Benjamin LeRoy

Apr 172014
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

I went to the Twitter mailbag today to see what kind of questions were out there in the ether. I received four. I will be updating the blog as I answer them.

Question #1 (from my guy Alan Mills @alan_uplc) --

"I wrote a brilliant memoir of my life, but no publisher will even look at it. I know it will be a best seller. What do I do?"

Ok, this is kinda like Ruth’s question that I’ll be answering shortly. So if this is relevant to your life and you like skimming, now isn’t the time to skim. Later on, when I try to go Broadway answering it, dragging it out to ridiculous lengths, go ahead and let your eyes glaze over. But for right now. It’s you, me, and Alan Mills (and Ruth) and we’re serious about this.

I’m going to assume this question is being asked one particular way and in its most literal form, but then I’m going to circle back and answer it again from Mt. Vague at 30,000 feet.

It’s possible a publisher hasn’t yet looked at it because it hasn’t been submitted to a publisher in the expected (now is not the time for me to tackle conventions) manner, and so even if it were a perfect fit and a captivating story that would make it to the top of the best seller list, none of us will ever know.

Publishers have preferred manners of submission (ooh, that sounds...not exactly like I mean it to sound, but I continue). In the abstract, they want to receive manuscripts/pitches from people they trust or, in the very least, who they trust know what they’re doing. That’s where agents come into the picture.

If a publisher only takes submissions from an agent (as a matter of stated or implicit policy) no amount of phone calling, emailing, door knocking, etc. is likely to produce good results for an author. It’s sometimes very stupid and inefficient, but then I’ve had raccoon skulls sent to me by authors and weird propositions that, if not completely illegal, treaded in murky waters—so I get why something had to be put in place.

If you haven’t already tried to secure an agent, that’s the way to go. If you’ve tried to secure an agent by sending out query letters to three or four or a dozen people, realize it might take a little more than that to find the person who gets your project, is enthusiastic about advocating for it, and has the connections to make magic happen.

This element of the business is slightly confounding when viewed from most other business transactions in our life. If we want to hire somebody to fix a leak, we look up plumbers. The exchange of money pretty much governs the whole thing. In the case of an agent, there is no guarantee of a payday for the agent until the book is sold to a publisher, and because a lot of time can be spent trying to sell that book to a publisher, an agent has to be discerning with his/her time. And because time is a finite resource in all of our lives, that means that an agent (and later, a publisher) have to rely on gut instincts, hunches, and guesses—none of them scientific—hoping to get the least amount wrong.

Not knowing all of the particulars related to the above question, I’ve got a couple of suggestions, all of them with varied caveats, lists of pros and cons abound, etc.

(1) If you’ve got access to groups of people through speaking engagements, social media, late night infomercials, etc. and you’ve got the capital to produce your own book, the technology we’ve got today makes it pretty cheap to self-publish both in print and electronically. The important consideration here is the reach to interested buyers and your ability to at least light the fuse (even if you can’t guarantee it’ll blow up into something big). Big media probably won’t pay much attention (because they’re inundated with a million ideas for stories on a daily basis) but if you can get a critical mass of cheerleaders and bullhorns, they’ll pay attention, as will those stubborn publishers who didn’t open the door earlier.

(2) Keep trying to find an agent! There are hundreds of them and they all have their own interests and passions. It’s possible your book would  * ahem * have a synergistic pull (just trying to litter in some buzzwords so my credibility as a publisher/businessdude isn’t questioned more than it already is) with one of the esteemed agents of the world who you haven’t yet contacted. Find books like your own, find out who the agent is, figure out how they want things submitted, and do it.

(3) Find a small press. There are a lot of great small presses who publish across a wide spectrum of topics, geographical concerns, professional specialties, etc. They may not have the long arm of Big Five Publishing, but the good ones among them can get books on to shelves, can get the attention of the media, and, can get you paid good soup money.

Did that even come close to addressing the question?

 

Question #2 (from the awesome Ruth Thomas Hansen @ruththansen)

How can someone "not take rejection personally" when her reality is a big part of her story?

This is a tough one. Any answer I might give comes with a sympathetic nod and an “it sucks, doesn’t it?” I can’t pretend to have a cure all for this particular ailment. Objectively I know what I’m supposed to say—it’s just business. A company needs to devote its time/resources to the production of goods that will generate the revenue that will sustain it into the future. It is also headed by humans, humans are not machines, but sometimes they have to pretend they are.

When it comes to books, many authors spend months and years breaking their spirit to tell their story, painfully going over detail, exposing vulnerabilities, straining for the right turn of phrase to get it as close to as exact as possible. They do all of that only to be told, “we don’t see the market for your book.”

What the publisher/agent is saying – “We don’t think we can sell enough units of this thing to make enough money that it will contribute to our bottom line in such a way that we will be able to continue operations into the foreseeable future.”

