Fresh Blood Podcast Episode Guest - Mark Leslie

Intro Banner of Mark Leslie

Mark shares insights from his experiences in the publishing world, going through struggles such as divorce and the lessons that have benefited him the most through life.

Mark is the owner of Stark Publishing, a writer, an editor, professional speaker and self proclaimed book nerd with a passion for craft beer. With more than 25 years experience in publishing and bookselling, Mark is an industry expert having spent time as the Director of Self Publishing and Author Release with Kobo, as President of the Canadian Booksellers Association, Board Member of BookNet Canada and Director of Business Development for Draft2Digital among others. Mark has is also a professional speaker and has authored over 25 books himself.

Michael Stein talks about his journey in Hollywood, the importance of hustle and the main points of awareness that have led to his success.

Michael is an entrepreneur, actor, comedian, film maker and a force for good. He is the founder and CEO of Abadak, a multi million dollar tarp company doing good works by donating thousands of tarps to the homeless, In addition, Michael has starred in the “Dirk Diggler Story” as well as producing and directing documentaries, award winning short films and the movie ‘Love Hollywood Style’. Michael also performs stand up comedy and is the Podcast Host of Long Shot Leaders. All his ventures have an emphasis on environmental well being and charitable causes.


Mark Leslie, Owner of Stark Publishing, Writer, Editor, Professional Speaker and Publishing Industry Expert

Jolie Downs: [00:00:00] Today we are speaking with Mark Leslie, Mark is the owner of Stark Publishing a writer and editor professional speaker and self-proclaimed book nerd with a passion for craft beer with more than 25 years experience in publishing and book selling, Mark is an industry expert. Having spent time as the Director of Self Publishing and author release with Kobo as president of the Canadian booksellers association.

[00:00:27] Board member of book, net, Canada, and director of business development for draft 2 digital among others. Mark has also been a professional speaker and has authored over 25 books himself. I am excited to learn more. Mark, please. Could you tell us a little bit more about your journey in the publishing world and in starting your own start publishing and hearing a little more.

[00:00:49] Mark Leslie: [00:00:49] Yeah. Thanks, Jolie. I, Mark Leslie is kinda, it's funny is the name of, I decided to first write under when I first published my first story in 1990. Because my actual last name is LaFave and most people can't spell or pronounce it. So what I did is I just chopped off LaFave, went with my first name and my middle name's mark, Leslie.

[00:01:10]That's where that came from. I do actually have a few books now under mark Leslie LaFave, because I'm known. Book industry in the indie author space as a book guy. And so he was like wanting to play upon that. They knew me as mark LaFave. I write under mark. Leslie, what do I do? So I merged those things, the stark brand or the company I registered in 2004.

[00:01:34] I wanted to self publish some of my short fiction that had already been published in small press magazines as a guy writes scary stories in horror and thrillers and science fiction, inspect FIC and all that stuff. And back in the day in 2004, you didn't want anyone to know you self-published because it was a dirty word.

[00:01:53] It was considered vanity publishing. I created the company start publishing my best friend, Steve. And my name mark. We had stark entertainment when we were in college. We ran a DJ company. And so we'd always dreamed when we were kids that one day we would have a company called stark entertainment and he was going to animate cartoons and I was going to write screenplays.

[00:02:16] And what we ended up doing was we did start entertainment as a DJ service. And then later on, when I wanted to self-publish, I said, Hey, can you design me a logo? Cause he's a graphic designer. And do you mind if I use the name start publishing? And so I did it to hide from the fact that I had self-published my first book, which it was previously published stories.

[00:02:37] So they'd already been published. They'd already been edited. They'd already been accepted somewhere, I was just collecting them and saying now you can read them all in one place and you can buy it directly. Not for me through online retailers, et cetera, because I was using print on demand services way before eBooks existed. So that's where start came from.

[00:02:56] Jolie Downs: [00:02:56] Yeah, it's a nice little hack for the industry back then. And then now, it's all it's very mainstream. So have you expanded this Stark publishing or is it mainly your books? That are under, the stark publishing.

[00:03:09] Mark Leslie: [00:03:09] Yeah.

[00:03:10] So stark publishing is several of my books, but I have actually started to do more collaborative publishing with with friends specifically colleagues who may be I can teach anyone how to self publish and how to do it, but sometimes they just don't want to, because it's you can keep all the margin for yourself.

[00:03:27] If you did it yourself and I'll show you how, no, I don't want to do that. I'm like, okay, I'll do it for you, but I'm going to keep it cut. So as the opposite of the way, most traditional publishing works is most traditional publishing. They keep most of it and the author gets a really small percentage.

[00:03:40] Like I get 8% from most of my traditional publishing. Whereas when I'm self publishing, I get to keep 70%.


[00:03:47] Jolie Downs: [00:03:47] What a great company model. I just think that's fantastic.

[00:03:50] Mark Leslie: [00:03:50] Yeah.

[00:03:51] And I think what I look at it as more of we're doing this together and in most of those cases, the author has already done all the hard work. They've already worked with an editor they've already polished it. Maybe they even have a cover. If not, I do have a cover designer I work with regularly.

[00:04:05]And Juan does amazing work and he turns it around fast. So I can often, for a relatively inexpensive price, I can get a really decent cover design.. If we don't already have one. So I approached that. I don't consider myself a publisher. Although it's funny. When I look at it, I go, I've already published a book of a friend of mine.

