Benjamin LeRoy

Jul 172014
 

I come to you today with this bit of news – today’s post will be my last over here. I want to thank all of the other contributors to this blog, both past and present, for building up a wonderful and informative community. I only hope that I contributed a little bit over the last few years.

The good news is that one of my favorite people in the publishing industry—Terri Bischoff, Acquisitions Editor of Midnight Ink—will be taking over for me. She’s got a wealth of experience, not only on the publishing side of things, but she also ran a mystery bookstore (Booked for Murder, Madison, WI). Her ability to see things from multiple angles, I’m sure, will prove very insightful.

She’ll be great.

And you’ve been great.

On to the mailbag for one last run! We’ve got a miscellaneous grab bag of questions, I’ll tackle them all.

(1) Will Phil Jackson lead the New York Knicks to an NBA championship?

Not with the current roster, no. The problem with the Knicks (like many things in life) is that there really is something to the idea of the whole being more than the sum of its collected parts. The team has some really impressive parts (Jackson among them), but for whatever reason, the fancy glue and duct tape that holds them together, doesn’t make them fit. It’s been said that Nikola Tesla could imagine a machine of his own invention, visualize it running, and then, still in the mental world, take the machine apart and see where the gears had been rubbing against one another and prematurely wearing out. He would do that before building the machine in the physical. I think Phil is going to need to invent a whole new machine, perhaps excluding all existing parts, before the Knicks win an NBA championship.

(2) What's the oddest question you ever received and failed to answer?

I don’t know that I’ve failed to answer any questions no matter how odd they were (though history may very well prove me wrong). That said, I’m sure many of the “answers” I gave were suspect.

(3) Now what?

I’m still bumping around the interwebs (worldwide). If you’ve got a question you want me to address, send it to me on Twitter (@tyrusbooks) and I’ll answer it for you as best I can. Otherwise, continue to keep writing, continue to keep paying attention to the world around you, and remember we’re all going to die some day and it’s better to get everything out on the table than to suppress your voice.

And with that, I’m off for a prolonged bit of silence.

Goodbye and thank you!

Ben

www.benjaminleroy.com

Jul 102014
 

(1) Would you publish a bestselling author even if you weren’t a big fan of the book, but you knew it would sell?

Yes. Yes I would. I would publish anything from the following authors, sight unseen: Dan Brown, J.K. Rowling, “E.L. James,” John Grisham, John Green, the Jolly Green Giant, Andre the Giant, Andre 3000, Nora Roberts, James Patterson—whoever. You name ‘em, and if they’re on the rack at the grocery store I’ll slap a cover on some hastily stapled together pages and I will sell it. Is it a good book? I don’t know. Not important.

The $$$$ (the only thing that matters in the world) would be good and it would allow me subsequently to stroke my ego by publishing brilliant books that nobody else would read (presumably because they aren’t on the shelf at the grocery store), thus fulfilling the American Dream of being rich and hip at which point I’ll be raptured to some gigantic office building/library/Brooklyn loft where I will spend my days eating calorie free tacos and rapping with J.D. Salinger about things I thought were important at one point, but later learned were too hard to think about.

The game is rigged. Keep shining your flashlights, scouts.

 

(2) Are you a gatekeeper?

No. No I am not.

Jun 202014
 

I've got a bunch of boxes filled with books. They're boxes I packed up when I left the Bleak House office almost 5 years ago and, because I'd never gotten around to it, never unpacked. Until today.

And that's when I found the Beverly Cleary series starring Ralph S. Mouse. I was immediately reminded of how significant of an impact those books had on my love of reading (I believe it was my 3rd grade year) and how that love of reading continued and evolved into me starting a publishing company.

I had a good conversation with folks on Facebook and Twitter today about how beloved those books (and, in fact, the whole Cleary collection (nearly 100 million books sold). I decided to take the afternoon off and re-read The Mouse and the Motorcycle.

Here is me reading the first chapter

Thanks Beverly Cleary!

 

May 082014
 

Here are more questions submitted via Twitter. If you have questions you'd like me to address next week, either leave them in the comment section below or send them to me on Twitter @tyrusbooks

 

@J_Low An agent said she prefers a potential client to have at least a simple website so that she can easily see their info. Thoughts?

