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. 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.
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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.)

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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.)

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