Blog Archive

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Ins & Outs of Book Contracts: Author Interview with Richard Brawer

I hope you will bear with me today for this extremely long interview. They are usually more compact. However the topic we cover today is important to every writer whether you self-publish, go with a small press or one of the big names. You need to understand what's in your contract or it could cost you more money in fees or in royalties. So get your favorite beverage,  sit back and take the time to sift through the info we are sharing. You will appreciate it in the long and short run. 

In your bio, you said your first publisher did no real editing and did a poorly designed cover for your first book, The Nurse Wore Black. After that bad experience what made you decide to try it again?
They were a micro publisher that was just starting up and were as inexperienced in publishing as I was. 

What made me decide to continue writing was both the urge to write and that I was convinced I had written a good story despite the initial publication. By 1999 I had written another mystery using the same detective. I again searched for a publisher and found one I wouldn’t call micro but still small.

How did it go with your second publisher?
With the above experience weighing heavily on my mind I was totally involved in the publishing process, especially proof reading. The publisher did a wonderful job editing and publishing this book. I could not find one mistake. It came out in 2000. So what happened that made me not want to give them my third book in the series which I had finished in 2003? It was in their contract, which again was a learning experience.
As with my first publisher, all the publication expenses to bring this book to market were paid by the publisher.  However, they had a clause in their contract that said they do not pay royalties until they recoup their publishing expenses from book sales. Again, my naiveté let me pass right over this clause without a thought. More on that later.

I could not find a publisher for the third mystery in the series. It was not because the book was bad. The replies from publishers were they did not want to take on a series where they didn’t have the first books.

What happened to your stories?
I eventually received the rights back for the first two books. I re-titled The Nurse Wore Black to Secrets Can be Deadly, and I put the three book mysteries series together in one volume titled Murder at the Jersey Shore and self-published it on Amazon KDP in 2011. I also brought the books up to date with the detective using a cell phone and computer. I knew from my experience that I should have had the first and third stories professionally edited, but it would have cost me around $1300 so I did the best I could with it myself. Foolish I knew, but I just couldn’t afford it. 

The twenty-eight reviews averaging four stars validated my earlier supposition that I had written three good mysteries. They also confirmed what I had learned from my experience with my first book. A writer should not try to edit his own books. Sometimes I have to be kicked in the head twice to learn a lesson. 

I’ve heard authors repeatedly say you can’t edit your own work, because you are so familiar with it, that you don’t see the errors. So the books needed more editing?
Yes, I took it down, again re-proofed it and reposted it on Amazon with this note at the beginning of the description: “The book has been re-proofed and reposted. I think future readers will find a vast improvement.” I guess I did relatively okay because the later reviews did not mention anything about editing. However, I would never recommend that authors edit their own books. I never did it again myself. You’re too close to the story to do the proper job.

What made you decide to write your murder mystery books around the Jersey Shore?
I wrote the mysteries set at the Jersey Shore because I live at the Jersey Shore. It was easy for me to move my characters around since I knew the area. I used the real names for the towns and the major streets the detective traveled. However, since these three mysteries were inspired by newspaper stories, when it came to specific streets where the characters lived and the buildings where the murders happened I used fictional names.

I completely changed the profiles of the suspects to “protect the innocent.” Because of potential legal ramifications when writing fiction, it is not a good idea to use the exact names of places where the murders took place or describe your characters in a way that closely resemble the real people. For example one suspect had two daughters. I gave him three sons and an entirely different appearance as well as a different town where he lived. Of course, there is the usual disclaimer at the beginning that this book is a work of fiction etc.

What type of research do you do to make the crime scenes believable?
My mysteries do not go into the details of police procedures or get too technical. I don’t use a crime scene investigating team to describe the murder scene. They are more like how my early favorite authors wrote in their day. They are based on clues. The body is found and the detective gets to work solving the crime.

How did you come up with the plots for your books?
The idea for The Nurse Wore Black came from a story I read in a newspaper about a child born with a brain impairment where the father refused to take him home from the hospital. The article had interviews with nurses and they expressed their outrage.

From there I used my imagination and created a plot. The child disappeared. Where did it go? Was it murdered or switched with a healthy baby? My detective did not investigate crimes. He ran a home security company installing alarms. When his mother, a nurse, was murdered he vowed to find her killer. As for research, my brother is a doctor so when I needed information about problems with births and hospital protocol I asked him.

Was the second book “ripped from the headlines” as well?
The second book in the mystery series, Diamonds are for Stealing, was based on a story about a jewelry store robbery where the jewelry store owner pulled a gun and shot at the robber but killed his wife by accident. Right, an accident!

