Book Publishing Secrets: A Conversation with H. W. “Buzz” Bernard

We’re talking to authors from all walks of life about their experiences in publishing their book.  Some have smooth paths, some rocky, but they all share a common goal – to see their name on the cover of their creation.  It’s interesting to read what path they decided to take to get there and my guest today is here to tell everyone what he/she did in order to make it all happen so that other writers will learn a little something from the experience.

Today we are talking to H. W. “Buzz” Bernard, author of the thriller, Plague.

H. W. “Buzz” Bernard is a writer and retired meteorologist.  His debut novel, Eyewall, which one reviewer called a “perfect summer read,” was released in May 2011 and went on to become a best-seller in Amazon’s Kindle Store.

His second novel, Plague, came out in September 2012.

He’s currently at work on his third novel, Supercell.

Before retiring, Buzz worked at The Weather Channel in Atlanta, Georgia, as a senior meteorologist for 13 years.  Prior to that, he served as a weather officer in the U.S. Air Force for over three decades.  He attained the rank of colonel and received, among other awards, the Legion of Merit.

His “airborne” experiences include a mission with the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters, air drops over the Arctic Ocean and Turkey, and a stint as a weather officer aboard a Tactical Air Command airborne command post (C-135).

In the past, he’s provided field support to forest fire fighting operations in the Pacific Northwest, spent a summer working on Alaska’s arctic slope, and served two tours in Vietnam.  Various other jobs, both civilian and military, have taken him to Germany, Saudi Arabia and Panama.

He’s a native Oregonian and attended the University of Washington in Seattle where he earned a bachelor’s degree in atmospheric science; he also studied creative writing.

Buzz currently is vice president of the Southeastern Writers Association.  He’s a member of International Thriller Writers, the Atlanta Writers Club and Willamette Writers.

He and his wife Christina live in Roswell, Georgia, along with their fuzzy and sometimes overactive Shih-Tzu, Stormy.

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Thank you for your time in answering our questions, Buzz.  Let’s begin by having you explain to us why you decided to write a book?

The decision, or perhaps more accurately the inspiration, to write PLAGUE sprang from, ironically, a nonfiction book: Richard Preston’s 1994 spine-tingling best seller about the Ebola virus, THE HOT ZONE.  As I read Preston’s book I became fascinated by Ebola and, quite frankly, scared to death by the thought there might be an airborne version of it.  Thriller writers, naturally, love things that scare folks.  So, I began thinking about how I could turn my fright into a terrifying novel.

Is this your first book?

No, it’s my seventh book, but only my second novel.

Can you tell us a little about your publishing journey?

I published five nonfiction books between 1979 and 1993, then dropped out of the writing game until 2000 when I decided to try my hand at becoming a novelist.  Even with the background of being a published author, however, I discovered the journey to “traditionally-published novelist” was long and hard.  It required learning a new craft.  (By the way, I did take a couple of creative writing courses long ago and far away in college.)  In my case, learning that craft well enough to get published took ten years (I was still working a regular full-time job then) and four different manuscripts.

I like to use the analogy that just because you can build a fancy coffee table, doesn’t mean you can build a house.  Constructing a home requires learning a new skill set.  Similarly, even though you may be a skilled writer doesn’t necessarily mean you can craft a novel.  You still face a steep learning curve.

What lessons do you feel you learned about the publishing industry?

Number one was that you don’t have to be published by a big-name New York publisher to find a modicum of success.  EYEWALL, my debut novel, did very well with BelleBooks and became a Kindle best seller.  BelleBooks was considered a small, independent press when I signed with them in 2010.  Since then it has grown into what might be considered a mid-major.

Lesson number two was that I don’t need a hardcover novel sitting on the bookshelves of brick and mortar stores to be considered a success.  My books are published in trade paper (POD) and e-formats.  Fully 98 percent of my sales are eBooks.

If you had the chance to change something regarding how you got published, what would you change?

I wouldn’t spend as much time as I did, something on the order of two years, trying to gain entry into the New York fiefdom of literary agents and publishing houses.  I’m not bad-mouthing those entities; they obviously work for a lot of writers, just not me.  Looking back, I wasted many hours knocking on the castle doors of the “establishment.”  In the end, what paid off for me was a small literary agency on St. Simons Island, Georgia (Sullivan Maxx), and a small publisher in Memphis, Tennessee.

Did you credit any person or organization with helping you get published?

I belong to several writing organizations and a critique group–something I would urge any aspiring writer to do–and received great support in my journey to “published novelist” from all of them.  But by far the greatest inspiration and encouragement came from the faculties at the annual workshops sponsored by the Southeastern Writers Association.  The instructors at the workshops, many of whom have become personal friends of mine, were different every year, but the guidance and motivation they gave me were always the same: uplifting and positive.  The Southeastern Writers Association helped put me “over the top,” so to speak; s0 now I try to give back to the organization by serving on its board of directors.

What’s the best advice you can give to aspiring authors?

There are no secrets, shortcuts or magic to becoming a published author.  You’ve got to keep at it, grinding, grinding, grinding.  Don’t run up the white flag . . . even when you feel like it.  As someone once told me, “A professional writer is just an amateur who wouldn’t give up.”

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