[00:04:22]He's homeless, living on the streets in London, England, and. And I said, I can show you how to do this. And then you can make some, earn some money off of these because he's a brilliant writer and he just didn't have the the the means to do it. So I ended up becoming that was the first book that I published.

[00:04:41] That was someone else's complete book. I've done. Anthologies I've published. With multiple authors, multiple collaborators and I probably going to do more or things like that as we keep going, I'm doing a few print only projects with some friends where I'm picking up the print stuff for, with stark publishing and we're just splitting the royalties..

[00:05:01]Jolie Downs: [00:05:01] Yeah, that's great. Now you call yourself a self-proclaimed book nerd. So did you always know you wanted to be in this industry when you were younger or did this grow into something else?

[00:05:11] Mark Leslie: [00:05:11] You know what? From the time I was a kid, when my mom was reading me a little Walt Disney books or my mom, we used to work at the corner store in our small hometown in mid Northern Ontario. And she would bring home comic books every week. They've come in on Tuesdays or Thursdays, one of those two, and she would always bring home comics.

[00:05:28] And I was an avid reader from the minute I, I could pick up a book and hold one in my hands. I loved it. I would go to the library in the summer. It would close down for two months because it was attached to the public school. And I go to the library and I check out as many books as I could get all summer.

[00:05:43] And I was just worried I was going to run out and. When I decided my parents were very pragmatic and said, you want to be a writer? I said, Yeah.

[00:05:51] I want to be a writer. And they would say, okay, better have a good job then. And so because most writers even today, most writers are, they need other income to support themselves traditionally published and maybe less self-published authors than tread pub authors. they said get a good job. And when I was in university, I got a part-time job at at a bookstore and fell in love with the books. And I got bit by the book bug, as I say, and I've stayed in the book industry ever since. So in 92 it was when I started. So I think book nerd really describes many aspects of who I am.

[00:06:25]Jolie Downs: [00:06:25] You've nailed a lot of really great roles in the publishing industry to you. I actually, I know you've done some really great things with Kobo. Would you, what would you tell us a little bit about what you built?

[00:06:38] Mark Leslie: [00:06:38] So I was hired by Kobo to come up with a solution for self published authors. I had already done self publishing. I, started in 2004 and this was 2011 Kobo wanted to get into self publishing and they wanted to make it easier for small publishers and the authors to publish to Cobo.

[00:06:57] Th they could go direct, but it was painful. It was a really laborious experience that required. It background.

[00:07:05] Jolie Downs: [00:07:05] Okay.

[00:07:06] Mark Leslie: [00:07:06] And so they hired me to come up with a solution to make it easy for self published authors. Now I had built a solution like that in my, one of my previous lives as a bookseller for small publishers, for chapters indigo, which is like Canada's version of Barnes & Noble.

[00:07:20] And I built a way for small publishers to get their data into the online bookstore. And so they could compete with the big players. And so it was like building the same sort of thing, but for eBooks, for authors. Yeah.

[00:07:29] it was hired by Kobo came up with couple of writing life and it was a really fun experience.

[00:07:37]Great six years of my life working with some amazing people. And by the time. Kobo writing life dashboard was responsible for one in every four books that sells on Kobo even to this day in the English language. So it was pretty significant and it's on par with the world's biggest publishers.

[00:07:52] Jolie Downs: [00:07:52] Wow. Isn't that incredible to help create something like that. It makes such a difference for so many people. I think about all of the information that's out there through that, and I, who knows what the ripple effects are from that. So what do you feel out of all the things that you've done, what do you feel has been one or two of your greatest successes in and what did you learn from it??

[00:08:10] Mark Leslie: [00:08:10] Oh boy. I'm really lucky. I think I think creating Kobo writing life was was a huge success story. I think what I learned is that when you work with the right people who have the right integrity, the right passion, the right commitment to excellence, you can do?

[00:08:27] some really amazing things.

[00:08:29]But that speaks to a lot of my life as a writer as well, because even when you're self publishing the most successful authors, the only self about it, it's maybe self-directed self-controlled DIY because all of the really successful folks that I know are people. Are collaborating. They're collaborating with editors, with cover designers, with other with people from the industry.

[00:08:56] And so I honestly think that the, one of the biggest lessons that I've learned from some of my successes is that every single success that I've had is thanks to my willingness to work collaboratively. And alongside people recognizing where I need support and help and recognizing where I can offer support and help.

[00:09:15] And that it's that classical peanut butter and chocolate are pretty awesome on their own. You put them together, you get Reese's peanut butter cups and magic happens. And that's the thing I learned..

[00:09:25]Jolie Downs: [00:09:25] Oh, what a great answer. Cause that's that can be applied to every industry in any career collaboration. Yes. Working with the right people and they can make everything better. What about on the flip side of it? I, what time that you had to perceive failure, big mistake or challenge how'd you deal with it and what'd you learn from it?

[00:09:44] Mark Leslie: [00:09:44] Yeah I'm going to probably go to my personal life for that. So I I had been married to a wonderful woman.. And thought it was for life and had all of these plans and dreams. We have an amazing son together and I was I was in my mid forties when the marriage ended. And it was a bit of a surprise and. I think what I learned from that is that is a two-fold thing. It, I thought it was over. I thought everything was over. I thought that was it. Everything I had spent, 20 years of my life building and go to together was no longer there that you can pick up those pieces. Yeah.