What an author hears—“This isn’t good. You’ve wasted your time. Have you considered taking up another hobby?”

And that sucks. It sucks for a variety of reasons. Here are some of those reasons:

(1) It’s not productive for us to think those kinds of thoughts about ourselves or our art. It’s a toxic thing to have in our brain and it not only erodes our desire to create, it can erode our joy in living and that, it goes without saying, is not a good place.

(2) From a publisher’s standpoint it sucks, too, at least in my case (the only case I can really speak for) because I don’t want to tell anybody anything that hurts their feelings or makes them doubt their worth as a human being. NOT. MY. GOAL. It doubly sucks when I read something that I truly and genuinely love but that I know I can’t publish because either I don’t believe it will sell enough units to justify the cost OR even if I do, I know my boss and those above me, people critical to the process, will disagree with me.

It’s a shame that art and commerce get tangled like they do, and on my side of the fence when it comes to creative matters (as opposed to the businessman hat), I often refer to Zooey’s speech at the end of Zooey (the second novella in Salinger’s Franny & Zooey). He lays into Franny about it not being her business to consider the reaction of audiences, that the artist’s duty is to the art and making it as perfect as possible, as though it were a gift you’d present to God (however you want to understand God).

And that ain’t always easy, but it’s sometimes the only thing that keeps me sane.

 

Question #3 (from the super awesome Karen Feldman @unseelieme) -

How much harder is it for a small publisher to get their books shelf space in big retail stores?

Oh, I could probably write some kind of article about this that would stretch on for, like, I don’t know maybe 70 internet pages. What I mean to say is that it’s a topic I’ve had plenty of experience dealing with, I’ve got theories, I’ve seen all kinds of results from people all over the spectrum, it’s the kind of thing that keeps me up at night, and, in case it isn’t already super apparent, I like the sound of my own typing.

We need to do some dissection here. Because though you think the question is straight forward, there really are a lot of variables.

(1) How small is this small publisher? Is it being run from a garage/basement, putting out one or two books a year by a company that doesn’t have distribution and an inability to get editorial coverage in known media? Because if it is, it’s going to be nearly impossible, except maybe on a local level, to see a book on a bookshelf in a big retail store.

I should someday discuss what we mean when we say “small publisher” because it’s a term that gets thrown around all willy-nilly but it really means so many different things to so many people to the point that it almost becomes meaningless. It’s all relative.

If I say “Little, Brown” or “Simon & Schuster” you, as a reader and as an author, know immediately, that’s a big publisher. The larger companies in charge of those publishing stalwarts are multi-billion dollar entities.

By contrast, I know many award winning, highly respected, major award winning publishing companies who might gross between a million to ten million dollars a year. They’ve got books on shelves of bookstores.

And when we talk about them, relative to Hachette (Little, Brown’s parent company) they are less than 1% of the size. 1% is, I think it’s safe to say, small in consideration.

But I know approximately a bajillion authors who would LOVE to be published by any one of those companies. Those houses make up some of the more vibrant neighborhoods in this industry.

Then, between those “small” companies and non-existent companies, there is plenty of space. If we measure in percentage, you might see as precipitous differences between the “small” houses and the Big Five.

But in terms of raw dollars, the gap is significantly smaller to the point of being a rounding error to the biggest of the big houses.

Industry professionals might say a company making two million dollars a year is a small, independent house.

That’s why it gets confusing then, when somebody decides to start a publishing company in their garage and says, “I’m now a small publisher.”

Same two words, hugely different meanings, hugely different capabilities, hugely different legitimacy.

To your question—you can, as a general rule of thumb, probably evaluate a publisher’s ability to get books on the shelf of a major retailer by (a) checking to see if any of the publisher’s titles are currently on the shelf, (b) what sort of media attention are the books generating? (blogs nobody has heard of, Publishers Weekly, The New York Times), (c) how long they’ve been around.

If you’re a new publisher—and I can talk about this from experience (started two publishing companies from the ground up)—it is a super hard thing to get your books shelved in major bookstores. You have to have been around for a few seasons before they’ll meet with you (because they’re waiting to see if you’ll collapse), you’ll need to prove that the sources they trust validate your books, you’ll need to work on their terms which typically would mean discounts nearing 50% and making books fully returnable. That last part is some precarious witchcraft when operating capital is thin/non-existent.

And it’s also important to keep in mind that my experience was probably easier than a company starting today because Barnes & Noble and Borders were fairly healthy when I was trying to con them into carrying our books.

The terms we use and the expectations we have about publishers are in this gauzy new world. The technology changes, the evolution of the retail market, the emergence of social media—all of these things have made publishing in 2014 significantly different than the many decades that came pre-2000. We’ve got multiple generations saying the same words, but understanding different things by them.

Oh my God! Do I ever shut up? I believe I’ve hammered this point well into the ground and will claim this tent to be solidly staked. If something I said isn’t clear, please don’t blame the word count, just my use of them.

