Interview: Mark Leslie on the “Books Gone Bad” bundle

Meet Mark!

Mark is an author, professional speaker, and bookseller, with more than a quarter century of experience in writing, publishing, and bookselling. He started writing at 13, and has written three novels, a number of non-fiction books on locations where ghostly and eerie things occur, published numerous short stories, and edited quite a few story collections.

He has a podcast on writing and publishing, publishes a regular video series in which he reads from either his short fiction or his eerie non-fiction, and does many, many other things. Mark loves craft beer, has a skeleton sidekick named Barnaby, and has managed to combine his love of beer with his love of the unexplained.

Books Gone Bad

Books make the world a better place. They are, perhaps, the only thing you can buy that actually make you richer. As Stephen King says, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

But what if it were actually true? What if there was actual magic emanating from a book itself? What if a book was sentient? What if a book could actually interact in our world? What if there is something a bit more evil or sinister lurking in the pages?

What if a book doesn’t just open up a world of possibilities to a reader, but, instead, brings the reader into that world? And what about the people for whom books are a central part of their lives? How do they interact with, or perhaps, include books in their magic, their schemes, their lives? How do they protect the infinite possibilities that books store and provide?

This bundle of about 260,000 words from 10 short stories and 2 novels includes explorations of books and the world of books that include magical, supernatural, science fiction or speculative elements. Book nerds will…

The Interview

Books Gone Bad ties the themes of books and magic together. What inspired you to create this bundle?

I have always been a giant book nerd. Books are a special type of magic all on their own. But I have long enjoyed reading stories that center on books and bookish people. I had a short collection of stories on that theme and was trying to figure out a way that I and perhaps some other authors could cross-promote one another. I thought that a themed bundle like this might be just the thing for readers like me.

Having had previous great experiences being part of collaborative BundleRabbit bundles, I thought this might be a great way for me to get my feet wet in curating a bundle to my reading passions.

If this project helps me and the other writers earn a little, perhaps sell more, or attract new fans, then great. If not, then at the very least the project has given me some fun stories to read and enjoy.

This bundle contains your book Active Reader, a collection of three short stories related to books and bookstores. How did your years of experience working in bookstores tie in with this collections?

My experience in bookstores ties in quite tightly with this collection. While one tale (“Browsers”) in the collection is about getting lost in a bookstore (which is more from the browser’s point of view and inspired by an actual experience I had visiting a bookstore in Hamilton, Ontario and getting lost in the store), the other two tie directly to my own bookselling experience. “Active Reader,” the title story, is about the misuse of a bookstore loyalty program (and a story that occured to me when I was in the midst of selling the “Avid Reader” card for a book chain I worked at). And though “Distractions” is about a writer dealing with a combination of writer’s block and distractions, it’s really another cautionary tale about those who follow the advice of self-help gurus (whose books I sold a ton of over the years).

In addition to writing fiction, you have a podcast! On Stark Reflections you interview authors, people in both the traditional and indie-publishing communities, and provide your own reflections on writing and publishing. What do you enjoy about your podcast, and how has it surprised you?

What I love best about the podcast is that it keeps me engaged and learning from authors and other folks from creative industries. With every single chat and interview, I find myself learning something new, or perhaps re-learning something I’d forgotten about. And every single time, the conversation inspires something in me.

While I know the podcast offers quality (ie mean, c’mon, look at the breadth of knowledge that my guests bring) and I know the listener base is constantly growing, I am surprised when I meet someone while out and about, at a conference, etc, who mentions they listen to the podcast and they love the content I provide as well as the open-sharing that I do. I figured my podcast was just another voice adding to an already almost saturated market, but the surprise is how many folks share that they feel it provides a fresh perspective that isn’t offered in the same way elsewhere. Perhaps they appreciate my attempt to balance the traditional and self-publishing perspectives, which I haven’t really seen in the podcasts I have been enjoying listening to.

You’ve combined your love of haunted places with your love of craft beer. Tell us about Spirits Untapped!