[00:10:22] And you can start over and it can potentially be better. But I also learned that when bad things happen, like the relationship. Ended. It was not the same relationship we had. Fortunately it ended in a very amicable way, but it also ended and it was sad, but the, there don't have to be bad guys.

[00:10:43] Nobody has to be the bad person in something like that, that bad things can happen. And you don't have to be throwing blame around. In order to move on. And I think that was a really important thing because we're still friends and we still get along. Obviously we call raising not very much longer, she's in his teenage years now, So I could look at that as a failure.

[00:11:07] I could look at the way that this relationship failed and yes, I did learn some things that I could have done better, that I can become a better person in some of the things that I could have done to nurture the relationship better or whatever. So I can benefit from the mistakes I made and learning, but I never have to look at it in terms of this was a bad thing.

[00:11:27] Because it was a good. thing. It was a great thing. It just is no longer, therefore I've moved on. And I think too often in our lives, we cast things as black and white and good and bad and garner good or evil left and right. That kind of thing. And I think there's a lot more there's a lot more in-between space.

[00:11:43] It was going to say gray zone, but there's a lot more space that's in between. That's very colorful and dynamic.

[00:11:49] Jolie Downs: [00:11:49] True story. Thank you for that. That was inspiring. Really inspiring answer.

[00:11:54]So moving through all of these different positions and experiencing the different life lessons what do you believe is key to having continued success in life?

[00:12:04]Mark Leslie: [00:12:04] Great question. I've thought a lot about this. One of the things that I think has benefited me is that I'm always learning and I'm always growing. And I've never stopped recognizing the value of continually learning and continually growing, learning from other people, learning from myself, learning from experience, learning from books, all of the different ways you can constantly learn and constantly get better.

[00:12:34] So for myself as a writer, when I look at I believe that every time I sit down to write, I'm a better writer than I was yesterday. And I'm constantly trying very much to compare myself to myself previously, as opposed to trying to compare myself to writers who are way more successful than me, which is, a lot of them.

[00:12:56] So if I, a, as a guy writes scary stories. If I say here's mark Leslie, and here's Stephen King. Guess who's going to lose day. Mark, Leslie's going to lose now. I did actually a fun anecdote for you. I was at a Costco selling one of my true story books, spooky Sudbury at a Costco.

[00:13:12] And I was so thrilled that there was a skid of my books and right beside my skid was a skid of Dr. Sleep by Stephen King. And I took a picture cause I was so proud that look at me, I have a skid of books. He has a skid of books. Now they set up my table and I was there for eight hours selling books.

[00:13:28] At the end of the day, my skid was like down to a quarter of the size And his had only gone down. It was at three quarters. And so I took a picture and said, I outsold Stephen King. And I use that in a marketing ploy of define yourself as a big fish in a small pool. Now, if we compared my sales overall around the world to Stephen King, No man.

[00:13:47] He sold more books before I even had breakfast. But in that one store, in that one city for that one afternoon imprint in that locale, I outsold Stephen King. But you often can't

[00:13:59] Jolie Downs: [00:13:59] that.

[00:13:59]Mark Leslie: [00:13:59] To the giant. so I will celebrate those moments and I will compare obviously if he was there in person that.

[00:14:07] people wouldn't have even noticed, I was there except for the people that went.

[00:14:10] I don't want to get into the six hour lineup. I want to go talk to this loser over here, but I think too often we compare our middle or beginning. To someone else's and someone else who's been at it or been doing it for a lot longer and is more successful already. Whether we're looking at social media and we're looking at the way has 5 billion followers.

[00:14:31] I only have five. We need to compare ourselves to ourselves. We need to compare ourselves to the same moments in time. So it's actually fair because we're often really too hard on ourselves, which is why am I a better writer today than I was last? And what have I learned that has made me a better writer?

[00:14:47] What have I done for practice? What have I done for learning? And I think that's important.

[00:14:51]Jolie Downs: [00:14:51] Oh, yeah. So great. I actually have that quote on the bathroom wall that I wanted to have there for my kids to see constantly over and over that says, comparing yourself to others as a fools game.. The only person to compare yourself to is the person you were the day before. It's an important thing to keep reminding yourself.

[00:15:11]You have to remind yourself.

[00:15:14] Mark Leslie: [00:15:14] Really important.

[00:15:14]Jolie Downs: [00:15:14] Yeah. Yeah. I Have you had any regrets that, that you've learned from that? Other people might be able to learn from.

[00:15:22]Mark Leslie: [00:15:22] Yeah.

[00:15:22] So I regret a few things that I regret is I regret not stopping to take the time to enjoy or celebrate. Those little victories along the way, because sometimes what seems like a little victory when it's happening years later is a spectacular success because in the moment maybe you were too hard on yourself or you were expecting more different.

[00:15:50] And so I think I w I wish I could have acknowledged that. One of the things that I. I've learned from it and I've taken, I've actually taken us very seriously to task is making sure that I thank the people along the way, who lent me a hand who helped me, who inspired me fortunately through my podcast stark reflections on writing and publishing. Yes.

[00:16:15] that's the stark brand. Again, it's everywhere, but I I have a special episode which is thing. Where all I do is I re I reflect on somebody somewhere in my life who inspired me. And sometimes it's been somebody who has deceased and I never got the chance to tell them, but other times it's no they're still alive.

[00:16:35] And I want them to hear this. And I talk about them. I just talk, I praise them left, and center or whatever it is that they inspired in me. And I think I think having had. Missed some of those opportunities. I don't want to miss those again. I want people to know what they meant, how they inspired me, how they moved me.

