Bleak House Publishers Leave to Launch New Venture
Benjamin Leroy and Alison Janssen have announced their departure from
crime and literary fiction publisher Bleak House Books in Madison, WI
to launch their own venture, Tyrus Books. Leroy founded Bleak House in
2001 and the company was sold to Big Earth Publishing in 2005. Tyrus’s
inaugural list has three titles – novels by Peter Gadol and Michael
Lister and an anthology of crime short stories edited by Ed Gorman
& Martin H. Greenberg – that were originally part of Bleak House’s
fall catalog; Tyrus will publish the titles as scheduled.
“We believe in the power of the written word. Especially in its ability
to share a meaningful human connection,” LeRoy said in the accompanying
statement. “We look forward to continuing the tradition started with
Bleak House Books, perhaps even moving into non-fiction projects that
share the essence of the fiction we’re known for publishing.”
After hearing of the news late last week – which came as quite the surprise - I asked Leroy a few more questions by email about what’s in store for Tyrus:
What prompted the switch? Especially since all of the titles in the
Tyrus launch list were slated for publication by Bleak House, and in a
couple of instances, galleys already went out with the Bleak House name.**
We’re very grateful for our time with Big Earth. David Oskin Jr. was absolutely instrumental in helping take Bleak House from a struggling small house to a strong, profitable publisher even in the face of an uncertain economy.
What happens to the Bleak House backlist – is it staying with Big Earth, or coming with you both?
The Bleak House backlist will stay with Big Earth. Titles will continue to be available for order from Big Earth/Bleak House. We’re very proud of those books and authors and have left them in good hands. BE/BH will continue to publish books including Libby Fischer Hellmann’s DOUBLEBACK, Victoria Houston’s DEAD RENEGADE, Mark Coggins’ THE BIG WAKE-UP, and Randall Peffer’s SEAHAWK HUNTING.
What sort of distribution does Tyrus have, or will they pursue in the future?
We’re currently in negotiations with one of the major distributors for independents that we believe is a good philosophical and editorial match for our sensibilities. We look forward to having a longer reach into the library and retail market and think that it will help Tyrus thrive in the marketplace. Obviously, like any publisher we believe in the books we’re publishing and want as many people to read them as possible–starting with Peter Gadol’s beautiful new novel, Silver Lake.
This is the second time I’ve started a publishing company from the ground-up. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned is that you can publish great books, but if nobody reads them, it’ll kill your soul as a publisher (and frustrate the hell out of an author). Having a good plan in place for distribution is essential to growth and that’s why I’m so intent on finding the right partner.
The website makes it very clear what you’re not looking for, and what
you’re possibly expanding into (non-fiction, more overtly literary
titles.) But what plans does Tyrus have on the digital front?**
When possible we definitely will be taking advantage of e-books. In many cases agents are making the decision for us by reserving digital rights for their clients, so we’re a bit handcuffed in that regard. I anticipate Michael Lister’s DOUBLE EXPOSURE will be our first e-book. As a student of the publishing industry, I can’t help but know that the e-book market is growing and that it must be acknowledged. As a lover of the printed book, I will continue to fight like hell for the paper artifact. Like our time at Bleak House, we’re very committed to making books that are not only good reads, but aesthetically pleasing.
I’m just as interested in figuring out how emerging technologies can be used to enhance a reader’s experience. I’m constantly fascinated by what drives an author, what shapes story, etc. I’m probably annoying about it, but I like to go out with my authors–be it sailing Cape Cod or flyfishing in a Wisconsin creek–and pick their brains. There is so much compelling source material that can be documented easier than it could even ten years ago. The question is–how do you best capture the essence of a book and how do you deliver it to a consumer?
UPDATE: Publishers Weekly’s Claire Kirch talks with Big Earth Publishing’s Dave Oskin, who says that Bleak House will continue and that he has “already taken steps” to find a replacement publisher for LeRoy. “They were looking to do other things. We’d been talking
for a while about what they want to do with their careers, and with the
rest of their lives,” Oskin said of LeRoy and Janssen, whose last day
with Big Earth was July 3. “We support them as they pursue a new