I started it with a diamond being stolen. I immediately thought of using my detective from The Nurse Wore Black. I already had his profile and he was now an experienced detective having solved his mother’s murder. In this book I added that he had expanded his business by also becoming an insurance company investigator.

I did need a lot of research about diamonds and went to the library. During the period I wrote this book the amount of information on the internet was only a drop in the bucket compared to what you can find today. If you’re thinking about buying a diamond, read this book. You will get a lot of information on how jewelers use tricks to make their diamonds look better than they actually are.

Where did the idea for the third book come from?
My third book in the series, Murder on the Links, is a combination of a murdered prostitute found on at exclusive golf club, and stock market manipulations by the mob. My detective’s business had grown to the point where he could afford to join a private golf club. In chapter one he discovers the body. I played golf and was occasionally invited by a friend to a private golf course so I knew something about the snobbery and parties at those types of clubs. I took the layout of one of the public courses I played and used it as the golf course in the story. I didn’t need research on the stock market manipulations. Stories about them are constantly in the newspapers.

I see your novel, Silk Legacy, was self-published. How much research did you do on self-publishing before choosing your source?
I had finished Silk Legacy in 2006. Again my ego said I had written a good book, but I couldn’t find a publisher so I went to a self-publishing company highly recommended by another author who published several books with them. The fee I paid them covered creating the cover and formatting the book. I paid extra to an editor to have the book proofed. The book came out perfectly.

What was the most frustrating part of putting out that book?
It took me ten years to write Silk Legacy. I worked on it in between writing my mysteries. My grandparents immigrated to Paterson, NJ in the late 1890s and the first decade of the 1900s. During that period until the depression, Paterson was the center of the silk industry in the United States. I was born in Paterson, NJ but my family moved away when I was eleven.

When I read an article in the newspaper that the Passaic County Historical Society was giving lectures and tours of the historic silk mills of Paterson, I wanted to see what it was like when my grandparents lived there. My first thought was to give my children a written story of their heritage. However, while listening to those lectures I came up with a plot.

Why did it take 10 years to write?
The reason was the massive research needed to write the book. I lived an hour and a half from Paterson. The lectures and tours only hit the high spots. As I wrote, I continually needed more information about the life and times. I was working and couldn’t run to Paterson at the drop of a hat. When I could, I went to the Paterson library to look at microfilm copies of The Paterson Evening News.

I also read biographies and autobiographies of the real people in the story so I got their profiles correct. I was able to find these books at the university that is minutes from my house. They are very good at letting people do research in their library. They even have a room with books only about New Jersey. That was extremely helpful.

What was one of the most surprising or intriguing things you learned in doing your research?
As I mentioned, my grandparents immigrated to Paterson, NJ. My paternal grandfather first owned a bar but sold it and started a silk company jobbing silk yarn seconds. He eventually brought his brothers into the business. I asked everyone in the family when that happened. No one had the exact answer.

When I was researching the book I found a small article in the February 1913 Paterson Evening News about A. Brawer Silk Company. In July 1913, when the strike ended, I found another article about Brawer Brothers Silk Company. So there it was. I had found out something no one else in the family knew.

If you read the full book jacket on my website, you will see the wife of the industrialist is an advocate of child welfare, suffrage and reproductive freedom. It seems a hundred years later two of these struggles have yet to be put to bed.

The Silk Legacy book shows a copyright date of 2006, but a print date of 2010 – why the difference?  How did you decide on a book cover?
Silk Legacy came out in print in 2006. At that time e-books were barely getting started and the book had not been published as an e-book. The reason it says published in 2010 on Amazon KDP is because that self-publisher went out of business and I re-published it myself. As to the cover and more about a publisher going out of business, I will explain that in another segment.

Did you do the formatting for Silk Legacy or did you hire someone to do that?
As to formatting Silk Legacy for Amazon, it was rather easy. There are many sites on the internet that explains how to format for eBooks. I am far from a computer expert, but I followed the instructions and it came out fine.

I originally had the book on both Nook and Amazon. Those were the only two sites that took authors who publish their own books. I eventually took it off Nook and left it solely on Amazon because the book sold ten to one Amazon compared to Nook. Also Amazon pays a higher royalty if you have your book exclusively with them. Since Amazon still controls about 70% of the eBook market I didn’t feel I was losing much.

Amazon APP readers can buy books from Amazon for their tablets and laptops, so I put this clause about availability on my website: Silk Legacy is available on KINDLE and any eReader, computer, Apple or Android device that has a KINDLE APP, or any tablet that can access KINDLE books.

