Author PJ Manney On How To Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book

Authority Magazine
Nov 11, 2021 · 12 min read

Get creative: You never know where your biggest fans may come, so get your books out there as widely as possible. I expected technology executives and science fiction readers to be my fans, and they are. But I never expected a “big fan” to run one of the largest student/family education forums in North America. He wants his students to learn about the New Mythos. I truly did not expect that. This is where a great PR person comes in. Elena Stokes came up with many opportunities that were about me, as opposed to about my books. But readers like to know their authors first. As a reader myself, I understand that.

a part of our series about “How You Can Grow Your Business or Brand By Writing A Book”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Parsons PJ Manney.

PJ Manney wrote the Philip K. Dick Award-nominated Phoenix Horizon series (R)EVOLUTION, (ID)ENTITY and (CON)SCIENCE, as well as non-fiction and consulting about emerging technologies, future humans, empathy through storytelling, and the need for a new mythology to build a constructive future. She was a former Chairperson of Humanity+, teleplay writer (Hercules — The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, numerous TV pilot scripts) and film executive. Visit www.pjmanney.com.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what motivated you to become an expert in the particular area that you are writing about?

hat if…?” is my favorite question. I grew up on a combination of history, science fiction and futurism, so I’ve always been comfortable thinking about what is possible, not what should be because of dogma, or what has always been. There is no such state of being. Humanity has always evolved based on our technological innovations. So what comes next?

What’s next is the rise of robotics, artificial intelligence, and cyborgs, with the shift from large tools we used outside our bodies, into the very small that can be put inside our bodies. A leading technology is brain-computer interfaces, already being used in deep brain stimulation, cochlear implants and the beginning of more complex information transfer, like Musk’s Neuralink technologies. I want to explore the ethics, pro and con, to the paradigm shift we’re just beginning to experience when transformative and mind-altering technologies are not only all around us, but inside us. And are us.

Can you share a pivotal story that shaped the course of your career?

Since I was small, I’d been told that I shouldn’t be a writer. Every teacher and psychometric test told me so. I was dyslexic, dysgraphic and dyscalculic, with ADHD but back then, I wasn’t diagnosed. Few were. I worked in the film business as an executive, which is filled with dyslexic storytellers. There, producers insisted that executives like me didn’t have what it took to write. But I was telling writers what to write and how. When we moved to New Zealand so my husband could produce television shows including Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, I was so bored, I wrote a spec script to see if I could. It was good enough for the showrunners to let me write for the TV shows.

What changed everything was access to technology that helps dyslexic writers. Spelling, grammar and usage checks, large monitors, fonts, cut-and-paste, programs like Scrivener, speech-to-text and text-to-speech programs. All of these made it possible for me and so many others to tell our stories. Turns out dyslexics are the best storytellers.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Are you working on any new writing projects?

I’m working with adult, student and professional groups to guide them in new storytelling techniques under the concept of the New Mythos, as well as writing a short book on the subject. We live in a time of great complexity and diversity, and our old myths seen in the comics, adventures and dystopias our society reads or watches don’t provide the inspiration we need. The old stories of simplistic heroes and villains that resolve by restoring the status quo don’t inspire society to solutions. And we need solutions to climate change, inequality, injustice and exclusion. Even though storytelling creates empathy, we need to supercharge it to survive a challenging time. Many science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction writers are moving in this direction and together, we may just change how stories are told and help make a better future for all, together.

My long-term writing project is a series of linked short stories about our coming future in this century, reminiscent of Cloud Atlas. Through it, I want to explore the possibilities of the New Mythos in an entertaining way.

A group of UK-based multimedia artists called Dadamechs are creating art NFTs based on my Phoenix Horizon trilogy and I get to have a little bit of input, but mostly, I just watch the fun. :-)

Thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. Can you please tell us a bit about your book? Can you please share a specific passage or story that illustrates the main theme of your book?

(CON)SCIENCE is the last book of the Phoenix Horizon trilogy, concluding the visionary Philip K. Dick Award–nominated series of a world at war, a virtual search for identity, and the future of humanity. To choose a single passage is too difficult with such an epic story.

Five years ago, bioengineer Peter Bernhardt spearheaded an innovation in nanotechnology that changed the course of evolution. Until everything was taken from him — his research, the people he loved, and finally his life. Uploaded as an artificial intelligence, Peter is alive again thanks to a critical reactivation by fellow AI Carter Potsdam.

