Writing fiction is work. Helping authors is work. Doing both—that’s a life’s work. In this episode of SPI we dive into the red-sneakered world of novelist and author-shaper William Bernhardt.
Author and conference organizer William Bernhardt talks about his career and his work helping authors find the kind of success he’s built.
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Kevin Tumlinson 00:02
Well hello world. I’m talking to you, Facebook and YouTube. Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Self-Publishing Insiders with Draft2Digital. And I’m here with somebody, we’ve become friends over the past few years, William Bernhardt. He’s an author. He’s an organizer of WriterCon in Oklahoma City, which just happens to be the hometown of Draft2Digital. And he’s got a series of books for authors, his Red Sneaker series. Did I get that right? Red Sneaker series?
William Bernhardt 00:34
Yeah, Red Sneaker Writers.
Kevin Tumlinson 00:35
Red Sneaker Writers. I didn’t want to flub that, but I guess I’ve managed to do it anyway. So welcome to the show, Bill. Glad to have you here, man.
William Bernhardt 00:42
Good to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Kevin Tumlinson 00:44
You’re fresh, you’re in the afterglow of WriterCon. Was it just last week, or …? Time means nothing to me now.
William Bernhardt 00:56
Labor Day weekend, weekend before last. But yes, we’re just in the afterglow. It turned out really well. As you know, we went ahead and had the conference in person. We also streamed it for people who didn’t, understandably, want to come in person. So we had a dual conference. But as a result, we had a lot more people than we’ve ever had before. So it turned out wonderfully.
Kevin Tumlinson 01:19
What do you think of that? I mean, it’s, my sort of personal take is … of course, I’m on both sides of this thing at this point, with virtual conferences. And, you know, I feel like this may have initiated a shift in the way conferences are done in the future. What do you think of that?
William Bernhardt 01:38
Well, there are a lot of advantages to streaming, when it comes to flying people in to speak and putting them up in hotels. Maybe it’s just my age, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be as good as a face-to-face conference, particularly when you talk about networking. And a lot of people come to pitch the agents or the editors and publishers. And that’s just not as good over the internet.
Kevin Tumlinson 02:07
Yeah, that networking component is the thing I think is missing. I’ve been hit up now by several of the big conferences, like, international thriller writers, you know, they’re gonna do their virtual thing. And I love the idea of being able to have access to the content. But that’s not why I would go to that conference.
William Bernhardt 02:25
Right. I mean, that’s the thing. So at WriterCon this year, not only did we stream all the sessions, but because they were recorded, we can put them up on the internet, so registered guests could watch any of the 60 plus sessions at any time they want for the next month. So even the ones you missed, because there were two things scheduled at the same time, you can see anything. So that’s great. But I kind of miss being able to talk to people and see them face to face, and I think you’re far more likely—we always make a point of bringing in first-rate agents and editors and I just think that pitching stuff’s gonna go much better when it’s in person.
Kevin Tumlinson 03:01
I agree. Yeah. I am seeing a trend towards, you know, I was just reading some stuff from a couple of agents, talking about how all those pitch meetings and everything are happening online now, on calls like this, and I think that there is a benefit to that. There’s a greater accessibility to that. But the aspect of being able to be there in person and connect with somebody, and take them out for a drink or a cup of coffee … Yeah, I just don’t see that going away. I see it shifting.
William Bernhardt 03:34
One advantage of streaming is, we had people … because, people have either read my books or listened to the podcast … My podcast, not yours. Yours too, I’m sure, but the Red Sneaker podcast. And so, you know, people listen, but they’re not going to fly to Oklahoma City. But because we had the streaming component this year, we had people registering in New Zealand and Australia and places like that, which never would have happened otherwise.
Kevin Tumlinson 04:00
That’s fascinating. See, that’s good though, then that opens the doorway to a whole lot of other opportunities. I did a presentation for you guys while literally sitting by Lake Michigan. I even switched the view briefly, so people could see where I was, and live in jealousy and envy.
William Bernhardt 04:21
You had a good turnout, too. I don’t know if you could tell. But you had a great audience, both live and streaming.
Kevin Tumlinson 04:28
Oh, good. Well, I couldn’t see a thing. So I just was hoping people were there and I wasn’t talking to myself.
William Bernhardt 04:35
Right. That’s another complication, and it’s harder to take questions. Although we’re working on that for next year.
Kevin Tumlinson 04:40
I have some thoughts. I have some ideas. Formats like this are good for that kind of thing. Maybe we can work something out. So let’s talk a little bit about your work. Because you’ve been doing this for a while. You’ve got, you’re on both sides of the fiction and nonfiction fence when it comes to publishing. Which one do you prefer, first of all?
