As yesterday, February 16th, was my birthday, in keeping with annual traditions, I uploaded my 2013 End of Year video.
Here it is.
As yesterday, February 16th, was my birthday, in keeping with annual traditions, I uploaded my 2013 End of Year video.
This originally appeared over on the blog Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room! That’s where I talk about publishing stuff more often.
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 endearedwith 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?
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.
Remember a month ago when I said I wanted to do volunteer/charity work in all 50 states during 2014? Well, I started last week. Check out the website to see all the videos, essays, and calls for help. On occasion I’ll post things on both sites, but to make sure you get all of the Be Local stuff, go there.
I blogged this over at the Hey Dead Guy blog where I talk about publishing stuff. I guess some of this is applicable to other worlds, too. This is how it appeared originally.
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, greatbooks 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.
In 2014, I plan on doing volunteer work in all 50 states. I’ve got a wonderful network of old friends, family, and social media pals scattered all across this great country, and I’d like to see what we can do together to help those who need it.
So, if you’ve got a place you know about that needs a tutor for an afternoon, a day swinging a hammer and hauling lumber, a soup kitchen that needs a server, a park that needs cleaning, sick kids and elderly folks that need an ear to talk to, let me know so I can add it to the schedule.
And I’d love it if you’d join me.
Big thanks going out to all of those who participated in the holiday giveaway. Your outpouring of love and generosity toward strangers was a beautiful thing to see! I’m currently working on ways to make this a year round endeavor and will keep everybody updated.
With much love and gratitude,
Around these parts we believe in the power of community and the better nature of humankind. We want to do what we can to spread cheer and ease holiday stress.
To that end, you will find a link below. Click on it. The items listed – including clothes, books, entertainment, toys – are available for free (shipping included). Your request can be for you or for loved ones. The important thing is that the items go somewhere they are needed and that we all understand how strangers (including the wonderful people who volunteered to participate with no questions asked) can help one another.
This post is going to be updated a bunch in the next few days (including the links).
What you need to know:
(1) The document found here, contains a list of items (clothes, entertainment, toys, books) that are available for those who have need for them.
(2) If you request something – either for yourself, or to give to somebody in your life – the item(s) will be shipped to you free of charge.
(3) If you have items you’d like to add to the list and are willing to ship them, you can email me (benATbenjaminleroy.com) and we’ll discuss.
(4) This list is going to be ever evolving. I’ll do my best to keep the spreadsheet totally up-to-date.
(5) The initial push is to help people with the holidays, but if we get good momentum, I’d like to keep this going until everybody has what they need.
(6) If you or someone you know has a specific request for something that will help you get through life, send the request to benATbenjaminleroy.com (Please note: This project is about helping people in need, keep that in mind). There are A LOT of people standing by ready to help.
Thank you for being you.
UPDATE ONE: I’ve gotten a bunch of people emailing me with a request to donate gift certificates. I’m going to put together a list of folks who are interested in donating that way. To make things as simple as possible (no middleman), I plan on connecting (via email) those who are able to donate a gift certificate with those in need. You people, all of you, are amazing.
UPDATE TWO: As I update the spreadsheet, if you see something highlighted in red it means it’s no longer available (and I’ll be deleting it shortly). If you see something highlighted in green it means it is newly listed.
UPDATE THREE (12/12/13): For some reason I couldn’t make the available donations document update. So I’ve got a new link. It is here.
UPDATE FOUR (12/31/13): Thank you to everybody who participated. Am working on a year round project that I’m very excited about. Details to come.
I’ve been blessed in my life with a great family. A mother and father. Two brothers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a pair of nieces, and a pair of nephews.
I’ve been further blessed by a collection of such good friendships that I am an honorary member of other families. Some of these relationships date back more than thirty years (at the time of my writing this, I am thirty seven years old, so this is not an insignificant amount of time). Over time you adopt and are adopted by other sets of parents and siblings, that eventhough (yes, it is one word if you say so, Pete) the DNA would say elsewise, you are family.
