Is the Second Novel Really Easier?

Of all of the myths I’ve heard about writing and getting published, this one has always intrigued me. After finally nailing my butt to the chair and grinding out the novel that had been floating around in my mind for decades, and after finally getting it published, how can doing it a second time be any more difficult than falling off a log? Or so I thought.

Doug is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Kristan won.)


Guest column by Douglas W. Jacobson, author of
The Katyn Order (March 2011, McBooks Press).
Doug’s first book, Night of Flames: A Novel of
World War II, won the 2008 “Outstanding
 Achievement Award” from the Wisconsin Library
Association. His second book, The Katyn Order,
was hailed by Publishers Weekly as “a solid WWII
thriller. The author makes the bloody fight for
Warsaw both exciting and suspenseful.” Doug
is an engineer, business owner and World War
Two history enthusiast. See his website here.


When I wrote Night of Flames—the novel that’d been kicking around in my head for decades—I did it more to get it out of my mind and onto paper than with any real thoughts about getting it published. Then—after a hundred or so rewrites, critiques, and crumpled piles of paper—it was finished. And getting it published was all I could think about. The rejection letters piled up, along with snappy little post cards that said, “Thanks, but … and the best of luck.” And then it happened. Night of Flames was published. It was a real live book, on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, and the e-pages of Amazon.

That was when I entered phase two of this quirky, murky industry.

Someone has to get out and market the book. And I learned real fast who that would be. It’s the stark reality of book publishing in the 21st century for anyone who’s not John Grisham. Pinned to the wall in my office is a cartoon I clipped from The New Yorker several years ago. A book publisher sitting behind her desk in a swanky New York office says to a startled author, “We’d love to publish your book, do nothing to promote it, and watch it disappear from the shelves in two months.”

Well, OK, I’m a fast learner. Before long I was giving book talks to Rotary clubs, library groups, WW2 historical clubs, eating chicken salad, and signing books. And what question do you suppose everyone asked. You guessed it. “When does your next book come out?”

The next one? Good God! This one took six years! But I couldn’t disappoint my readers, could I? Not after all that chicken salad. So, I dove into “the next one.” Is it a sequel? Of course, isn’t “the next one” always a sequel? Well, not always, but certainly the same characters. After all, I know them better than my own kids. But wait! Some of them died. Ah yes, I remember … I had them killed. Damn! Well then, the same genre for sure, historical fiction, World War Two. After all, I’ve been researching it for decades.

So, if it’s not a sequel, it’s got to be its own story, an important story, another one of those that had also been kicking around under my hat. With new characters, fresh, full of their own issues, their own dreams and self-doubts. Yes, that’s it, a whole new story, new plot, new twists and turns.

I pitched it to the publisher, and they liked it enough to double the advance (though I still kept my day job). Night of Flames is doing well, so of course they want another book. How soon? Certainly not another six years. After all, they remind me, you’re not exactly Herman Wouk yet. You don’t want everyone to forget you. No, no, I assure them, this’ll be a piece of cake. After all, now I know what I’m doing.

So, three and a half years later, The Katyn Order hit the shelves, a story of intrigue and danger, of human courage, love, and a quest for redemption.

And now, the third one …?

Doug is excited to give away a free copy of his novel to a random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Kristan won.)

Writing a novel? Agent/writer Donald Maass
is a fiction writing expert, and his book
Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook
can guide you on your journey.



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12 thoughts on “Is the Second Novel Really Easier?

  1. Elaine Cougler

    Oh, the frustration! Do sports figures have to go through all of this?
    The upside of all the promotion is the multitude of like-minded people we meet along the way. Facebook, Twitter–that’s where I found you–blog, surfing–they are the road map to readers and writers. What interesting company to be in.

  2. Kristin Barrett

    Interesting article. I am still hard at work on my first one, but thinking about longevity. Your books sound great, looking forward to reading them. Best of luck with #3.

  3. Kenneth Hoss

    Congratulations, Doug. I picked up the writing bug again after years of nothing and finished up my first full MS in 1 1/2 years. I have it out on query now. All of my writer friends asked me the same question, when are you starting the next book. Well, I’ve started it several times and just can’t seem to get it right. I’m now on the third or fourth incarnation and still less than one-thousand words into it. I just figure that I’ll eventually get to a point where I have something I fall in love with and the rest will come.

    Good luck with #3. 🙂


  4. Wendy Greenley

    Congratulations! Doubling the advance on the second book certainly sounds promising. Hope the same holds true for books 3 (and 4,5,6..)If your post is any indication, everyone who meets you will come away a supporter and so the promo campaign is all worth it.
    Thanks for your story.

  5. wade 2121

    I’ve been working on the 1st for 4 years & can’t even think about anything beyond that. ha ha I’m amazed at anyone who’s written one.

  6. Jake Valenta

    The second and the third, and I can’t even seem to get started on the first!
    I’ve noticed that authors really have to sell themselves to be able to sell their work. I’ve seen many good books go unsold because the authors could only engage their readers on the page and not in person.
    Congrats on getting published, and best wishes on your next one!

  7. Julie Glover

    Interesting post. My first manuscript took a couple of years. Now that I’m starting to pitch it, I’ve received a lot of advice to keep writing so that I have more to show if the first one takes. So now I have one completed manuscript, one in editing, and a third started. It’s a juggling act!

    And I think the second one was harder to write – but probably because of the perspective I chose.

  8. Kristan

    "After all, I know them better than my own kids. But wait! Some of them died. Ah yes, I remember … I had them killed. Damn!"

    Hehe, that made me smile.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and good luck on book 3!

  9. Jillian Kent

    Hi Doug,
    I feel your pain. 🙂 I’ve just published my first novel and am in the midst of revisions for book two which is due to release next May. The turn around time is scary and I think book two is every bit as complicated and difficult to pound out as book one and book 3 must be done about six months after that so I’m writing it while revising and working my day job. It’s challenging to say the least but I love it. Keep on! Congratulations!

  10. Matt

    Congratulations, Doug. Did you ever think of going the self-publishing route? I wonder if that might not be better, especially since the publisher is not going to help promote the book. Of course, you have to do all the front-end design work as well…

    What’s the 3rd one about? 🙂


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