 

Question #4 (from @McVladie) -

How do you know? Example - Two publishers say great but... change beginning...two others say the beginning is great change ending. Ahh!

Frustrating right? I wish I had a magic wand to give to you to figure out who knows what and what the best course of action to take would be.

But I don’t.

One of a publisher’s (more accurately, the editor at a publishing house) jobs is to act something like a Building Inspector. They come in and say, “well, your foundation isn’t even” or “the electrical system is going to short if it stays as is.” It’s up to the writer, as general contractor to open up the tool box and fix the problem.

When assessing the feedback and suggestions, especially when they are as different as “the beginning works, fix the end” and “the beginning is a mess, but the end comes together nicely” it’s important to evaluate the Building Inspector. What are his/her credentials? What are the potential gains of heeding his/her instruction? If somebody says they’ll publish your book if you’d just fix the front end, that’s a reason to do it (provided you want to be published by that company). If they give you a vague “that didn’t work for me” and they aren’t in a position to publish your work even if it did, then you might not immediately run down that trail.

Writing a book is a pretty involved endeavor and the audience isn’t a monolith. If somebody asks you to stack ten boxes, you can do it and know how to do it in such a way that everybody (except the contrarian jerk) will say, “Yes, that’s how that job is supposed to be done.”

The same does not hold true for publishing.

Ultimately, like I mentioned to Ruth in the answer above, the answer, for me, is found at the back end of Zooey and Buddy’s discussion of Seymour’s Fat Lady. I can’t recommend, enough, that people read that bit when they get frustrated about their art and what to do about it.

 

In the unlikely event you've got another hour you want to kill reading my nonsense, my blog is filled with more ofi it. Some of it publishing related, some, not so much.  www.benjaminleroy.com

Apr 102014
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

Hey Gang –

I was going to write about an entirely different topic today, but then I read a piece my friend Janet Reid wrote for her blog, and I figured it’d be better if I pointed folks over there and continued the discussion over here.

It’s a pretty likely thing that if you’re an author and you’re on social media (especially Twitter), then you are familiar with Janet. She’s active in the community as a constant dispenser of advice and inside information, first with a popular blog and then later adding Twitter to the mix.

If you’re just now getting started in the writing world, you’ve probably noticed there are now about twenty thousand agents on Twitter (in addition to publishers, editors, designers, “industry experts,” and others) and it would be easy enough to assume equal credentials across the board.  It’d be easy to assume that, but it’d also be kinda wrong to do so.

Being an agent is a tough thing. To be effective at it, you need to learn the industry from people who have established track records. It helps to have support (staff and emotional) to bounce ideas and thoughts off as the industry undergoes Mutation #48.  You have to be a skilled reader to understand what the market wants. You have to understand how contracts work. You have to deliver pep talks to clients. You have to have unpleasant conversations with publishers about cover designs and promotional plans. It’s not simply about reading and cashing checks.

Just like being a Major League shortstop is about more than playing a game. Or how the guitarist from your favorite touring band doesn’t just play music every night. Or operating an 18 wheeler isn’t just driving across America as though it were some awesome road trip.

Sometimes when we’re on the outside looking in, we see people doing things we admire or wish we better understood, affixing to the occupation a sort of false comfort that doesn’t hold up to real world scrutiny. The party ain’t just champagne and chauffeured luxury cars.

We live in a time of weird expectations. Maybe we always have, but now there are just more channels of it. In keeping up with the Joneses sometimes we make some assumptions about the things in their garage that aren’t exactly accurate. When the television is filled with craftily thrown together “reality” shows with the aim to make the lives of others seem more glamorous than our own, it’s not hard to see why we assume others have it easier and that their perceived indifference to us comes off as such an affront.

I think I’ve lost the plot of what it is exactly I am trying to say and that’s ok, mine was just mindless commentary on what is the more important read—Janet’s piece.

Be good to yourself.

Mar 212014
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

Ok, it’s now spring, and we’ve weathered most of the rough stuff.

But, this sure has been an unpredictable and brutal winter, hasn’t it? Yeah, you think you know what to expect when November rolls around. Make plans about how to flourish in all of the cold and snow. You remember what other winters have been like and prepare for more of the same.

And then a winter like this one comes along and you scramble to find your feet (provided they aren’t frostbitten) and come up with a new plan.

That was an awkward metaphor and a bit of a misdirection.

What I really want to talk to you about is how things can change significantly, in an instant, in ways that are out of your control, and it’s important to not be caught off guard and to learn the gentle art of self-reliance.

But I’m not talking about weather.

I read an article yesterday that said Facebook, allegedly having already greatly constricted the “organic reach” of pages, is planning on wringing it a little harder, leaving folks who want to promote products—shoes, lipstick, guitars, and books, etc.—having to come out of the pocket to make sure anybody hears their tree falling in the great digital forest.

