Episode Summary

William Bernhardt takes his experience as a best-selling author and uses it to mentor aspiring writers. He returns to SPI to join Kevin in talking about some self-publishing best practices you’ll want to know!

Episode Notes

William Bernhardt is an award-winning, bestselling author of over 50 books. A celebrated mentor to aspiring authors, William founded the Red Sneaker Writers Center and hosts the annual WritersCon writers conference to help writers get a jump start on their careers. Join us as we uncover some of William’s keys to publishing success.

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William Bernhardt, Kevin Tumlinson

Kevin Tumlinson 00:02

Well hello there everybody, we are live. This is Kevin Tumlinson with Draft2Digital and you’re listening to Self-Publishing Insiders, where we talk to all the folks who are on the inside of self-publishing and can share their wisdom with you. And today I am really thrilled to have someone that I consider a good friend. Bill, I don’t know if you feel the same way, I don’t want to put you on the spot in front of hundreds of people but yes, Bill Bernhardt, William Bernhardt to you if you’re not in the know, author, organizer of the … what’s the official name of your conference?

William Bernhardt 00:40

It’s Writer Con. See? I’m wearing Writer Con merch as we speak.

Kevin Tumlinson 00:45

There you go. And you can get your own Writer Con merch, you can start attending Writer Con every year, Labor Day weekend. And that’s a pretty good conference. We enjoyed being there this last time. I was there with Lexi Greene, who is actually in the comments right now helping folks out. And Dan Wood showed up, he’s local. Lexi is technically local, too.

William Bernhardt 01:12

You guys have been there every year for the last at least five years? You’re like our primary sponsor, always.

Kevin Tumlinson 01:22

The only thing that derailed us at all was some big world event that happened for a year or so.

William Bernhardt 01:30

But I remember you phoned in your talk, or videod in. So you were still there.

Kevin Tumlinson 01:37

Bill, I’m always phoning in my talks. So, welcome to the show. Will. Bill. What do you want me to call you during the show?

William Bernhardt 01:46

I’m William. That’s for book covers.

Kevin Tumlinson 01:49

Very formal. So you you’re one of those people, man. There’s a group of you who are former … well, practicing or former attorneys who decide to write thriller novels. That’s you. You fit that category. What is it about being an attorney that makes you want to become a thriller writer?

William Bernhardt 02:16

I don’t know, except that I do think that, and these are big generalizations, but lawyers tend to be readers. They tend to be verbal. I mean, that’s what lawyering and law school is. You read, you write, you make arguments. It’s pretty much the same as being, some would say you create fictional worlds, it’s pretty much the same as being a writer. So I think that lawyers may be more inclined in that direction than some. Although I know some great doctor writers and at least one architect writer and, you know, it’s certainly not restricted to lawyers.

Kevin Tumlinson 02:53

That’s true. James Rollins is a former veterinarian. So anyone can play in this game, really.

William Bernhardt 02:58

That’s right. Lee Child used to work in television, for pete’s sake, you never know. Patterson, advertising.

Kevin Tumlinson 03:06

Yeah, Lee’s story is one of my favorites. Because he started writing novels as a form of vengeance. And I think that’s just the best reason to become an author.

William Bernhardt 03:18

I’ve heard that story. And here’s the saddest thing I’ll admit, I was at Thriller Fest, this was many years ago, the first time I’d ever been there. And I thought, well, I’ll just see who’s there. I’ll wander down. And there was like one guy in the bar. So I said, hi, you here for thriller fest? Yes. He’s got an accent, you know. And I talked to the guy for like, an hour before I realized I was chatting with Lee Child.

Kevin Tumlinson 03:41

He probably loved it that way. I think he would, in many ways. I think he likes to remain anonymous. Maybe. I don’t know. You can never tell with these guys. He’s doing much more sort of behind the scenes now. But we’re not here to talk about Lee Child, per se. He doesn’t need the help. He’s got all the promotion. So what was it? I mean, you know, we talked about the idea of the lawyer turned thriller novelist, but what was it in particular that drew you to writing? Like, what made you decide you were going to be an author?

William Bernhardt 04:13

Well, the truth is, I always wanted to be a writer. That’s all I ever cared about. My mother says, I was telling people I was going to be a writer when I was seven, which I know seems pretty out there. But hey, it’s my mother. So you gotta believe it right? And if I had any advantage, it certainly wasn’t where I lived, or who I knew, because I didn’t know anybody in the book world. But I did know what I wanted. And I was pretty laser focused on it and was an English major, of course, but shockingly, had not written my first bestseller by the time the end of college was approaching. So I thought I better figure out some way to pay the bills. So I went to law school and that worked out fine. I practiced for about 10 years before the books were going well enough that I thought I could put it aside, but even when I’m not practicing law, I still end up writing about legal things more often than not. So it’s not as if that education was wasted. It turned out to be a great boon.

