Answering your questions about writing, publishing, and marketing books
April 14, 2016 (San Diego's East County) - We're going to talk about pen names and book promotion in today's column. To help me with this is my second favorite MJ, international best-selling author MJ Summers! She is the author of the steamy romance breakout novel, Break in Two, which propelled her career forward all the way to a six-figure book deal. She's since published four novels in the Full Hearts series and the novella Don't Let Go, a prequel to Break in Two. Her fifth Full Hearts novel, The Break-up, is available for pre-order.
Since most indie authors promote using social media, how do authors using pen names promote themselves? It seems like the first line of defense (grassroots marketing through friends and family) would be totally gone! - Stephanie Yuhas, author of American Goulash
MJ: I decided to use a pen name for a few reasons. First, I was worried that if Break in Two was a flop, that I was going to embarrass myself. Second, I wanted to make sure to protect my family’s privacy. Third, I wasn’t sure how people around me would react because of the explicit nature of the stories. I didn’t want it to come back on my children if other people were somehow offended by the books. I’ve been surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response I’ve received from friends and family. Last November, I had a book launch party at a local bookstore here in Edmonton (Audrey’s Books), and most of the people in attendance were relatives, as well as friends. I even had a few of my girlfriend’s parents show up to help celebrate, which was fantastic. They’ve known me since I was five years old. Now to answer the question about the first line of defense…because I didn’t ‘go public’ with my work until after the launch of Break in Two, I didn’t rely at all on family or friends to spread the word. Instead, I used social media and did a whole lot of posting around the groups on Facebook. I also hired a PR guy, Nick Wale, who helps indie authors get noticed. He had a lot of tips and tricks that worked!
SJ: Although I respect their choice, I work with several authors who use pen names and it is tough marketing them sometimes. I think the biggest difficulty we've had is packing the house at author talks and book signings when an author doesn't want to invite their friends and family because she doesn't want them to know her deep, dark secret. Social media is probably easier to deal with than live events because creating accounts for your pen name's persona is easy. Some authors disguise their appearance a little for their profile pictures and no one is the wiser. Of course, it helps when you have some people in on the secret who can talk you up online even if all your friends don't know. At the end of the day, it's usually only a core group of your biggest supporters who will take the time to really help you out, so just be sure you let them in on the secret!
SJ: Break in Two started out as a self-published novel and was an enormous success. Please tell us how that happened so that we might all steal your ideas.
MJ: LOL! I wish I had the formula for success. If I did, the next four books in the series would have hit as big. I know this answer won’t be satisfying to other authors just getting their start, but it’s the truth. I got lucky. It was a different time in self-publishing two+ years ago, so it was a lot easier to get noticed than it is now. I had a great cover (that my husband and I designed), and I had a story that was written from the heart. Back then, posting in Facebook reader groups actually got you sales. There was no KU program to compete with, and there were only 1 million books on Amazon, compared to over 3 million now.
Having said all that, my advice is to:
- Write the best story you can
- Hire a great editor
- Ask people to BETA read it (and make sure they are going to tell you the truth)
- Study current cover trends for your subgenre, then make sure your cover fits into the genre, then stands out
- Hire a proofreader, then ask people you know are pedantic about grammar to give it one final look before you hit publish
- Connect with readers on social media (and in person, if the opportunity presents itself)
- Build your reader e-mail list using giveaways of your work (short stories, etc.). This way you will know they are interested in your writing, and not just wanting a free Kindle Fire
- Continue learning about the craft of writing, keep writing
- Repeat steps over and over until you have found your audience.
SJ: Are any of your stories based on personal experiences?
MJ: No, my stories are purely fictional. Some of the things the characters say are things I’ve said or someone has said to me (usually the funny ones). Also, some of the embarrassing things that happen to the heroines in my stories have happened to me.
SJ: Have you ever had to deal with criticism because of the mature content of your books, and if so, how do you deal with it?
MJ: Shockingly, I haven’t had criticism because of it. The closest I’ve come to that is my mom/in-laws asking when I’ll write something they can read, and I take that as a compliment.
SJ: If you were standing at the podium of an award's show, who would you thank for the amazing career you now have?
MJ: Great question. I’d thank my husband, of course, for believing in me and supporting my crazy dream. My mom, who helps us out so much—we’re incredibly lucky to have her. My dad, who taught me to work hard and dream big. My best friend, Nikki, who listens to me as I worry, whine, and plot, and who hunts down my books wherever she is in the world (recently in Sydney, Australia), so she can take photos of them. I’d thank my other best childhood girlfriends, Kelly, Karlee, and Kristyn, who support my dream and cheer me on. My new, very dear writer friends Jenn Vore Falls and Kelly Collins for all of their support, for sharing ideas, helping with plotting, and spreading the word about my series. My web designer/manager/author management guru, Tim Flanagan of Novel Design Studios for everything he does for me. I’d thank my publishers (HarperCollins Canada & Piatkus Entice) and my agent, Suzanne Brandreth, who took a chance on me at the beginning and has stuck by me. Also, my friend, Lori Wale, who does most of my proofreading, Jenny Hutton, my new editor, Claire and Wendy at Bare Naked Words Book Promotions, Debra at The Book Enthusiast, Lin Tahel Cohen, a blogger from Israel who kicks my butt to get promoting every week, all the many other bloggers who have helped to spread the word about my series. Last, but certainly not least, every reader out there who has taken a chance on my work. It means the world that someone out there would decide to give me not only their hard-earned money but their precious time.
SJ: What are you working on now?
MJ: I’m working on a women’s fiction book (currently untitled). It’s not romance but has romantic elements. It’s a pretty emotional story, HEA not guaranteed. Not steamy. Finally, something my mom can read!
SJ: What is the best piece of career advice you've ever received?
MJ: Stop doubting yourself. You’re a real writer, so just own it. Self-doubt kills creativity, so you have to put it aside when you sit down to write. And just write.
SJ: Just for fun, your bio says you have a “goofy dog.” I have to ask, does he look like Goofy?
MJ: Ha! She’s a golden-doodle (mostly standard poodle). Her name is Lucy, and she loves to steal people’s shoes when they first come in the house. She carries them around hoping someone will chase her, but try to play fetch with her—not interested. Lucy follows me everywhere I go, lays under my desk while I work, and she understands a few commands in Italian (which makes it tricky for my husband to take her for walks). She loves bananas so much that we have to keep them on top of the fridge so she doesn’t help herself. See? Goofy.
SJ: Thanks, MJ, for sharing your story and advice. Readers, be sure to check out Break in Two and Don't Let Go for only 99 cents each. If you're looking for another 99 cents deal, you must try The Many Faces of Love Collection, a new 9-book bundle for only $0.99. This collection includes one of my novels and eight other books from talented authors at my publishing house.
Also, to get more writing questions answered join me at the Lakeside Library (9839 Vine St. Lakeside, 92040) tonight for a panel I'm moderating about publishing. The discussion takes place from 6 – 8 p.m.
About Sarka-Jonae Miller
SJ is a local author, book marketing manager, publicist, and columnist who writes chick lit and steamy romance based in San Diego and Los Angeles. Her novels include the Between Boyfriends series and the All for You series. SJ also writes health and fitness articles for Align Life and Natural News.
Check out her Between Boyfriends blog for book reviews, author interviews, TV episode synopses, and giveaways. Follow @sarkajonae and @sjpublicity9 on Twitter for more writing tips, book recommendations, and industry news. Get health and exercise articles from @sjnews9.