William Bernhardt 05:02
Well, I always think of myself as a writer …
Kevin Tumlinson 05:05
Pick the baby you like the best.
William Bernhardt 05:07
Well I could do that. But no, I’m a writer and I love writing. And I feel very fortunate that I get to do it. My first novel was published in ’91—now I’m really dating myself—Primary Justice. And had a long series of those and took some time off. And that’s when I started these nonfiction books and some other things. I wrote some young adult poetry and now I’m back writing another legal thriller series and publishing as well. So I love it all. But, you know, you can’t write all day long. So it’s nice to have other things to do.
Kevin Tumlinson 05:49
I said, “So they tell me.”
William Bernhardt 05:51
Is that what you’re doing now?
Kevin Tumlinson 05:54
No, I wish. Well, I don’t actually … You’re right. It’s great to have the freedom to write, but I find that if I spend the entire day writing, it stresses me out. If I spend my morning writing, I write for two to three hours each morning. I used to write for, you know, 8 to 10 hours, when I was not working with Draft2Digital, and I thought I would miss that. But I’m actually more productive now than I was then.
William Bernhardt 06:24
I believe that. And if I don’t write at all, that stresses me out too. So there’s gotta be a happy medium. Get up early, write for maybe four hours or so. And then, maybe it’s my imagination, but I think I can tell, okay, I’m wearing out. This next chapter will be better if I tackle it with a fresh head. That’s my excuse. I’m better first thing in the morning, so I’ll save the rest for tomorrow. And that’s when I tackle other things, publishing or planning a conference or leading a small group retreat or workshop or something like that.
Kevin Tumlinson 06:59
Yeah. It’s good to shift gears, you know. That actually fosters more creativity, I think.
William Bernhardt 07:06
I think so. And they’re not that big shifts, either. It’s all about books and writing, and things that I love. And I feel very fortunate that I can do well in the land that I love. Even though I have many different jobs, none of them are things that I wake up in the morning thinking, ugh, gotta go drag myself to an office or whatever.
Kevin Tumlinson 07:32
You suffer from the same issue I suffer from. It’s that entrepreneur’s disease, where I will gladly work 100 hours so that I don’t have to work 40 hours for someone else, kind of thing.
William Bernhardt 07:42
Yes. Yeah. It’s always better to work for yourself, something I’ve tried to install in my children as well. The most important thing is not getting up in the morning and dreading what you’re doing, and looking forward to it with a smile on your face.
Kevin Tumlinson 07:59
Exactly. Yeah. I’m very fortunate that Draft2Digital has clicked with that, as well. I forget to think of Draft2Digital as a job sometimes. Like, it’s just fun. I get to connect with other authors, and connect with people in the industry, and it’s just fun.
William Bernhardt 08:20
That’s fantastic. I don’t even know if you’re aware of this, but I am technically a lawyer, and I practiced law for many years, even after the books started coming out. And I didn’t hate that. But it wasn’t my first love, clearly. And if I’d just done that, I probably would have had a more stable income, but who wants to? This is what I want to do. I’m a book person, I love books.
Kevin Tumlinson 08:46
Stability is overrated. Why is it, by the way, Bill, that so many lawyers inevitably become writers, become authors? Why is that?
William Bernhardt 08:59
Well, I think lawyers tend to be book people, you know, people who like to read and people who are decent at writing, because that’s what lawyers do most of the time, depending on what field you’re in, but there’s always a lot of reading and writing. So I think it’s a natural … Some other professions, I’m not going to name any, but other professions don’t necessarily emphasize or acquire verbal or literacy skills, but law does. So I think it’s natural that lawyers tend to be book people. The trick then is to stop writing like a lawyer and start writing like somebody who somebody wants to read.
Kevin Tumlinson 09:42
Yeah, the bar isn’t going to come and look over your novel and make sure that you’re on point.
William Bernhardt 09:49
Yeah, making stuff up isn’t really approved of in your legal briefs.
Kevin Tumlinson 09:52
True. That’s true. Still a facet of some lawyers’ careers, however. But, I you know, I’ve worked with and known a lot of lawyers, and done a lot of writing for lawyers. And that’s a tough field to write for, because you’re under so much scrutiny. So I imagine that does sort of, you know, hone your sense of what should and should not be included in something, I guess?