Having a simple website with some basic content probably isn’t the worst idea, especially since it’s so easy in today’s world to put something together that is, if not beautiful, at least not harmful to the eyes.

However, don’t get caught up in the trap of thinking you have to have all of the bells and whistles and accounts across all social media and pretend book trailers and pretend cover art and a marketing plan.

Also, if you are a debut author in waiting, don’t feel like you need to artificially inflate your biography. It’s ok, if you’re querying your first book, to not have a huge track record. In fact, it’s kinda expected.

@blueshenlung What determines initial quantity for sale? What role does digital distribution play in that?

In my case—and I think it’s a fairly typical case—initial quantity for sale is calculated at one stage (P/L) and implemented at another (sales) and adjusted for any variances along the way.

A quick breakdown of that goes something like this:

When a publishing company is deciding if it’s a good business decision to publish a book, they look at what the expected upfront costs are going to be for production and advance (among other things) and then they look at how many copies of the book they’d need to break even AND MORE IMPORTANTLY sell to hit a certain profitability level (could be calculated in raw dollars or %).

Whatever that number is, say 4,000 copies, they have to ask, is it realistic that we’ll sell this many copies. If the answer is no, then the book doesn’t get published. If the answer is yes, then the sales force is told to go out and sell the book to bookstores (well in advance of the release date) and the sales force will, hopefully make that number. If they don’t, there might be problems (all the way up to cancelling publication) or if they do better than expected, the print run will be adjusted to reflect better than anticipated sales.

As far as what digital distribution do to that math? Well, it goes into the great big stew of calculations. If you say, “well we can sell 2000 print copies, can we make up the rest of the money selling digital copies” (where there won’t be the print and shipping costs, but where design, advance, layout, etc. are still considerations) and you really can, then it’d probably drive down the print run number by whatever measure it can support.

The important thing here, for better or worse, is to understand that the viability of a title and the likelihood of it being published in the first place, is dependent on all of those imprecise calculations when the book is little more than a cell on an Excel spreadsheet.

@ruththansen I wouldn't normally mention mental illness on my resume, but what about in a submission letter. Is schizophrenia an appropriate qualification for a writer to reveal when she's hoping to begin a business relationship?

Ps. Protagonist has same illness.

This is a tough one, but my first impulse would be to say there is absolutely zero need to divulge any mental illness issues with a submission letter. What’s important to the agent/publisher is – “Is this book a good fit with our line, do we think we can make money selling it if we produce it?”

If the agent/publisher indicates a desire to move forward—either as an agent/client relationship or a publisher/author relationship, then it’d be more relevant to bring up if the author feels like it could potentially effect the relationship at a later date. At that point, it’d be up to the agent/publisher to decide if that had any impact on their willingness to engage in a working relationship. I’m sure there’d be a wide range of responses to that question.

If the p.s. part of the question is to indicate – “author is writing effectively about something because author is dealing with same” that’s a consideration, too. But in the end, the most important question the publisher/agent is going to ask is – can I make money on this if I invest time/resources on it? And that answer will come from a variety of factors and opinions that will change from address to address.

Apr 252014
 

BENJAMIN LEROY

More questions from Twitter today. If you've got questions you want me to answer next week, put them in the comment section.

From @muchadoaboutjc--

How long would you recommend someone wait before submitting to a smaller press to make sure they can hold water?

Great question.

No simple answer, but a great question.

First truth to kinda drop on the table here – anybody, on any given day, can start a publishing company. It is easy. Super easy. The technology makes it so much simpler than it was a decade or two ago. In fact, if I was a younger version of me, not afraid to do stupid shit to prove a point, I’d start a new publishing company tonight just to illustrate my point.

But I am a mature member or the community, an “elder spokesman” if you will, and those shenanigans, though tempting, are well behind me now.

The point, however, stands. Anybody can start a company at any time. There are no tests to take, no certifications to earn, no accreditation to be garnered from a prestigious, off shore online university.

On the one hand, “Yay! Democracy in action! All voices are heard!”

On the other hand, “Ooh, this isn’t going to end well.”

Who then gatekeeps the gatekeepers?

We all do. The online world. Readers. Authors. The market. That gatekeeping starts even before a first book gets sold, and as more information comes in, the gatekeeping gets a little easier to read. I’d say within a year or two you know who is legit and who...not so much.

