My Writing Life, Part 1

Richard BrawerAfter graduating the University of Florida and a stint in the National Guard, Richard Brawer worked 40 years in the textile and retail industries.  He spends his retirement years writing novels, sailing and gardening.  He has two married daughters and one granddaughter and lives in New Jersey with his wife Ruth.


How did I get started writing books?

Before retiring I lived at the New Jersey shore and commuted an hour and ten minutes to New York City by train.  To fill the time I read the newspaper in the morning and books on the ride home.

Always having a vivid imagination, I would occasionally come across a newspaper article that really hit me and I would wonder what would happen if―?  I didn’t do anything with my wonderment until I retired in 1998.  In the warm months I did a little sailing and gardening but I needed something more to fill my days in the winter.

Then I read a horrendous article in the newspaper about a father in Boston whose child was born with brain damage and he refused to take him home from the hospital.  He thought he could return the child like a damaged piece of merchandise he bought in a store. The nurses were outraged and their disgust was quoted in the article.  That’s when my imagination took over and I asked myself, “What if the child was misdiagnosed?”

With mysteries being my favorite genre to read I took that thought and began making notes.  The notes turned into paragraphs and the paragraphs into chapters.  Thus my first mystery, The Nurse Wore Black was born.

So now I had a book, but what do I do with it?

Being a complete novice, I did the usual things most new writers do―I sent out query letters to agents and received a stack of rejection letters. Lamenting my woes to a friend, he told me about a publisher, Vista Publishing, in Long Branch, New Jersey, the town next to mine that specialized in publishing books about nurses.  Excited, I dropped in cold to their office. Two weeks later they said they wanted to publish my book. Wow!

When I saw the finished product, the “Wow” factor fell into the depression factor. The cover was not well done and leafing through the book I saw a number of typos.  The publisher had never discussed the cover with me nor did they offer me a proof of the typeset book to look over. At the time I didn’t know enough to ask for them. As far as I knew, I thought they would do the editing as well as create a proper cover.  Needless to say, I did not push to sell this book.  It was an embarrassment.

The moral to this story is, be involved in every step of the publishing process. View the cover. Don’t take it for granted. Demand a proof of the book. If you find poor editing, demand the publisher re-edit or pay to have it edited yourself.

My second book, Diamonds are for Stealing, was inspired by another newspaper article about phony diamonds.  It was published in 2001 by Hilliard and Harris. With the above experience still weighing heavily on my mind I was totally involved in the publishing process, especially proof reading. Hilliard and Harris did a wonderful job editing and publishing this book. I could not find one mistake. So what happened that made me not want to give them my next book? It was in their contract, which here again was a learning experience.

As with Vista, Hilliard paid all the publication expenses to bring this book to market.  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.

As we all know, 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 felt I was entitled to some return from the sale of book one even if it was only a nickel a copy.  (I did eventually sell enough books to get some royalties.)

Again, the moral: Read your contract carefully and get a lawyer to go over it.  Study every clause. If you don’t like something try and get it changed. If the publisher balks you have two choices, agree or don’t sign, but at least you know exactly what you are getting into.

What do you do with your book after it’s published?

In today’s world, even if you are published by a large New York City publisher, unless you are a major author you have to promote your own book.  Thus you need a marketing plan.  There are many ways to promote your work―social networking sights, twitter, book signings, mass mailings, through your website, joining internet book discussion groups.  You must create your own plan and work at it if you want to sell books.  It’s time consuming but when you see the reviews and get the feedback it is well worth the effort.

Silk LegacyI would like to talk a little bit about self publishing.

I was born in Paterson, New Jersey but moved to the Jersey shore at the age of twelve.   One day I read an article that lectures and historical tours were being held in Paterson, America’s first industrial city and the home of the silk industry in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  I thought it would be interesting to learn about the city where I had spent such a short time.

After the lectures my imagination started taking over again and I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting so set a novel in the hey-day of the silk industry.  But I wrote mysteries and suspense novels.  What did I know about writing historical fiction?  Thus I started reading that genre to see how historical fiction novels were written.  I soon realized that writing any novel, whether it be a mystery or historical fiction, have two basic similarities.  You need well rounded CHARACTERS and CONFLICT.

One of the lectures series was about a silk strike in 1913 that shut down 300 mills for five months.  I decided to use that strike as the major conflict.  So I took the highlights I learned from the lectures and tours and did some deep research.  Besides labor unrest, that era in American history was quite volatile with women fighting for suffrage, reproductive freedom, and child welfare.  Thus Silk Legacy was born.

In early twentieth century Paterson, NJ, where silk magnates rule the city with an iron fist and treat their immigrant laborers as an expendable commodity in their insatiable quest for wealth, a domineering silk industrialist clashes with his progressive suffragist wife and his radical unionist brother as he battles to save his business and keep his family from being torn apart during The Great Silk Strike of 1913 in Paterson, New Jersey.

Jealousy, infidelity, arrogance, greed—the characters’ titanic struggles will catapult you into the heights of their euphoria and the depths of their despair.  Who will triumph and who will be humbled is not certain until the last page.

I tried to get a publisher interested, but again couldn’t land one. To this day I don’t know why.  I’ve read a lot of historical fiction and I knew this was a good book.  Thus, since I was sixty-five, I didn’t want to wait any longer to get the book in print. So I self published it.

As you can see from my web site, http://www.silklegacy.comSilk Legacy has gotten fabulous reviews from everyone who has read it. The reviewers have called it a tumultuous love story, a family saga and a slice of American history.  Unfortunately the vanity press I chose to publish Silk Legacy has succumbed to this recession and gone out of business.  I now own all the rights and have placed the book on Amazon Kindle for $2.99.  It is selling quite well.

A number of things you must realize about self publishing: (1)  You must pay to have the book edited.  (2)  You may even have to pay for the cover design.  (3) You have to be prepared for everyone in the publishing industry to look down their noses at your work. (4) You have to do 100% of the selling yourself.

But self publishing can be rewarding if you are HONEST with yourself.  If you feel you have a good book and a marketing plan to sell the book, go for it. Don’t let the “mavens” in the publishing trade discourage you.  And now with the growth in the number of small press as well as  NOOK and KINDLE you will have fabulous venues to sell you book.

Come back tomorrow for My Writing Life, Part 2


8 thoughts on “My Writing Life, Part 1

  1. The Nurse Wore Black sounds like a book that I need to read. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s installment.


  2. Richard, an excellent cautionary tale. Too many authors get so excited by the prospect of being published that they don’t read the fine (or even not so fine) print in contracts or consider what it means. You’re obviously committed to your writing career. Good luck.


  3. Wow, Richard, you have certainly experienced some of the glitches this business can offer en route to pursuing our dream of just getting the book out there. I look forward to reading the next part!


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