Mark Leslie Lefebvre, bestselling author, speaker and bookseller, talks about writing The Relaxed Author book with co-author Joanna Penn in this episode of Write the Book Inside You Podcast. He also…
👉 shares controversial views on book piracy vs obscurity
👉 sparks authors with the question: “would you rather have $1million or 1million readers?
👉 believes in reading reviews – as a “relaxed author” – Find out why Mark Leslie reads his and uses the metaphor of pineapple on pizza and why Joanna Penn does not.
12:11 Working with Joanna Penn on The Relaxed Author book
15:01 Reading reviews – pineapple on pizza metaphor
22:06 Book piracy or obscurity?
23:48 Authors, would you rather have – $1million or 1million readers?
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The Relaxed Author book, Joanna Penn, Mark Leslie, people, author, writing, writers, publishing, person, readers, joke, piracy, publishers, nonfiction, fiction, opportunities, relaxed, stress, remind, collaborating, share
Mark Leslie, Caryl Westmore
Caryl Westmore 00:00
$1 million or 1 million readers, which would you choose as an author? It’s not a trick question. Mark Leslie Lefebvre, my guest on the podcast today has a definite viewpoint. His take will also fascinate you on book piracy. So let’s dive in.
Caryl Westmore 00:22
My guest today, Mark Leslie Lefebvre is a self-confessed book nerd who began writing at 13 and has been in the bookselling industry for 25 years or more. Mark is the author of over 20 books that include fiction, thrillers, paranormal nonfiction explorations, anthologies, and for someone like me, who’s a nonfiction author, I love his books, on being an author, the pitfalls to avoid and how to publish wide. But most importantly, he and Joanna Penn who are both icons in the self publishing industry, have written a book called The Relaxed Author, Take the pressure off your Art, and enjoy the Creative Journey.
Caryl Westmore 01:13
Hello, and welcome to the Write the Book inside You Podcast, tips, tools and interviews for coaches and healers like who you want to write a nonfiction book to boost your visibility, clients, and cash flow while making a difference. I’m your host Caryl Westmore, a multi-published author and energy psychology tapping book coach. Now let’s jump into today’s episode.
Caryl Westmore 01:45
Thank you. It’s great to be here. I should grab the hardcover version of The Relaxed Author book that just arrived. Yeah, it was an exciting book to write with Joanna. I’ve always loved books, I’ve always loved story. And I love how books and story are an obvious marriage. And so I was always into creative storytelling. I loved sitting around sharing stories. My favourite part of camping would be we all sit around the campfire and, and either it’s ghost stories, or it’s just tales. And that’s where publishing came from. When you think about it, it’s people connecting with one another. I’d started writing at an early age amassed hundreds of rejections, because there were no actual choices back then. You had to submit them to magazines and markets and build a name for yourself. 1992 was the year my first published story appeared in print. And that was also the year I started working in the book industry. And so I’ve had this beautiful, parallel career in both writing and in the business of publishing and bookselling as a bookseller, bouncing back and forth. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to watch the self publishing and digital publishing and how that’s created way more opportunities for writers than ever before, and also created opportunities for booksellers and publishers. And it’s an amazing journey for me. And I’ve been very fortunate on both sides, because I’ve been able to take advantage of new opportunities as both a book industry representative, but also as an author who’s able to leverage these digital platforms that now exist.
Caryl Westmore 01:46
It must be quite a parallel path to be in the book business, which is fantastic. But also writing. Tell us some of your inner game rituals.
