I could have a problem if I stay with a character too long. I want to write about upheavals, to put them through the most traumatic situations and then bring them out of it. It’s hard to sustain that if your character is not Jack Reacher or Harry Bosch whose occupations put them through that danger. That’s understandable. It’s not logical for a female mythologist to go through the same thing.”
Although Rose has revisited her Butterfield Institute series in several short stories and says she might one day feature that clinic in a novel, she is excited writing about history.
“It’s a new love I didn’t know I had,” she said.
Part of that love stems from Rose’s enjoyment of research.
“You’re supposed to write about what you know. I say write about what you want to know. I want to be passionate about what I am writing about and I am passionate about what I am learning. Writing these books as been the most glorious experience . . .
“As much as publishers like to say that readers get invested in your characters, I also think they respond to my passion.”
An M.J. Rose Reading List
JAC 'LETOILE SUSPENSE SERIES
The Book of Lost Fragrances
THE BUTTERFIELD INSTITUTE SERIES
The Venus Fix
The Delilah Complex
The Halo Effect
Lying in Bed
What To Do Before Your Book Launch