I have always been afraid of ghosts, monsters and the unknown and have long described myself as a Book Nerd. So I thought that writing the book TOMES OF TERROR: Haunted Bookstores & Libraries would be the crowning moment of the book I was meant to write.

But then, in 2014, I met Liz, my partner. On our first date, we met up for a beer (both being self-described craft beer enthusiasts) and the rest is history. As our relationship grew out of that first date, our exploration of both ghostly tales and the spirit of beer culture grew from that.

At some point a couple of years ago, we realized that all the traveling that we did together to various beer locations, could be used in a book. So we started the SPIRITS UNTAPPED blog as a way to document some of our beer adventures. While the blog and website itself is for the exploration of the SPIRIT of craft beer culture, the forthcoming book SPIRITS UNTAPPED: Haunted Bars & Breweries, will focus on the ghosts and eerie and unexplained events in bars, breweries and restaurants.
So, apparently, there’s a second “crowning moment” of the book I was meant to write. In this case, Liz and I are writing the book together, so it’ll be a dual crowning moment for us.

How did you select the stories for the Books Gone Bad bundle?

I logged onto the BundleRabbit website and did a few keyword searches for books, booksellers, librarians, then scrolled through the titles available. I also reached out to a few friends to see if they had any titles that might be applicable for such a theme and asked them to submit the title to BundleRabbit so it could be included in the bundle.

It was a fun experience, because as I was scrolling, I picked the stories that were bookish in theme and were ones that I responded to with: “Gee, I’d really like to read that.” So if that were the case, I reached out and asked the author if they would like that story to be included.

You’ve participated in story bundles before, but this is the first one you’ve curated. How has the experience been? What have you learned, liked, or disliked?

Having selected for and edited anthologies, I was already familiar with that type of curation experience. But this one was somewhat easier, because most of the stories were already out there and “completed” and already available. That part was easy.

I think I underestimated the time involved in helping to push and promote the anthology. I created short videos and multiple creative assets for my books as well as the others in the anthology, but, because I’ve been up to my eyeballs with more tasks than I can handle, I let my own promotional efforts slip – I was a bit disappointed to see minimal promotional efforts overall outside of the few things I had done.

There was a really smart curator (you might know her) who told me her method of choosing authors – she shared that she spent a bit of time exploring each author’s own social media and promotional presence as part of her strategy. IE, if they seemed to be active, they were more likely to put some effort into supporting the bundle. I suppose that’s something I learned that I can take with me going forward.

I’m not saying that I’m disappointed, because I think that the stories collected in the bundle are excellent tales by great writers. I suppose I was expecting each author to do at least a bit more sharing of the bundle – but the good news is that soon I’ll likely have time, again, to focus on promoting the bundle (I already have a promo scheduled via a manual request through BundleRabbit), and, since it’s not a limited time release, perhaps different authors will push it at different times, spreading out the effect.

After all, it’s NOT just about the first 30 to 90 days – it’s about long term sales. And it’s a quality bundle, regardless of when or how people discover it over time.

You’ve worked in virtually every type of bookstore, including at an online bookstore – Kobo, where you drove the creation of their author/small publisher platform. What do you miss about working in physical bookstores?

The thing I miss most about working in physical bookstores are the daily interactions with readers and customers and the tactile experience of holding books, unpacking new books and placing books in customers hands.

I created Kobo Writing Life to fulfill a need. I’d been self-published to Kobo, but they didn’t have an easy way for authors or small publishers to get into their systems (not without doing a lot of technical gymnastics) – Also, I had created a similar system for Chapters/Indigo (Canada’s version of Barnes and Noble) about 10 years earlier, so it was using the same methodology – create a FEW platform, let people publish their work and support them in ways to help them grow their sales.

In a nutshell, I created Kobo Writing Life for me to use as an author. Using that as a basis, it’s obvious that there were tens of thousands of other authors who wanted and needed the tool as well. So, like advice writers are given, I focused on a niche and a target audience (me), and many other people like me found it useful as well.