Mark Leslie 01:46
I’ve been lucky, like I said, to work in an industry I’m already passionate about. And so it was just a matter of reapplying the same passion to okay. How am I going to hand sell books? Or what books am I going to order into my store? Or when I work within the industry, how am I going to advise authors and publishers on strategies that can help them be better? So that’s what that one passion, and helping others is, is a grounding exercise for me because it means when I help somebody else be successful in writing and publishing, I help establish that connection between what they’re creating, and the consumers who want to, you know, engage with that, that’s magic. That’s beautiful, whether I’m doing it myself as a writer, or whether I’m helping someone else, because I have always had a passion for storytelling. And this comes back to the speaking and I love speaking because just recently, with, you know the pandemic, it’s been 20 months since I’ve spoken in front of people. But last week in November 2021 I spoke four different times in front of four different audiences in two different cities in the US and it was like coming home for me because as wonderful as this virtual Zoom video experience is where you and I can be on different sides of the planet, and we can connect with one another from different time zones. There’s nothing like standing in front of a live audience and hearing the laughter when the joke hits right or, or seeing their eyes light up. And it’s easier to see body gestures. Because if they’re just a little tiny visual on a screen, that can be a bit challenging. So that’s been good. And one of the ways that I ground myself when I’m not engaged in fun speaking, or full on writing, and all of those things, is those little moments, those little daily moments that keep me grounded. They’re almost like these little ricochets in my day, that allow me to experience a minutiae of that power and energising thing that I feel. So for example, when I share a dad joke, whether it’s on social media, or whether it’s my partner and our children, you know, the eye roll, bam, got it, nailed it, right, I got this, or whether I share a musical ear worm or a visual joke. The old Bon Jovi song, you say, well, we’re halfway there. And then you see a picture of a lemon on a pear. And it’s that play on words and the joke and you’re like, I I got an ear worm stuck in your head, or I’ve got some dad joke, lame dad joke. So these are the things that seem like they’re frivolous. But especially during the pandemic, when I was feeling blocked, and I was actually having challenged with my bigger creativity. It was parody lyrics, it was dad jokes, it was ear worms. Those kept me going and fed me in a way that reminded me, storytelling is storytelling, regardless of whether it’s a book, whether you’re on stage, or whether it’s just the little engagements that you can have throughout the day.
Caryl Westmore 06:37
If we are writing a book, it’s to be read, and it’s to share. Even if it’s nonfiction, there will be stories. I share client case studies, I share my own life story. And people relate to that in a nonfiction book. Would you say that what you’ve shared feeds into you being relaxed – a relaxed author to get back to the book you wrote with Joanna Penn?
Mark Leslie 07:00
Yeah, yeah, I think I think it’s a subtle reminder of why I do what I do. Why am I working so hard? Why am I getting up at five in the morning and sitting there and struggling with a manuscript and these fictional characters, or doing the research required to put together a book to help other writers? Why am I doing all of this work? With no guarantee that it’s going to pay off with no guarantee that it’s going to reach the people that I want it to reach with no guarantee that it’s going to make a positive difference or not? Why do I keep doing it? And that’s the subtle reminders are you do it because it’s really about connection? It’s really regardless, right? Whether it’s fiction that people read for entertainment, or escape, or whether it’s nonfiction like The Relaxed Author where Joanna and I saw, here’s something we recognise in ourselves and in the author community, and what is it that we can do, based on our experience, to bring stuff together to see if we can help writers recognise that there’s a lot of things that are causing us stress that we may not even acknowledge. So let’s attend to those, let’s talk about those things, I will never say I am a relaxed author, I am probably more relaxed because I practice some of these things that we talked about in the book, I’m never gonna be completely relaxed. It’s just this constant, fluctuating state of being. What I hope I am, though, in the long term, and over the grand scheme of things is between moments of anxiety and anxiousness and fear, and, and all the things that plague us as writers, that I remind myself of the long term and I remind myself of the value of sticking it out and not getting so hung up in a single moment. But looking at the bigger arc or the larger story. That’s happening, the bigger plot, right? This is just a tiny scene.
Caryl Westmore 09:01
And and in that sense, you had already written a book called The Seven Pitfalls, of been a writer.
Mark Leslie 09:08
Yeah, Seven Publishing Pitfalls, and then The Seven P’s of Publishing Success. Yeah, very similar idea.
Caryl Westmore 09:14
So two sides of the coin. I remember that one of them was predators. Persistence was a big one. Then patience, which is the long game. And then partnerships, which I imagine we see in your collaboration on this book. You and Joanna actually jumped on Zoom and talk through many of it was like sharing your heart with each other. Am I right?
Mark Leslie 09:36
Honestly, yeah. And I hadn’t seen Joanna in about 20 months. We hadn’t seen each other in person. We were supposed to see each other at a couple of conferences in the meantime, but they’d been cancelled or pushed off or she wasn’t able to come. We neither one of us was able to travel. Opening up the zoom window and just having a conversation with her and I’ve never written a manuscript like that before. We we had probably six different sessions where we said okay, here are the topics we’re going to talk about. And we just spoke open heartedly as as we would if we were at a coffee shop together or maybe having a drink together when we’re we’re meeting out some of these writers’ conferences. And so he was this really cathartic experience of sitting down virtually with somebody I wholeheartedly trust and know well, we’ve been friends for well over a decade, and most of our friendship has been virtual.