Kevin Tumlinson 05:11

Yeah, I still put the English degree to work, I think, technically,

William Bernhardt 05:21

Well you can write. And sadly, as any English teacher will tell you, a lot of people can’t these days.

Kevin Tumlinson 05:27

What did you find was the biggest transition, though, from switching from writing for English classes to writing for an audience?

William Bernhardt 05:35

Well, the difference is that, you know, if you’re writing for an audience that it needs to be assessable, and never boring. I mean, not even for a sentence or two, or you risk losing your audience. It just needs to go down like a drink of water. That’s one of the things we talk about in some of the writing programs I’ve done, or the books on writing I’ve done, the Red Sneaker books, one of them Sizzling Style. And that’s what it’s pretty much all about, write and revise and revise and revise, not because you’re trying to show everybody how literary or poetic you are, but because you want the meaning of that sentence to be immediately clear the first time the reader reads it, no speed bumps, and they just keep sailing through. And later on, they say, wow, that was a good read. Or, you know, I couldn’t put it down. Things sometimes critics will make fun of, but when I hear somebody say I couldn’t put that book down, I think there is an author who spent a lot of time on his language, or her language, making sure it was just exactly the way it should be.

Kevin Tumlinson 06:44

Yeah, exactly. So what’s your tip for the best opening line?

William Bernhardt 06:50

Ah, spend a lot of time at it. Because that’s gonna be the most important line you write. And that first page and the first chapter, they’re going to be the most important things in the book. And if you don’t hook people right up front, you may not ever. Sometimes in my small group retreats, I’ll hear somebody say, I know, I’ve got a lot of world building or whatever. But it really picks up in chapter three. You can guess my response. Start with chapter three. Forget about the rest, you can do that later. You got to hook them right up front.

Kevin Tumlinson 07:24

I like that sounds like a chapter head. Is that a chapter head in one of your books?

William Bernhardt 07:28

Probably not, but it should be. It’s not unique to anyone. I published, do I say the name? No, I won’t say the name. But way back in the 90s, I published the first book from someone who is very successful now. And I liked the book when it came in. I thought it had a lot of potential The problem was, and I’m not exaggerating, 50 pages of time waste before the story started. Once the story started, fine. But it was like 50 pages of the protagonist driving down the road making kind of smart aleck remarks about things that weren’t all that funny. And I said, we’re slashing this. And we made other changes, too. But it paid off. And the book sold well. And now she’s doing really well.

Kevin Tumlinson 08:16

That’s the tough part, or it is for me. I mean, deciding what to cut is always tough, right? I want to keep it all. And in fact, I’ll usually take anything I cut and try to figure out a way to work it in somewhere else in the book. If I can, that’s not always possible.

William Bernhardt 08:34

Not me. I’m a big cutter. I’m not exaggerating when I say between first draft and last draft, I typically take out 20,000 words. The first draft is long, you know, I’m just writing. And that’s fine. Because if your first draft is long, then you can hack and slash and it doesn’t matter. It’s still long enough. I’m not sure long enough really even exists. You know, that qualification in the ebook world, because people don’t really notice how long your book is. But I cut and cut and cut and revise and sometimes, you said it’s hard to know when. To me, the standard is, I look at it and say, could this be cut? Not does it have to be, but if it’s cut, do we really lose anything? And if the answer is no, then that gets cut. Sometimes I’ll read a chapter that I’ve written and think that’s fine, but maybe a little longer than it really needs to be. Could I cut a page out of this somehow? And I usually can.

Kevin Tumlinson 09:34

Yeah, you can always take stuff out. I think I’m more of an add stuff in guy honestly. Because what I’ll do … Well, let me start with this. What’s your target word length for a book?

William Bernhardt 09:47

Well, this just shows how old I am. But it’s 80,000 words in my mind. Although I am perfectly well aware that some are going longer. Some are going shorter. I don’t know how many are really going longer anymore. I saw, here I will say the name, good friend of mine, Steve Berry, fantastic writer. But last time we had dinner he told me that he’s still with traditional publishing and they’ve told him shorter, you know, the 80,000 words is fine. They don’t need … Back in the 90s, I think a lot of publishers were encouraging people to write those long Tom Clancyish thrillers because guys would think, well, now I’m getting my money’s worth for this $30 hardcover, because it’s so thick. But nobody thinks that anymore, and paper is expensive. And everyone’s being encouraged to write shorter.

Kevin Tumlinson 10:43

It’s always interesting, I get so many different schools of thought on that word count, because there are rumors in the in the author world, especially in the thriller author world, that certain river-themed retailers prefer for thrillers to be in the 80,000 plus range, and that they won’t promote them otherwise. My experience with my books that tend to be in the 65 to 70 range is that that isn’t necessarily true.

