A lawyer turned author unravels a mystery

James Breiner
7 min readOct 27, 2023

He also self-publishes his work: ‘Nobody cares as much about your book as you do’

Many journalists and lawyers believe they have a book in them. It’s logical. They have a front-row seat on sensational stories of sex, violence, and corruption.

And they see that the public seems to have an insatiable appetite for these stories. Look no further than all the true-crime shows available on television, streaming, and podcasts.

David Miraldi knows both sides of this business. He was a courtroom attorney for decades. And he has published three books based on his research and personal experience.

His latest is “The Edge of Doubt: The Trial of Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen”, which tracks a case involving accusations of sexual molestation of preschoolers in a Head Start program in Lorain, Ohio, in 1993. That case has drawn national attention.

This is not just a review of Miraldi’s story of mass hysteria and justice gone awry. I plan to cover how Miraldi got started in publishing, what he learned about the business, the genre known as “creative non-fiction”, and how he makes money.

( Disclosure: Miraldi is a friend, and I have known him and other family members for many years.)

(Listen to the podcast version of this interview here.)

The road to publishing

“It’s a tough business to crack,” Miraldi told me in an interview via Zoom. “You have two ways to do it. One is to be an independent writer and self publish. The other is to interest an agent in your book and have them promote you and be your gateway to publishers.

“I began by self publishing. I learned to do things on my own.” That included marketing, finding an editor, and hiring a designer for the cover.

His first book, “The Edge of Innocence”, published in 2017, was based on a murder case from the 1960s in which his father represented the accused. That book won Book of the Year from the International Rubery Awards for independent and self-published authors.

“I found out that no one cares as much about your book as you do. If you’re doing it because you have something to say and you love writing, and you like control — and obviously, I like to be in control — I prefer the self publishing route.”

Advice to aspiring authors

I asked David what the market is like for those writing their first novel or their memoirs.

“If they’re thinking about just publishing one book, they probably will be unable to make any money on it unless they’re someone who’s already famous.”

The model that works for most independent writers, Miraldi says, is to offer their first book for free and gather email addresses of people that have read their book.

“Then they have to be prolific and write about every three or four months. Then they can continue to sell more in their series. And if they have an email list of 2,000 people, 5,000 people, and they sell only eBooks, they keep their costs down. They can make $70,000, $80,000 a year writing.”

The cheapest way to go for indie writers is just to produce an eBook, Miraldi says. “However, if you want to market the book, you will need to spend at least $2,500 to $3,000 on a consultant and ads. And if you decide to go with an audio book, then add another $3,000.”

Taking his time

Writing three or four books a year “was not my idea of retirement,” Miraldi says. “It takes time to research.” When he writes a book, he sets it aside for two or three months. Then he repeatedly rewrites and revises his work.

He thought his first book was historical fiction, because he created dialogues and thoughts of the characters, some of whom were dead. But at a book presentation, an author approached him and said, ‘David, this is not historical fiction. This is creative non-fiction’. “ He had never heard of the genre.

Author David Miraldi

When Miraldi submitted his book for the Rubery Awards as fiction, the judges moved it to the non-fiction category. They said that even though he was not quoting directly from most of the characters, “with non-fiction, there is room for imagination.”

He did some research and found that perhaps the first example in this genre was Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” Capote called it “a non-fiction novel.”

The sensational trial

Miraldi’s third book, “The Edge of Doubt”, used these techniques of creative non-fiction. He drew on a host of publicly available sources, including trial transcripts, YouTube videos of court hearings, police reports, newspaper articles, and interviews to create a gripping narrative. At the end of the book, he detailed the sources he relied on for each chapter.

What drove everything in the Ohio case was the accusation of one mother and her relentless lobbying of the media and other parents. She whipped up a frenzy of coverage that put pressure on public officials to arrest and try these two unlikely suspects.

Miraldi shows in the mother’s own statements that part of her motivation was to get a hefty settlement in a civil suit if the two accused people were convicted.

Ultimately four parents sued the agency that oversaw Head Start, and each won a 1.5-million-dollar insurance settlement, nine years after the convictions.