[00:16:54]And I think that's that's been an important learning for me.

[00:16:57]Jolie Downs: [00:16:57] Oh, yeah, that's wonderful too. I love that you do that on your podcast. That's something that I'm going to take. I want to take away from as well. It is very important to let people know exactly how they've impacted you and helped you move forward. And often we aren't giving enough gratitude where it's due.

[00:17:13] So thank you for sharing. Yeah. Out of everything that you've learned in life, is there something that you found is brought you the most benefit?

[00:17:20]Mark Leslie: [00:17:20] Yeah.

[00:17:20]I think I've never. I've never grown up. I've gotten older. I make noises when I get in and out of chairs and all of the things that come along with it, but I've never grown up. So as a, as children we're always curious about the world around us. We're always, our eyes are wide open to the possibility and the wonder.

[00:17:45] That's benefited me as a writer because I still believe in the monster under my bed. And a lot of what I'm inspired to write when it comes to fear and horror, thrillers in that are those what ifs? What if there is a monster under my bed? What if it's real? What does it want? And exploring those stories.

[00:18:01] What is in the dark? What is that weird noise that I heard? Could it be this so that. Fueled me as a writer and continues to fuel me. Cause most of my writing is just speculation and what if this happened? Or what if somebody wanted that and got that? That's great for writing, but in terms of myself as a person.

[00:18:21] That open-mindedness that willingness. Cause we start off and we, and there's some instinctual things that we have to do, but humans are different than almost any other species is. We have. So we're very tabula rasa when we were born and we don't know how to walk. We don't know how to talk. We can manipulate things, but we're not really good at it until we get to a certain age.

[00:18:42] Whereas other critters and animals pretty much have to do these things automatically and move on. But we can fill our minds. We can learn, we have a consciousness in a way of learning from other people, whether they're in front of us and mentoring us directly, or they've written it, or it's a song or whatever art, I always think of art as a thing that inspires and moves us and informs us, but science and math and art and all of those things.

[00:19:09] So I think what's benefited me in many ways is never growing up. Or believing I'm at a point where I'm going to stop trying to have an open mind and an open heart and open eyes to the possibility of what I can learn and what I can take in because. I'm in my early fifties now, but I'm still learning.

[00:19:29] So obviously I'm learning so much about this technology that these kids are doing, but there's so much that we can continue to learn about things we thought we knew. I love that openness. And so in, in many ways, never growing up as allowed me to be more mature than I could ever imagine.

[00:19:47] Jolie Downs: [00:19:47] I love it. I wanna applaud that. All of it. I completely agree. A hundred percent. I feel the same way internally as well. It's a super power. Is there any advice that you would give someone in the 40 plus category who might be struggling right now either to find the right path or find the right next opportunity?

[00:20:07] Is there anything that you've learned personally that might help.

[00:20:09]Mark Leslie: [00:20:09] I've been lucky in that. I've always tried to pursue the things I was most passionate about. And a lot of people may think, okay, after you're 40 you can't start again. You know what I I had what I thought was a lifelong relationship. And I started all over again and my partner and I are incredibly, I'm, I don't regret the previous relationship.

[00:20:34] We had a great thing, but had I not lost that I would not have found this. And so there's always. There's always something around the corner that you may not be able to see in the moment. So that's an important that's an important thing. I think the other the other thing I kinda, I hinged on this a little bit earlier was, pausing to recognize those moments and those landmarks and those milestones that we sometimes don't realize we've achieved because we always when we're future looking.

[00:21:03] We always overestimate what we can get done in like a day or a week or something. And we truly underestimate what we can do in a year or five years. So when you look back at what you've done over that time period, all of those little milestones are significant things that you've done. And so you get to a point in your life where you think, no, I can't learn anymore.

[00:21:25] It's too late or whatever. And I look at all of the success story. Of the people whose career started when they were in their forties. Because it took a lot of learning and they built upon the learning and all the things that they did and all the experiences they had that made them better at that, whether it was actors, writers, musicians, whatever that was.

[00:21:51] That they found their passion and they didn't go, oh, I spent 30 years doing the wrong thing. No, you probably spent 30 years learning to help you get to where you were. And you can use that as a foundation to stand upon in. Probably appreciate it better than you would had, would have had you had that success or that career back in your twenties.

[00:22:12] So I'm in the forties is really the new twenties now. Isn't it.

[00:22:17] Jolie Downs: [00:22:17] I completely agree. A hundred percent. We've talked about your divorce and I'm sure you've had other challenges in life. But I know let's be real. A lot of people are going through a divorce right now after this pandemic, if they know that the rates have spiked. And so a lot of people are struggling.

[00:22:32] How did you push through your worst times?

[00:22:37] Mark Leslie: [00:22:37] Yeah. So pushing through my worst times was sometimes it's just eating ice cream, drinking beer, listening To Phil Collins records, allowing yourself to accept it and appreciate not appreciate, but just Be in the moment.

[00:22:50]Because you can't see light without understanding the darkness. And so that, that was really important. Th the thing I think that allowed me to push on was reminding myself the sort of a critical thing that I think I picked up on early. And I keep coming back to, cause I always forget is that I need to be happy with me and I need to be happy and content with my authenticity, my integrity.

[00:23:18]Who I am and what I do and how I portray that to the world in my happiness is not dependent upon external factors. I often can't control most of them to be quite honest. No, I can't. I can't all of these other factors, COVID all of these things are going to happen. I have no control over that.