Caryl Westmore 10:30
I’m just going to interrupt you to tell listeners you live in Canada, Joanna lives in England and I’m recording this from South Africa.
Mark Leslie 10:39
By the time I met Joanna in person, I remember thinking, wow, I know you so well, because we had engaged back and forth so often to having this open and honest, and very vulnerable conversation with Joanna. We used transcription. And that became the first very rough and I’ll be honest with you. It was just like this convoluted dialogue for about 12 hours or a significant chunk of time. We took that as the first draft and reworked it. And so it was this really interesting full circle as well, when we got to the final manuscript, and we went to record the audio. And it went right back to almost feeling like a conversation again.
Caryl Westmore 11:24
I don’t think we’ll be surprised if it’s that genuine feeling that the readers having a conversation with each of you, as if you’re answering their questions. That is one of the best points of the book.
Mark Leslie 11:36
Yeah, yeah, we have had similar feedback. So even I was just at a couple of conferences I had in person feedback, where so many people approached me and said they loved the book. They also in particular, really enjoyed listening to it because they were already listeners of Joanna’s amazing, the creative pen podcast, a smaller subset of them are listeners of the stark reflections podcast, my podcast. But in either case, because I’ve been on her show so many times, they knew my voice. They had heard me speaking before. So hearing Jo and I, in our own voices having that, that sharing and the other thing that I think is really important is, even though we’re very similar in our overall approach to things, Joanna and I have very distinctive differences among us. And authors can see very clearly through through the evidence of what we’re doing that we may both approach something differently, even though we’re similar people with similar goals and similar outlooks on life. And we’re both relatively optimistic about everything, even though we have pessimism fueling us. And they can see that if Joanna and I who are so similar, can have two different approaches to the same issue, that there is no one answer, and the best answer is to figure out what works best for you. And I think that has helped many people recognise, because on the surface, you go, Yeah, Mark and Joanna, both believe in publishing, why they both think of, you know, the future is optimistic, and digital is gonna give us more opportunity. But amongst all those things that are similar about us, and of course, our fiction tends to be a little bit darker in contrast to our upbeat personalities. And so seeing that and hearing that from people, that they that they read the book, or they listened to it, and it felt like they were just hanging out with us, that were just listening to the two of us having a conversation like that was that has meant so much to me. Because, again, that’s that’s why we do what we do, right? We tell stories to entertain and inspire Joanna and I and other folks who, who do nonfiction books like that. We do it in order to inspire and inform people which is what all story does, it says, you’re not alone,
Caryl Westmore 13:45
Shall we pick some of the points that you cover in the book? I actually was quite surprised you had different viewpoints on several things (like reading your book reviews). And then perhaps in marketing? Is it on the business side? Or is it in writing and publishing you choose? The ones that you think will help people with their inner game of writing and creativity and profit?
