Mark Leslie Lefebvre speaks in asides. In telling his story, he meanders about, describing the characters and side quests within the journey. “I’ve got squirrel tendencies left, right, and center,” he explains. However, listening to him wander through stories and back again, one feels as if they have gone on an epic journey through time and space. The thirteen-year-old Lefebvre (pronounced Le-Fave) would be pleased to know he’d achieved this level of storytelling.
Mark Leslie Lefebvre is one of the most recognized faces in author circles. As both an independently and traditionally published author, he has been working in the publishing sphere since 1992. At Kobo and Draft2Digital, he has helped bring independent publishing tools to authors while writing his own novels and nonfiction. Lefebvre appears often on podcasts and at author conferences discussing the tools of the trade. He not only writes; he shares what he learns and is passionate about helping others succeed. And don’t let that formidable height and striking countenance fool you—there’s a big heart lurking behind the smile, ready to help you up the mountain.
Where the Story Starts
By the sparkle in his eye, the epic tale of Mark Lefebvre begins with the influential teachers etched in his mind. There is the sixth-grade teacher who didn’t just teach but pulled him in to learn. A history and social sciences teacher who told anecdotes and made the past come alive. A math teacher who connected math, physics, and creativity in a tangible concept. The camp leader who told enthralling stories around the campfire. The librarian who hoarded the books Lefebvre needed for his journey.
To honor them, Lefebvre puts them in his stories. “The character in one of my horror novels was the amalgamation of all the really amazing teachers I’ve had, plus [the Robin Williams character] John Keating from Dead Poets Society.” This character must closely resemble Lefebvre too; he—like the character Keating—leads indie authors from the top of the desk, asking us to look at the world differently.
Embodying characters is something Lefebvre learned early on. He jokes that the library was a haven from the bullies chasing him, but he says, “I was all over books like a cheap suit.” Around the age of thirteen, the game Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) entered his life. “It was a different form of storytelling. With D&D, everyone was like me.” He went from a boy crafting extended stories alone with his figurines to enacting them with a group of other kids. Further empowered by the role playing and crafting of characters and stories, he began to write his first novel. An epic fantasy “of about thirty thousand words,” he enacted the fight scenes in his room to be sure he described them accurately. This often led to his mother inquiring what he was up to. “I thought you were writing?” she’d say, overhearing the battles.
To Lefebvre, it is more than just writing, more than just storytelling. “It’s interactive storytelling magic,” he says. “It’s in the head and in the heart.” He holds his hand to his head and then over his heart as he speaks, the look in his eyes instantly transporting him to a long-ago epic journey.
A Character on Stage
A self-proclaimed “omnivert,” Lefebvre leans toward introversion; in a crowded room at conferences, he heads toward those he knows and lets others approach him for interaction. He prefers playing a role given to him when he’s in front of an audience, he says. “In person, I can perform. I’m acting like a confident person. But the minute you put me in the middle of the room, I don’t know what to say.”
This behavior has its roots in his previous career as a bookseller and experience in theater. When his bookselling career began in 1992, he adapted the confidence of playing a part for customers. A manager once said to him, “You’re an actor and you’re playing the role of best bookseller ever,” before showing Lefebvre the punching bag in the back storeroom for any moments that required it. Lefebvre didn’t need it much. He learned that humor is both release and distraction.
“I think this translates beautifully to authors,” Lefebvre says. “Your job as an author is to create the most incredible experience for the reader to either escape into your worlds of fiction or to teach them something or inspire them.”
This focus on the reader has its roots in Lefebvre’s youth. Inspired by Piers Anthony’s Notes to a Reader at the back of most of his books, Lefebvre leaves his own notes for readers of his work. “And it’s really funny,” he says with a chuckle, “because I look back at all the notes to a reader and I realize all the things I didn’t tell them yet. But that’s OK; I’ll tell them in future additions.” Thinking in marketing terms, he describes the notes to a reader as bonus content—a way for the reader to “understand a bit more about the author and the story, and if they want that, it’s there for them, all for the taking.”
A gander at Lefebvre’s YouTube reveals more about the man: In addition to a healthy dose of helpful videos for authors, there’s “Mark’s Tavern,” a parody of the television show Cheers, or playlists like “Spirits Untapped,” with videos of haunted hotels and the other type of spirits, as well as “Stark Reflections on Writing and Publishing.” We discover dark humor, songwriting skills for parody, poetic musings about whisky, and a flair for the dramatic. Lefebvre finds the delight in life and records it for us. Road trips with his son turn into photo opportunities: Once, when stranded, they took a “Planes Trains and Automobiles” photo to not only mark the event but turn what would otherwise be a frustrating day into a father-son memory. Lefebvre is, in many ways, still that thirteen-year-old on an epic journey, inventing, acting, playing, and adventuring. His quest, it seems, is to take the road less traveled and make it his own.
