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I Wrote My First Book at 84: Here’s How Other Vets Can Get Published Too

Top tips on how to get your military story into bookstores


spinner image Dale A. Jenkins
Courtesy Dale A. Jenkins

Writing a book and getting it published are huge undertakings for anyone. When I embarked on this, I was 80 years old.

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You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published twice a month. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

I am proud to say that I did it. Diplomats & Admirals was self-published last December, by which time I was 84.

Each person is different, but I feel my experience means I can offer a few pieces of advice that might be helpful for others. 

Know your motivation

Writing a book at this stage of life was not primarily to make money or achieve belated fame — though if you want those things, that’s fine. I wanted to make a lasting contribution to history by writing about a subject that came from my experiences and that, in my view, had been neglected.

I served in the Navy from 1960 to 1963 after receiving a commission at the conclusion of my NROTC training. My perception was that the general public was not sufficiently aware of the contributions of the Navy, particularly during the first year of World War II. 

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Source of inspiration

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the engagement of U.S. forces in combat for the first nine months of the war was entirely a Navy commitment because it was not possible to insert combat troops anywhere. While the ships in the Atlantic battled Nazi U-boats, the naval victory at Midway in June 1942 allowed troops to be landed at Guadalcanal two months later. We were on course to victory in the Pacific war.

Keep it simple

I started writing on my laptop, using Microsoft Word. Yes, there are more sophisticated programs, but I use what I know how to use. 

Do your research

One of the benefits of being retired is that you have the time to do things properly. There are documents on the internet that were classified for many years, and I made use of them.

I also visited the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, where I used my Apple iPhone to photograph original action reports of the naval battles of the Pacific war. 

Savor the process 

When I say original reports, I mean I held in my hand Adm. Chester Nimitz’s typed report on the Battle of Midway and could trace with my finger over the original blue ink signature, “CW Nimitz.” There are thrills in this work. 

At the U.S. Naval Academy Museum, I read a handwritten account by a Midway flyer. I copied scanned documents at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. At the Houghton Library at Harvard, I photographed original reports by Ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew.

Move with speed

I did not want to spend a year trying to convince an agent they could make money from my work, and another year for a traditional publisher to do the same. Amazon sells half the books in the United States, and that has broken the control of the book market by the traditional publishers. 

Enlist help

Companies that handle self-published works, including Amazon, WordPress and IngramSpark, supply large amounts of information about how one can achieve an audience for one’s work at very little expense. In my own case, I invested in professional help. I found a publicist on the internet who could make people aware that my proposed book was going to be out there. 

The publicist led me to a project manager who took my Word document and produced a book. 

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To make the book look attractive and professional, I brought on board a creative artist. I was introduced to a young woman from Jamaica who is a computer whiz, and she designed a website, www.daleajenkins.com.  

My youngest daughter is great on social media, and I have a growing following on Facebook, Instagram and the others. I don’t understand what she is doing, but it is happening.

Consider the finances

My publicist costs about $1,200 per month, plus bonuses for accomplishments such as getting me booked for speaking engagements, articles published, podcasts, etc. My start-up project manager has charged about $8,000 over the past year. Other talented people on my team get hourly compensation at about $50 per hour, including my daughter. 

Royalty revenue is starting to come in. In the first few months, it was minimal, but now it is about $600 per month, and I see that doubling within six months as positive reviews continue.

Bottom line

My book is out there, building a following among young and old every day. I still have my original Word document, and when I look down to the lower left corner for the word count, it says 107,765 words. I wrote every word myself.

If I can do it, you can too.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published twice a month. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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