But a third sentient computer program, Major Tom, is tearing the United States apart, destroying its leaders and its cities. Major Tom’s mission: rebuild a new America from the ruins and reign as uncontested monarch. Carter knows that only a revolutionary like Peter can reverse the damage to a country set on fire.

Caught in a virtual world between an alleged ally and an enemy, pieces of Peter’s former self remain: the need for vengeance, empathy for the subjugated people of a derelict world, and doubt in everything he’s been led to believe. To rescue what’s left, he’ll need to once again advance the notion of evolution and to expand the meaning of being human — by saving humanity.

You are a successful author and thought leader. Which three character traits do you feel were most instrumental to your success when launching your book? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1) I see the world differently. I don’t know if it’s my neurodiversity, or being a woman, or Jewish, or observant​ and prescient​, but as an outsider to the established power structure, I can see the world from a different perspective and tell others about it. Provocative art comes from the minority opinion, even if that opinion eventually becomes canon. Stories that confront the status quo get attention, challenge assumptions, and move society forward. That’s why we tell stories.

2) I respect the audience. That comes from years in the Hollywood trenches. But that doesn’t mean you write what they want. Audiences don’t know what they want. And they all don’t have to like you. In fact, if they all do, you may not be dreaming far enough, because visions will always upset someone. But when you see a critical mass follow your provocative ideas, keep rowing. You’re on to something.

3) I persevere, but acknowledge personal and cultural evolution along the way. In 1993, I had an idea. A club of the most powerful men in the country ran the US government and Fortune 500 companies, but it wasn’t enough. They wanted the world and the transformative technologies to control it. I wasn’t the same person in 1995 who wrote two chapters and put them aside to write television and have a couple of kids. I officially began researching book one, (R)EVOLUTION, in 2006. In 2014, I sold the manuscript to 47North, who asked for two more books. The two books I pitched were not the two books I published. Through inevitable family and political crises, the world and I changed. I threw out the novel I had half-written the day after the 2016 election and started again. Technology had also advanced, so my near-term science fiction had to adapt. Brain-computer interfaces, artificial intelligence, virtual environments, nanotechnology and robots grow in our culture, so the stories we tell ourselves about them, and how we behave and legislate their use must evolve, too.

In my work, I have found that writing a book can be a great way to grow a brand. Can you share some stories or examples from your own experience about how you helped your own business or brand grow by writing a book?

Publishing books confer validation. Before publication, I was seen as a science, technology and ethics fan, but through books and academic papers, became an expert in seeing the big picture. That’s unusual for experts, because we’re usually siloed in our knowledge. But successful science fiction authors must gain both depth and breadth because for worldbuilding, I must know history, psychology, sociology, politics, economics and technological development, in addition to storytelling techniques, like plot structure, characterization and genre expectations. My specialty is finding the connections between things that may not be perceived as connected. Now I consult with and speak to companies, institutions, academics and students about subjects that are multidisciplinary and complex. I love that.

For example, while visiting a film technology company, the leaders of an international telecom realized who I was, because they were fans of my books. They asked for consultation on a robotics program. They had spent a fortune hiring a firm who claimed to understand the area, but clearly didn’t, because their white paper said what the telecom wanted to do couldn’t be done. I showed the company how available products could accomplish their goals.

One of my fans runs the largest gifted homeschooling network in North America. He sees my series as an exemplar of multidisciplinary, “gifted” thinking, and my experience with our local PTA meant I might understand his program’s goals. I’m consulting with them to develop their student opportunities, including teaching New Mythos concepts to see how the brightest young minds might imagine a better future for all of us.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming an author and promoting a book? Can you explain to other leaders why they should invest resources and energy into this? Can you share a few examples of how writing a book in particular and thought leadership in general can create lucrative opportunities and help a business or brand grow?

Writing is what I do. But let’s be honest. Unless you’re a celebrity or a multi-bestseller, writing doesn’t pay anymore. You need to do both: write to get your message out, and interact with the world to make it a better place. And hopefully, people find value in your thoughts and expertise.

Our ideas can seem obvious to us, but not obvious at all to others. Books can clarify our thoughts, our message. But then you need direct interaction to bring those messages home.

