By Sean Tuohy
Heart-pounding. Eye-popping. Jaw-dropping. These are all adjectives you could use to describe the titles published by Brash Books.
Lee Goldberg—a television writer, producer, and author of several best-selling novels—and former trial attorney-turned-successful author Joel Goldman, formed the company. The two "golden boys" bring thrilling novels to the public by managing a stable of exceptional writers that never disappoint.
Goldberg was kind enough to take a few moments to chat about Brash Books, the world of publishing, and what he looks for in a manuscript.
Sean Tuohy: What books did you read growing up?
Lee Goldberg: Mostly mysteries and thrillers. I was weaned on The Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, The Three Investigators, etc. I then moved on to The Saint (Leslie Charteris), Matt Helm (Donald Hamilton), Travis McGee (John D. MacDonald), Fletch (Gregory MacDonald), James Bond (Ian Fleming), Lew Archer (Ross MacDonald), as well as devouring literary novels and westerns. I began reading at a very early age and would read three or four books a week for pleasure. It was also my education, but I didn’t realize that at the time. My favorite authors, besides those I previously mentioned, were Leon Uris, Robert Ludlum, Stephen King, Arthur C. Clark, Graham Masterton, Richard S. Prather, Clive Cussler, Sidney Sheldon, Ray Bradbury, William O. Steele, Arthur Hailey, John Irving, Lawrence Sanders, Larry McMurtry, Lawrence Block, and Elmore Leonard. I could go on and on and on.
ST: What lead to the creation of Brash Books?
LG: All mystery writers have them—the cherished, often under-appreciated, out-of-print books that we loved and that shaped us as writers. They are the books that made an impression on me in my teenage and college years and still feel new and vital to me today. They are the books that I talk about to friends, thrust into the hands of aspiring writers, and that I wish I’d written. They are the yellowed, forgotten paperbacks I keep buying out of pure devotion whenever I see them in used bookstore, even though I have more copies than I’ll ever need.
I’ve been at this long enough that many of my own books have fallen out-of-print, too. But I brought them back in new, self-published Kindle and paperback editions and, to my surprise and delight, they sold extremely well. It occurred to me that if I could do it for my books, why couldn’t I do the same thing for all those forgotten books that I love?
So, a little over two years ago, I started negotiating with the estate of an author whose books I greatly admire but that never achieved the wide readership and acclaim that they deserved. I was in the midst of those talks when, at a Bouchercon in Albany, I told my buddy Joel Goldman, a good friend, mystery writer, lawyer, and a successful self-publisher of his own backlist, what I had in mind.
Joel got this funny look on his face and said, “That’s a business model. I really think we’re really on to something.”
It turned out that, like me, he’d been getting hit up constantly at the conference by author-friends who were desperate for his advice on how they could replicate his self-publishing success with their own out-of-print book, many of which had won wide acclaim and even the biggest awards in our genre. He’d been trying to think of a way he could help them out.
Now he thought he had the solution. What if we combined the two ideas? What if we republished the books that we’d loved for years as well as the truly exceptional books that only recently fell out of print?
It sounded great to me. And at that moment, without any prior intent, we became publishers of what we considered to be the best crime novels in existence. It was a brash act and that’s how, as naturally as we became publishers, we found our company name.
One of the first calls I made was to Tom Kakonis, whose books were a big influence on me, to ask if we could republish his out-of-print titles. He was glad to let us take a crack at it. He also mentioned that he had a novel that he wrote some years ago, but had stuck in a drawer because he’d been so badly burned by the publishing business. I asked if I could read it and he sent it to me. I was blown away by it and so was Joel. We couldn’t believe that a book this good, that was every bit as great as his most-acclaimed work, had gone unpublished. It was a gift for us to be able to publish it. And that’s how, unintentionally, we decided to publish brand new books, too.
Tom’s unpublished novel, Treasure Coast, became our lead title when we launched in September 2014 with 30 book from authors as diverse as Barbara Neely, Dick Lochte, Gar Anthony Haywood, Dallas Murphy, Maxine O’Callaghan, Bill Crider, and Jack Lynch. In our first year, we published eight to 10 novels each quarter, one of which was a brand new, never-before-published book. In November 2015, we changed up and published only three books all brand new, never-before-published titles. That was a big success for us. So now we’re on track to publish two or three books a quarter, one or two of which are brand new, the others back-in-print titles from the back lists we've acquired.
It’s a business that’s very much a labor of love for us both. We get a bigger thrill now out of seeing new copies of our authors’ books than we do our own. The widow of one of our authors got teary-eyed over Brash’s editions of his out-of-print books because we were treating them the way he’d always wanted. We got tears in our eyes, too. We started Brash Books for moments like that and for Tom’s dedication in Treasure Coast:
“For Lee Goldberg, who may have rescued me.”
Our goal is to introduce readers, and perhaps future writers, to great books that shouldn’t be forgotten and to incredible new crime novels that we hope will be cherished in the future.
And yet, to our frustration, our list still doesn’t include any books by that obscure, deceased author who brought Joel & I together in this brash, publishing adventure. We’re still negotiating with that author’s estate. But we’re not giving up. I love those books too much to let go. I just bought two more of them at a flea market today.
ST: Was it difficult to switch from writer to publisher?
LG: Not really, because as I mentioned before, I self-published my out-of-print backlist and some new work. I also launched an original, self-published series called The Dead Man. William Rabkin and I wrote the first two books, and then we hired authors to write the others, putting out a new book each month. It was a big success. Amazon Publishing's 47North imprint picked up the series and it ran for two years. We did 24 novels with Amazon. It was great fun.
ST: What do you look for in a manuscript?
LG: What we look for is a strong voice, a fresh approach, a compelling plot, well-developed characters, and absolutely no clichés—in phrases or situations. If we aren't wowed in the first 25 pages, we know our readers won't be, either. We also look to our Brash motto—“we publish the best crime novels in existence"—as the bar each manuscript has to meet. If we can't say that we honestly believe the book lives up to that hype, we can't publish it.
ST: How do Brash Books readers influence what you publish?
LG: If readers clearly love the first book in a series, and buy a bazillion copies, that gives us an incentive to publish more. If they sales are terrible, we aren’t likely to release any sequels. That goes for both backlist and new titles, of course.
ST: As a publisher, what are the biggest issues you find with new authors?
LG: Terrible, cliché-ridden writing, and one-dimensional, stock characters.
If I read one more submission about a drug or alcohol addicted, divorced cop/FBI agent/journalist/PI haunted by the death/murder/suicide of a beloved friend/family member, misunderstood and unappreciated by his incompetent bosses, and tormented by a deranged serial killer, I might have to set myself on fire.
ST: What does the future hold for Brash Books?
LG: I hope tremendous success for our authors and their terrific books!
ST: What advice do you give to new writers? Both as a writer and publisher.
LG: If you want to write, you have to read. That’s the best education for a writer.
Proofread your manuscript.
Do not frontload your manuscript with exposition. It’s boring and it’s lazy.
Query letters are important. If your query letter is sloppy, unfocused, badly written, filled with clichés, and addressed to a literary agency or someone else besides us, the odds of us reading your manuscript have plummeted below zero.
ST: Can you tell us one random fact about yourself?
LG: I’ve just discovered, and fallen in love with, limoncello. I am going to try to make some myself.