Facebook is a business. A business expected to bring in money for investors. Historically, it’s been a pretty cheap (you’re paying in data) opportunity to say one thing or another to anybody who wants to listen. But, that strategy isn’t going to make the bajillion dollars it needs to keep stockholders happy, so what’s a huge social media network to do?

Change up the game plan. Mission statement remix.

In an effort to monetize operations in a significantly bigger way, it sounds like people will have to pay cash money to “reach” their “intended audience.” How does that effect an author relying on Facebook to get word out about new books? Well, all those people who you’ve convinced to “like” your author page? 2% of them are going to get your updates when you generate new content unless you’re willing to partner up cash to open up the floodgate a little more.

Have a hundred likes? Cool, two of them will catch your act. Have a thousand? All twenty of the people who hear about a new book might be interested in buying it. But maybe they won’t. Maybe they aren’t the right twenty. Maybe one of the other 980 people would be psyched, but...we’ll never know.

Of course, paying cash to break down the dam a bit might not help, either. Who knows? Guess you’ll have to dip into the wallet to find out.

Quickly—we run into a problem when we strategize and rely on others (read: huge businesses with bottom lines) because they tempt us with reduced pricing on drugs. We get hooked on the fun. We share. We mistakenly believe that the high will go on forever. We have reached paradise.

But then the dealer (who, it turns out, isn’t really our friend) stops with the goodie bags and leaves people addicted to something they can’t have anymore, strung out, and desperate for even a cheap fix (are we still talking about re-discovering and gentrifying MySpace?).

Anyway, winter’s been rough.

Scattershot

 Benjamin LeRoy  Comments Off
Feb 202014
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

This is a random post.

Way back a billion years ago my Dead Guy predecessor and the co-founder of Tyrus Books (now over at Amazon), Alison Dasho, wrote a story about Scott O’Connor and his novel Untouchable, a book we published in 2011. Here’s the bit she wrote. That was three years ago. The book—one of my favorite I’ve ever published—got a lot of really cool attention including winning Barnes & Noble’s Discover Award for Fiction for books published in 2011.

It was super exciting to be a part of that book’s history and supporting Scott. When the time came for his next book, I knew he was going to find a home with one of the big publishers. That makes me happy in the way I sometimes want the validation of NYC publishing because I’m a rube from flyover country.

Anyway, Scott’s new book, Half World came out yesterday from Simon & Schuster. Here’s a great interview with Scott talking about the new book in the Los Angeles Times.

Also of note, Sunday was my birthday and, as is my custom, I uploaded a video of my life from the previous year. Some bestselling authors like Sean Chercover, Marcus Sakey, Michael Connelly, and Laura Lippman make appearances, as does James Franco’s mom, Betsy, a host of agents, publishers, the aforementioned Alison Dasho, and other important people in my life. I know some of the people in the video read this blog and I want to thank them for letting me be a part of their lives.

Well, I hope everything is great in your neck of the woods. Send me a postcard from your vacation home.

Feb 062014
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

Those of you who have read at least one of my posts or suffer through the inanity that is my Twitter feed probably know that I’m not exactly a spokesperson for Big Publishing. I won’t attach any descriptors or judgment values to my approach to publishing except to say that it deviates slightly from the work of Maxwell Perkins.

In 2000ish, I started a publishing company from scratch with no idea of what I was doing, unless, of course, you count the loose understanding of what a “business” does and that this particular “business” was dependent on selling a product (books) to customers (readers).

Though not the fount of good advice it is today, the internet gave me enough information to put on a suit and tie, grab a briefcase, and declare myself a publisher. Drunk on the power of being my own Destiny Shaman, I oversaw the publication of a few books in those early years and then packed up the car with boxes of them to hang out at the Publishing Country Club (read: tradeshows) with the other publishers.

You know who was the absolute Belle of the Ball? Me. This guy, right here. Yup. Took my suit to the drycleaner and everything. Set up the sign I had made at Signs by Tomorrow, stacked the books in our booth, and waited for security to open the door to all of the people who would be coming in to see what was new in the publishing world (namely “me”).

Imagine my surprise when the doors were flung open and we were greeted with...well, I wouldn’t call it active derision, maybe something more like aggressive ambivalence. Yeah, it turns out, since nobody knew who we were, our display was not on par with Random House, and our books were kinda “meh” looking, no one really felt compelled to pay attention to us.

But! I insisted, if you’ll just read the book, you’ll see...

Alas, it was not to be. We got a little foot traffic. A few curious raised eyebrows. More than one, “Oh, that’s cute, they’re so young and they’re wearing suits.” But as far as starting down the path to a 401k—we were frozen in the starting blocks.

On that long drive home from Appleton, I might have cracked open one of the books we published, and, if I was totally honest with myself, I might have said something like, “Yeah, the author is cool, and most of my friends couldn’t do better, but this isn’t exactly it. It’s a solid first step, but we need to do a bit better on the editorial selection side."

