Author, publisher, surgeon

Len Barot began writing romance novels on the side when she was in medical school. For more than 20 years, while working as a surgeon, she somehow found the time to write several lesbian romance novels each year. In 2004 she started Bold Strokes Books, and gave up her medical practice. Headquartered on a farm in upstate New York, Bold Strokes Books started out publishing lesbian authors, but with so many gay publishers going under, Len has opened her doors to gay authors, as well.

Laurie Kahn: Okay. Let me get this straight. You were writing three books a year while you were a surgeon.

Len Barot: Mmhmm.

And when did you fit that in?

At night. I would write at night and on the weekends.

I got my own editor and my own cover artist. Because—well, partly because I wanted a little bit of control over the final product, but also because I wanted to be sure that the quality was really good because my name was going to be on it. And I really liked the process of making a book. That became more and more interesting to me, and that’s how I began to transition much more seriously into publishing over the course of about five years.

You know, the whole self-publishing thing, it’s not new. It’s been around forever. And it’s been around for 200 years. People think it’s like this brand new thing, but it’s not; and what I learned very quickly is that there’s a ceiling that you’re not going to get above unless you, in my personal opinion, have mainstream distribution. If you can’t get your books around the world than you might be popular in a very tiny area, but you’re never going to be able to reach as many readers if you don’t go mainstream.

So I started thinking seriously about creating a company with a mainstream model that would get not just my titles, but if I was going to do this, I was going to do the whole thing. And I don’t know what insane moment that really happened, but part of it was simply that life was about to change. My partner was finishing her postdoctoral work at Penn, and was looking for a job, and we knew it wasn’t going to be in Philadelphia which meant that we were going to have to move, and my practice was not portable. Plastic surgery is generally not something you can just take and move.

So Len started Bold Strokes Books.

I didn’t take a salary for 22 months. I didn’t take anything back out, and we just went from there. So she got a job, and we moved, and the company grew, and here we are. We have 121 authors now.

Len remembers discovering her first lesbian romance novel when she was a medical student.

I can tell you exactly—I can practically tell you the day—1973. Giovanni’s Room is one of the oldest gay and lesbian bookstores still in existence, and was one of the first, and it was in Philadelphia. And they started a one-room store on Pine Street in Philadelphia; and I found it. They had two bookshelves with about 10 books, and the first book that Naiad Press published was The Latecomer by Sarah Aldridge, and they had a copy of it. And I thought I had discovered heaven. It was a transformative moment in my life to find that book, and it was just this little book. It was probably 40,000 words. And they didn’t publish another book for seven months, and I must have haunted that bookstore. I mean, I was there every weekend looking for another book. And that was the beginning of Naiad Press, and in their heyday they published three new lesbian works a month, and I was right there to get every one of them, and I have every one of them still. I have a great collection.

And I think that especially for gays and lesbians our literature has always been not only a place that we could see ourselves but where we could create a world that doesn’t exist that we would like to exist.

Here’s another short video of Len from our new Popular Romance Project YouTube channel!

I can remember back to at least being 10 when I first wrote something, and it was a play about female astronauts. And I used to write Westerns and the girls always got to be the sheriff. I always wanted to be the one that was doing all the cool stuff, and you couldn’t find it anywhere, so I just wrote it that way. So I wrote when I was a kid, and then I didn’t consciously think about writing until I was actually in medical school, and I wrote my first full-length novel which ultimately did become published when I was a surgery resident.

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