William Bernhardt 10:15
Well, I have argued that, because I was a trial lawyer, that putting together a trial is a lot like putting together a novel, because it’s a huge undertaking. There’s so much involved, so many things that you’ve got to keep in your head all at once. That requires organizational skills, and maybe even a flair for the dramatic. It’s also useful for a novelist.
Kevin Tumlinson 10:41
That’s very, that’s a very good point. Yeah. I imagine there are a lot of parallels there. It’s just that, if you have a bad novel, nobody goes to jail or gets sued. Well, you could get sued.
William Bernhardt 10:52
You could. Yeah. That can be avoided if you’re just half smart about it, I think.
Kevin Tumlinson 10:59
Yeah. So what are some of the advantages then, of you having had that legal career? Other than, you know, it seems like it may have straight up prepared you for the intensity of having to write for a living. But, you know, any other advantages that came out of that?
William Bernhardt 11:17
Well, it gave me a subject matter in a way that I never would have dreamt. When I wrote what we called Primary Justice, which was not my first attempt, but people always say “write what you know.” So that, okay, I’m a baby associate here at this big law firm, I can write about that environment. And, of course, added some crime and whatnot to make it interesting. And it seemed to click. That’s what Random House bought, and they wanted more. And that turned out very well. I ended up doing 18, 19 books in the Ben Kincaid series. Ben Kincaid is the series lawyer. And several other books kind of in the realm of thrillers, but not in the series. And then at some point I thought, okay, break.If I do another one of these courtroom scenes, I’m just gonna shoot myself. I needed to [inaudible] for a while, and did. And somewhere along the way I started publishing, and somewhere I had started teaching, finding that I enjoyed that too. Like we said, you just can’t stare at a laptop all day long. But teaching, working with other aspiring writers, getting out and, you know, actually interacting with people, I think is not a bad thing to do periodically. And …
Kevin Tumlinson 12:37
I can agree.
William Bernhardt 12:38
Well, look at you, you’re out in Michigan having a good time. Anyway, then last year, I came back and decided to see if I could still do another legal thriller series and started this Daniel Pike series that started with The Last Chance Lawyer. And not to seem immodest, but that’s succeeded well beyond my expectation. It turned out to be a blast. Yeah, really. Wow. Who knew if anybody would even remember that this is what I wrote once upon a time. Turns out that they do, and turns out … Well, with the passage of a little time though, there were so many new ideas and stories and changes in society, and new issues, new things to write about. And I also structured this new series—again, this was in part for myself and part for others. I thought, okay, I’m going to do a six-book series. This is not gonna go on forever, there’s gonna be six of them. And I’m gonna map it out more or less in advance. So this, you know, each book tells its own story. It’s not like a big continuing saga. But there are recurring characters, and there are kind of big picture story arcs that continue and expand and grow and you learn more about it as the six-book series moves on. I tell you, I stole this whole idea. And this is gonna sound so pretentious, but it’s really true. I stole this from Anthony Trollope, who is one of my favorite writers. A 19th century Victorian guy, a Dickens peer. And he wrote, I don’t know, 50 plus novels, all long and very good, and I love reading them. But the two things he’s best remembered for are two what people sometimes called mega-novels. Six books, all related to one another, each telling their own story, just like I said. He did the Barchester Towers series, six books, which kind of deals with country life and romance and whatnot. And then he did the Palliser series, which has more to do with city life and politics and whatnot. And most people think those are his best works. And I think perhaps, in part, it’s the idea of the continuing characters and new story but in the same world. And I thought, I wonder if I could do something like that. I’ll do that with a lawyer. And that’s what turned into the Daniel Pike series.
Kevin Tumlinson 15:10
So limiting it to six books. Do you feel like, I mean, what’s the advantage there? I mean, if it’s so successful, wouldn’t you want to just keep it going?
William Bernhardt 15:22
Well, that’s, now you’re talking a marketing question. And I don’t even get into that, honestly. Yes, part of you says, they’re still selling well, let’s do 7, 8, and 9. Then again, I also know that no series lasts forever. Eventually you’ll lose … Maybe it’s smarter to just start something. I don’t really know the answer to that. But yeah, it helped me when I said, “You’re not going to do this forever. You’re going to do six of them. And then you’re going to move on to a new idea.” So that’s what I’m doing.
Kevin Tumlinson 15:52
Yeah, well, I guess, unless you can—and don’t you don’t have to spoil anything—but I mean, unless you’re killing off the character, you could always sneak another special edition book in there later on if you wanted, right?
William Bernhardt 16:00
That’s exactly right. Now, I’m not going to spoil anything either, but I would never do anything so stupid. I mean, if Netflix decided they wanted Daniel Pike to be their next big series, wouldn’t that be sad if I couldn’t write any more of them? You want to leave the door open.
