Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Publishing Tips from William Bernhardt, Author and Extraordinary Teacher

I've excerpted part of Bill Bernhardt's Red Sneaker Writers Newsletter below in order to share some of his insights with you about the changing publishing industry. I was in a week-long writing workshop of Bill's a few years ago, and the man's intelligence and ability to teach writers how to put together a book that will sell are fantastic. Here's some of what he has to say in his current newsletter:

"What you need to know:  Much as you might like traditional books, as writers we must realize that in the future, the ebook clause will be the most important part of your publishing contract, and the paper book clause will be an “ancillary right.”  Traditional books will not disappear altogether, but they will eventually become a luxury item indulged in by an older demographic that can afford to send money on something they can get more efficiently, quickly, and inexpensively in digital form.


I polled a different panel of agents this month, but the answers were not tremendously different:

  1. Romance—with vivid (but not off-putting) sex scenes, and a unique twist readers haven’t seen before.  The largest traditional publisher of romances, Harlequin, has suffered significantly diminished sales all year.  The success of Fifty Shades of Gray and its clones have apparently siphoned away sales of traditional romances.  We could be witnessing an enduring shift in what readers want.
  2. Paranormal teen romance--with high stakes and a unique approach.  What previous generations saw as fantasy or horror is now considered mainstream.  Note that the most popular television show in America at this time isThe Walking Dead.  This is the first time a cable show—a program not on one of the three major networks—has been number one.  I’m also pretty sure it’s the first time the top show has involved a group of people being slaughtered by zombies; and
  3. Some record advances are being paid for inspirational fiction, particularly at Thomas Nelson (which was recently acquired by deep pocket Harper Collins).


Here are my suggestions:

  1. Write every day.  But you knew I was going to say that, right?
  2. If you’re writing something you consider Christian fiction, consider whether you can give it broader appeal without sacrificing your personal writing goals.  Could it be inspirational or spiritual without specifically targeting a particular religion?
  3. What do you think is the biggest problem facing this country today?  Can you concoct a story that in the course of the telling exposes that problem?  This was the approach Dickens used when he planned his novels, and they turned out fairly well.
  4. If you’ve pitched a book and the agents are turning it down cold, you need to make the premise more unique, interesting, or large.  In the more likely case that they ask to see your manuscript but don’t take you on as a client, it indicates that your writing needs work.  Consider more revision or getting outside help."
If this resonates with you, and you're looking for a serious, good writing workshop, I highly recommend working with Bill Bernhardt. Here's what's coming up:


I’m teaching a Level 1 seminar on November 12-16 in Oklahoma City.  The class is limited to eight people or fewer.  Be prepared to work.  We meet approximately four hours a day, you will have homework, and I will read and edit your work every night (and before the seminar begins).  This requires a lot of effort, but you will see a difference in your writing by the time it's all over.  I’m also planning a Level 3 seminar for the week of April 15-19, 2013. 
For more info on the small group seminars, visit my website:


  1. Thanks for sharing this. Interesting to see what agents are looking for.

    1. I agree, Natalie. It's always good to have views from different parts of the country, too, and with Bill being in Oklahoma, I think we get a view that's a bit different from heavily New York-based focus.

  2. Linda, this is great. And you know how I feel about Bill. He is awesome! I will get to see him in January in Maui.

    Always it's important to know what agents want, but we should always write what's in our hearts. You know... that's a great question... do we write for someone, or for ourselves?

    Thanks for another great post!

    1. It IS a great question, Karlene. It seems like 'for ourselves' is the obvious answer, but there's no question that sometimes our interests are not shared by enough others to make them good fodder for publication. Simple fact. Great writing can make lots of topics more accessible and interesting, but can't always be the answer. At least, that's my two cents! :)

  3. Thanks Linda for sharing Bill's thoughts with us. We all need to keep current and know what agents and publishers are looking for as well as how our industry is changing faster than the weather.