One of those families—the Streichers—have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Principally, my introduction and connection with the family began with my friend Aaron. I have spent a lifetime interacting with his family—birthday parties, skateboarding, bands, video games, football games, family vacations, family dinners, and just hanging out. When I gave the best man speech at Aaron’s wedding, I recounted a story from Kindergarten when Aaron moved to our school from another school. As fate had it, our teacher, Mrs. Middleton, pulled me aside and said, “Aaron is new here. Can you please be nice to him and show him around?”
That’s how far this goes back.
This week, the Streicher family lost a member. A brother. A son. After a lifetime of trying to make it in the world, Peter Streicher, Aaron’s older brother, chose to leave us at age 44.
I am not mad at Peter and the choice he made.
I am thankful for all of the moments we shared. There are snapshots without context. His green Volvo. The day he showed up with a motorcycle. How he threw the football to Aaron and me in the backyard. A leather jacket with Psychedelic Furs on the back. A red Stratocaster. All of these things are old and gone and probably have been since the late 80s. Later in life, after taking a long road trip, he told me to get to Big Bend in Texas (I promised I would, and promise I still will). Most recently, I was glad when I saw his orange Honda in the driveway, because I knew it meant I was in for good conversation.
He was there when we were growing up. Old enough to be the cool kid, but not so old to be unrelatable. And I never felt like he saw me as a little kid or simply as “Aaron’s friend.” He treated me like family. And when it became clear as we both got older that we experienced some of the same existential pains, he would ask me how I was doing and wouldn’t tolerate a blow off answer like, “Oh, I’m doing fine.” And I, in turn, was the same way with him. As a result, we had some pretty heavy conversations over the years, and I made the assumption that it would always be that way until we were old men around a poker table.
You don’t always end up with what you think you’ll get.
This is one of those times.
On Thursday afternoon, Peter sent out an email with the subject line Fond Farewell from Peter Streicher. The email itself read, in part, “if everything went according to plan, I died by suicide in my home this afternoon.”
The rest of the email was, as you might expect, loving and sad, sometimes funny, reassuring where it could be. I reread it a few times, maybe still in shock, before feeling the urge to cry.
He also attached a 42 page letter to the email to give more insight into his thoughts. I couldn’t open it right away.
Pete and I talked a lot about music. We shared album recommendations every time we met for a card game or a birthday party or whatever else brought us together. I’m not sure why exactly, but once I had a chance to process Thursday’s email, my first impulse was to listen to one of those albums Pete recommended to me—Low’s The Great Destroyer. I wanted to remember. What exactly, I don’t know.
I would later read the letter Pete left behind and see a line about The Great Destroyer, and I would know, in that way filled with certainty but no tangible way of proof, that the larger Universe was afoot. That there are levers and pulleys always in operation, and always undetectable.
This is a common thread through all of our lives.
I am sorry that the inexplicable intricacies of the hardwiring unique to each of us, was so profoundly wired the way it was in Pete. But, it was that way, and no amount of effort ever proved enough to untangle it. It was not for lack of trying. The search for the machinery can be consuming to the point of exhaustion. What are we to do with inquisitive minds when we can never know the how and why of our greater lives and the simple motion of gears is not enough?
I have tiptoed along The Void many times in life. Once, during a particularly bad episode with depression (and one that I haven’t widely talked about), I was walking from my house to my office when I realized I didn’t (a) know where I was, or (b) who I was. I don’t mean this in a metaphorical sense. I had somehow ended up, as best I can describe, as something of a temporary amnesiac. The whole episode lasted less than a minute.
When I came back to myself, the first person I called was Pete. We’d recently been talking about depression and the stranglehold it can take on what should be, by all accounts, a wonderful life. We’d talked about the peculiarities of environmental and emotional sensitivities, the way two people could go through similar experiences and end up in disparate places. We talked about the stigma attached. We talked about how some people weren’t ever going to understand it wasn’t a matter of “just being happy” as though there were some great switch we’d all been missing while pawing around in the dark.