Kevin Tumlinson 16:19
Exactly. I don’t know, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, he killed off his protagonist for a while there.
William Bernhardt 16:25
Yeah. And when he saw somebody else making real money off the character, he brought him back.
Kevin Tumlinson 16:31
Exactly right. Yeah, and logistics be damned. So that’s cool. Do you find, did you do any like one-off series? Any standalones, or anything like that?
William Bernhardt 16:45
I have done a couple of standalones in between. I did one called The Game Master. And that was an Amazon pub deal, not a self-pub, but you know, they backed it. And short term, that was a pretty good deal. I would bet in the first six months or so, that book probably sold more in ebooks than anything else. But I didn’t see it churning the same kind of, you know, people emailing me and saying “When’s the next one? And let’s make him a series character.” I didn’t get that kind of feeling from it. I think it’s a good book, but maybe, I don’t know. It’s so hard to tell in the ebook world … Do you find yourself—one of my sons, Ralph, always asks “Bill, dad, which is your best-selling book?” And I’m like, I really don’t know anymore. Because once upon a time, in traditional publishing, you could just look at the royalty statement and that tells you how many copies. But now they’re for sale in a million different places with different distributors and ebooks are heard to count, and Kindle is borrowing things, which isn’t exactly a sale. I have no idea what my best-selling books are anymore.
Kevin Tumlinson 18:05
Same. Yeah, I have no idea. I have a general idea. I mean, I can kind of look and see which books are performing well, so I can probably give you a top five. But I couldn’t tell you what number one really is. It seems to change day to day.
William Bernhardt 18:21
Kevin Tumlinson 18:22
Yeah. So, your original series with was with Random House. Did you go back to traditional publishing for this new series, or is this self-published?
William Bernhardt 18:31
No, this is mine. This is my baby all the way. That was part of the whole thing that, well, I don’t know how much background you want, but I dipped my toe …
Kevin Tumlinson 18:43
Give me all you want.
William Bernhardt 18:44
I dipped my toe in, like everybody else who has been successful in traditional publishing, I though, “Oh, self-publishing,” you know. But then, twist my arm. I started talking to people who had written these books on writing, which I originally wrote just to use—sorry, I didn’t mean to nudge that—just to use to, because I was teaching, and I thought it would be nice to have kind of textbooks. You know, you always look more official if you’ve got a book. “If you turn to page 43 in your handbooks” or whatever. And so I created these. And at one point, somebody else was going to publish them, but they wanted to stick them all together. And I didn’t like that idea. I liked having short, to-the-point books. I think too often books on writing become sort of an excuse for people not writing. “I got this book, I’m gonna read.” No, these Red Sneaker books are short, to the point, maybe 100 pages. You can read it in the afternoon, apply them, and get back to your work. Anyway, so I created them, and tried, well I’ll upload these to Amazon and see what happens. And they did all right at first, didn’t blow my socks off. But then I recorded the audiobooks. And don’t ask me why, but that’s when the books really took off. Audible started putting them on the same page together and listing them as, here’s a thing you need to pay attention to. And the audiobooks were really what took off and brought the whole rest of it with them. And ironically, the only reason I had done those is because, as you know, because you’ve met her. My wife, Laura, is a very talented writer and actress. And I could see back in, I don’t know, 13, 14, you could see that audiobooks, because they were digital now, were starting to take off. And I thought, let’s just get the equipment. You know, we’ll bite the bullet once and buy some high-quality studio equipment and put it in this clothes closet, and you can start recording audiobooks. And then we had it all set up here, and I thought, well, I could do that. How hard can that be? They’re just like long lectures. And so I recorded the audiobooks. So anyway, that turned out to be a success. And then I started thinking, well, I wonder if I could do that with fiction? At this point in the last decade, I’m looking at, because I had started writing books in the 90s … Originally, none of those contracts with Random House had any clause pertaining to ebooks. And the audiobooks were done on cassette tapes. I don’t know, I have some of these boxes of cassette tapes. My kids don’t even know what they are. What do you do with that, dad?
Kevin Tumlinson 21:37
Hold them up to your ear like an ocean seashell.