[00:23:38] I do have control over what I do in the moment. So one of my heroes Neil Pierce, who's the tremor lyricist for rush and also a writer himself. He always said, I don't understand how anyone could ever be bored with so much out there so much to learn so much to know so much to understand. And I think.

[00:24:01] There are times it's and it's Okay to allow ourselves those moments where we may think we're bored because we're not being stimulated by the device that we usually carry around with us, or we're not being stimulated by the, that relationship that we've defined ourselves as being a part of. So we, we sometimes end up creating things that we don't mean to be crutches, but they become crutches for being able to sustain that on On her own.

[00:24:28] What I want to get at is I can't be happy in a job in a relationship with a a success or failure of a task, unless I'm first happy and satisfied with myself and how I'm operating within that within those situations. So I think a lot of that, a lot of that drive and determination, at least for me, has often come from my.

[00:24:57] Stance or perspective on the situation?

[00:25:00]Jolie Downs: [00:25:00] So wise it that being applied can change your life right there. When you just take that perspective..

[00:25:08]Mark Leslie: [00:25:08] Yeah.

[00:25:09]Jolie Downs: [00:25:09] What about habits? Are there any habits you've developed over the years that you feel contribute to your overall success?

[00:25:16]Mark Leslie: [00:25:16] I have a lot of bad habits. The ones that I've benefited me

[00:25:20] Jolie Downs: [00:25:20] We all have

[00:25:21] Mark Leslie: [00:25:21] habits.

[00:25:21] that have benefited me are making sure. I I've prioritize the things that are most important to me, the people and things. And for example I've always wanted to be a writer. I've wanted to be a storyteller my entire life, and it's a very it's a sort of an individual task you do in privacy typically. And so in order for me to have those moments, I would have to get up early while the rest of the house was sleeping. Now, maybe I come by this naturally because my dad was a fisherman and he was up like someone godly hour. And he, I remember when I was a kid seeing him sitting to standing over the kitchen sink, leaning over the sink, looking out the kitchen window, which is like down the main street of our town.

[00:26:11] And he didn't know I was there and he just had the whole world was his, everyone else in the house was sleeping. And he was in command of that world.. And I now get up at five 30 every morning and put on the coffee. And the first thing I do is I write every day and it feels like I have the world. It's just me in the world.

[00:26:32] I know there's a lot of people awake somewhere else, but within my own little part of the world, everyone else in the house is asleep. So I think. I think there's something in those moments that, that habit of seizing the day early in the day, so that no matter what happens for the rest of the day, I got done.

[00:26:54] The thing that

[00:26:54] was most precious to me is cool. I'm going to be going on. My son and I go on a road trip and have gone on a special boys' road trip. Just the two of us ever since he was about seven years old. And and he still likes doing it and he's going to turn 17 this year. We do it the week of his birthday and and he still wants to do it when he's 17.

[00:27:14] It's not painful. It's not a bad experience for him, but those moments where he's sleeping either in a hotel room or in a tent or whatever, and I'm up early anyways, and I don't disturb him. I liked him cause he's a teenager. They do like to sleep in, but I'm happy in the moment being, knowing I'm spending time with them.

[00:27:31] But then I also have my quiet time, whether I'm reading or writing or whatever it is. And and those are some really cherish moments for me. So the habit of prioritizing those things that are important to you. Obviously for me as a writer, that habit of trying to write if I can, every day has actually benefited me, it just made me a better writer and it's made sure I can keep moving on different projects.

[00:27:53]Jolie Downs: [00:27:53] Yeah. Yeah, no, it makes complete sense doing the most important things first, getting them done. And really that does open up your day for so much. I I know I try to have a super healthy breakfast shake, so I get all my veggies in the morning, and it's a little guilt free for the rest of the day.

[00:28:10] It's the same theory, but absolutely putting the people that you love first and foremost that's how you avoid serious debilitating regret later on in life, if you ask me, so from personal experience,

[00:28:27] Mark Leslie: [00:28:27] I love your idea of the get, get all your veggies in as early as you can, before the dessert start to tempt to you

[00:28:37] Jolie Downs: [00:28:37] So I'm curious now, since you're a book lover, I, has there been a book that has had the biggest impact on your life that you think everyone else should read?

[00:28:46] Mark Leslie: [00:28:46] oh, wow.

[00:28:47]. it's a tough one. I think I recently re-read and I did this for a podcast called the best book ever, where the host asks you to talk about the best book ever. And I've always had trouble with this because there's so many, but

[00:29:02] Jolie Downs: [00:29:02] Okay.

[00:29:03] Mark Leslie: [00:29:03] George R Stuart's earth abides and.

[00:29:08] I re-read it during the pandemic. I actually re-read it with my partner, Liz, we actually took turns, reading it aloud to one another, which I had never done for a full length novel ever. I've read books to my son and even like novels to my son, but we took turn chapter by chapter reading and we each had a copy of the book.

[00:29:28] So we were reading aloud while the other person was following the words. And that was a great experience. But I first discovered that book when I. 1213. I picked it out of the library. It was a harder read cause I was younger, but I love the concept of the suddenly the world ended and they were trying to rebuild civilization.

[00:29:49]And it was a pandemic of all things. And so this book has come back to me so many times I remember being inspired and I wrote a song lyrics. I wrote poetry. And short fiction inspired by that book. I vent. Re-read it later on in life, a couple times, Liz and I re-read it last year, we even incorporated reading that book into a pandemic parody video.

