Why Overnight Success Would Have Been Bad for my Novel

Guest Blogger: Dennis Brooke

God’s timing is perfect and it’s always later than ours.
—Mrs. Maria Ann Hirschmann

Ten years ago I pitched an idea for a television show to a Hollywood screen writer. He was sold and shopped the idea to several studios, hoping they would snap up my faith-based series.

The concept was based on the idea that John, the last living apostle of Jesus Christ, was still alive and lived in Seattle. It was inspired by John 21:22 where Jesus tells Peter, “If I want [John] to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” The gospel explains that this started rumors that John would not die, but also says that Jesus never meant that John would remain alive until His return.

But I had wondered, what if that’s what Jesus did mean, that John would remain alive until his return? How would John have hidden his identity? How would he influence history? And why would he hide his identity?

Unfortunately, the studios rejected my idea. Not “edgy” enough. Then my new screenwriter friend made a suggestion that changed my life: Write it as a novel.

The Last Apostle - 3D small

In under a year I turned out what I thought was a ready-to-publish manuscript and started sending proposals and query letters to agents and editors. Friends and family members loved it. But the publishing industry was, let’s say, non-responsive.

So I hired Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press to review the first 50 pages. He pointed out my rookie mistakes, gave me some great resources, and provided some important encouragement. I dove into the rewrite.

Then in the fall of 2009 Jeff set up an innovative on-line contest for Christian Spec Fiction that took me, and The Last Apostle, on a wild ride. He accepted 36 manuscripts and posted the premise and synopsis of each—but the author of each work was kept secret. The winner of the Marcher Lord Select contest would be published. The audience debated the merits of each entry for several weeks and then voted. Eighteen advanced and I was floored to find that mine was numero uno!

In round two the first 500 words of each contestant were posted and a spirited discourse ensued. When the votes were counted eight advanced and The Last Apostle still stood on top.

In round three the audience read the first thirty pages. The Last Apostle advanced—again in first place. And the competitor that I thought was best, failed to move up. I was sure I was going to be published!

Voters then read the first sixty pages of each manuscript. Many openly advocated for my entry. But when the final votes were counted, I had lost.

I was crushed.

If I had won and been published, it would have been a dream come true, but in retrospect, it was a good thing.

I wrote and rewrote the manuscript for five years after that near miss. I was encouraged by award-winning and multi-published authors who liked both the concept and the writing. They told me I was “close.” I worked with critique partners and hired Mick Silva, a former WaterBrook Multnomah editor, to give me feedback on the manuscript. I worked with James Rubart on branding and marketing of the manuscript.

I adopted the motto of “Prayer, persistence, and patience equals published” and kept at it. I also learned enough to teach elements of the craft and technology of writing at regional conferences. And I met with a number of editors who were enthusiastic about the manuscript—but couldn’t get it approved by their pub boards.

Finally, last Spring I received an offer from a great quality small press that I met at an American Christian Fiction Writers conference. A counter offer from a Seattle area publisher offered better distribution and culminated in the release of my book on February 1, including an audio version that I narrated.

If I had been published by Marcher Lord Press in 2010 it would not have been nearly as good a book as it is now. I added a strong romantic storyline, serious stakes related to John’s hidden identity, and elements of conflict that were not in the original manuscript. Those improvements came about because of people I met on the journey, people who have in some cases become friends and trusted advisors.

The timing is also better. My intention was always to make this a series. Earlier this year my wife and I managed to retire early and we plan to rove the world for the next three to five years. Now I can live in places like Spain and Ireland to do on-site research—and turn out a better story.

Like the quote at the beginning of this post says, “God’s timing is perfect and it’s always later than ours.” My advice: prayer, persistence, and patience, and trust in His timing.

Book Sale:

The Kindle version of The Last Apostle is available for 99 cents through March 7. Click here or visit http://www.Amazon.com to order.

Book Giveaway:

Ask Dennis a question or post a comment below. Everyone who does will be entered in a drawing for an autographed hard copy of The Last Apostle or a downloadable copy of the audio version. Contest ends midnight, March 7, Pacific Time. Shipping of the hard copy limited to US addresses.