William Bernhardt 21:42
And so, Random House’s initial position was that all those early books, even though the contracts didn’t mention electronic books, that those rights were implicit in the other clauses in the contract. And so, by implication, they had the right to the ebooks. Well, obviously, I didn’t agree with that. Most people didn’t. But that was a fight, I eventually got those back. And then I started winning the audiobooks back because they were recorded analog, there was no digital version. They had the rights, but they weren’t doing anything with it. So I said, give them back to me, you know, I’ll get my wife to record them, or I’ll do it, and we can make some money off it. But because the books are still in print, I couldn’t get the audiobooks rights back, which is … So it’s, you know, that’s keenly frustrating. And then you hear about people getting more than the traditional 8 to 10% that you would get from a big five publisher and I started to think, you know, maybe it’s time to think about doing this in a different way. So, the Last Chance Lawyer series was my attempt to see if I could make this happen with my own company.
Kevin Tumlinson 22:58
Yeah, sounds like it’s working.
William Bernhardt 23:00
It is. And it’s led to not only success there, but now we’re publishing other people as well. I’ve gotten all the kids involved, the parent company is Bernhardt Books, because that sounds cool, because it’s a family company. And my daughter edits, and one of my sons does the marketing videos and writes copy, and one of them does all the money royalty stuff, because I don’t have any head for numbers at all. And we’re publishing other people as well, distributing through Draft2Digital, of course. And it’s turned out to be a really nice thing. We’ve been able to launch some really good writers.
Kevin Tumlinson 23:41
Excellent. That’s good. Well so, if you’re stacking your experience with traditional publishing against this current self-publishing experience, how do things measure up? What’s the ups and downs?
William Bernhardt 23:55
Well, that depends on who you are. I mean, when I started in ’91, that was the only game in town, obviously. Books sold in bookstores and you had to be in them, or you weren’t going to sell anything. So that was the only choice. But now you do have choices. And what I always tell people at conferences, you got to do what’s going to make you happy. Some books do better self-published. Usually, I think genre fiction does better in ebooks and other self-published volumes. And, if you’re doing something outside that, maybe you don’t want to. Or maybe if you’re of a certain age, and you just feel like you need the validation that somebody else likes your book and wants to publish it, then go for it. But if that doesn’t pan out, then you’ve got options. I mean, to me, it’s kind of, your validation should be that you’ve written a terrific book. Not that somebody else who’s planning to keep the majority of the profits is rubber stamping it. Sometimes it’s nice to have other people doing all the stuff, worrying about distribution and covers and cover copy and whatnot. And sometimes it’s nice if they’re throwing parties or making a fuss and whatnot. But at the same time, that doesn’t happen. And everybody has to get involved in marketing your books these days, no matter how you’re published. And hand in hand, of course, with the niceness of having pros in charge of things is the fact that you just lost your voice. You’ve got no control. First and foremost, you’ve just licensed rights, which I can tell you, you will probably never get back.
Kevin Tumlinson 25:43
Or you have a heck of a fight in front of you.
William Bernhardt 25:45
Yeah, or you get into a big legal fight. And even then, I mean, I think they’re protected at this time unless you can get a term clause in your contract. Because, I know it is the practice of many big five houses now, if they sell out their initialoffset print run, they set it up at Ingram Spark for print on demand. So those books are never going out of print. So anyway, you got to balance what’s smart and what works for you. If you are somewhat control freaky, like me, you don’t like not being in charge. You only you only mind if it flops.
Kevin Tumlinson 26:22
Exactly. And it’s hard to measure what’s a flop now. Because, you know, the lifespan of the book is different for indie publishing than it is for trad pub. You know, if books don’t do well in traditional publishing, they get yanked from the shelves and sent back for credit, you know, destroyed. Whereas in indie publishing, you know, the ebook lasts forever. I mean, there’s no point in yanking it down, just leave it there and let it, you know, find its audience eventually.
William Bernhardt 26:50
And that’s the nice thing about a series, even if it’s a series of six., New people find it every month. Sometimes I have no idea why, but they do. It’s evergreen.
Kevin Tumlinson 27:00
Yeah, exactly right. Yeah, I’m experiencing something like that now. The first book in my Dan Kotler series suddenly just had a spike in sales and I have no idea why. I didn’t do anything. I’ll take the money.
William Bernhardt 27:16
[inaudible] would say, what was that Amazon ad I placed?
Kevin Tumlinson 27:20
Yeah, it’s not even that simple. You know, it could have been any, I could have casually mentioned it in conversation at a restaurant and 100 people there decided to go buy it or whatever.
William Bernhardt 27:31
That’s what’s key, it’s still all about word of mouth. It’s just that the word is getting transmitted in different ways these days.
Kevin Tumlinson 27:39
With greater reach.