What was the best lesson you learned from doing Silk Legacy?
Do your research and do it thoroughly. I didn’t know how good my research was until I got this comment on the book: "I loved this book.  The characters are so real. It is by far the best novel I have read on the Silk Strike of 1913." 

This came from Angelica Santomauro who is an authority on the labor movement during the silk era. She is the director of The American Labor Museum, Botto House in Haledon which borders Paterson. This ties into the history. The silk magnates owned the Paterson police and broke up every rally. The mayor of Haledon was a Socialist. Pietro Botto's House was a major staging point for labor rallies. 

You published with a company that went out of business. What did it take to get the rights to your book back?
After I had a track record of getting reviews and sales of my novels, I found a highly professional mid-sized publisher in L & L Dreamspell. They had 100 authors and paid an advance. The publisher was run by two life-long friends.  They published two of my books, The Nano Experiment and The PAC Conspiracy and I was about to give them a third when sadly one partner passed away from cancer. The other decided she could not go on without her friend and closed the company.

She tried to sell the company so her authors could keep their books going but to no avail. She immediately gave back all rights, the formatting they had done for trade paperback and e-book and the book cover to her authors and paid all royalties due. There isn’t much else I can say about this sad turn of events except to say this was a voluntary closing of a highly ethical publisher so there was little hassle in getting my rights back.

However the same was not true with the vanity publisher of Silk Legacy. I had the edited copy and as I said formatting it for an eBook was rather easy. But they refused to release the cover unless I paid them $300.00. My daughter is a lawyer in the entertainment business. The end result was her advising the company to immediately take the book off sale and that I was taking the cover for the royalties they owned me.

Therefore, I suggest your contract should be very specific if the publisher goes out of business. Your rights should be immediately returned. You should also own the cover they created. They may balk at that because they paid to produce the cover. However, you will have spent considerable time and possibly money promoting your book and if the publisher goes out of business you have to start all over again.

What do you think is the most common misconception about self-publishing?
That self-published books are no good. Some are. However, if done properly many are good books. Before eBooks the only books available were the ones the big publishers “chose” for us to read prices of books ranged from $25.00 and up for a hard cover and $5.99 and up for a paperback.

With the explosion of eBooks not only can a reader find a book on every imaginable subject, but also at a prices starting at $.99, and not to mention many free books. Readers have become more savvy about the value of blurbs, excerpts and reviews that often turn out to be hype not supported by the text. However, they are more apt to take a chance on an unknown author’s book priced from $.99 to $2.99 and are discovering great new authors.

What is your opinion of the 99 cent book sales?
A perfect example of the power of a $.99 eBook is my novel, The Nano Experiment. The publisher of this book was the one that voluntarily closed. The book was selling okay at $14.99 for a trade paperback and $4.99 for an eBook. I received five good reviews. When I got the rights back I put it on Amazon KDP for $.99. I now have 64 reviews averaging four stars and it sells every week. I receive $.33 royalty and have made more royalties from Amazon on this book than I made from the publisher. In addition, Silk Legacy and Murder at the Jersey Shore are also continuing to sell.

With any new technology, old companies tend to go out of business. Three of the most obvious are Kodak, Polaroid, and the buggy whip industry. This also applies to books. Unfortunately, eBooks have put a lot of small bookstores out of business.

Those who haven’t self-published might be misinformed about the costs involved. What I your experience?
First it can be expensive. You should have your book edited by a professional. That can cost anywhere from $.0075 (three quarters of a cent) up to $.015 (one and half cents ) a word depending on whether you only want your book proof read for typos and other minor errors or you want editorial help.

Because I had spent so much money on Silk Legacy, despite my not putting my three mystery volume on Amazon until 2011, I still was reluctant to spend the $1000.00 to have the first and last professionally proofed. After editing you have to have a cover made. I’ve seen prices from $75.00 for an eBook cover up to $250.00 for a trade paperback cover.

Finally you need your book formatted. Formatting could be your least expensive part. There are many internet sites that will show you how to do it. I am far from a computer expert and I formatted Murder at the Jersey Shore and Silk Legacy myself.

What do you think about the many publishers springing up that publish only as an eBook?
What I see as the biggest advantage to an eBook publisher is that if they are legitimate they will edit, format, create a cover for your book and make sure your book is posted on every eBook site. The two biggest disadvantages are, you have to split the royalties with them. Then you have the issue of what you do if they go out of business. It can get pretty sticky as I mentioned previously.

Before signing with any publisher or contracting with anyone to help you self-publish, I would suggest you join author groups on Linkedin, Facebook, and Goodreads. Ask if anybody has experience with companies or people you are considering. You can also
Google the companies to see if any complaints are posted against them.