Nagging doubts are a bitch. But they’re grounded in real weeds.

Maybe, thought I, the problem is we went regional. The Wisconsin Librarian Association. The Upper Midwest Booksellers Association. Maybe we needed to go Broadway with this operation. So we did a few new titles and decided to hit Book Expo America.

Surely the problem was with our hickish, fly over country launch, what we needed was a bigger platform, a deeper pool, a diving board high enough to draw Spectacle level attention. New York City! The place never sleeps. All kinds of rags to riches stories to mine! It was time to make a name for ourselves and to sell a million books!

But, damn! Have you ever been to Book Expo America? It’s like everybody who has ever read a book ever is there and so is everybody who ever published a book. It’s a whole City of Literacy and maybe we were still some of the youngest people, or maybe we had a cooler punk edge, or maybe our new books were actually good enough to be on the shelf next to The Establishment, but there were also 100 other booths set up in the small press area. And they probably were all staffed by people who were thinking things like the things I was thinking.

They were also dressed up as gorillas. One dude was walking around with a toilet seat around his neck. Some folks leapt out of their booths with smiles that scared more than endeared with promises of get rich quick schemes or “This is the one book you’ll need for the rest of your life!”

And I got dismayed.

It didn’t matter that my suit had gone back to the drycleaner. It didn’t matter that we’d gotten a nice review in Library Journal for one of our recent books. It didn’t matter that we were being earnest. For every patron—buyer, librarian, reviewer, reader—walking down that aisle, the reaction was almost universal.

Where am I? What in the hell is this? And how do I get out of here?”

And off they went to the comfort of a known quantity like the cheese and wine being served by Simon & Schuster, or to get a book signed by Julie Andrews, or whatever. Somewhere that wasn’t overwhelming. Somewhere that didn’t require a bullshit detector. Somewhere to catch a breath and not worry that a hyper aggressive dude dressed in a gorilla suit was going to do gorilla things.

Did my ability to have a conversation in my booth take a hit? Sure did. Was that the fault of the BEA attendees? Nope. How can I fault somebody who gets enough of a sample size to make an assessment and decides they don’t want to be around it anymore?

I can’t.

If you would have stopped those people and said, “Is this row indicative of all small presses?”

Even the moderately informed of them would have said no. They knew about the companies who had already proven themselves. They might have mentioned people like Soho Press or Akashic Books or Soft Skull who earned their respect by putting out quality books and working their way up the ladder of public awareness.

If you would have then asked them to go back into the unregulated aisle of Small Press Row and determine who  was a publisher worth paying attention to and who was just a guy standing on a milk crate in a homemade Batman suit with a shitty book, they would have been perfectly within their rights to decline your offer.

In any endeavor, you aren’t afforded respect simply because you want it. I can’t climb over the bleachers at Wrigley Field and say, “Well, I’m here to play shortstop. Let’s get this tryout underway!” and then pound my mitt a few times to show them I know what I’m doing and that I mean business. It doesn’t matter that I may very well be good enough to field groundballs and bat .220 in pinch hitting duties. Nobody owes me that tryout.

There are multiple ways to find success in industry. For the purpose of this post, I’ll be a little bit more laser focused.

You can publish with a big publishing house, you can publish with an indie publisher, you can self-publish by your lonesome. If you’ve got real innovation like my guy Raven Mack, you can carve haikus onto railroad spikes.

All of these are viable things. Choose your own adventure and alla that. If you write a great book, I'm proud of you and wish you well. I hope you sell a million copies.

But getting pissed off at the indifference of the audience or the skepticism of folks who have been burned in the past or who have seen the gorilla at BEA and don’t want to risk being attacked again, doesn’t serve you at all. Also, not for nothing, but you aren’t owed anything.

Is it possible to suffer because of the sins of others? It sure is. That’s a fact of life. Is it fair? Probably not, but it happens, every day, all day, to people all over the world. People only have so many hours in a day and can only take in so much information before making decisions about how to spend their time, money, and energy.

The things I publish today generally get good reviews in the trade publications and even sometimes in places like The New York Times. The books get stocked, in varying quantities, on the shelves of bookstores across the country. I’ve built up trust with those folks over a larger body of work. Sometimes I can’t convince a reviewer to review a book I really, really love. Sometimes I can’t convince a bookseller to stock more (sometimes any) copies.

It's ten years later, more than a hundred novels published, and I still run into awkward moments when I introduce myself and somebody says, "Oh, I've never heard of you," and then moves onto a more desireable party guest.

When faced with that disappointment (and it is a disappointment)I don’t generalize and say, “Oh, well they must hate all smaller publishers! I hope their empires crumble to the Earth!” I know better. One, I know it’s not true. Two, I know it doesn’t accomplish anything for me to stomp my foot. Three, I don’t know what their experience has been like with the last six publishers they’d never heard of who showed up on their doorstep with a request. Who am I to judge?