William Bernhardt 27:40
Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Kevin Tumlinson 27:42
So let’s talk a little bit about conferences. And we got about three minutes before I want to open things up for questions. And I want to take this moment, by the way, if you’re watching or listening. Or if you’re listening, you’re probably listening to the recording. Hello. But if you’re watching live right now on YouTube or Facebook, feel free to ask us anything you want. And we will, in the last 15 minutes, we’ll start answering some of those questions. So I see we got one or two questions in the comments now, I’ll run those by Bill here in just a minute. But let’s talk about conferences a little bit more. We kind of talked about it at the front end of the show. And we know that you feel pretty strongly about the networking aspect of conferences. What are some of the other advantages of authors attending these conferences, virtual or otherwise?
William Bernhardt 28:31
Yeah, well, for me, first and foremost, is the educational experience. Because even though I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years now, there’s a lot to learn. Not just about writing, although still lots to learn about writing. But also now, of course, the business is changing constantly and people are coming up. You were telling me about some new stuff I didn’t know before we started the interview today. So there’s always something new out there.
Kevin Tumlinson 29:00
Shh. I’m always getting in trouble for revealing things. Don’t share whatever I shared.
William Bernhardt 29:04
I mean, I still go to conferences. You know, I usually see you there and I pick up, come home with this long list of things that I want to try and do. And I think you have to do that. That’s how you keep it working. I also think there’s something … maybe it’s just me. I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. From age seven, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Went to the library every day, checked out books, because I was going to be a librarian or writer and eventually I gravitated to writer. But how? Nobody in my town was a writer. Nobody knew anything about it. On the rare occasions I mentioned this dream, I was met with, you know, scorn. Like, not only stop dreaming, but that’s not even a very good dream. Pick something profitable if you’re gonna be dreaming. So to me, the biggest frustration was, how do you do that? Eventually college, and got a little bit of information about it. But what a conference like WriterCon, the one that I’m doing now in Oklahoma City, not far from where I grew up, what a difference that could have made to 14, 18 year-old me. I mean, it could have changed everything. And I know there are still people out there like that. That’s who I’m trying to get to come out. People have the passionate desire to write, they just need to know how to do it. And then once they’ve written something, where do I go with this? How do I get an agent? Or how do I find a publisher or publish it myself? And, you know, you can read, you can find things on the Google. But nothing delivers that kind of information like a conference where you’ve got tip top people, pros, people who are really on top of their fields. That’s about it.
Kevin Tumlinson 30:54
Yeah, I definitely, it does feel like my career took a shift when I started attending the conferences. You start … and in non-obvious ways, you know. Just connecting with other people who were successful at the thing I wanted to be successful at was, a lot of times, the only boost I needed to get to work, you know?
William Bernhardt 31:19
Kevin Tumlinson 31:20
How many times have you been to a conference and you ducked out to go do some writing?
William Bernhardt 31:27
I’m not sure. I’ve gotten up early in the morning to write before I went to the session, but … Sorry, I’m more likely to go to the pool or something.
Kevin Tumlinson 31:39
Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, we got a couple of questions we’ll pop in here, and we can continue our conversation as well. But let’s see, I got one from Tom Ray. He’s on YouTube. He says, “The pandemic originally seemed a golden opportunity, but hasn’t it become a source of more stress to creativity than expected?” What do you think?
William Bernhardt 32:02
Not for me. I’m interested to hear what you and maybe Tom say. I mean to me, I almost feel guilty, because I know a lot of people are suffering during this lockdown. But to me, I mean, I’m used to working at home, and I’m used to being home most of the time. And I was worried the first month or so of the lockdown, when sales of everything seemed to plummet. But as you know, books have rebounded, particularly ebooks and digital audiobooks are selling extremely well now. So no, it hasn’t stressed me, it’s almost like just made me feel fortunate that I chose this field which survives even when we’re in the midst of this major crisis. Is Tom able to talk to you? What’s the stress he’s feeling? Is it because he can’t go to conferences, or …?
Kevin Tumlinson 32:57
Could be. Tom, if you’re still listening, you can feel free to drop some comments in the window there and we’ll chat with you a little. And we’ll see what …
William Bernhardt 33:09
I remember, one of my good writing friends, William Martin, who, of course, is very successful historical novelist and he lives in Boston. And he put on Facebook this picture of his wonderful writing desk with the lamp and this gorgeous view of the countryside. And the caption was “the original social distancing.” He’s been doing it for 40 years, for Pete’s sake.
Kevin Tumlinson 33:35
I know, I feel like I’ve been practicing for social distancing my whole life.
William Bernhardt 33:40
I think that was a good post.