As you’ve mentioned, one of the biggest problems for new authors is trying to understand the contracts and what their royalties are really based on? What should someone look for in a contract if they are not represented by an agent?
Writing is a dual process, creating the product and publishing the product. Neither party has anything without the other. Since I created the product and would be spending money to promote and sell the book I feel the author should get royalties from sale of the first copy.

If a publisher has a clause in their contract that they do not pay royalties until they recoup their publishing expenses from book sales, then basically that publisher is a vanity press.

The royalty clauses in my current contract are two pages and cover when they will be paid, how much the author will receive for a print book sale and an eBook sale, can the publisher hold back royalties against potential returns and for how long, the minimum amount that has to be earned before a check is issued, and the amount an author will be paid for “special sales, custom product deals and premium offers.”

I would suggest if at all possible the author keep the motion picture, television, dramatic and/or other broadcast fields (“Film/TV Rights”). The odds of having your book made into a movie are as big, if not bigger, than winning the lottery. But as they say in the lottery ads, “Hey, you never know.”

My contract for my latest book had the publisher owning those film/TV rights. My daughter insisted I keep those rights. However, the publisher is spending a lot of money to produce my book and is entitled to something if the book is turned into a film. So I was able to keep the rights and this clause was added to the contract.

Paraphrasing the language, it states both author and publisher can negotiate the rights for film, TV, etc. Author must approve the negotiations. Net amounts received by the publisher or author will be divided 15% to Publisher and 85% to Author.

I would also suggest you try to get the rights to the cover if the publisher goes out of business or ceases to operate for any reason.

How many drafts do you write? How long does it take you to write a book now?
I write my novels long hand. Then I type them into my computer which becomes my second draft. Then I read it over at least three times. Even with all that proofing and self-editing there are still punctuation errors, typos, and missing words that the editors have caught.

What is the best advice you’ve been given about writing or that you’ve learned that you would like to pass along?
First and foremost create conflicted characters. It is conflict and how the characters will resolve their conflicts that keep the readers turning the pages. The more the conflicts a character has and how the character gets out of those conflicts, the more depth the character will have. (Here is a perfect example: My wife is having the weekly Mah Jong game at our house today. I overheard the ladies talking about a book. One said the characters bored me so I stopped reading after 100 pages.) In Silk Legacy, I have a progressive wife, a unionist brother, and a silk industrialist who are in constant conflict with both.

Conflicts can be anything from mild all the way up to knock-down drag-out fights. They can be scolding, bickering, differences of opinion, veiled threats, hurt feelings, sarcasm, warnings, silently questioning a person’s veracity, loyalty, truthfulness, and inner torment.  Conversations can start congenially and end up in confrontations. Once you expand your plot your imagination will automatically create conflicts.

Secondly, find a critique group that will give you honest feedback on character development, dialogue, voice, plot, conflict and setting.  But don’t automatically take anyone’s critique as gospel.  Remember, it’s your story.  Analyze the critiques to see if they have merit.  Say you have a six person group.  If one person criticizes something then it may or may not be valid.  But if three or four in the group say the same thing about a segment then you should take it under serious consideration.

What other books are in the works?
My latest book, Love’s Sweet Sorrow, a romantic suspense novel, is coming out in September 2014.

Tell me a little about what it's about.
Here’s a bit from the jacket back…Love and faith are tested as Jason and Ariel are caught in a battle to expose smugglers selling weapons to terrorists.

It is said opposites attract. There can’t be two people more opposite than Ariel and Jason. Ariel is a traditional Quaker with an absolute aversion to war. Jason is the lead council for America's largest weapons manufacturer.

Their budding romance is thrown into turmoil when Jason uncovers evidence linking his employer to international arms deals that could devastate America. His determination to stop the treason puts Ariel in the middle of dangerous territory.

That does sound intriguing. Who is the publisher for that book?
It's Vinspire Publishing, another mid-sized publisher. I had four offers from eBook publishers before finding Vinspire. I selected them because of their highly regarded reputation and that they will publish my book in both eBook and trade paperback. So far my experience with their editing has been excellent and the cover they created is fabulous. I pray I have now found a publisher that I will be with for a long time.

Thank you Richard for your insights and details from what you’ve learned in publishing your books. Please take the time to check out his books as listed below. 

Silk Legacy on Amazon

YouTube video for Silk Legacy:

The Nano Experiment on Amazon 

Murder at the Jersey Shore on Amazon

The-PAC-Conspiracy on Amazon   
Murder Goes Round and Round on Amazon


  1. Hi Christine,
    Thank you so much for posting my interview. I looks great.
    Richard Brawer

  2. Terrific interview. Thanks for sharing your experience. I just Google+ and Pinterest.