[00:30:13] We did called stuck in this house here with you, that we did last year as a joke for, stuck in the middle with you by stealers wheel. And we were reading the book. We're both reading a book about the pandemic during a pandemic. We're both stuck in the house. The idea that we've got nothing, but just time.

[00:30:30] And then we did it in another video. We did another parody, pandemic video. And again, I'm reading the book in it. So this book has come back in so many different ways in so many different creative formats that even though. And there are elements from the story there's elements from the novel that when I was rereading it just last year, I went, oh, Wow.

[00:30:49] I didn't realize that I was riffing off that when I wrote this short story or this character in a novel, I forgot that I had originally encountered that motif that George R. Stewart made me think about when I was a teenager. And I wrote about it in my thirties because you forget, you're you were impacted by the world,

[00:31:07] Jolie Downs: [00:31:07] Yeah. Yeah.

[00:31:08] Mark Leslie: [00:31:08] places and things. And we sometimes forget. And so it was really great to go back to that book just recently, like in the last year, reread it and go, oh Yeah.

[00:31:17] That's where I remember that from.

[00:31:19]Jolie Downs: [00:31:19] that's great. I have not read this book, so I'm excited that I'm adding it to my list for the summer. So now with your star publishing, are you taking off? If anyone is listening and they're wanting to write a book, are you taking on new clients or is this something that It's for friends

[00:31:36]Mark Leslie: [00:31:36] Not if a writer is looking for a publisher to publish their books, don't look at me. I usually work on projects based on serendipity. If they're looking for advice about the business of writing and publishing if you go to mark, I offer a free 20 minute consultation.

[00:31:53]Cause I can usually tell you, talk to you about some ideas and how you may be able to do it yourself or how to hire someone to do something for you. Do you want to pitch it to a publisher? How would you do that? Those kinds of things. I do it's a hundred dollar an hour consultation after that, but I usually like to believe, and a lot of clients are really satisfied after 20 minutes, they get all they need it's free and hopefully they moved on and they've

[00:32:17] Jolie Downs: [00:32:17] That's really nice.

[00:32:18] Mark Leslie: [00:32:18] they can take with them. Because I liked the idea of maybe if I just answer a few quick questions, they got what they need.

[00:32:23]So yeah, I take on clients who want to learn about the business or writing and publishing. And but not necessarily as a publisher, more as a industry insider.

[00:32:34] Jolie Downs: [00:32:34] Got it. And then all your books are available for purchase. I'll make sure and have a links to your books, which, as you mentioned you write a lot of thriller and whatnot. We also have fiction mixed in with the thriller.

[00:32:47] Mark Leslie: [00:32:47] Yeah. Yeah. So a fiction. So my only series right now is the Canadian werewolf in New York series or my Canadian werewolf series that starts off with that book. And that is more of urban fantasy slash humor slash contemporary. Maybe little bit of thriller.

[00:33:08] mixed in there. But yeah, all of my books, whether it's fiction, nonfiction, true ghost stories and books about writing and publishing to help other writers they're all available pretty much on every major platform, Amazon, apple, Google Kobo, nook, Barnes and noble. You can order this, your local bookstores and eBooks and print books available through pretty much any library system if you wanted to try and get them for free.

[00:33:30]Jolie Downs: [00:33:30] Fantastic. I'm curious out of all of your books, you, because you've written a lot of them. Is there one that's near and dear to your.heart.

[00:33:35] Mark Leslie: [00:33:35] That's a great question. I would want to say my first one, the one where I created stark publishing one hand screaming. Cause I actually proved that I could do it is near and dear to my heart, but to be quite honest, I keep coming back to it. It was a standalone thriller called evasion that is a short novel, but it's a thriller, it takes place in about four hours.

[00:33:56]And I wrote it. Shortly after my dad died, I kept seeing him everywhere or thinking I was seeing him everywhere. And I imagined what if he was really alive. And why would he have to hide the fact from his family that he was actually still alive. And so we evasion was a story that takes place.

[00:34:17] I call it like diehard in a, in an office building in Toronto where this guy gets called into his boss's office. His boss pulls out a gun and tries to kill him. And from that point on everyone, he meets is trying to kill him. And he thinks it has something to do with the fact that he's been investigating the fact that he thinks his dad's really alive.

[00:34:35]And so that's near and dear to my heart because I got to I got to get some emotions out about my father's own death and the speculation that came out of it like that. What if, but so many readers over the years have reached out to me and said, that happened to me too. When died.

[00:34:51] I kept thinking I would see them in a crowd. And so what I realized I had done is I was tapping into my own something in myself that was really personal and challenging and realized that it was so common that so many other people had that same experience. And then I made a fun thriller out of it.

[00:35:09] So wish fulfillment fantasy. still a alive.

[00:35:15] Jolie Downs: [00:35:15] I had the same experience after my dad died, too. Yep. Looking forward to reading that now before we go, I love this. This has been so great. Mark. Is there anything that I didn't ask you about or anything that you want to share with the audience about what you do?

[00:35:28]Mark Leslie: [00:35:28] I just want to share I want to share think about what you're doing as the audience. So think about all the cool ideas that you had, the things that inspire you. what inspires you to get up in the morning? You get up in the morning and go, I get to do this?!

[00:35:41] This. Think about that, if you can reflect on that.

