M.J. Rose: An Amazing Self Publishing Success Story

My very dear friend M.J. Rose has a new novel, The Collector of Dying Breaths, releasing April 8. Water for Elephant author Sara Gruen calls it “Mysterious, magical, and mythical. What a joy to read!” and it’s an Indie Next April pick.The paperback of Seduction–named last year’s Book of the Year by Suspense Magazine–is also just out. M.J.’s non-fiction has appeared in magazines including Oprah and she has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, WSJ, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show and NPR. The television series Past Life was based on M.J.’s novels in the Reincarnationist series, and she is a founding board member of International Thriller Writers, where she serves with Lee Child as the organization’s co-president. And guess how she got her start? No one–just no one–is not going to love this story, which involves an incredible amount of chutzpa, guts, charm, persistence, and energy. I truly don’t know how M.J. does all she does, but I admire her immensely, and adore her, too. – Meg

Collector of Dying Breaths CoverIt was 1998. And 1998 was the dark ages.

I had an agent and two finished and unsold novels. Publishers had been really excited about them but ultimately too uncomfortable with my genre-bending writing to bite. They wanted me to write either a suspense novel or an erotic novel, or a mystery… or something less sophisticated… or more sophisticated.

Not a little of this and a little of that. They said there was no way to market a book that was so hard to categorize.

But I was in advertising and didn’t understand the words never or no or can’t when it came to marketing.

I’d gone on line in 1994 and been fascinated with the marketing opportunities I imagined possible. So what if I did an online marketing test for my novel- get some sales and then my agent could take my plan and approach to one of those publishers and show they how to market my work.

Seduction CoverI figured could print up a few copies and offer an electronic download on line.

The only place to sell the electronic book was from my own website. And the only place to direct sales of the print book was to Amazon – they’d just started the Advantage program for anyone with a book, an ISBN, and a dream.

I didn’t think I was doing anything terrible. It was a marketing experiment. But my agent said I was self-publishing and that it would end of my career before it began. She was very unhappy with me and we split over my decision.

My friends thought I was nuts and said people would think I was self-publishing because I was a failure and that no one would ever take me seriously.

That seemed absurd. I had so many friends who were painters, photographers, sculptors and artists and Indy filmmakers – individuals all who operated creatively and on their own. I didn’t see what I was doing as being very different.

So I printed up the books and set up the website with the electronic books and started the different marketing efforts. They were going pretty well and I was getting excited. That winter, I took a copy of the novel to my local bookstore and told her what was happening online and asked the owner if she’d look at it and take a few copies.

She wouldn’t even turn around and face me – “I don’t look at self-published books,” she’d said with utter derision.

MJ Rose Author PhotoI stood in the snow outside that bookstore and burst into tears. And out of those tears came determination. I became tireless in marketing the book and it really started selling. Within the first six months I sold almost 3000 copies.

Six months, after I’d started my online marketing test Lip Service went on to become the first self-published book and the first ebook discovered online (at Amazon) to go on to be traditionally published.

The publishing world could not be more different today. In a lot of ways it’s very gratifying. The world many of us – Douglas Clegg, Seth Godin, Doug Ruskoff and others – envisioned, is here. – M.J.


  1. says

    Hi Meg and M.J., I remember when Lip Service came out! Loved it, and especially the fact that it was self-published. The same year I self-published my first book, Fabulous Fragrances, which went on to be a Rizzoli bestseller, and sold through at Nordstrom, Saks, and other stores. Later, I turned the book into a touch-screen fragrance finder for Sephora, which just acquired the technology. Several publishers had rejected my book, but in the end, it was far better for me that I self-published and retained the intellectual property. (For more on that: http://www.janmoranwrites.com/2013/12/18/a-founders-story-sephoras-new-beauty-technology/)

    Next, I self-published a novel based on the fragrance industry–one reason I LOVE M.J.’s books, too. This was subsequently sold to St. Martin’s Press (thank you, Jenny Bent!).

    Moral of the story: If you’re a creator or writer, polish your work and get it out there! There is nothing you can’t overcome!

    Rock on, M.J. and Meg, love your work!