Friday, August 1, 2014

LEAPing Ahead: A New Leap for a Small Publishing House

In an age when self-publishing can bring a manuscript to life as a book in twenty-four hours and bloated publishing entities gobble each other up readily, small publishing houses face unique challenges--most not lasting any longer than the average small business. Even house lines can disappear in what feels like the blink of an eye leaving authors orphaned and struggling to regain the rights to their novels. But one small house is getting new life breathed into it through the efforts of a few popular young adult authors.

LEAP BOOKS LLC was founded in 2009 by literature lover Laurie Edwards. She, with the help of a handful of clever authors recovering from the recent death of a YA line at another small house, decided it was time to build their own. 

Things haven't been easy for LEAP. Within their first year their book distributor folded, leaving owner Edwards with a product she believed in but with no easy way to get it into the public's hands. Still, with great determination and the assistance of a few stalwart writers, LEAP continued forward. LEAP produced several young adult and middle grade titles each year and although they were well-received and the company attracted names like Maria V. Snyder (NYT Times Bestselling author and author of the recent Leap release STORM WATCHER) and more, still LEAP struggled to get the public attention it needed to thrive.  

"Let's face it," says author Shannon Delany (New York), "we live in a fickle world. Getting and holding the attention of a target audience--especially teens and twenty-somethings--is serious business. The market is flooded with YA novels. Everyone's heard that YA is this growing marketplace and folks think, "Well, I was a teen once--surely I could write something and reinvent myself."" 

While LEAP's owner was keeping the company going and reinventing herself by finishing her degree in children's illustration, longtime LEAP author Judith Graves (Alberta) was busy figuring out how she could make LEAP the house it deserved to be. Well aware of the consumability of modern literature, Graves decided to officially join Leap and run SHINE, a line focused on edgy YA and NA e-novellas.

When Delany opened her mouth on Facebook and suggested she was toying with the idea of founding her own boutique publishing house, Graves contacted her and suggested she come aboard SHINE. Having known Graves since their time together as part of the Class of 2k10 (a joint marketing group for debut authors) Delany had no doubt in Graves' capabilities. "The girl is Wonder Woman," Delany says of Graves. "Forget Gal Gadot in the Batman vs Superman movie, Judith Graves is the real deal."

The two began to formulate a plan but, in the midst of their plotting, Graves suddenly asked to give Delany a call. "Judith never calls me. She's in Canada, I'm in upstate New York... We're Facebook friends. Who needs the phone?" Delany knew then that something big was up.

She was right. When LEAP's owner heard Delany was coming on to work with Graves she suggested they take over the entire company. 

"Everything changed," Delany admits. "I had been offered a line with a well-respected small house before, and had just watched yet another house close its doors on the YA line Strange Chemistry. A student of my workshops had recently self-published his novel and won a national award for it. Meanwhile my agent was submitting my manuscripts to a much larger house. Just the idea of it all in that sort of context required sea legs of sorts."

Delany talked it over with her husband and a few family members and decided to take a leap of faith. In short order she became the owner of the company and moved it to New York state. "Then the madness began," she says. "We were in this crazy and fluid state of existence during the transfer--trying to get access to everything we needed, bring the right people on, and figure out how and when to tell the authors."

Delany and Graves quickly agreed that what LEAP needed was a better presence in the market. "I sent author and YA Fest organizer Jennifer Murgia (Pennsylvania) a cryptic message asking her to give me a call. I asked her to be our Director of Marketing and it caught her off guard. She said she thought maybe I was going to invite her to write a story for an anthology I had dreamed up--that she had never imagined this."

Within twenty-four hours Murgia had agreed to accept the title of Marketing Director. "I also suggested bringing someone in who could handle the finances and sort out the craziness of authors and royalties," Delany says, "so we brought on William Gee as CFO. We're keeping Kat O'Shea as a Senior Editor during the transition and rounding out the marketing team with the accomplished Elana Johnson (previously of Entangled Publishing). By expanding our team we can focus on what we're best at and provide support to each other as needed." 

Delany, Graves, and Murgia debated when and how to tell the already contracted authors there was a change in both ownership and management, and, with Edwards' help, released two letters in quick succession, the first from Edwards and the second from the new team. "I knew there would be questions. Authors are curious folks--we build our careers around two important words: What If? So we arranged to have two private online chats with authors, editors, and illustrators to introduce ourselves and field questions. I think that's one of the advantages small houses have: accessibility. You have the professionalism of a bigger house but the comfort of a cozy home. You can get to know everyone if you try."

Why will LEAP BOOKS succeed? "Well, I can't give all our secrets away," Delany teases, "but I can tell you this: we have passionate team, a nice backlist, and a clear vision that includes pursuing opportunities in the market that have been traditionally overlooked or viewed as out of reach for small houses. Laurie gave us a great foundation to build our house on. We're forging ahead with SHINE's e-novellas, rebranding both our YA novel line SURGE, and our MG line, and occasionally opening submissions to unagented writers. We are focused on not only continuing to improve the quality of our books and better define our brand, but also we're aware that for authors to thrive and keep producing quality work they require proper care and feeding--we're like any other creative monsters. Each step along the way as we develop, we're LEAPing forward... together."

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