William Bernhardt 11:14

Yeah, I haven’t heard that before. And I’m not, unless you’re being published by the river-themed retailer, or you’re taking out ads with them, I’m not sure how much promotion you can expect.

Kevin Tumlinson 11:27

Maybe that’s where that comes from. Maybe they want their ads aimed at longer books. Who knows? You can’t predict anything about that river. It goes where it wants to go. So okay, so around 80,000 words, that’s your typical target. And you’re saying you cut 20,000? Do you add more in? Or how does that work?

William Bernhardt 11:54

Rarely. Every now and again, I’ll think, you know what this needs, I never did this. And we need to add something here. But mostly it’s just cutting, cutting, cutting.

Kevin Tumlinson 12:03

Yeah, I get the impression from you, Bill, that you are an outliner.

William Bernhardt 12:08

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’ve done it all ways. But I know what works better. Could I write without an outline? Yes, I just think it’d take longer to get to a good draft. And I tend to get up in the morning and want to sit down and do it, but there are other things I want to do too. So I don’t want to spend an hour staring out the window wondering what’s next. And novels are so big, there’s so many characters, and there’s so much going on, it’s really easy to get lost, to get halfway through and think, what is this? Where are we going? It’s really nice to have an outline to look at and say, oh, yeah, right. Okay, back on track.

Kevin Tumlinson 12:51

What do you consider a best practice for outlining? What’s your method?

William Bernhardt 12:56

Well, my wife Laura, who also writes, gives me you know, he can knock out an outline in a day. Who can do that? Well, yeah, I can write it in a day. But that’s only if I’ve been thinking about it for weeks, if you know what I mean. I’ve had the idea, I’ve been making notes, I’ll watch something on television and think, ooh, that that sparks another idea. And I’ll start writing notes. And eventually, when I think I’ve got enough to outline it, then I outline it. And yeah, I can probably do it in a day. But that’s only because I’ve already got the material. I’m really just kind of putting it in order and making sense of it. And for that matter, the outline is never written in stone. Every day I write. And the next thing I do after I save and close out the word processing program is open up my outline, because probably changes have to be made. Because you always add stuff when you’re actually writing the scene, it changes. And so I type all that in and show how that’s going to impact the next. So it’s not at all a cage. It’s an organic, growing thing all along, but it does help me stay on track.

Kevin Tumlinson 14:08

Do you have a process you follow for the outline? Do you use like an app, or what’s your method?

William Bernhardt 14:16

No. Nothing that fancy. I’ve got Scrivener. And I just open a word processing document and say, one: Ben goes into the courtroom or whatever. Two. Yeah, it’s not fancy at all.

Kevin Tumlinson 14:30

You know, what’s funny to me is that I talked I’ve talked to thousands of authors at this point, most of whom probably outline in some form or another and it almost always ends up back at that bullet list. Everyone starts off with, well, I’m going to use this structure from save the cat or something, and then I’m going to use this app and I’m going to use this toy. And it always ends up with, well I was in a hurry so I opened Word. So that’s good. So how do you keep it clean though? The reason I don’t outline … two reasons. One, I will effectively just write the book in the outline, because I don’t know how to be brief about the idea. I want to describe it. You know, my instinct is to describe it in detail. And also, if I do outline, when I’m done, I feel like the story is finished. And so I’m not driven to write the book.

William Bernhardt 15:27

Oh, I don’t feel that way. But you may be writing more detailed outlines than I am. I’m not really exaggerating when I say, chapter one, Ben walks into the courtroom. Or chapter two, Daniel calls the coroner to the witness stand or whatever. These are not detailed outlines at all, they just keep the story moving forward.

Kevin Tumlinson 15:47

Now you’ve mentioned this a couple of times now, but you’ve got courses, and you’ve got books aimed at helping authors get into this business. So is there like a, do you share like formulas and things for this sort of thing? Is that how that works for you?

William Bernhardt 16:02

I don’t really have a formula. But I do talk a lot about structure. In fact, the first of those Red Sneaker books on writing was called Story Structure, which I really only wrote because at that time, I was teaching a community service course for OSU. And I thought, you know, it’d be a lot cooler if I had a textbook, because all the good professors have textbooks, right? And so I wrote this down, and they loved it, and I thought, well, heck, I’ll do some more. And then I recorded the audio only because Laura had a setup in her closet, because she was recording audiobooks. I thought, this is easy. And that’s when it really took off. But anyway, your question was, so the first one was Story Structure, because I think this is an important topic that people don’t talk about. It’s like, they almost don’t want to admit, at least in some circles, that they outline and they’re structuring their book. It’s more romantic to say, the Muse sits on my shoulder and whispers genius, and that’s the way it happens.

Kevin Tumlinson 17:08

My Muse likes to beat the hell out of me every morning around 6am.

