Over brunch, John Snyder can’t help but declare his love of Christmas. A devoted Christian, he has more than one reason to love the holiday.
For one thing, his second Christmas book, “Jacob’s Bell,” came out in October. And his first one, “The Golden Ring,” has the full support of Dan Angel, a multiple Emmy award-winning producer, to be made into a movie.
How did Snyder get to this point? With dogged determination and a lot of legwork.
“I’m a writer until the manuscript comes out,” he says, “and then I’m a book salesman.”
A retired public relations and advertising firm owner, Snyder currently lives with his wife in Mocksville, but during his career, he was based in the Maryland/Washington D.C. area.
It was at that time in the late ’90s he had a conversation with his grandmother.
“We sat at her kitchen table drinking coffee and eating leftover Christmas cookies,” he says.
She told him about one of her childhood Christmases, which captivated Snyder. He took her story and wrote a 40-page draft that he teased into book length — with his grandmother acting as “technical supervisor.”
The result is a heartwarming story set in the early 20th century about a Pennsylvania family, a strange dream, and the true meaning of Christmas. Like any good writer, Snyder doesn’t explain what’s real and what’s fiction.
“I always let my mind and heart take me while I’m writing,” he says. “Some of it is based on reality, and some is embellished.”
Because Snyder wanted to get his grandmother’s story out as quickly as possible, he didn’t waste time looking for an agent, which proved challenging — two became dead ends — so he decided to self-publish.
“I did the typeset and layouts myself,” he says.
Thanks to Snyder’s go-getter attitude and marketing background, 5,000 copies sold well, Because of excellent sales, Warner Books (now known as Grand Central Publishing) bought the rights to republish. He made appearances on TV and radio, and offered book signings at bookstores in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.
A changing industry
Snyder emphasizes the need for authors to go to potential readers, not the other way around.
“I handed out flyers to customers standing in line to buy presents at Christmastime,” he says, “and I had a stack of my books at the register.”
Because of these efforts, 30,000 more copies flew off the shelves, and Snyder was able to garner beta readers for his next book drafts. He also had just enough time to give a copy to his grandmother — and for The Cumberland Times to write an article about her and the book — before she passed away.
“We buried her with a copy of it,” he says.
Eventually, he got another idea for a Christmas book. “Jacob’s Bell” takes place during World War II, when a down-on-his-luck alcoholic father attempts to reconcile with his estranged children one last time. The “bell” refers to the Salvation Army bell, a symbol Snyder associates strongly with Christmas.
“My family has gone out to ring the [Salvation Army] bell, taking shifts,” he says.
Hachette Book Group published “Jacob’s Bell” in October, so Snyder is currently working on marketing the book, although the industry has changed significantly since the late ’90s.
“The dynamic is different,” he says.
“With so many bookstores consolidating or out of business, it can be difficult to find shelf space.”
A fan of Nicholas Sparks’ early work, Snyder loves stories that speak to the heart. He’s written two love stories — “not romance,” he cautions, since they don’t necessarily include all of the conventional elements. One, called “The Bracelet,” is about a missing-in-action Vietnam soldier who, decades later, reunites with his long-lost love.
“My generation is dying out,” he says. “I think they’d like one last trip.”
To buy Snyder’s books (available in multiple formats) and to sign up for his newsletter, visit johnsnyder.net.