Law enforcement mistakes

There are two compelling stories in the book-one, the saga of the two accused desperately trying to prove their innocence, and two, the bungling, tunnel vision of law enforcement and judicial authorities who blindly accepted the claims of the children and their parents.

This story began before the internet and social media played a role in public controversies, but it feels relevant today. The media-driven mob that called for a lynching in the Head Start case parallels many of the wild conspiracy theories that thrive on social media. Think Alex Jones and the Sandy Hook school massacre.

It was only through the efforts of a crusading investigative reporter, Paul Facinelli, and lawyers of the Ohio Innocence Project that the flaws in the case were revealed.

Interviews of preschoolers

Miraldi shows just how hard it is for law enforcement and the courts to admit that they made a mistake and correct it. Even when new exculpatory evidence was discovered after the convictions, nothing could sway the judge, higher courts or the penal system to reconsider the case.

Miraldi shows just how hard it is for law enforcement and the courts to admit that they made a mistake and correct it. Even when new exculpatory evidence was discovered after the convictions, nothing could sway the judge, higher courts or the penal system to reconsider the case.

Among other things, evidence not available at trial showed how the interviews of the 4- and 5-year-olds by police and prosecutors produced manipulated, unreliable testimony. Transcripts revealed that the children were prodded and even coached into giving testimony that confirmed bizarre sexual practices at Head Start.

Child psychologists who reviewed transcripts of the interviews agreed that the children had been manipulated and that their testimony should be disregarded. Yet these interviews provided the foundation for the state’s case, the material for sensational headlines, and the basis of public opinion.

I won’t spoil the ending of the book. But even a story motivated by seeing justice done has a hard time competing for attention in the noisy media background all around us. Any author with a story to tell needs to know how to use the tools at hand.

eBook, paperback, hardback, audio book

Miraldi launched his story on land, sea, and air, as it were. He uses Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) for selling paperback and eBook editions. “I am also using KDP Select for my eBook as an experiment,” Miraldi told me by email.

“For three months the eBook is only available on Amazon KDP and KDP Select. People can either pay for the eBook and download it to their Kindle [as I did] or they can subscribe to KDP Select, pay a monthly fee, and can download any book on KDP Select as part of the membership. My marketing advisors told me to do that because Amazon will promote the book more.

“I get paid a certain amount per page that is read. Yes, Big Brother Amazon knows how much its subscribers read as part of the app. Pretty scary.”

The print and audio versions

“I also use IngramSpark for paperback and hardback. Some people like a hardback, and IngramSpark gives me that option. While I’m at it, I have Ingram publish a paperback. Barnes & Noble and other independent book stores will order from Ingram for both paperback and hardback. Barnes & Noble will not order a paperback from Amazon.”

The audio version. “My audio book is available on Audible (ACX) and Findaway Voices. Findaway Voices then distributes my audio book to 41 vendors. I have never used Findaway Voices before, and the early returns are not promising.

“I get paid around $1 a download for the audiobook, which is an insult, considering that I paid a lot of money to a narrator and a company to produce the audiobook. I may just stick with Audible where the royalties are fair — 40% of the sales price.”

Conclusion and final thought

Miraldi is also negotiating with a major studio to convert his first book into a miniseries. “I am willing to spend more money now because if the miniseries hits, then all of my books will be more valuable. This is not a model for anyone but me.”

Screenshot from an Amazon web page on Aug. 26, 2023

His marketing strategy recently paid off when all three of his books made it to Amazon’s list of 100 best sellers in the courts category. “I hit the trifecta. I’ve learned that it helps to market the books together — people read one book and then try another.”

There is a lot of debate about how tough it is for any book to break out of the crowd, with scary statistics such as how half of all books sell fewer than a dozen copies.

Miraldi can attest to that.

Originally published at https://jamesbreiner.substack.com.

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James Breiner

Helping digital media entrepreneurs produce trustworthy journalism. English-Spanish. ICFJ, Poynter, DW Akademie, SembraMedia https://jamesbreiner.substack.com/