William Bernhardt 17:13

I think my Muse keeps saying, this is boring. There’s so many fun things you could be doing. Maybe that’s not the Muse, that’s some other voice. Anyway, I think story structure, you know, having the essential elements, putting them in the right order, is critical. And so few people wanted to talk about it at conferences and whatnot. So I made that the first book and it’s still where I think people should start. I think people don’t, and I don’t think this is just genre fiction. I don’t care what you’re writing. An understanding of how stories work is just gonna make you a better writer.

Kevin Tumlinson 17:50

Yeah, that’s absolutely true. Do you have some fundamentals of story structure? Like, is there anything you can share? We want people to go buy the book.

William Bernhardt 18:01

Yeah, go buy the book. I should have that over my head.

Kevin Tumlinson 18:06

Exactly. Well, you got Plot. That’s the one.

William Bernhardt 18:09

Oh, good point. But that’s a novel. That’s Plot Counterplot, people plotting against each other.

Kevin Tumlinson 18:15

I was totally off base. I thought that was gonna be one of your Red Sneaker books, which we need to talk about Red Sneaker. I want to ask you.

William Bernhardt 18:24

Yeah, this is the one I should have put up there, Perfecting Plot. That’s the one I’ve got, that was the third one. Oh, what was the question? Now I’ve totally lost it.

Kevin Tumlinson 18:36

Oh, I’ve totally lost it too. Did you have, like, a compact list of tips or something for plot?

William Bernhardt 18:43

Well, you know, focus on the character, your character is the most important thing. I have heard too many times people saying, well, you know, genre fiction is plot-driven. But literary fiction is character-driven. And you can see where the bias there is. Plus, it’s just wrong. All fiction is character-driven. Do you have to have a plot? Yes, I hope so. I hope you have one in those literary novels too. But it rises or falls on the characters. If people don’t care about your character, if they don’t like them, which doesn’t mean they’re perfect, but there has to be something that interests the reader at some level. I don’t care how exciting your plot is, if they don’t have any interest in the character, that book’s gonna flop. And that’s probably more important than ever today, when so many people are writing series characters, which is one of the best ways to break into the business right now. But then even more emphasis on the character, because you’re not going to build a series on a character that nobody wants to read about. It’s got to be something interesting and appealing and so forth.

Kevin Tumlinson 19:59

What makes for a good character?

William Bernhardt 20:02

Well, I would say a lot of things. But fundamentally, the character has to want something. That’s what drives the plot forward. And they have to have something that makes them either sympathetic or empathetic to the reader, meaning basically, you either like them, or maybe you don’t exactly like what they’re doing, you know, you’ve read the book where the character is in a dark place at the beginning of the book, right? Which can get old if it doesn’t get better. But I think, this is something I did my book Dark Eye. If the reader can see that, yeah, the person’s in a bad place, and she knows it, and she’s trying, but it’s just not easy, because life isn’t easy. Well, that’s something readers can relate to. I think at that point, your character just became empathetic. And they can relate to them and cheer for them and hope they do better and pull themselves out of whatever dark hole they’re in.

Kevin Tumlinson 21:01

Is empathy more important than sympathy when it comes to character?

William Bernhardt 21:07

Not necessarily. I don’t know, when you think about most successful series characters out there, you’re not really talking about depressive, melancholy, goth characters who aren’t fun to be around, you mostly have people who are living the dream in some way or another. We just talked about Lee Child. What’s the appeal of Jack Reacher? You know, talking about, I’ve got no strings on me. He’s got nothing. He’s got an ATM card. And he wanders the country and always finds something to straighten out and always finds some girl who’s crazy about him. Some woman undoubtedly, since he’s an adult, I should correct that. And for many people, male and female, that’s kind of the dream, you know, nothing tying me down. I’m just gonna do whatever I want to do. Similarly, in the Daniel Pike series, the first book is The Last Chance Lawyer. And the idea there is, I’ll cut to the chase. But after a disastrous situation with a law firm, Dan is recruited into this group, the Last Chance Lawyers, run by a mysterious figure who only talks to them by remote voice, like Charlie’s Angels for the new era, and takes care of all the money, they’re paid well, and all of them are worthy people who, for one reason or another, can’t find a lawyer anywhere else. So they’re the last chance. And you know, what do lawyers always complain about? Their clients. Because whether they like the case or not, they’re economically more or less compelled to take whatever walks in the door. Well not these guys, they can pick and choose, and only do cases that have merit and feel like they’re on the side of the angels. That is the lawyer’s dream. So that’s another kind of fantasy, something people can really like and want to read about. Because I don’t know about you, but I was astonished even in the 90s when legal thrillers were the biggest thing out there. And I thought, well I can see why people who don’t do this every day would be interested. But surely lawyers aren’t gonna go home after a long day in court and read this stuff, but they do. They’re huge readers of these books.

