James Diehl is an award-winning journalist who has covered Sussex County, Delaware for various media outlets since 1998. Since 2007, he has owned and operated a freelance writing company based in Seaford, Delaware and is also a partner in a Lewes, Delaware-based public relations and marketing firm. He is the author of one other work of non-fiction – Remembering Sussex County, from Zwaanendael to King Chicken, published in 2009 by The History Press.
Welcome to Beyond the Books, James. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?
World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware is my second book, both of which have been published in 2009. I’ve been writing for magazines and newspapers for several years, but I just entered into the world of books within the last year or so.
What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?
My first book was titled Remembering Sussex County: from Zwaanendael to King Chicken. It’s a series of 33 vignettes from my home county in Delaware, ranging from when the Dutch first settled the area in 1631 to the mid 20th century. It was published in May, 2009, by The History Press.
For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?
I was very, very lucky. I had been writing historical pieces for a couple of regional magazines and my articles caught the eye of someone from the local historical society. He contacted me and, in turn, put me in touch with someone he knew in the publishing world. Within seven months, Remembering Sussex County was on the shelves.
How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?
Fortunately, I have not had to deal with that aspect of the publishing world yet, though I’m sure I will at some point. No writer wants to hear that their work is not good enough, but you just have to believe in yourself and in your abilities. Take the constructive criticism, if it is constructive that is, and learn from it.
When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?
Remembering Sussex County was published by The History Press. I was referred by a colleague of mine.
How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?
I’ve been in the field of journalism for many years now and had long since lost the excitement that comes with seeing your byline on a story. I must say, however, that I regained that excitement when I saw my name splashed in big letters across the front cover of my very own book. It was very, very exciting! I celebrated by taking my wife and kids out for ice cream.
What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?
The very first thing I did with Remembering Sussex County was have a book signing at a history-themed Memorial Day event in my hometown. It was the first of many such appearances over the spring, summer and early fall. It was a very good marketing tool for me as, after many years as a reporter in the area, my name has become somewhat recognizable in southern Delaware.
If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?
I would have to say no. I was very, very lucky, but I did take full advantage of the opportunity when it came my way. Life is all about making the most of the chances and opportunities you are given. Remembering Sussex County was my first experience with book publishing, but it piqued my interest for much more. It was an experience that eventually led to World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware.
Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?
I’ve had the two books published this year and am in the early stages of a third. As far as the growing process is concerned, the biggest thing for me was making the transition from a magazine and newspaper writer to a book author. It’s a completely different mindset, and one that takes a little while to get accustomed to.
Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?
Again, I was extremely lucky. I was not even considering a book when the opportunity to write one kind of fell in my lap. I feel a little guilty even uttering those words, because I know very well that’s not how things generally work out in this business. I was very fortunate, and I realize that.
What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?
When I had just begun writing the stories that would later become World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware, I received a first place award from the Maryland/Delaware/D.C. Press Association for the series. I have claimed several awards from the organization in the past, but this one was extra special; it laid the foundation for what later became my second book.
If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?
I would love to have Samantha Brown’s job on The Travel Channel, jet-setting around the world to take in different cultures and explore new worlds. How great would that be?
Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?
I wouldn’t change a thing in my life right now. I live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country, I have a wonderful family and I have the pleasure of working at home most of the time. Sometimes, I would like to take a step back and not be quite so busy, but other than that, I wouldn’t change a thing.
How do you see yourself in ten years?
Well, let’s see. I’ll have two teenage girls in the house, so I’m sure that will add a new level of chaos to my life. Professionally, I hope to have completed a series of books honoring our World War II veterans and the sacrifices they made more than a half-century ago so we may live as we do today in the greatest country in the world. I realize the window is closing rapidly on getting such a project done, but I hope to devote a good deal of time to that over the next few years.
Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?
Just keeping plugging away. Keep an open mind and be willing to take advice, as well as constructive criticism. Don’t become so “married” to doing things one way that you lose the ability to make changes mid-stream. Remember that most of the people giving you advice are people who have been down the very road you are now traveling. Above all, do whatever it takes to keep your dreams alive.