Ebookery: Ben LeRoy

I met Ben LeRoy in 2005, where I got my ass handed to me in SJ Rozan’s infamous annual basketball game. (Last time I went to Bouchercon, I got a free pass from the game by showing up in Indy with a broken toe.) Ben was with Bleak House Books, then, which was about to join up with Big Earth Publishing. A few years later, Ben and editor Alison Jansenn started over again with Tyrus Books. Ben subsequently cut a deal with F+W Publishing to revamp Tyrus once again to take advantage of the ebook revolution. Ben described himself one time as being happy selling only 3000 copies of books he loved than cranking out bestsellers he didn’t.  I’m paraphrasing. Ben said it better. In fact, let’s have Ben explain his philosophy as only Ben LeRoy can.

Tyrus has become part of F&W. What changes does that mean in terms of Tyrus’ offerings?

From an editorial direction, things will remain the same. We’ve got new books coming out from familiar names like Reed Farrel Coleman and Craig McDonald—authors I’ve been working with since my time at Bleak House Books. I’m still fascinated by stories of otherwise un-extraordinary people who face down adversity and survive. For me it’s never about the car chase, it’s about the guy driving the car.

As ebooks take on more of a role in the publishing landscape, we’re committed to providing our frontlist titles in both ebook and print formats, but we’re also working on picking up the backlist of our authors and some of our friends in the community so that we can make them available electronically. We’ve done this recently with Victoria Houston and her Loon Lake mystery series—making all of the titles available for the first time. With the backing of F+W, I’ve got the resources to make things happen that I couldn’t before.

But overall, I’m an old dog, and I’m slow to learn new tricks. What we’ve done is what we’ll do.

You started out with Bleak House Books, then partnered with Big Earth, followed by starting over with Tyrus.  Now this.  How has your role as publisher changed from when you first started Bleak House?

That’s a great question.

In the early days we were doing, at most three or four books a year. It was a matter of having the time (working full-time jobs elsewhere), hunting down the capital, figuring out all of the essential processes like getting a block of ISBNs or getting somebody from Borders to return a phone call about getting our books in stores. It was a hustle.

Obviously, some things have changed since then. I’ve been greatly humbled by the kindness and support of others over the last ten years. Some of the people who stuck out a hand early on like the Jordan family and Laura Lippman really saved me from a different path in life (if you don’t like what we do, you can blame them for encouraging me early on).

One thing I’ve found to be true is that there are new things to worry about along each step of the journey. In those early days, we didn’t have time to think about things like Book Expo America or negotiating a contract with an agent. We were just trying to format a book in Microsoft Word or a bootleg copy of Quark so that we could get it to a printer and hope to God that we could talk some kindhearted bookstore into putting it on a shelf. And hell, when we started worrying about doing those things, producing e-books was some kind of nebulous sci-fi future that appeared much further off than it turned out to be.

A publisher’s job changes and will continue to change. I’ve learned that I can’t control technology when it comes to the evolution of the industry, but I can publish books that I believe in today and hope that in a few decades when they just beam the information through your retina (or whatever Amazon/Apple are working on now) the books will still be relevant.

Your original announcement mentioned a larger ebook catalog. Was that part of the decision to join with F&W?

Before I really talked to F+W, I’d been kicking around potential ebook lines and acquisition strategies, but it was all theoretical because the necessary resources just weren’t there. I’m talking about financial, people, time—all of it.

But then F+W showed up in this amazing bit of synchronicity, telling me about their aggressive approach to ebooks and how they’d assembled a really first rate team of people and were ready to jump into the fiction market.

So now we’re able to move forward with some of those initiatives. We’ve picked up some of those backlist titles I mentioned before and in the next few months the second wave will start rolling in. I’m excited for it. I can’t really say much now because I’m hugely paranoid about not being fast enough and there are so many really bright people in the publishing world right now that I don’t want to tip my hand.

I just read Screams & Whispers, which was a bit different from Tyrus’s previous books. Does this mean your casting a wider net in terms of types of stories you want to publish?

Screams & Whispers is the third book about the relationship between Michael Decastro and Tuki Aparecio. We published the first two over at Bleak House (Provincetown Follies, Bangkok Blues & Bangkok Dragons, Cape Cod Tears). The character arc—like it does in all of our lives—changes. It’s the evolution of Randall Peffer. But we’ve also published fiction from Peff about Confederate raider Raphael Semmes in his Seahawk trilogy. I’m big on letting authors write the books they want to write. I’ll indulge those choices when I know the quality of the book will be there.

Like I said earlier, I care about the survivors. I care about the connection between reader and character, between reader and author. I want to believe that books can make us feel more connected to something. I don’t prefer the escape. When we talk about the stories I want to publish, it’s about that crucial element.

Typically, I work in what would likely be called crime fiction but I know those same types of stories can be found in romance or sci-fi or westerns. To quote Harry Crews – “Survival is triumph enough.”

Tell us a little about Amphetazine.

Ampheta’zine is an online zine that I created one night when Jon Jordan and I were trying to figure out what we’d name an energy drink if we ever went into the energy drink business. It’s a place for me to write about non-publishing related matters—most of the time involving music. I’ve been fortunate to work with writers I really admire like Peter Brown Hoffmeister, Nathan Singer, and Raven Mack. It’s a different part of my personality turned up to 100. I wish that I had more time in the day so I could do more with it. When that whole retina technology comes to pass, it’ll probably be time for me to retire, and I’ll spend the last of my days listening to new music and finding an excuse to talk about it over on the Ampheta’zine website.