Kevin Tumlinson 23:32

They need inspiration.

William Bernhardt 23:34

I guess, so here’s, you know, the last chance lawyers showing them what they kind of wish they were doing that they probably aren’t.

Kevin Tumlinson 23:41

Yeah, I mean, that’s why I read comic books and superhero stories. Because after a long day of saving the world myself, I need inspiration. Are legal thrillers like the whole of your work? Or do you write anything else?

William Bernhardt 23:56

No, not at all. But that’s certainly what’s built the house that I’m sitting in right now. Legal thrillers have been very good to me. I actually didn’t do them for a long time. I had done 19 books in the Ben Kincaid series. What’s wrong with this picture? You can’t stop at 19, right? I got to address that at some point. And then I hit one of those round number birthdays. And thought, really, I mean, this is a pretty good gig. But this is all I’m going to do for the rest of my life? So I took some time off, had some money in the bank. And then I wrote a couple of historical novels, one of which got this close to getting made into a miniseries but who knows, maybe someday. And I did a young adult book and a children’s book. I’ve done that too. Now as of a couple days ago, three books of poetry. And it was really only 10 years later that I came back to the legal world with Daniel Pike. But at that point, having been away for a while, it seemed fun again, And, you know, and the world had changed enough that I thought I’ve got new things to write about here. And so I went back to it, and boy, was that a good decision, that turned out really well.

Kevin Tumlinson 25:11

So it sounds like you didn’t have any real issues. I mean, were there challenges to switching genres? I mean, did you have any problems there?

William Bernhardt 25:21

Not for me. But realistically, and this is not a criticism of anybody, but readers expect their author to do more or less the same thing next time, not meaning the exact same book, but you know, the same area, the same genre. People who love my legal thrillers are just not likely to pick up a book of my poetry. I totally get that. And that’s fine. It doesn’t hurt my feelings in the slightest. Just be patient. There’ll be another thriller pretty soon.

Kevin Tumlinson 25:55

Do you think readers follow the author? Or do they follow the characters more?

William Bernhardt 26:01

Both. I think most readers that you talk to are going to say, I follow the author, I love the author. But often that’s only as long as authors are doing what they like, you know, what they want them to do. And it’s not just me. Think about, oh gosh, think about when Anne Rice shifted from vampires to writing religious stories, you know, the adolescence of Jesus and whatnot. Her fans did not follow her into this new thing.

Kevin Tumlinson 26:39

Yeah. I remember, I know he’s a controversial guy, but my favorite author was always Orson Scott Card. And I came in on Ender’s Game like everyone else. But you know, he wrote several other books outside the Sci Fi genre, including some religious ones. And I devoured all of those. I didn’t like them quite as much, but you know, if the guy wrote a cookbook, I’d read it. He’s got a Women of the Bible series that I actually think was pretty good. But you know, it’s all relative. But, anyway, so good. You didn’t have any real trouble with shifting genres. I mean, was there … except for your poetry, I guess. But with the historical stuff, first of all, the question I really wanted to ask earlier on that was, you know, what do you do for research? How do you handle research?

William Bernhardt 27:37

Again, that depends on the book, but the one I was alluding to a second ago was called Nemesis. And it was a slightly fictionalized account of the Cleveland torso murder in the 30s. I was reading a biography of Eliot Ness, who of course, we all know from The Untouchables. But who realized, at least until I read this book, maybe 10 years or so after all of that he was in Cleveland as the safety director, prohibition had been repealed, he had to find new work. And he was the safety director when this guy who’s generally credited with being America’s first true serial killer starts killing people, and the city’s expecting him to do something about it, and he didn’t know what to do. Nobody knew what to do at that time, all the forensic profiling and whatnot we rely on now to try and track serial killers didn’t exist then. And so here’s this well-known crime fighter in this great case. And it seemed like nobody’s telling that, they’re telling that Al Capone story over and over. I mean, the truth is, Ness didn’t have that much to do with taking down Al Capone. You know, they got him on tax fraud. I thought this was a much better story. Why isn’t anybody telling that? So I wrote this. And I think the answer is, because it was never solved, at least not officially. So I spent about two years, not every day, but periodically researching that. Going to Cleveland, looking at the records, and everything I looked at just made it more interesting than I thought it was before. Anyway, so the book follows really very factually the case. Of course, I invent dialogue and whatnot. But what happens is pretty much what happens until we get to the last, I don’t know, 30 pages or so, where I present my solution. My version of what I think happened. Which, you know, some of the nonfiction writers, one in particular I’m thinking of who have researched this, have said publicly, they think I got it right, so I think that’s pretty cool.

Kevin Tumlinson 29:50

Nice. That’s very nice. Now you just need them to write a blurb. So that’s good. And that’s the kind of thing that in itself would make a great thriller novel plot, is the thriller novelist who fictionalizes a true story and gets it right.