My mission is to share what I see coming with as many people as possible, so that the “future shock” that affects our society may diminish. Future shock, “Too much change in too short a period of time” is dangerous, and we’re seeing the violence and irrationality because of it all around us. Stories are the best way to connect to readers, the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine of reality go down, because humans are wired to communicate through stories.

I realize my reasons to write may not be like others answering the questionnaire. But they are equally important.

What are the things that you wish you knew about promoting a book before you started? What did you learn the hard way? Can you share a story about that which other aspiring writers can learn from?

I was lucky. When (R)EVOLUTION came out, 47North hired the best publicist in the genre fiction business to release the book: Elena Stokes at Wunderkind PR. “My first jobs out of college were in movie PR, so I know an expert and talented publicist when I see one. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to work with the Wunderkind PR team on my second book. I could handle submissions to people I knew, but cold calling those I didn’t was hard. Sales suffered. I tried to rally the same kind of focus, but for me, authors think and write. ”

Selling oneself is a different art. This time, I hired Elena and her team to handle (CON)SCIENCE, because I believe when you expect the best outcome, you hire the best to make it happen.

Based on your experience, which promotional elements would you recommend to an author to cover on their own and when would you recommend engaging a book publicist or marketing expert?

​Make friends with all your contacts if you can. Build your network on social media. Those are the folks that are easy to contact again. But as you become more well-known, you’ll want bigger and better outlets to share your books. And for that, unless they approach you first, you may need ​an experienced publicist to vet and sell you.

Wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things an author needs to know to successfully promote and market a book?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1) Audience: Who do you want to read your book? Who is it best suited for? Demographics are key to finding your readers. I think of this like the movie business: there are segments of audience interest, and you want to cover everyone that fits in the segments you think apply. I purposefully wrote (R)EVOLUTION as a political technothriller, so I could slow walk mainstream readers to the harder science fiction genre elements, then to the ideas behind the New Mythos a step at a time by (CON)SCIENCE. So far, a lot of folks are walking with me.

2) Genre: How is your book labeled? That will determine who might read it. Genre also determines the reader’s expectations, meaning if your book is labeled in a certain way, the reader will expect you to fulfil the promise the genre and your premise have made. Political technothrillers need politics and a technology or two that everyone wants, what Alfred Hitchcock called the McGuffin. But I raised the stakes and made what could have just been a McGuffin central to the protagonist’s transformation. That moved it into science fiction territory. But I had to deliver both to the audiences I wanted to respond.

3) Organizations: Who might enjoy your book? At conventions? Book clubs? Subject specific organizations? I sell a lot of books by meeting potential fans when I speak at big science fiction/fantasy conventions and ComicCons. I’m working with organizations who might be interested in my content, like the Jewish Book Council.

4) Outlets: What PR outlets might respond to your books or personal story? An author is not just their books. They are the sum total of their experiences that led to them. So as a neurodiverse author, I’ve written a piece on dyslexia for Writers Digest. Or a piece on a main character speaking Yiddish for Jewish audiences.

5) Get creative: You never know where your biggest fans may come, so get your books out there as widely as possible. I expected technology executives and science fiction readers to be my fans, and they are. But I never expected a “big fan” to run one of the largest student/family education forums in North America. He wants his students to learn about the New Mythos. I truly did not expect that. This is where a great PR person comes in. Elena Stokes came up with many opportunities that were about me, as opposed to about my books. But readers like to know their authors first. As a reader myself, I understand that.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)

Science fiction is all about worldbuilding, creating the specific situations in which your fictional story takes place, like the history, economics, social systems, art and culture. I worldbuild from a futuristic standpoint, starting with the present and building out trends into an alternate future American history. I would love to talk to someone who worldbuilds for real, who has influenced all the things that affect a culture and the direction it heads, who works with the big picture and understands societies holistically. So I would love to have a meal with President Barack Obama and talk about the future of North America and the world, and how we can make it better for everyone.

If anyone reading this would like to discuss these subjects, I’d love to meet you, too.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I’m at www.pjmanney.com and PJ Manney on all social media. Please feel free to follow me and join or start a conversation. We talk about all kinds of subjects there. And if you’re a storyteller interested in the New Mythos, DM me. We have a private Facebook group of storytellers actively sharing and working on new ways to see stories.

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success with your book promotion and growing your brand.

Thank you so much for the opportunity. It’s been a pleasure and an honor.

Authority Magazine

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Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.