Things to look for with a publishing company (especially on their website), wherein most cases things are going to end in a crash:

 

  • Makes a grand declaration that they are going to “revolutionize” the publishing industry. Riiiight, because somehow, in some Eureka~! moment some dude who knows next to nothing about business or publishing has, with great certainty stumbled upon the formula for success. Except actually it’s for New Coke.

 

  • Website is geared towards authors, and not towards readers. (Publishers sell books to readers. Other businesses court authors). Especially keep an eye out for “Ermagerd! We’re going to pay 90% royalties because we believe in supporting authors!” That’s all well and good (I, too, believe in supporting authors, but that’s going to leave a business severely undercapitalized. Any guesses what happens to an undercapitalized business in the long run? (Trick question: There isn’t a long run for severely undercapitalized businesses)

 

  • Covers look like stuff made with an old edition of Microsoft Paint. And you can’t do the ol’ squint eye and say, “Well, yeah, but maybe, kinda, this sorta looks ok.” Book covers aren’t competing in a third grade art contest, they’re competing in a busy marketplace and things like production value aren’t and shouldn’t be graded on a curve. Want to be treated like a growed up business, gotta be growed up. Even at birth.

 

  • Is anybody reading the books? Sure, the same eight people on Facebook are talking about them (coincidentally, all of them also authors with the same publishing house), but no media, blogs, reviewers of any sort seem to be reading the books. Tree falls in the forest, yadda yadda...

 

I said everything I said and I stand by it even though there are probably a few people who are like, “Damn, dude, you don’t have to be such an asshole about it.”

But that’s not my intention.

It’s just that there is nothing new under the sun and I’ve seen the heartache that has fallen on authors who are convinced somebody is legit when they’re not, the pain that comes with a book being butchered by hacks, the frustration when rights get tied up senselessly by “internet lawyers” who are also “internet publishers.” And, in my old age, I’ve got little to no tolerance for watching people get victimized by the clueless or the willingly deceitful.

In that first year or two, probably wouldn’t hurt to browse absolutewrite.com/forums to see which way the prevailing winds are blowing. Even without doing that, I urge people to listen to their guts. I fear sometimes people excuse/ignore/justify bad behavior from publishers because they’re holding out hope that the same publisher can make a dream come true. That’s not a good place from which to negotiate your publishing future.

From @octaviabooks --

What was one (or more) of your favorite "finds" and was this serendipitous? How did it all go down?

If we’re talking about things that have come in through the slush pile with me having NO idea it was ending up on my desk, the answer will always be Nathan Singer’s debut novel, A Prayer for Dawn. It was the right book at the right time for me, for Bleak House (my old company), and for a certain class of reader with whom the book vibrates with the kind of life sustaining literary marrow we all crave.

Yikes! That was a touch melodramatic, I know. But it’s been TEN YEARS since the publication of that book and if I died tomorrow it’d be on my shortlist of professional accomplishments I’d be most proud to put on my resume.

If we’re talking about things coming in from agents I’d worked with, but authors I’d never heard of, Craig McDonald’s Head Games blew me away from the start and I know it was going to be awesome. It later went on the be a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. I know that when that came in, it sat on my desk forever and when the agent pestered me about it for the hundredth time I opened it just so I could reject it.

If we’re talking about things from first time agents and first time authors, I knew that I wanted to publish Scott O’Connor’s debut novel, Untouchable from the first few paragraphs. Loved it right away. Made an offer before I finished the book. It went on to win Barnes & Noble’s Discover Award for Fiction.

That’s only a cross section. There’s definitely an adrenaline rush that comes with “finding” a book and wanting everybody in the world to read it, but knowing that it’s going to be at least a year before you can talk about it with most people.

I’ve been totally blessed by the universe to work with some highly talented authors with amazing books and if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, nobody should mourn it. It’s been a good journey.

 

From @tiakall --

Titles. Which is more common, using the author's title or the publisher coming up with a new one?

I’ve published about  a hundred books during my career. I can count the number of titles I’ve changed on one hand and probably have a digit or two leftover. I can’t speak to what it’s like at other publishing houses, but that’s been my experience.

 

There's a whole bunch more publishing advice and other nonsense over on my blog www.benjaminleroy.com

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.