Dennis Brooke medDennis Brooke served seven years as an Air Force officer in duties that took him to Berlin when the wall was coming down. He spent a day in the skies as a “spy,” and spent many alerts 60 feet under the prairies of Montana as a missile officer. Later he stumbled into a career as a project manager, specializing in bringing order from chaos. Until someone proves him wrong, he lays claim to being the only person to have been published in both Combat Crew and Focus on the Family magazines. Not with the same article. Dennis and his wife are globetrotters whose home base is Seattle. He speaks on topics including Wooing Your Wife, Why We Serve, and Web 2.0 and Project Management.

17 comments on “Why Overnight Success Would Have Been Bad for my Novel

  1. Congrats! So true that God’s timing is always perfect (even though I don’t always think so in the moment!).

  2. Great story–so encouraging to someone who’s just getting started! Your novel’s concept sounds fascinating, and it’s a humbling dose of sober reality to see how such a magnetic premise still needed so much love and work and revision before it reached publication. I love Hirschmann’s ultra-applicable quote, too. Thank you so much for sharing your journey!

    • Shannon
      Glad it was helpful. There were times when I considered shelving it and writing something else but encouragement from multi-published authors and editors helped me to keep at it. And the concept is a bit out there for publishers who want to play it safe.
      Prayer, persistence, and patience!

  3. I am in a season where prayer, persistence, and patience are a must! Your words were timely and encouraging! In this season of near misses, I am believing that the “big yes” is right around the corner. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  4. What a great story and great perspective. (and lol at your magazine publications!) The plot sounds amazing, too! I’d say Hollywood doesn’t know what it’s missing out on but then again – I’d say that’s sadly typical.

    • “Sparks”
      Yes, my screenwriter friend had me so excited that I had mentally written my letter of resignation–good thing I didn’t actually write it and turn it in 🙂

  5. Hi Dennis. What steps do you recommend an author take in polishing his or her work?

    • Kathleen: Great question–along the lines of “How do you know it’s finished?” Beginning writers really need to connect with a critique group that contains experienced people who can help them. In time, we need to expect to reach a point where we’re helping those others. ACFW is great for that. I did that though the Northwest Christian Writers Assocation.
      In my case I also chose to hire two editors–one early on (Jeff Gerke) and one about three years back (Mick Silva) to get me over “humps.” And then my publisher hired a third editor who polished it even more.

  6. Something many don’t realize is that the MLP Select contest for manuscripts was an invitational contest. Those invited to participate were mostly gleaned from submissions he liked–he simply couldn’t publish them all. There was a second contest running concurrently for writers to pitch their works (something like 3-5 lines, I think) which was open to everyone.
    A wild ride, indeed! Even though my own manuscript didn’t make it very far, the contest was a blast!
    I think your experience mirrors a many who participated. Rewrite, revise, polish, rinse and repeat. There’s really no shortcut or substitution for the time it takes for our writing to mature, our craftsmanship to improve.

  7. “Clay”
    True–we and our works are better for the journey if we stick with it.
    In my case I learned a lot from the MLP contest and was greatly affirmed. The book that I thought was best was H20 which turned out to have been written by two published authors, Austin Boyd and Brannon Hollingsworth. That book was later published and I struck up a friendship with them and was mentored by Austin. I never would have had that relationship if I had that “overnight” success.

  8. Hello, Dennis. I’m still operating along that same perspective. Puttering away at the story today, working to reduce the word count for an interested editor.

    • Heidi
      An “interested editor” is a good sign. In the early days my submissions were met with silence. It wasn’t until I learned the craft and improved the story that I generated interest from editors and agents.

  9. Congrats to Lauren who won the paperback version of The Last Apostle and Shannon who won the downloadable audio. And thanks to the New Authors Fellowship for having me on as a guest. Glad that my journey has encouraged many of you.

    You can stay in touch with what’s going on with this book and the next at http://www.DennisBrooke.com And if you have a chance to read The Last Apostle, reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, etc. are really appreciated. Most of the reviews so far are from people I don’t know personally. But one from my brother on Amazon is pretty funny.

    Remember: Patience, persistence, and prayer = published!

  10. I mentioned that the book in the Marcher Lord Select contest that I thought was the best did not make the final round. That entry was H2O by Austin Boyd and Brannon Hollingsworth–two multi-published, award winner authors. H2O was published a few years later. One of the results of that contest was I had a chance to establish a friendship with them. Both did an inside the cover endorsement of The Last Apostle. If you like well written spec-fiction read H20: http://amzn.com/0899578063

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