Pandemics and Procrastination
A self-proclaimed “pantser going down rabbit holes,” Lefebvre loves discovery writing and ensures that he hires editors and puts up preorders because “I am motivated by … I guess, fear,” he says. When he writes he tries to surprise himself. “What do I want more of?” he asks.
Writing both fiction and nonfiction, he is, at heart, a researcher. “The details are very important to me. The world the characters live in has to make sense in regards to time and space,” he says. Researching has an additional benefit: It becomes “a wonderful excuse for procrastination.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Romance is one of Lefebvre’s favorite genres. “I’m a sucker for a good Romance,” he says. “I love a good love story. Like Horror, Romance transcends genre.” This isn’t surprising to his partner, Liz Anderson, however, who appreciates his propensity for writing daily jokes on a chalkboard outside their home.
“Mark seeks to bring joy and optimism to those he interacts with,” she says.
Lefebvre has found his person in Anderson. “I barely do anything for her compared to what she does for me,” he says. She is his first reader, and the one he bounces ideas off. When he decided to take a pay cut when leaving Kobo to write more, she supported his choice 100 percent.
Lefebvre laughs when recalling this story. With that decision, he says he went from no time to write to all the time in the world. Instead of writing for forty hours a week, he found himself filling the time with cat videos. He promptly started work for Draft2Digital (D2D) so he could write again. “Draft2Digital is sometimes ten hours, sometimes eighty hours a week, depending on the schedule,” he says. But as he describes it, the structure of his commitment to D2D tames his inner squirrel tendencies.
As for his YouTube channel, Anderson prefers to work behind the camera, but there have been some exceptions. When Lefebvre pitched a certain video during the 2020 lockdown, Anderson loved it, but then she looked at him as if he “had three heads,” he says, when he told her, “You know, this is a duet.” Evidently, she was convinced; “Stuck In This House Here With You (Music parody of ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’ by Stealers Wheel)” is available on YouTube, with 7.2 thousand views to date. Become a subscriber if you dare.
Leaning into the Future of Publishing
Beneath Lefebvre’s imposing surface is a man on a mission to help others. It’s important to him to answer every question he receives from authors. He describes a training video by the Seattle Fish Market, one in which they ponder, “Are we just selling fish, or are we giving people an experience in their day?”
Lefebvre reflects on that video. “I think about all these interactions we have with people throughout the day. … Why not put a little bit of something extra into it to give them a little bit of something more than just the standard?” He continues, “It’s just part of my nature as a storyteller. You want them to lean in.”
Lefebvre carries this over to training authors on how to pitch their books, asking them, “What’s the lean-in moment? What’s that moment when you said something and you see them lean in?”
Lefebvre himself is leaning into the next chapter of his epic story by working on his Master of Arts in Publishing from Western Colorado University. The program is structured to give students an in-depth examination of the publishing industry and upcoming technologies publishers may tap into in the future. Lefebvre views this as an opportunity to advance his skills to better serve others.
“Getting an MA in publishing is more than just a few letters on the end of my name or a piece of academic paper,” he says. “It’s looking at my more than thirty years of experience working within the industry and seeking a way to learn new things and perhaps re-learn some other things I might have gotten wrong along the way.”
Lefebvre’s drive is inspired by Neil Peart of the rock band Rush, who often would ask himself, “What is the most excellent thing I can do today?” He also takes inspiration from Michael Connelly’s character Harry Bosch, whose mantra is, “Everybody counts or nobody counts.”
“I have adapted that into my own life and in the way I try to interact with everybody I encounter,” Lefebvre says. “Every single person out there, regardless of their age or experience, has something unique and important that I can either learn from or be inspired by. Losing sight of that would be like losing my muse.”
Lefebvre looks forward to expanding his understanding of publishing as it evolves. “At the base and heart of it all is my relentless passion for how storytelling, when done effectively, is fundamentally the bringing together and connecting of at least two individuals.” One could argue that Lefebvre has a knack for this.
What does Lefebvre see in the future of indie publishing?
“I believe, like I long have, that the future of publishing itself is going to be more collaborative. And that the future of publishing is going to evolve, grow, and incorporate indie publishing as we know it today. But also new brands, spin-offs, and flavors of indie publishing are going to continue the process of providing more writers, more authors, more creative storytellers new opportunities that we likely can’t even properly imagine.”
I hope, my dear reader, that this final quote made you lean in. Mark Leslie Lefebvre’s adventure is only getting more interesting.