Three years ago this week, Joel Goldman and I launched our publishing company Brash Books with thirty titles, all of them acclaimed, award-winning books that had fallen out of print…and that we brought back in new print and digital editions.
All mystery writers have them—the cherished, often underappreciated, 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 bookstores . . . 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 a year ago, I started negotiating with the estate of an obscure 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 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 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 books . . . 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 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. His thrillers, including Michigan Roll and Criss Cross, achieved that perfect, delicate balance between drama and dark, almost outrageous humor, without going too far in either direction. It’s a skill that Elmore Leonard and Tom mastered, and that I’d hoped to some day be able to pull off myself. (I’m still trying.) I read Tom’s books the first time for pure pleasure but then again . . . and again . . . to see if I could discover how the magic was done.
In the mid 90s, I sold my first hardcover novel under my own name, My Gun Has Bullets, to St. Martin’s Press and went to a Bouchercon with a bunch of bound galleys in my bag. I spotted Tom there and nervously approached him for a blurb . . . and to my astonishment, he not only agreed to read my galley, but a few weeks later, he gave me a great review. Getting that blurb was almost as exciting for me as being published in the first place.
I’d never forgotten that experience. Or him. So naturally he was at the top of my call-list when we started this venture. And this time, he thrilled me again by saying yes to letting us republish his books. 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 thirty books . . . from authors as diverse as Barbara Neely, Dick Lochte, Gar Anthony Haywood, Dallas Murphy, Maxine O’Callaghan, Bill Crider, and Jack Lynch, to name just a few. Now we’re on track to publish eight to ten novels each quarter, one or two of which will be brand new, never-before-published books.
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.”
For me, that was coming full circle. I may have rescued him, but the example he set with his books helped launch my career . . . and now a publishing company, too.
Our goal with Brash Books 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 and 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. . . .
Brash Books is launching tomorrow with thirty books by twelve amazing authors…and I am SO excited. I’m pleased to say that the buzz has already been very positive. For example, last week Kirkus Reviews did a great interview with me and my Brash cofounder Joel Goldman . Here’s an excerpt:
The Brash editions I’ve seen so far are handsome, trade-size paperbacks, with bold cover imagery and elegant interior design. “Joel and I decided right off that we were either going to do this ‘first-class’ or not at all,” says Goldberg, “with high-quality covers that vividly and definitively establish a franchise for each author or series that we are publishing. We also decided that our covers would be contemporary, regardless of when the stories take place, and that they would pop in thumbnail but be rich in details and textures when seen full-size. We believed that strategy, that look, would instantly set us apart from our competitors, many of whom are either marketing their books with ‘vintage paperback’ or ‘pulpy’ covers that immediately date the product, or are churning out hundreds of generic covers based on a few rigid templates to control their costs. It was a pricey decision for us to make, but we believe it’s the right one.”
Will the gumption and gusto shown by Brash Books help it triumph in an increasingly decentralized publishing environment, one that’s already spawned other paperback reprint houses (such as Hard Case Crime and Stark House Press)? It’s hard to tell. The two partners behind it, though, are certainly optimistic. “We wouldn’t be investing this much of our money into Brash if we didn’t love each and every book we are publishing,” Goldberg states. “We are also having a lot of fun together doing this. Yes, it’s a business. But it’s also been really exciting and fulfilling…especially when an author, or an heir, tells us how much they love the books and how much it means to them, emotionally, to see them brought back in such beautiful new editions. You can’t beat that feeling.”
We had so much to say that J. Kingston Pierce, the writer of the interview, took the quotes that he couldn’t fit into his Kirkus piece and ran it as a long, detailed post on his excellent blog The Rap Sheet. Here’s an excerpt:
JKP: Do you worry that with such a huge single-month rollout, some of the individual works you’re publishing might get lost?
JG: We’d be crazy if we didn’t worry about that, because we don’t want to publish more books than we can support.
LG: But we also wanted to make a big splash, to launch with a list of books that truly announces who we are, that represents the range of work that we’re publishing, and that demonstrates the high quality that sets us apart from our competitors.
JG: Our marketing plan is a solid mix of old-school and new-school promotion, including magazine and convention ads, online ads, social media, and our killer Web site. We’ve hired an ad agency and a PR firm to help us, and we’re going to as many conventions as we can to get the word out.
LG: The best advertisements we have are our books and our authors. People are blown away by how gorgeous our books are and are very enthusiastic about the authors we’re publishing. Those readers are spreading the word for us better than any tweet or Google ad can.
And if that wasn’t enough, Publishers Weekly gave our premiere novel, Tom Kakonis’ Treasure Coast, a great review:
After more than a decade’s absence, Kakonis (Michigan Roll) returns with a darkly humorous caper novel that throws together an odd mix of characters whose conflicting aims and shifting alliances result in mayhem on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Failed gambler Jim Merriman makes an ill-considered promise to his dying sister to “watch out” for her hapless 21-year-old son, Leon. Con man B. Noble Bott and his assistant, Waneta Pease, are concocting a new scheme with Waneta serving as a medium to put the living in contact with the departed. Mismatched debt collectors, racist thug Morris Biggs and Latino Hector Pasadena, are about their nasty business, which includes Leon. Billie Swett, naïve trophy wife of Big Lonnie Swett, is the piece that will inadvertently connect them all. A hastily concocted kidnapping scheme, an ape-like PI named Don McReedy, and an incipient hurricane stir the plot. Kakonis overwrites at times, but he still offers strong entertainment.
We’re expecting more articles and reviews about Brash in the coming days. But what I really can’t wait to hear is what you think of our books… and whether you believe that we are living up to our motto: we publish the best crime novels in existence.