Mark Leslie 14:08
Sure. Well, I think and you alluded to this already about reviews right? Like what is a stress factor for writers is oh my god looking at my reviews, because often, and this is human nature, you could have 105 star reviews and glowing praise and you have a single one star review that says it is the worst book ever – the author should go kill themselves or whatever negative thing it says and we will focus 99% of our energy on that one person who hates us rather than the 99 other people who loved us. And so, Jo recognises that it is not healthy, it is not good for her mental well being because she recognises that human nature that you know, she’ll probably attend more to the negativity than the positivity so she doesn’t read her reviews. I tend to I actually dig right in and read them. I still get upset by them. It doesn’t mean my skin is not that thick, although I have probably amassed more rejection as a writer in my personal life than I always look at at the reviews and a different viewpoint, I look at it as what did I do wrong to put this in front of the wrong person? Right? Obviously it’s a mismatch. I and I have to remind myself this is, hey, Caryl, pineapple is great on pizza. And when I said that, or I’m not sure whether you believe that or that you’re passionate about it, or you think that’s the most ridiculous thing in the universe, people who listen to that they’re probably going to be in one of two camps. There may be a few people in the middle, like, yeah, you take it or leave it. Some people feel No, you gotta have pineapple on pizza. Another one says, No, that’s sacrilegious. You can never do that. And that’s what a one star review is, to me. It’s the pineapple on pizza principle. And so I tried to look at it as well, how did I get this delivered to the wrong table, and I look at it as opportunity for growth as a writer and what I can learn about my marketing. And on the on the flip side, when I look at the positive reviews, I also don’t let them overwhelm me. It’s great. It’s a wonderful pat on the back. But I also don’t let that go to my head. What I look for in the positive reviews is what resonated with this particular person that they called out, that I may not even have noticed. And in my fiction, that’s sometimes been, wow, people really love this one side character that I haven’t really paid much attention to. Maybe I’ll give them more in the next book, the nonfiction, sometimes it’s, oh, wow, people really want more of this is there more I can do for them. So I always looked at it as a growth opportunity. But it is hard. It is hard because of the negativity we assigned. Another way that we differed is Joanna does self publishing because she wants to be in control. Her attitude is: “I’m the publisher, I’m in charge at Curl Up Press. I decide this, I decide that.” It’s all based on a schedule. And she’s also very organised. She is a brilliant project manager. I’m more of a happy-go-lucky blue sky thinker. So the fortunate thing there is I probably stressed her out a lot more than she stressed me out. She probably stressed herself out worrying that she was being domineering. And I was like, No, I love that this is how I work. I need a strong solid iron fist. I’ll be the velvet glove. And we’ll work together. And this will be a thing that we can do. And that was an interesting contrast that actually, I think it did stress the two of us out until we had a conversation and realised … this is a jack sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean situation that we were perfect together to do this, because we each filled the roles that worked out really, really well. And again, I’ve never had a collaboration like that before. And I think Joanna wasn’t sure what to expect with this collaboration. So that kind of surprised and delighted us in several different ways.
Caryl Westmore 18:07
Yes, I think a caveat that many people have of going into partnership with anyone. You’ve pointed that out? I think it could be because you knew each other so well. But I think it also may excite the listeners that there’s potential to do something like that. Perhaps that’s how ghostwriters work. In this case, we talking about collaboration. So do you think it might work with two or three people? Or do you think that would really be pushing it?
Mark Leslie 18:32
It’s been a while since I’ve collaborated with more than one other person on fiction? Well, in nonfiction, it’s been sort of different. But I’m definitely open. I’m not gonna say no to something until I’ve actually taken a look at it and chewed on it for a bit and see, okay, is this something that may be interesting? That’s how I decide if I’m going to do something. Is this something I’m going to enjoy? Am I going to get something intrinsic from it? Even if it’s not successful and doesn’t bring in a lot of money? Am I going to enjoy the process? And am I going to get something out of it? Even if it only reaches one person and helps one other person? Is it worth the time? Those are the questions I often ask myself when it comes to collaboration. In all my previous collaborations, the other author and I blended our voices and tried to have like a single front, like this is just one voice from the two of us. This is the first time that Joanna and I recognised that even though we’re very similar, we do have very distinctive voices. And I’m not just saying that I have a Canadian accent, she has a British accent. But that we have different voices. And I think people wanted those distinctive voices because I think that was an important element to that reminded people that there is no one way.
Speaking of collaboration, I’ve repeated it ad nauseam since 2014 that the future of publishing will continue to be more and more collaborative,. It’ll be people collaborating with each other will be authors collaborating more with readers, authors and publishers and agents and all the people in the industry collaborating better for a stronger publishing industry. And it’ll be, as I know, Joanne is very passionate about, it will be authors learning on how they can collaborate with the technology, and with AI and all the things that are available to us, it’s going to continue to be more collaborative, so we can freak out about that. And we can stress out about that. Or we can know that the resistance is futile. Can we ride those waves can we enjoy and take advantage of the opportunity then that presents rather than being fearful of the way it once was? Looking forward while appreciating the past? But looking forward with open determination? I think that is part of the relaxed author mentality. It’s kind of like que sera, sera, an acceptance or an acknowledgement that there are things I can change. And there are things I can control. And there are things I can’t, and how do I navigate within those? that for me is a fundamental underlying element supporting the relaxed author mindset in the long run.
Caryl Westmore 21:26
Yes, I honestly think that is very, very helpful. And because our inner game can be negative or positive can drop into the depths of despair. Let’s touch on the subject of piracy because I believe you have a definite viewpoint worth sharing.