[00:35:44] And that's something that I'm hoping can give you some energy, some give you some power and give you some strength to push through and to discover the true you that you can love.

[00:35:55]Jolie Downs: [00:35:55] Oh, that's so perfect. All right, mark. Before we leave, this is my favorite question. What are you sure of in life?

[00:36:02]Mark Leslie: [00:36:02] Yeah.

[00:36:04] I am sure of the uncertainty. I can guarantee you that I am going to be surprised and I'm not going to know. And that is part of the thrill of life. That is part of the spectacular wonder. And I look forward to. The things I don't know yet, or don't understand, or that are going to take me by surprise, because those are sometimes some of the most amazing opportunities.

[00:36:33] Jolie Downs: [00:36:33] Yes, they are. Thank you so much. This was such an inspiring talk, mark. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

[00:36:42] Mark Leslie: [00:36:42] Thank you. it. was awesome.

Jolie Downs:

There were so many great lessons from Mark’s story. I love that this self proclaimed book nerd, someone who had always loved reading and had a passion for the written word found himself a life long place in the industry that has brought him so much joy. What a gift in life. If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life.

What do your days feel like?

Do they feel like work or are you doing work that is exciting and fulfills?

When Mark wanted to self publish, during the days when self publishing had a stigma attached, Mark wisely created Stark Publishing to release his books the way he wanted while giving society what they wanted, the perception of a publishing house. Brilliant. Once again, successful people find ways to make things work for them. They don’t wait for permission, they don’t wait to be told what to do, they don’t wait for people to show them the right path, they forge their own way, they create their own path and by doing so, they then give others permission to do the same.

Through Marks’ own experience in self publishing, he developed a skill set that positioned him perfectly to help Kobo develop a solution for other self published authors. He created a program that allows independent authors to compete in the same arena as authors with big publishing houses. He took he had learned and experienced and figured out how to best share that with others in this Kobo self publishing platform. What a gift to all of us. How much information is out in the world because of this program that Mark helped create? The ripple effects of what Mark helped bring into the world will never be able to be measured. They are infinite.

Our impact on this world is profound. We truly have no idea what kind of influence we have on those around us. What kind of ripples are you making? Spend some time thinking about what you are putting out into the world and then spend some time thinking of what you WANT to put out in the world. Make sure these two things are aligned and if they aren’t, you can make the decision to create the right changes.

You get to choose the kind of impact you want to make.

I loved what Mark shared about collaboration, he said when you work with the right people, who have the right integrity, passion and commitment to excellence, you can do incredible things together. The most successful people and organizations are collaborating, they are bringing talent together to produce something even better than they could do alone. Recognizing where they need help and support and recognizing where they can lend help and support is a characteristic of the truly successful. As Mark put it, chocolate and peanut butter are each delicious on their own but put them together and you create something magical.

When you’re working with the right people, everything feels different. As a recruiter I can attest that this is one of the biggest reasons someone will choose to stay or leave a role. After over 20 years of executive recruiting I can tell you without a doubt, the money will not be the x factor that makes you happy. It’s all about the people and the project.

Have you found the right people to collaborate with? Are you working with people who lift you up? People who share your integrity, your passion and commitment to excellence? If you aren’t, what would it feel like if you were surrounded by such people? What do you think could be accomplished? What would your days feel like? If you aren’t working with the right people, I would suggest it’s time to find the team you can make some magic with.

I found what Mark shared about his experience with divorce to be very insightful. First, he shared that when it happened, he thought life was over, everything he had built for 20 years was being torn away and the future as he had seen it had been erased. This is an absolute crushing experience. In the mix of darkness it can be so hard to see the light, but what Mark learned, is that even after 40, you can pick up the pieces and start over. What was, may be over, but what will be, can be even better than dreamed as Mark himself has experienced.

Mark also learned that sometimes bad things happen and it’s sad but that doesn’t mean there has to be bad guys. Sometimes you go through hard things in life and you don’t have to throw blame around to move on. This is highly evolved thinking that once understood can bring a huge amount of peace to life. We are all doing the best we can at any given moment, reacting the best way possible with the information and experience we have at that time. Releasing the need to place blame on others is the only way to release the shackles you create in your own life.

Who’s the bad guy in your story?

Can you reframe the picture, can you find what you’ve learned from the situation? How has this person helped you become a better person? What are all the things you’ve learned from the situation? How can you apply what you learn from this contemplation to making your life better?

As Mark shared, we often cast things as good or bad, black or white, but there is so much more space that is colorful and dynamic. It’s our job to look and find that color. There's always something there that you may not be able to see in the moment.

One of Mark’s key to success is his continuous learning and growing. He loves learning from all the various ways and every day he tries to better himself, using only who he was the day before for comparison. This was an important note from Mark, as he shared, if he compared himself to Stephen King, he would find himself wanting and would end up feeling bad about what he is doing. The successful know that comparing yourself to others is a fools game and will steal your joy. The only person to compare yourself to is who you were the day before. Mark Leslie trying to be like Stephen King is going to make Mark Leslie absolutely miserable. But Mark Leslie trying to be the very best Mark Leslie and every day working on making himself a better Mark Leslie will lead to the successful, fulfilled life we are all looking to create.

I loved Mark’s story about outselling Stephen King in that one day, in that one store. Staying focused on the positive and celebrating the little wins along the way is key marker of successful people. As Mark shared, too often we compare our beginning or middle to someone else’s end. We are too hard on ourselves. The only question to be asking yourself is, what have I done for practice today? What have I done for learning today? What can I do today that will help me be better at x tomorrow? And then celebrate every little win that comes your way.