So what can I do?

Pick up my dry cleaning, read submissions, ask myself hard questions, and do my best to do better than the day before, no matter how good that was. I can keep it in perspective that I'm not owed anything, there aren't reliable shortcuts to the 401k, and not everything I do is going to resonate with all parties equally.

Sometimes that's hard to swallow. It is still the truth.

In part, the above discussion was spawned by the reaction to Chuck Wendig's post here, both in the comments section and on social media.

Jan 102014
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

Sometimes, a foot in the door isn’t good for anything other than a bruise.

Being a guy with a vested interest in the publishing industry, it turns out I spend more time than I should reading websites geared towards writers, especially those discussing agents and publishers. Been doing it since the old Bleak House days, and in the decade plus of my time in publishing, I’ve learned a lot from those sites about the industry and the personalities who people it. When I felt like I had something to contribute, I’d chime in to give my thoughts/advice.

The publishing industry has changed a bunch in the last ten years (and likely, if you asked people who have been around for the last twenty years, they’d tell you it’d been changing rapidly since then). One of those changes, enabled by the evolution of technologies, is that a bajillion new publishers have sprung up from the electronic dirt. And, as a cottage industry, a half-bajillion new agents have risen in their shadows. Terms with longstanding meanings have been bent and blurred to mean new and multiple things (“indie publishing” and “bestselling” being the most apparent examples I can give).

Trust me, I’ve droned on at great length about variations on this theme. If you dig through the archives of this site, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Ok? I’m aware. I’m also aware we’ve talked some of these things through until we’re blue in the face.

BUT, I need to say this—not all publishers and agents are interchangeable. Not all “credits” are equal. And, much to the point of my opening sentence—sometimes getting “a foot in the door” is more injurious than anything else.

What do I mean?

I mean, being excited to sign a contract with a publisher nobody has ever heard of that won’t sell any copies of your book, isn’t the beginning trickle of coins you’re hoping to follow to the pot of gold.

In a recent discussion I was following, an author argued that he/she was excited to be published by XYZ Publisher because it was a foot in the door, as though it were going to lead to bigger and better things. The publisher in question doesn’t seem to land media placements for its authors, sell books to the retail market, or do anything else of note. These are not the dance moves to win the big Charleston contest.

Make sure, dear author, should you decide to trust your work to a company—be it a publisher or an agent—that your partner can do something for you. And by that, I don’t mean stroke your ego or make promises to you that sound good but have no hope of being realized. It shouldn’t be hard to find a professional track record of your prospective partner. What have they done for others? Asking for information is your right and if you choose to ignore it, you’ve got nobody to blame for your bruised foot but yourself.

Be well and write better,

b.

 Benjamin LeRoy talks about a bunch of stuff on his website http://www.benjaminleroy.com

Jan 022014
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

Hello everybody. I'm in that, Well, the holidays are over, but real work really doesn't start until Monday phase, and I guess that's got me a little introspective and chatty. Some of this has to do with publishing, other parts, not so much.

Happy 2014, here's a list.

 

  • That book you’re writing? It has to be from the gut. Do not recycle plots from tv shows, movies, other books, etc. that you think other people will like. Write what matters to you and write it true to your vision. Chasing trends might work for somebody, but it fails for a bunch of other people. You’ve got a limited amount of years with your life, spend them doing things you won’t regret on your deathbed.

 

  • Anybody that tells you books are simply “commodities” is full of shit. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but books are special. At least, great books are. They’re transformative, they’re life altering, they’re perspective changing, and they give us a chance to  examine who we are and the world we live in. If you’re one of the people protesting with a, “but, but, they’re widgets, they’re interchangeable products to temporarily amuse/entertain the masses," I’ve got a middle finger for you and your entertainment.

 

  • Nobody ever stayed famous for being an asshole on the internet. You wrote a book? Somebody didn’t like it? Throwing a public temper tantrum on Amazon or Goodreads because your snowflake wasn’t celebrated the way you want it to be? Poor form. You’re better than that. And if you’re not, then get the hell out of the way for the grownups.

 

  • I don’t like okra. I’ve had it fried. I’ve had it snuck into bigger dishes where, when I stumble upon it, it ruins the whole thing. What I’m telling you is that—okra isn’t for me. You could put together a coalition of one million people telling me how good okra is and that this particular okra is the best okra and it wouldn’t matter. It’s nothing personal against the preparer, I just don’t like okra. I respect that others will have a different opinion. And that brings me to this—The validation for your life is not in the power of gatekeepers in the publishing industry. If one hundred agents and publishers pass on your book, that doesn’t make you a bad person or a failure, it simply means your book, as written, is like okra to me. YOU ARE NOT THE OPINION OF OTHERS ABOUT YOUR BOOK. Eat that. Digest it.