Mark Leslie 22:00
I think obscurity is a bigger threat to us as authors than piracy. Because again, and again, I’m saying this not as a international best selling author who is a household name, where, you know, piracy may be a bigger issue, but for me, it’s nobody’s heard of me, therefore, and I go back to Jack Sparrow from Johnny Depp playing him on Pirates of the Caribbean saying: “You’re the worst pirate I’ve ever heardof.” To which Depp replies: “Yes, but you have heard of me.” Like, that’s a positive thing … “but you have heard of me, uh, huh.”
When it comes to piracy, I look at it as not as losing a sale, but gaining a reader. I’m familiar with studies just as recently as just about six months ago, that were released through and I’m trying to remember the project coming out of Portland State University. But it was a study of libraries and piracy and their effect on book sales. And they actually found that they have a positive effect. Because if a pirate reads a book, talks about it, talks about this author, they talk about this book, and they love it so much. It’s likely via word of mouth. And we know recommendations from people, you know, like and trust are still among the highest reasons people consume content. People will go and consume content in the way they go and consume content. If they’re a thief, they’re a thief – we’re not going to stop that. If they are library user. They’re a library user. If they are a person who purchases paperbacks, or hardcovers or audiobooks or ebooks, they will purchase it in how they’re comfortable doing it or they’ll stream it or subscribe to it or whatever. We’re not going to control that they’re going to do that the way they’re going to do it again, to a reader who may help you find other readers, which may lead to sales.
I often ask authors, would you rather have a million dollars or a million readers? Nine times out of 10, if you gave me the choice, I’d say give me a million readers over a million dollars any day. Because if I have a million readers, I can work with that way better than a million dollars, because a million readers is a lot closer to my intrinsic value of why I’m doing this. The money is secondary, and I needed to eat and pay the rent, to be protected and sheltered, and pay taxes of course, which we all have to do, But with a million readers, oh the things I could do!
Caryl Westmore 24:49
If there was one thing you could tell your younger self that you’ve actually learned, perhaps the hard way, what would it be?
Mark Leslie 24:56
I would remind my younger self because my younger self was a lot lot more impatient. I’m an impatient person, I still am, I would remind my younger self to things, I would remind myself that to think about the long run, but I would also remind myself of, there are moments in life, there are opportunities, where if you focus on connecting with people, and if you focus on what you can do, to give and to help other people, whether it’s entertaining them through story, whether it’s just pausing to answer a question, or give them just a slightest bit of courtesy, you have no idea how impactful that can be. I’ve been very lucky over the last 30 years to have actually had people come back, whether it’s through fiction I’ve written where I’ve actually gotten comments saying how much something touched them, or whether it’s somebody who said, you probably don’t remember me, but five years ago, I pulled you aside after you got off stage and gave a talk. And you gave me some of the best advice that I’ve carried with me to this day. There’s so many times we’ve had such a tremendous impact on other people. And so what I try to remember is, there are always opportunities every single day, whether it’s in your interactions with others, or whether it’s in the writing, and creativity that you do and share that you will have an impact on others, but you’re never going to know about it. And that’s okay. Because at the end of the day, you probably made the world a better place. And that’s a pretty good place to end up.
Caryl Westmore 26:22
Thank you. Where can people find you?
Mark Leslie 26:26
Mark leslie.ca You don’t have to spell or pronounce Lefebvre. Mark Leslie.ca because I am Canadian, and they could find links to pretty much everything from there.
Caryl Westmore 26:36
So thanks so much for being with us today. And sharing your extrovert positive way of looking at life and at the inner game of writing and creativity.
Caryl Westmore 26:47
The sponsor for today’s show, is my upcoming book, The Inner Path of Writing – Surprising ways to beat resistance, boost motivation and mindset from world-famous authors, publishers and experts sharing golden nuggets for ultimate writing success. The foreword is by Dr. Joe Vitali aka Mr. Fire. The publication date is 2022.
Thanks for joining me on today’s podcast. Want a free gift to inspire you further on your book writing adventure? My free checklist 5 Book Hook Tips to Kick-start your Book Writing Journey, will help you get clarity on the key essentials to make your book a winner. Download it at www.writethebookinsideyou.com/freegift. The links are in the show notes. Until next time, a big Virtual hug and keep writing!