Kevin Tumlinson 33:42
Oops, that was an accidental click. I feel like, you know, my creativity got amped up once … It’s funny because everyone else, I kept seeing posts on social media about how they’ve got all this time to take up new hobbies and learn new things or whatever. And my workload increased by like four times. So, yeah, I was already social distancing.
William Bernhardt 34:06
Here’s one change that I have made, if I can mention this, Kevin. Because as you know, I’ve traditionally done small group retreats throughout the year. Retreat sounds so much better than workshop, and we usually found a scenic location to hold them. But this year, I know some people … although we did have one in Eureka Springs this summer, we all made masks and stayed away from each other, but we worked on manuscripts. But this December for the first time ever, I’m going to do one that’s all online, all on Zoom or something like that. But we’re going to do the same things, we’re just not going to be in same room. And that’s where I can read people’s manuscripts and read their work every day and give direct feedback one on one. Say, I’m reading the side comments and I know Tom’s reworking his manuscripts many hours a day. I’m saying, Tom, if you want some feedback, come to the December small group retreat that we’re doing, because that’s exactly that what that’s for. People who’ve done some work, they’ve got a work in progress. And now let’s polish it up, take it up to the next level and try and get it published.
Kevin Tumlinson 35:12
Yeah. I’ve been chastised by Elyssa, I need to scroll back and post this comment from Tom, where he says, “I miss my connections with other local writers. We used to have ‘write-ups’ three days a week to get out of the house and work in different environments.” And I do think that that has been an impact. But what’s interesting though is to see the shift to virtual in that regard as well, because now I can actually connect with authors who are in a completely different region of the world if I want, which is an opportunity you wouldn’t normally have had with local meetups. So it’s sort of a tradeoff. You know, I don’t get to sit with you for a cup of coffee, but I can have coffee with you while you’re in New Zealand and I’m in Michigan.
William Bernhardt 35:57
Well everybody’s learning how to Zoom now, so they can … My mom, who’s well into her 90s, can Zoom now. If she can, anybody can.
Kevin Tumlinson 36:08
Exactly. Yeah, yeah, we got my mom an iPhone so that we can do FaceTime calls with her. So same sort of thing. Of course, she still does FaceTime calls where she’s like holding the phone and it’s like this far from her face. So we’re still teaching her how, the etiquette of the whole thing. We have a question from Kathy. She says, “Do you have any more poetry collections in the works?”
William Bernhardt 36:32
Oh, Kathy, how nice of you. Thank you so much, you’re sweet. Did I mention, when I talked about things I was doing in between? Yeah, I did two books of poetry, The White Bird and then The Ocean’s Edge, which was really, took a certain amount of courage to work up to. Because first of all, I know people know me as primarily a novelist. And so what’s he doing writing poetry? But the truth is, I’ve always written poetry. I just didn’t publish it. But I started in the past 10 years or so, sending it out to magazines and whatnot. Anyway, so I did these books, and what a response. I should clarify that. I think the two poetry books I did have literally gotten the best reviews I’ve ever had in my life. Not the best royalty statements, but the best reviews. So I am putting together another one, and I think it’s going to be either end of this year or start of next. So thanks for asking.
Kevin Tumlinson 37:32
So poetry is an interesting, when it comes to self-publishing, poetry is interesting. We get asked all the time about whether or not we can handle poetry in, say, D2D print or something like that. And we’ve got workarounds for some of the ways people want to construct the verse.
William Bernhardt 37:52
I know exactly what you’re talking about, because we did a poetry book through Draft2Digital.
Kevin Tumlinson 37:57
Well what were some of the challenges? I mean, what was it that … What do you thtink the challenge is there?
William Bernhardt 38:03
They don’t want to have everything go up against the left hand margin. You might want to have a line that starts in the middle, or skips lines or whatever. Automatic formulating programs just don’t get that, because it makes no logical sense. We finally got it to work, but it was a little more challenging than usual.
Kevin Tumlinson 38:24
I probably would have fallen back on something like InDesign for that, just because it’s, I can control … Because I know layout sometimes is part of the art, and it’s part of the expression. So you don’t get a lot of those options on automated systems, you’re right.
William Bernhardt 38:43
Do you use an RTF, or how do you get it in Draft2Digital?