 

  • A whole bunch of really crazy stuff, subject to coincidences, luck, chance, and impossible to calculate calculations happened to get you here, right now. Be mindful of that. Some mornings are harder to shake than others. Some nights close in faster than we’d like. There are speed bumps and distractions around every corner. But so are the Grand Canyon, stars, millions of miles of highway, seven billion people, and an infinite collection of forks in the road for you to choose. When one doesn’t work, go a different way. Throwing your hands in the air and believing you are stuck is the only thing that makes it true. But remember—you can always pick a different path, you can always back up or run over walls or, as our friend Nemo is told, just keep swimming. A new year is a great time to evaluate your life and make resolutions. But so is a new day. A new hour. Waiting for arbitrary rolling of the calendar is fun and clickbait for Yahoo, but it’s not a good excuse. If you see something is wrong, stop. If there’s something you want to explore, throw on your headlamp and go.

 

Benjamin LeRoy writes about the publishing industry, writing, traveling, and a bunch of other stuff on his website. Right now he's working on a really big project and he hopes you might be able to help. www.benjaminleroy.com

 

Dec 192013
 

This is Ben. I've turned over the steering wheel today to Bryon Quertermous who was recently named editor of Exhibit A Books. Since you're likely interested in crime fiction publishers and since I'm 50/50 for generating quality content, let's just enjoy this ride, yeah?

**

Thanks to Ben for letting me hijack his spot today to talk about my new venture. Some of you may already know me, but for those new to me, I'm a writer and editor who has worked for Random House and, until recently, worked for the digital imprint of Harlequin Books. But I was recently named editor of Exhibit A Books, the crime fiction imprint of Angry Robot Books.

Angry Robot has a great reputation in the science fiction and fantasy world, but through authors like Chuck Wendig, Chris Holm, and Adam Christopher among others who use crime and noir tropes as jumping off points for their wackadoodle worlds, they have built up quite a following in the crime fiction world as well. But oddly enough, the crime fiction imprint hasn't had the same impact. Part of this, of course, is time. Exhibit A only launched last year, so they're just starting to get their feet under them and find their stride. As the initial wave of authors begin to publish book twos, I think the awareness will increase as well.

But until then, I'm on a crusade to spread awareness of this very cool imprint. Our website has a handy list of current and upcoming titles, and I think there's something there for any of the loyal readers of Dead Guy to enjoy. We've got police procedurals, both modern and historical, domestic thrillers in the Harlan Coben and Linwood Barclay vein, and some really wild stuff coming in translation from Italy and Japan.

(A side confession)

I don't much care for work in translation, but holy crap these two books are AMAZING. We've got a crazy bounty hunter from a multiple winner of Italy's version of the Edgar Award, and a nasty female assassin set against a culinary background of all places from a bestselling Japanese author.

(End confession)

My own tastes run more toward the pulpy end of the spectrum, so you can be assured we will continue publishing work to make you feel uncomfortable and grimy, but I'm not above publishing great work that is outside of my narrow wheelhouse as well.

And what can you do to help? Tell people. I'm having a bit of a problem not coming off like a snake oil salesman when I go on and on about how great Exhibit A is. When I was just a random loner ranting about how great publishers were, it was endearing and passionate, but somehow being on the payroll makes it less cool. So the more people I can have spreading the word about our books the less desperate I look and I think that works out well for everyone.

Our books are available as cheap and DRM-free e-books from the Robot Trading Company store, or in any of the large supersites that match your ereader of choice. We're also available in fine bookstores everywhere, even some of the not-so-fine ones.

These are exciting times in publishing— no really, they are — and I think Exhibit A is one of the publishers (along with Ben's great outfit, Tyrus Books) to maximize the prestige and comfort of print books as well as the convenience and flexibility of digital publishing. You can also check us out on Twitter and Facebook to continue the conversation. 

Dec 052013
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

I remember the days of working in publishing before Twitter was a thing. I can remember them, but I do not long for them like I do so many other things from my past. In addition to all of the cool readers, authors, other publishers, librarians, and assorted others I have a chance to interact with on a daily basis, I also get to see scandals break in real time.

The fascinating drama from this week involves alleged plagiarist “Elizabeth Nelson” who allegedly stole parts of her bio from real people, has eerily similar book descriptions to books already published by other authors, and, in the most awesome kicker, “her” “author” photo is...not even joking...also used in an ad for Revlon hair extensions.

WTF, “Elizabeth?”

I first saw the story on Twitter from Andrew Shaffer (@andrewtshaffer) who also Tweets under the name @evilwylie. The story was picked up by Business Insider where you can see the awesome hair extension/author pic.

Shaffer and others were able to compile a significant list of coincidences between the efforts of “Elizabeth” and those who came before her. So much so that it’s impossible not to believe that shenanigans are afoot.

