My Journey To Becoming A Published Novelist (Part 2), by Douglas W Jacobson
When I set out to write Night of Flames I had no idea what I was doing. I was a 55 year old engineer and business owner who had never written anything except technical reports and business proposals, but I loved to read and I had always wanted to be an author. I had also always loved WW2 history.
Twenty years ago I read Herman Wouk’s classic novels of WW2, Winds of War and War and Remembrance, and I was hooked. I was hooked on WW2 history and I was hooked on wanting to tell great stories. I’ve always loved to tell stories. I tell them to my grandchildren (I have seven) all the time. So, I decided to write a novel… no, not an article, not a short story… a novel. Just like Herman.
So I did. Starting in the year 2000, just after spending an emotional and inspiring week in Normandy, I spent the next four years doing research and writing Night of Flames (though that wasn’t its title at the time). I finished in 2004, looked at the enormous manuscript and said, “Now what?”
My wife, Janie, happened to attend a women’s club meeting about that time where a local author gave a presentation. Janie went up to the author after the meeting and said some thing along the lines of, “My husband just wrote this book and he’s wondering what to do now…” You can imagine how many times the author had been asked the same question. What the author did, bless her heart, was to give Janie the name of a writer’s studio in Milwaukee, called Redbird Studios.
Redbird was founded and is still run by a live-wire lady named Judy Bridges who has a passion for helping would-be writers become real writers. I contacted Judy and paid her to read the first eight chapters of my book. Two weeks later we sat down and she broke the news to me which went something like, “You know, this is a pretty good story but the writing is, well, shall we say…” She said that if I was willing to devote another year or so to learning how to write fiction in a way that someone else may actually want read it, she could help. So I did… and she did.
By mid-2005 I was ready to be published. I needed a publisher. I whipped up a query letter, a synopsis, took out a subscription to Writer’s Market… then sat back and watched the rejection letters pile up. I’ve been in business for thirty years, much of it sales work, so I’m pretty used to rejection but I believed in my story.
I received every type of rejection you can imagine, from agents and publishers alike. Some were mere postcards of the “thanks but no thanks” kind. Some were one line emails. Some came after the agent and/or editor read a chapter or two, and in one quite remarkable case, from an agent who, after reading the entire manuscript, said she wasn’t sure there was much interest in WW2. On the phone (yep, I called her right after receiving that bizarre comment) she sounded like she was about nineteen, so I figured I might as well be talking about the crusades.
One day while clicking through the postings on the Writer’s Market site, I came across a publisher in Ithaca, New York who specialized in action-oriented historical fiction, would accept queries direct from authors and was in the market for stories with strong female characters. Ah ha, I thought. My main character, Anna Kopernik, survived the bombardments of Warsaw, a German prison camp and a sexually perverted SS officer.
Jackie Swift, the senior editor of McBooks Press, asked for a few sample chapters. Then, a few weeks later, she asked for the entire manuscript – always a good sign, but I’d been down that road before. I waited patiently for a few more weeks then opened a letter one fine day in October of 2005 (a three page letter, by the way) in which Jackie told me everything she got out of the story and said that, if I’d be willing to do a few things, like reduce the word count by 20% (you’re not Herman Wouk yet, Doug) and beef up the ending, they’d be interested in publishing it.
The rest, as they say, is history…
Douglas W Jacobson’s author website: www.douglaswjacobson.com
United States (and beyond)
United Kingdom (and beyond)
Australia (and beyond)
Writing Historical Novels