William Bernhardt 30:10

Well see, that’s kind of what Plot Counterplot is. The protagonist is a thriller writer. And there are, without giving it away, I’ll just say bad guys who want to steal a heavily protected government weapon. And think, there’s no way, who could figure out a way to get into this well-protected enclave? Well, there’s this guy who writes book after book where his hero breaks into places and it maybe he’s the guy. And so they grab him and try and force him to plot for them. And of course, he pretends to be going along, but he’s also counterplotting against them, and back and forth. And that’s what that one’s about.

Kevin Tumlinson 30:48

That, by the way, is why there’s that government program, the Red Cell program with Brad Thor and Michael Bay in it, which I always thought would make a great television series. I mean, that would make a great story all its own.

William Bernhardt 31:06

It could be a good premise.

Kevin Tumlinson 31:08

I’ve kicked that around. So I got dibs on that. You can’t take that.

William Bernhardt 31:11

Got it. It’s yours. Everybody listening knows it’s yours.

Kevin Tumlinson 31:16

That’s it. I’ve licked it, it’s mine. What’s your timeline on a book from start to finish?

William Bernhardt 31:23

Oh, it depends. I think the quickest I’ve ever done it is four months. But that’s pretty extraordinary. Six is probably more real. And some of that, you know, you get to a point where you just, if I want to take off a day and spend some time with the kids, I always write a little bit every day in the morning, but maybe not as much. I’m more merciful with myself than I used to be now that the kids are grown, and they’re out of college, or almost out of college and whatnot. So six months is probably more realistic. I felt like, you know, sometimes I don’t even think of it as a job because it is, after all, what I always wanted to do, writing, and I get to do it. And it pays the bills. And sometimes I feel guilty, like, you know, basically I retired when I was 35. And I’ve been taking it … Did you read, not too long ago, Stuart Woods passed away. And in his obituaries, everybody was quoting this thing where he says he basically writes for an hour a day, because he has other things he likes to do in the morning. And in the afternoon, he’s got hobbies. But from 11 to 12, he would write a chapter. And that’s how he got his books done. And they sold very well.

Kevin Tumlinson 32:54

Yeah, I’ve been telling authors this forever, it doesn’t really … And everyone sort of daydreams about being able to write all day. And I gotta tell you from experience, writing all day is kind of exhausting. And it’s not much fun. And, you know, I did that for a very long time. I had the, this is what I do for a career, you know, just sit and write all day long. I don’t know, I kind of prefer having a little something to do and interact with people. And, I like what Stephen King said. You know, writing happens around life, not the other way around.

William Bernhardt 33:31

Yeah, yeah. That’s a good …

Kevin Tumlinson 33:40

Oh, I cut you off. I’m a bad host. I’m sorry.

William Bernhardt 33:44

I mean, if you write every day, you’re gonna get there in time. I mean, if you’re seriously writing pages every day, then you’re gonna get there. And if there’s no deadline, you know, maybe you don’t … Here’s the hard thing, because as soon as you indicate no, you don’t have to work 12 hours a day on your book. And it’s like the gateway drug, you know, and pretty soon, people aren’t writing at all. And that’s why I try and get people in my programs to commit to writing every day or some kind of schedule, whatever they can do, figure it out and commit to it. Because otherwise you sit down and think, oh, yeah, I need to feed the cat and water the plants and oh my gosh, I’m doing that thing with Kevin today at noon. So maybe I’ll just skip. And the laundry, you know, laundry seems really appealing when you should be writing. And pretty soon you don’t write.

Kevin Tumlinson 34:40

Yeah. If you want to get anything done around my house, tell me to go write. Let’s pop in, I got some questions that have kind of popped up. And if you’re listening right now live, feel free to drop in more questions. I’ll take a look and flag them. But this first one’s from William Brinkman. Because we’re talking about best practices, Bill, I think you can field this. “Is having a permafree first in series still effective?”

William Bernhardt 35:08

Permafree. I’ve never done that. So I’m not the one who should testify. I’m kind of annoyed and offended by the idea of making anything of mine free. I spent months writing it. Now, I’m okay with super discounted, you know, 99 cents “free” for the first in a series, particularly if it’s a long series, because you’re trying to lure people in right? They liked the first one, then perhaps they’ll get the other. And let’s face it, ebooks do lend to impulse shopping. It’s so easy to say, oh, I liked that book, I’m gonna pop in and boom boom boom, I bought all the others in this series. So you know, maybe that would work. Of course, if you’re going to do that at Amazon, that means you’ve got to be in their special program, which I don’t remember the name of, and I don’t want to do that either. I’m not dissing Amazon. But I’d like to, that’s why I’m at Draft2Digital, right? I want my books to go everywhere.