Our conversations often intersected in a mix of cynicism and resigned humor. Well, what are you going to do about it? We shared a nod and a wink and a hug at the absurdity of it all. Even in the face of the internal struggle he waged, he was incredibly funny. I am thankful for his laugh and I will never not hear it when I think of him.
And I will think of him often, especially during the upcoming holiday season, the time of year I was most likely to see him. We will still gather as a family. We will recognize what is missing. We will recognize the treasure of what is left behind.
I love you, man. Be at peace.
I sent this email to a bunch of people. But I’m going to put it up here for a few days. If you’re interested in participating, let me know.
First, I want to thank you all for volunteering to help (possibly), even though I provided pretty much zero in the way of specifics. It’s precisely that kind of enthusiasm for helping that I’m hoping we can plant, grow, and harvest in the next month for this particular project…and then maybe longer if the project works well.
As many of you might know, I’ve given away a lot of stuff over the last year. Examples? Here are some of the things I’ve sent off to new homes:
- My entire comic book collection
- A digital camera
- A 35mm camera
- My entire collection of VHS wrestling tapes
- A Sony Playstation 2
- An N64
- Framed artwork
- 75% of my wardrobe, especially a stockpile of winter coats
- A computer and accessories
- My entire baseball, football, and basketball card collection
- My entire cd collection
- Books. So. Many. Books. Not just things I’ve published, but books from my personal library
I’m not telling you this to pat myself on the back. This isn’t about earning a merit badge in good citizenship. I’m telling you this so that I might follow up with a discovery I’ve made – I’d much rather this stuff go to a good home, where it will be loved and used rather than hoarded in the nooks and crannies of my life. Which is to say, I have not and do not miss any of it.
In some cases, I’ve got replacements or multiple variations of the same thing (I still own four cameras!). In other cases, the sentimental bonds that I thought kept me attached to the possessions weren’t connected to the thing, but to the memory, and I’ve still got the memory. So I’m good with all of that.
If you’re like me, you might have things around your house in storage that realistically, you’ll never use again, but that might be of significant value to others. Or, maybe you’ve got something in your life that is in great working order, but that you want to replace for whatever reason, and you’ve been looking for an excuse.
Well, let me give you an excuse.
We are entering the holiday season. Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), I’d like to think we can all agree that the spirit of the season is to celebrate our love and appreciation of the world around us (though, I maintain this should be an everyday thing).
Here’s what I am doing, and here’s where I need your help.
I’d like you to look through your life for things that might be of value to others, but that you are willing to part with this holiday season. Clothes. Small household appliances. Books. Music. Art. Electronics. Whatever. When you’ve got a list, email it to me.
If you don’t have anything items to give away, but would rather give gift certificates, we might be able to figure out a way of doing that. I’m going to ask for a “what is needed” list from folks who need things, perhaps we can use gift certificates to fill some holes that way.
I’m going to organize everything in an Excel spreadsheet by general category and geographic location. When we have compiled the spreadsheet, we are going to make it available to the world at large. My hope is that those who need, will ask for things—either for themselves or as gifts they can hand out to make the holiday season better for those around them (especially kids).
This will be a rolling process. Items will be added as they are donated. Those that are shipped will be removed from the spreadsheet accordingly. I’d like to think I can handle all of this initially, but if it becomes wildly successful, I might ask for help in managing all of the data.
In a perfect world, you would not only donate the item, but pay for the shipping to the recipient. However, if that causes economic hardship for you, I’d like to establish a general fund for postage. Likely, I’ll take care of it to begin, but, again, if that becomes too much, I might ask for help.
If you know of any businesses that you think would be willing to participate, please let them know we’d love to have them.
As this idea is less than 24 hours old, there very well may be things I have not considered, and you should feel free to point them out. If you’ve got experience with similar projects, I would love to hear any ideas or suggestions you have concerning efficiencies for the process.
Thank you, again. I appreciate your dedication and love for the world.