As Mark shared, we tend to overestimate what can be done in six months to a year but underestimate what can be done in 3 to 5 years. If we aren’t paying attention to those little milestones and recognizing them for the significant things they are, we can miss so much and have a warped perspective.

For example, 2016 was a really tough year. I kept saying it was a horrible, no good, terrible year. However, I keep an already accomplished bucket list going of which I record the things I’ve already accomplished year by year. Anything I have the honor of experiencing that someone else may not have the opportunity to do will make this list.

When I reviewed the things I did during 2016, during that horrible “no good” terrible year – it was completely humbling.

I had amazing experiences in 2016. I went to Chicago, I saw Bruce Springtsteen, experienced the amazing Safari West in CA, I went to the Virgin Islands, I was on TV (Let’s Make a Deal), won Grand Prize in a Sandsculpture contest and it was also the last full year spent with my father before he passed away. We ended that year with a trip to Disneyland with my entire family, my Dad, brothers, aunt, cousins and their kids. It was a truly magical experience that still brings me comfort and joy to this day.

Life is a gift. Every day is a gift.

It is so easy to get caught up in our day to day life – to get in the groundhog day mode with our head down and just doing our best to exist.

Taking the time to make a literal list of your blessings year by year infuses your life with growth and gratitude.

It’s the easiest thing to do.

How many things have you done in the past few months that you’ve taken for granted, not seeing it for the beauty of what it is – a new experience, a new lesson, a gift, something that adds to the color and depth of your life.

Start your list tonight and keep a running tally of your successes, accomplishments and experiences year by year. You’ll find it adds a richness of perspective allowing you to see how truly special your life is.

Mark had so many other great points in our conversation –

Another key to Mark’s success is he has never grown up, he may get older in terms of years but he keeps his eyes open to possibility and wonder, he remains curious with the world. That willingness to keep an open mind, an open heart and open eyes keeps the world of possibility open to him, leaving him more aware of what he can learn and take in. I love how mark put this, Never growing up has allowed him to be more mature than he could ever imagine. It also allows him to see that it’s never too late to go after what you want in life.

As he said, there are countless people who started a new career going after their passion in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s- they used all they learned and all their life experiences to make them even better at their new profession, not to mention much more appreciative of every aspect.

If you are unhappy in the work you are doing, you can make a change too. Open your mind, open your heart and open your eyes, there is opportunity all around you. Do not let age or stage of life stop you from doing what you really want to be doing.

There is only one day in life when it is truly too late.

I loved what Mark shared when dealing with times of struggle – he was honest and said you need to give yourself the space for the sad music and ice cream. We have to be in the moment, sit in the darkness and find understanding and acceptance. The only way out is through. Or as Mark said, you can not see the light without understanding the darkness.

Which leads to his practice of gratitude, giving thanks to all those who have helped him along the way. We can all learn from this, who has helped you in your life? Who are you grateful for crossing your path? Have you let them know what an impact they have had on your life? Take the opportunity to do that today. I promise you, you will never regret telling someone thank you but you will regret not taking the opportunity to do so once the chance is taken away forever. Make this a practice, every time you think of something that someone did for you, if you haven’t already, call them and thank them. You never know how much they might need to hear that in the moment.

I think Mark’s habit is one of my favorite to date. He makes a habit to prioritize the things that are important to him. This is crucial. Too many of us prioritize the needs of work and everybody else over own needs. Often times, so much so that we forget what our own needs are. This causes an internal depletion which leads to an edgy, angry, short fused energy. You must fill your own bucket before you can effectively fill others.

If you find yourself snappy, on edge, quick to anger, I ask you, what have you been doing for yourself? Have you been making yourself and your needs a priority? If not, it’s time to pick up this ever important habit and carve out time for yourself – either early day, midday or end of day – but make it your own.

Again, this must be for whatever is most important to you - Not to your significant other, not to your kids or your parents or your siblings or your friends – what is most important to you?

Think about the things that inspire you, that make you excited to get up in the morning. What’s that thing that makes you say, I get to do this?

Be sure you make yourself, your joy, your passion, your LIFE a priority. You’ll find yourself infused with energy, power and strength allowing you to GIVE so much more to others.

Finally, I want to leave you with what I felt was the most important life lesson of all. As Mark said: I need to be happy with me and I need to be happy and content with my authenticity, my integrity. Who I am and what I do and how I portray that to the world, my happiness is not dependent upon external factors.

This is the absolute truth.

You can have all the riches in the world but if you are not happy and content with yourself, with your own authenticity and integrity, then you have not experienced the sweet sweet taste of success. And oh, it tastes so good.

The truth is, most things in this world are outside of our control. The truly successful, they focus on what they can control - and what you can control is what you do in any given moment. As Mark said, he can’t feel happy in a job, in a relationship, with the success of a task, unless he is first happy and satisfied with himself and how he has operated within those situations. This is a true story, I don’t care what you portray to the outside world, you can not fool yourself.

Are you happy with your authenticity and integrity?

Are you proud of how you are showing up in the world?

I hope so.

And if you aren’t, here’s the great news, you have the power to change your situation. You have the power to make a different choice.

What choice will make you feel happy with yourself?

What decisions align with your own integrity?

That is my wish for us all, that you live your authentic life in a way that makes you feel internally proud, satisfied and happy.

Until next time

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