#FreeFridayFrights is an audio and video series where you do live readings of your short stories and your non-fiction about ghosts and eerie tales.

Yeah, I started it back in April 2018 as an experiment of providing something free for two main reasons – 1) to expand and grow my author brand and 2) to give people a free taste of what my writing was like in the hopes that they might consider being a reader/fan of my work.

What story (or stories) are you working on now, and what’s fun about what you’re writing?

Apart from a non-fiction book that outlines my 25+ years of experience as a bookseller, I am working on a variety of short fiction projects as well as finishing up some of the longer/novel length works.

I am the poster child for “do what I say, not what I do” because, despite some of the advice I offer to authors, I have three novels that are the first books in three different series’ out with not a single sequel finished.

For EVASION (Book One in my “Desmond Files” series), I have a ¾ completed COVERSION sequel that I’m working through.

For A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK (Book One in my “Canadian Werewolf” series), I have a 50% completed draft of FEAR AND LONGING IN LOS ANGELES that I’m working through.

If I were smarter, and followed my own advice, I’d finish off EVASION with COVERSION and the final book in the trilogy, INVASION. And I’d also get my butt back on the “Canadian Werewolf” series which looks like it could be part of something a bit longer. After all, my hero, Michael, has plenty of ways to exploit his “superhero” wolfish abilities.

And that’s not to mention I, DEATH (which I did sell to a publisher – however, I just secured the audiobook rights back from the publisher so do plan on turning that into an audiobook while drafting out the next stories in that series)

Speaking of audiobooks I plan on releasing an audio-book ONLY version of “The Best of Free Friday Frights” – again, just a test concept, since the FreeFridayFrights are mostly previously published stories – I love playing and experimenting with different forms and so compiling an audiobook that combines so many different moving parts could be interesting (especially since I’d already paid for several of the stories I would include to be professionally narrated)

Again, more projects than there are hours in the day. But I love having tons of things to choose from. I never get bored.

About Mark

Mark Leslie would be the first person to admit he’s still afraid of the monster under his bed.

Proudly adopting the term “Book Nerd” for himself, Mark is a writer, editor and bookseller and is most comfortable with a pen in hand, fingers on keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book.

His first book, ONE HAND SCREAMING (2004) collected mostly previously published short stories and poetry along with a few original tales. His other fiction includes I, DEATH (2014), EVASION (2014) and A CANADIAN WEREWOLF IN NEW YORK (2016). Mark’s dark fiction is often compared to “Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” in terms of style, exploring “what if” themes with contemporary settings that include speculative elements, gently skipping around the genres of sci-fi, horror and urban fantasy.

Apart from editing science fiction anthologies NORTH OF INFINITY II (2006), TESSERACTS SIXTEEN: PARNASSUS UNBOUND (2012) the horror anthology CAMPUS CHILLS (2009) as well as FICTION RIVER: EDITOR’S CHOICE (2017) and FICTION RIVER: FEEL THE FEAR (2017) Mark writes non-fiction “true ghost story” books that include HAUNTED HAMILTON: The Ghosts of Dundurn Castle & Other Steeltown Shivers, SPOOKY SUDBURY: True Tales of the Eerie & Unexplained TOMES OF TERROR: Haunted Bookstores & Libraries, CREEPY CAPITAL: Ghost Stories of Ottawa & The National Capital Region and HAUNTED HOSPITALS: Eerie Tales About Hospitals, Sanatoriums, and Other Institutions among others.

Mark continues to publish short fiction in small press horror magazines and anthologies and most recently had stories appear in TESSERACTS SEVENTEEN (2015), FICTION RIVER: SPARKS (2016) and 2113: Stories Inspired by the Music of Rush (2016)

Born in Sudbury Ontario, Mark has courted with a serious addiction to reading and writing his entire life. He has called both Ottawa, Ontario and Hamilton, Ontario home and currently lives in Waterloo, Ontario.

Find Mark!

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Find the Books Gone Bad bundle

BundleRabbit | Amazon | Kobo | Barnes & Noble | Apple Books | Facebook


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