Kevin Tumlinson 38:45
Yeah, you can actually export to ebook. We don’t recommend it, because it’s overkill for most people. But if you happen to already have access to it, you know … And it’s problematic for us, but we can take those books. It’s just, you know, there’s a little extra work on our part. It’s usually better for you to use something like, you know, our system or Vellum or something like that. But the option is there. We always like to make sure people know the options. But in terms of poetry versus fiction, what are some of the challenges? Because you know, you made the joke that the royalty statement wasn’t quite your best. And we get a lot of that too. People want to know, like, how do I sell more poetry? And I don’t have a good answer for them. I’m not a poet myself. So.
William Bernhardt 39:37
Yeah, I don’t think there is a good answer for that. I have no idea. I think there’s exactly one poet in America. Okay, two. Who are making … Well, this actually does lead to a good answer. You could tell them to go on Instagram, because that’s where poetry is happening right now. It’s the Insta-poets.
Kevin Tumlinson 39:53
That’s what I’m seeing. I’m seeing the exact same thing.
William Bernhardt 39:59
Yeah, Rupi Kaur and people like that. You know, she had the best-selling book of the year with The Sun and Her Flowers. And that’s not because she had a big five publisher, it’s because she’d been on Instagram posting regularly for a number of years, building up a following with good poetry. And eventually that paid off in book sales.
Kevin Tumlinson 40:24
I think the case that makes is for platform building, if you spend your energy and time up front building your platform, and the confusion is always like, what is my platform? It’s not Facebook, Instagram or anything. It’s your reach, right? It’s the people that you’re able to reach with your work. So if you spent that energy building that up, regardless of what you’re writing and publishing, you stand a far better chance of success.
William Bernhardt 40:48
Also helps if you’re good at it.
Kevin Tumlinson 40:51
If you’re good at it that’s a bonus. It’s not required these days, I’ve noticed. There’s a lot of successful writers and authors out there who aren’t necessarily good at it, but they have the heart. They have the passion. That’s all it really requires, apparently. Excellent. Well, we’re kind of getting in, closing in on the end of this. Where can people find all the stuff that you’re publishing, and Bernhardt Books and all that?
William Bernhardt 41:18
Yeah. If you want to know more about the WriterCon and the small group retreat, go to my website, which is WilliamBernhardt.com, and click on the Red Sneaker writers tab, and then you’ll see all the different writing programs out there. And the two small group programs that are out there right now are the December online retreat that I just mentioned, and maybe it should be a different word than retreat if it’s online. Let’s call it a workshop. And then in Eureka Springs next year. And of course, we’re already planning WriterCon 2021. And the books are published, I mean, Bernhardt Books is the company name, but they’re published under the label Babylon Books. And you can find a link to that on my website, too.
Kevin Tumlinson 42:09
Excellent. Babylon books, okay. And you can find all that at WilliamBernhardt.com. And that’s on the screen now and maybe I should have typed into the comments, but you guys can do your own typing. So William, man, I’m very grateful that you were able to spend some time with us. It’s know it’s been a crazy, I don’t think I shouldn’t even have to say it. Everyone knows by now. 2020 has been a very crazy year.
William Bernhardt 42:38
Right. And it may just get crazier, who knows?
Kevin Tumlinson 42:41
Could get crazier.
William Bernhardt 42:42
But we have books.
Kevin Tumlinson 42:45
Exactly. And, you know, that’s what I was gonna say earlier, is that I think that’s the key. The reason books have done well, not just because people have the time to read, but they are that affordable luxury that Howard Schultz talked about in his books about Starbucks, you know? It’s an affordable luxury and something that we can get hours of entertainment out of for a very low price. So, yeah, and thank you for contributing to people’s affordable luxuries during the pandemic.
William Bernhardt 43:15
My pleasure. Thank you Kevin.
Kevin Tumlinson 43:18
All right, everybody. We’re gonna go ahead and wrap up and I appreciate you sticking around. If you are on YouTube or Facebook, make sure you’re giving us a follow and a like. On YouTube you’ll find us at youtube.com/draft2digital, and on Facebook at facebook.com/draft2digital. Of course, you’re going to want to go bookmark D2D Live where you can get an alert for shows like this one. When we go live, we give you a little countdown, you can see what’s coming up. It links to all the places that we appear. And if you are interested in this show, you want to get more back episodes, tune in to SelfPublishingInsiders.com where you can find all the back episodes of this, and that includes video, audio and transcript, so you can enjoy it in all the different modalities. So for now, though, you want to go check out Bill’s site at WilliamBernhardt.com. Buy all his books, keep him well employed and keep him going. And sir, thank you one more time for being a part of Self-Publishing Insiders.
William Bernhardt 44:18
Thanks. Any time.
Kevin Tumlinson 44:20
Alright everybody, we’ll see you all next time. Take care.