Kevin Tumlinson 36:10

Yeah, I think I’m with you. I don’t like pricing things free. Because for one, you’re trying to cultivate an audience that’s willing to buy, and free appeals to basically everyone but it doesn’t necessarily nurture the right market. Like you’re basically just saying, you know, here’s my free book, and people who love free books will grab it. I think you should charge a little something.

William Bernhardt 36:38

Yeah. It looks to me like, there have been times when I’ve seen some of my books be free. Not my doing, but there’s a BookBub or whatever going on. And sure you’ll, you know, people will download 7000 copies in a day. But how many of those are actually read? Some of those are just people’s, oh, it’s free, boom, boom. Who cares? It’s free. Right? That’s not necessarily going to inspire anybody to read it.

Kevin Tumlinson 37:08

Right? Yeah. I’m right there with you. Oh, Jenny. Hello, Jenny. And she said hi to both of us earlier. “What made you want to create the Red Sneaker writers book series and help others?”

William Bernhardt 37:22

Well, I think I just told how the Red Sneaker writer book series started. I did one and then I did three, and they were doing well, so I kept doing it until I ran out of topics, and I thought 10 was probably enough of those. But I’ve always been, you know, I’ve been doing a conference. We didn’t always call it Writer Con. But I’ve been doing that for something like 15 years. And I’ve been doing small group retreats, we call them now. I used to call them seminars. But that sounds so teachy. Retreats sounds a lot more appealing, doesn’t it? And when we go someplace nice, like Eureka Springs, and it does seem like a retreat anyway. And to me, I just think back to when I was that seven-year-old, in a small town in Oklahoma, who wanted to be a writer more than anything. And of course, I wasn’t even aware of things enough to think about money. I just thought, wouldn’t that be cool, if I walked into the library and my name was on the spine of one of those books? That’s what I wanted. But trying to find anybody who knew anything about writing, who would respond to “I want to be a writer” with anything other than “get realistic,” maybe need to go to school or something, it would have made such a difference if there had been a Writer Con, or a small group thing or anything I could have attended back then. And so that’s what I’m trying to do here. Maybe make it a little easier for the next generation.

Kevin Tumlinson 38:50

I want to point out to Jenny that this time, I did not refer to you as Jeremy. So that’s an in-joke with me and her.

William Bernhardt 39:00

Jenny’s a terrific writer. I’ve read some of her work and it is first rate.

Kevin Tumlinson 39:03

And I was it was a pleasure meeting her at Writer Con this last time as well. Friendly One says, “Love your Red Sneaker books. But I always wonder, is there more to the story of their theme than you have shared to date?” I’m guessing that’s a question about the red sneakers.

William Bernhardt 39:21

Why is it red sneakers? Oh. Probably there isn’t more to it than I have shared to date, except that it occurred to me and I went with it. And people always talk about branding. I probably should have hired someone. But to me, I just wanted something that’s not lacking in pizzazz but straightforward. Or to put a more direct thumb on it. I was tired of going to conferences, sometimes at universities, sometimes not, where you hear people who haven’t really written a whole lot giving a talk that seems to me does more to obfuscate the subject matter than explain it. And I thought, that’s not helping anybody. It’s hard enough as it is. So when I wrote these books, I just wanted it to be direct, I’m not going to waste your time, I’m just, here’s what you need to know. Sometimes books on writing become an excuse for not writing, you know, people buy them all and think I got to read these. Not mine, man, you’ll finish those in a couple hours and get back to it, apply what you learned and write some more. And for some reason, I connected that with red sneakers, my Converses that I love. They’re not fancy, but they are kind of flashy, and they do what they’re supposed to do. And they’re not putting on airs. They’re just cool. And that’s the kind of writing that I’m trying to encourage people to do, telling good stories.

Kevin Tumlinson 40:57

Yeah, I think in terms of branding, I think that’s right on, man. I think you got it. Rusty has a couple of questions. Actually, we’ll start with this one. “Do you believe books such as ebooks that are only 1500 2000 words have potential?” Short fiction?

William Bernhardt 41:18

Wow, that would be that would be short even for a short story. I don’t know, short stories sell for 99 cents. I’ve got a few out there. And particularly the Christmas themed ones do well, every Christmas. But even those are longer than 1500, that’d be like 10 manuscript pages for me. That’s not quite but almost flash fiction. So I don’t know, I haven’t specifically done that. Are people buying anything that’s that short?

Kevin Tumlinson 41:50

I have some stuff that’s probably, I have a couple of things. Like I’ll write short stories every now and then and I’ll go ahead and publish them as books. And they don’t grab an audience. And a lot of my, when I announce them, my readers say, oh, I don’t read short stories. I want a full novel. But I figure it doesn’t hurt to have them out there. So I wouldn’t say they’re a huge seller.

