“A Unique Perspective as a Literary Agent and an Author,” by Johnnie Bernhard

Johnnie Bernhard

A dual point-of-view as a literary agent and an author gives me a unique perspective into both the traditional publishing and writer’s world.  It often reminds me of the nonfiction bestseller by John Gray, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. Men need women; women need men, so, as a facilitator, Gray invites us to understand each other. Sounds simple, but we all know from experience that takes work—accountability, communication, responsibility, trust. It is the same in the two distinct camps of publishers and writers. They need one another to exist, to succeed as an industry. Yet there is a lack of understanding for many writers of what traditional publishers require. Let’s study the basic principles, the foundation of a successful working relationship between a writer (or published author) and a publisher—diligence, patience, and professionalism.

Diligence is the core of the writer’s work habit if he or she wants to become a published author. It’s what makes a writer work every day. It involves a work ethic unmotivated by money or name recognition, but rather the desire to tell a unique story. It would be wonderful if a writer were guaranteed to make money once the book is published. The reality is that the writer, once he becomes a published author, must work—yes—diligently to sell his book, regardless of the size of the publishing house.  It’s a competitive market, and publishing houses, large or small, need to generate revenue to operate. Authors must work in partnership with the publishing house to ensure that happens.

Diligence is also the key when writers are rejected, told to edit, told to re-edit, and despite several rewrites, are rejected again. The writer must remain focused on the goal no matter the number of drafts it takes to make it the best it can be. Rejections are part of the business, which includes literary competitions, literary agents, and publishing houses. Success is not measured by how many rejections a writer endures, but rather how she continues to evolve, improve, and learn from each experience.

Patience is a virtue. Rarely does anything happen in a day, week, or month in the traditional publishing world. Literary agents and acquisition editors are swimming in a sea of query letters and manuscripts. Submit the best query letter, synopsis, and manuscript based on an agency’s submission guidelines and wait for the agent’s reply. Send a submission without regard to an agency’s standards and your email may be deleted or simply ignored. Patience means taking the time to do it right. Do your homework. Find out what an agent is interested in and fill that need. Publishing isn’t any different from any other business—supply and demand, competition and uniqueness, marketability and profitableness; strive to create something everyone must have or know about.

Professionalism is what separates authors from unpublished writers, from those, in other words, who do not do their homework, nor think editing is as important as writing. Being an author is not only how you write, but how you present yourself—at conferences, book signings, and on social media; all these things contribute to a writer’s image and platform. You must write, speak, and present yourself in a way that elevates not only you, but also the literary agency and publishing house that represent you.

Diligence, patience, and professionalism are essential if a writer wants to be published with a traditional publishing house.  A willingness, within reason, to do whatever it takes is required of each party involved in the publishing process: author, agent, and publisher. Understanding each unique role in the publishing process not only produces a sound working relationship between these parties, but also ensures that you achieve the ultimate goal – publishing your manuscript.

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