Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Marketing Thrills and Chills with MJ Rose

I had first learned about Shelf Awareness and Author Buzz when a reader brought it to my attention in early 2006. I’d already been a fan of MJ Rose’s blog Buzz, Balls & Hype (even guest blogging on it in early March the same year) for some time, but had not put together the very obvious clues that she was also responsible for Author Buzz and other marketing tools to help authors reach a wide selection of booksellers, librarians and book clubs.

Around September, Ms. Rose asked if I would like to be part of an informal focus group of booksellers for her novel The Reincarnationist. Due to time constraints I was unable to follow up on the project, but the idea of book focus groups seemed so perfect for the publishing world that it stayed in the back of mind. Last month I contacted Ms. Rose to find out how the focus groups had gone, only to discover that she was now involved with putting together Thrillerfest as well as marketing class for authors to be taught at the event. Never one to miss an opportunity to pester someone about marketing, I shot off an email full of questions on all things Thrillerfest, marketing, focus groups, and why authors need to get their names out there in an efficient manner.

The following interview resulted from that email exchange.

Linsey (aka Bookseller Chick): You're involved with the Thrillerfest (July 12th-15th in Manhattan) along with James Patterson, Lisa Gardner, Clive Cussler, James Rollins and others, which is billed as "a four-day annual celebration of the fiction world's most popular genre." How are you involved?

MJ Rose: I'm on the board of ITW as well as being a founding member. I became involved after the first meeting in the fall of 2004 --excited at the idea of an organization whose goals including building readership. Strangely enough, we're the only writer's organization that has that goal.

Linsey: What makes it fictions most popular genre? What is it about the Thriller that appeals to readers world wide?

MJ: Since the beginning of storytelling, "then what happens" has been what’s kept people transfixed and that's the essence of our genre.

Linsey: What opportunities does Thrillerfest offer readers? Writers?

MJ: We're not an organization that helps writers get published , find agents or get legal advice. Those orgs already existed.

We are here to celebrate the genre. To get more attention via innovative and creative ways for our authors and their books with the press and with readers.

We're the first writers' organization that has a reader's newsletter. And we set up our convention, ThrillerFest, to bring readers and writers together with more than 85% of the panels aimed at readers. Our anthology, Thriller, is one of the best selling anthologies ever published and had met its goal of getting an enormous amount of attention for our authors. Our big name authors wind up introducing readers to our not yet big name authors. Its a great example of the generosity of our membership. And there's lots more to come.

Linsey: Your class at Craftfest (the writer orientated portion of Thrillerfest) is a bonus session focused on creating book buzz--your area of expertise--will you be focusing on internet buzz, reaching booksellers, reaching readers or all of the above?

MJ: All of the above.

Linsey: How can one go about defining the audience they are trying to reach with their book and then reaching them?

MJ: This is really complicated and part of the problem our industry is facing since publishers don’t do much research and don’t know a lot about our users – in other words - readers. It’s not an industry that spends as much time innovating as it does producing and in this overcrowded marketplace, that’s a problem for everyone, including every one of us.

I think if you are a writer you need to read a lot - both in your category and out of it and evaluate your work in light of what you read. That will help you get a sense of how to identify your own work.

Then your main goal should to identify the niche markets your book can reach, find them, and then connect to them, get to know them and help them to get to know you.

You can sell a lot of books by starting with identifiable groups and working outwards.

It doesn't help to say my book is for all readers everywhere. There's no way to reach them with a limited budget. But if you can say my book is for women who love mysteries and like to knit ... then we're getting somewhere. Or my book is for athletic men who like to scuba dive.

Knowing the niches you can start searching out listservs, blogs, sites, newspapers, magazines, venues where your target audience lives.

Linsey: How does Author Buzz--your marketing service--help simplify this process?

MJ: It's enormously time intensive to market your own book. It can take months and months of work. I found that I was teaching authors how to do it in my online class only to discover they'd come up with great ideas of how to market their books but when it came time to do the work, they didn't want to execute their plans.

And rightly so, we're writers. We want to write the next book! If we wanted to be marketers we'd be in advertising. (I know since I left advertising to be a novelist only to discover I had to stay in advertising to stay alive as a writer.)

I saw so much of this problem, and lived it myself, that I though up the idea of a one stop marketing solution for authors. Buy the program and reach readers and leaders of 7500 bookclubs, over 350,000 readers, 10,000 librarians and 3000 booksellers. Add another one of the programs and do a book blog tour or run ads on the top 1o blogs that cater to your audience.

It's four hours at the most of the author's time instead of four moths. So we can do what we wanted to do all along - write.

Linsey: For your book, The Reincarnationist, you used a focus group of booksellers. Why? What information did that group provide and would you do it in the future?

MJ: Back when I was in advertising I did a lot of focus groups and found that if used correctly the information was invaluable.

Objectivity is hard to come by for authors, editors, agents. Yes, there's expertise and it counts for a lot, but my agent and editor and I had all read my book three or four times each and I wanted to know what booksellers were going to say. What the overall impression of the book was going to be. I wanted to know early on, if the book met the goals I set for it.

I didn't do formal focus groups-though I would have loved to - the cost would have been prohibitive. But I did manage to get enough booksellers to read the book that I was able to get an early read on the manuscript that did provide the information I was hoping it would.

Not only would I do it again, I'd do it bigger.

I don't why people in our industry are so afraid of the words marketing or focus groups or research.

I wouldn't ask a group to tell me how to end a book or to judge a concept before it was written, but to take a finished book or a finished cover to a group of readers and/or booksellers and find out it the book meets your expectations -- why not? After all, you don't have to listen to what the group says.

Linsey: And since this is a bookselling blog, what thriller novels should readers check out right now?

MJ: I'm going on vacation and taking Lee Child's Bad Luck and Trouble & Barry Eisler's Requiem for an Assassin.

Thank you so much, MJ, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today.

For your enjoyment--and because I'm strangely addicted to book trailers--here's the festival trailer for Thrillerfest. If you have any questions for MJ that you would like for me to follow up with her, please leave them in the comments section below or email them to me at the Bookseller Chick email address in the side bar.

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