William Bernhardt 42:10

Yeah. Now, if you’ve got a series character, you know, if you’re going to do a Daniel Pike story in 2000 words, then yeah, you can probably sell that to the people who like the novels. And this will be a nice in between aperitif or something. But honestly, hmm.

Kevin Tumlinson 42:27

I would say, use them less for trying to get someone to buy them and make revenue off of them and more for enticing people into your world. Post them on your blog or something. But, you know, I’m also a big fan of sell what you can sell.

William Bernhardt 42:44

Well, that might be what the previous questioner was pointing toward. You know, I could give away a 2000-word short story without feeling too bad about it if I thought, you know, and if you like that, go buy these eight novels.

Kevin Tumlinson 42:59

Which now that you bring that up, that’s exactly what I do. I have a free short story on my site. And it’s exclusive to the site. And you do too. So we both use that. It’s not free first in series, though. I think that’s the difference.

William Bernhardt 43:18

Well, yes. Right.

Kevin Tumlinson 43:21

The whole permafree thing. “The new ebooks can have video. Do you feel this helps for short story ebooks?”

William Bernhardt 43:31

This is news to me. eBooks can have video? How does that work?

Kevin Tumlinson 43:35

I think that’s an ePub3 thing and I’ve not played around with it.

William Bernhardt 43:40

Are people selling those at Amazon?

Kevin Tumlinson 43:43

I don’t know. Yeah, Amazon would be the about the only place I can think of where those would sell right now. I’m sure my folks in the comments can probably speak to that. That’s not one I use.

William Bernhardt 43:53

Sorry Rusty, that’s news to me. I mean, I can see people on the About the Author Page, or the acknowledgement or afterward, whatever you call it, which is usually kind of boring, a short video of you saying, hey, thanks for reading my book. I really appreciate it. I can see that being cool. What other kinds of videos would you … like a trailer or? I mean, if people have already got the book, they don’t need a sales trailer.

Kevin Tumlinson 44:18

I could see maybe having like some behind the scenes stuff, maybe. Like every one of my books has what I call my note at the end, so I can see maybe doing that as a video. Let’s see, Lexi says, “I think multimedia ePubs like that have limited access on most platforms. It’s something many devices have not been built to accommodate.” So I think that’s accurate.

William Bernhardt 44:48

So probably some day, but maybe not now.

Kevin Tumlinson 44:51

Yeah. But you know, anything can happen. It’s a crazy world out there.

William Bernhardt 44:59

Particularly if it’s just at Amazon, I mean as it is, you sometimes have to tweak the file a little bit, like between Amazon and Draft2Digital, because of course, some of the retailers don’t want to distribute anything that has a link to Amazon and I don’t blame them.

Kevin Tumlinson 45:20

That would be a good use of tools like our universal book links at Draft2Digital.

William Bernhardt 45:28

You know when I use those most, Kevin? It’s when I’m doing some kind of advertising and somebody wants to know all eight links where this book can be bought, I thought, ah, universal book link. Saves a lot of time.

Kevin Tumlinson 45:43

That’s what they’re for. So we’re at the end, we’re gonna have to wrap up. But I have WilliamBernhardt.com, as where people can find you. Is there anywhere else people should look?

William Bernhardt 45:57

That’s great for me. And if you want to know more about the conference, the Writer Con conference or the small group programs, or there’s a cruise, we’re doing a Writer Con cruise in April. That website is writercon.com. I will warn you that there’s nothing there yet about 2023 because we just finished 2022. But give me another month or so and the website will be ready for registrations for Writer Con 2023. And there’s information about the cruise there now.

Kevin Tumlinson 46:26

All right, I’ll check that out. I’m not getting on the cruise. Everything in the ocean is trying to kill me.

William Bernhardt 46:34

No, we’re gonna have fun. We did this once before in 2020 just before things got bad for the lockdown. I mean, we were fortunate. And of course it was a big hit, but we couldn’t do it for two years for obvious reasons. So now we’re gonna go back on the ocean. I think it’s gonna be a blast. We had good registrations for it. So I think it’s gonna be a good time.

Kevin Tumlinson 46:56

Well, good luck. Enjoy that. And if anyone’s interested in that, make sure you go to writercon.com. Make sure you check out WilliamBernhardt.com for everything Bill Bernhardt. Bill, as always, it was a pleasure to chat with you. I’m glad you were on the show. Everybody else, thank you for tuning in to another episode of Self-Publishing Insiders. If you’re listening to this and if you’re watching this, make sure you go to D2Dlive.com and bookmark that page so you know when new episodes are coming up, we’ve got one every week. We’re booked out all the way to the end of the year on this thing. So make sure you’re tuning in live. And of course every Thursday we drop a new episode of the podcast wherever fine podcasts are sold. Once again, Bill, thank you. And everyone else, take care of yourselves and we will see you next time.

William Bernhardt 47:52

Thanks. See you later.