Oh, and then there were other pseudonyms for “Elizabeth,” other stolen books in other genres and it appears as though there is one giant neon arrow pointing back at one person who hired people to ghostwrite novels for his/her business, and was unaware (or uncaring) that the books were plagiarized.

The way that story is unfolding (my source being the @evilwylie timeline) is fascinating for a couple of reasons.

(1) Who the hell does that?

(2) How the hell does it end up for sale on legitimate vendor websites? Are these stolen books the equivalent of bootleg Coach bags being sold to tourists from the Midwest on the family trip to Manhattan?

(3) Why do variations of this keep happening but the newsworthiness of it diminishes? We must continue to shine light onto the cockroaches of the literary world, lest they continue to muddy the market further. This isn’t about self-pub vs. traditional or any of those buzzwords. This is about people who are generally decent vs. shitty scam artists.  I’m not one for the fainting couch and hyperbole, but seriously, you can’t let people keep doing this. It hurts us all.

I'm grateful to Mr. Shaffer for his breaking of the story and his continued updates, but why is it falling to him to do this? What sort of measures could be put in place by vendors so we never see this? Is it a case where robots are inferior to their human overlords?

It reminds me of a speech I once gave. I don’t have time to go through the whole thing right here, but let me give you the gist of it.

Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers...

“Ben” LeRoy

Ben LeRoy talks about publishing and other stuff on his website.

Nov 212013
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

Time for two quick questions that have been asked on the social medias. I hope these answers mean something.

 

Q – Why do publishers want agented submissions?

A – There are a couple of reasons. (1) In theory, it suggests the book has already been vetted by somebody who has a good idea of what will sell in the marketplace. (2) If we do want to acquire a book, it’s much better for everybody’s sanity to have two folks versed in contract language negotiating a contract. An author saying, “I’ve got a lawyer friend who will look over it” isn’t doing him/herself any favors because publishing, like all industries, has a lot of convoluted language, has established norms, operates in a certain way that somebody not familiar with, will make things unnecessarily troublesome no matter how good the initial intentions or the skill of the lawyer. An author hoping to negotiate the contract him/herself is doing so at a disadvantage (again, because of familiarity issues). I imagine some publishers, without heart, would feel free to grab everything they could. Others, who don’t want to feel like they’re taking advantage of the author may be more generous than usual and may later be resentful for it. (3) It’s nice to have an independent arbiter when discussing editorial changes. People get emotional and sometimes it’s nice to have a person in the middle to referee the situation. It’s the whole Good Cop/Bad Cop/Dunkin’ Donuts Employee model people always cite.

 

Q – How much do blurbs from other authors mean when considering a book?

A – For me? Not much. Unless you’ve got a hero of mine, I won’t likely bat an eyelash. It’s a system, in theory, that is great. Best-selling author as opinion maker. We respect the voice, we’ll respect the suggestion. But there are problems in practice. (1) The blurber who seems to have an unending supply of effusive praise for everything he/she reads. I believe their day goes something like this.

 

Author’s Spouse: Good morning, honey!

Author: Good morning. Say, I just want you to know, this cereal box has laid out in ingredients in a compelling and  thrilling way!

Author’s Spouse: Uh, ok. Big plans for the day?

Author: I’m really looking forward to the drive to work. So many billboards with so many great ads. I can’t wait to see what they do next!

Author’s Spouse: Ok, well, I think I’m going to go out on a walk now.

Author: One of the boldest and intriguing undertakings I’ve heard about today!

 

Listen, I’m not going to lie to your face—I’m sometimes a smidge hyperbolic in my day to day interactions. But, damn, I can’t possibly LOVE~! everything I come across like some folks can. Also, I can’t read everything put in front of me. So, what I’m trying to tell you is that I’m probably not a good candidate for blurbing a truckload of books.

So, anyway, what happens when a book crosses my desk and I see that it has been enthusiastically reviewed by a bestselling author? Well, if I’ve seen that author’s name at the end of thirty other blurbs with similarly worded praise, the needle doesn’t move much (at all). If I’ve never heard of the blurbing author, doesn’t move the needle. If I know the authors are friends, yup, you guessed it, the needle doesn’t move. When does the needle move? When it’s a big time author who doesn’t blurb everything and he/she really loves the book (I can tell not just by what’s said, but the fact that it was blurbed in the first place).

I’ve had a few things end up on my desk where an author has previously published a book and he/she used Amazon customer reviews and star ratings in a query letter. This does not work. Really does not work. They may be legit, but since the system is so easy to manipulate I don’t even try to figure out the legitimacy. I may publish mysteries, but I’m not much of a detective. (The original of that joke was, I believe, from Reed Farrel Coleman and it went more like, “I’m not a cop, but I do write mystery novels...” when putting forth a guess about something vaguely crime related).

That’s that.

 Benjamin LeRoy writes about publishing and life over on his blog www.benjaminleroy.com

 

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