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In Conversation with Celeste Davidson, Author, Educator, Co-Founder and CEO of Bardsy



s writers, we’re bombarded by opportunities to improve our writing at every turn. Workshops, courses, books, and more entice us with the promise that we will become better at our craft and, thus, achieve greater success. What makes one opportunity stand apart from another? Often, what is the best indicator of success is the one leading the charge.

That’s what makes Bardsy such a special program for writers of all kinds. Bardsy leaders, Celeste Davidson and Adam Simon, are successful authors in their own right as well as trained educators. Celeste is the bestselling author of Who Was William Shakespeare? (Grosset & Dunlap). She’s also written several other award-winning titles, including One Leaf Rides the Wind (Viking) and Julia Morgan Built a Castle (Viking), and taught writing and English literature for over twenty years. Meanwhile, Adam is the author of The Winning Message (Cambridge University Press) and Mass Informed Consent (Rowman and Littlefield). As a social scientist, he’s taught at UCLA, the University of Washington, and Yale.

With Bardsy, Celeste and Adam offer writing groups, live coaching, and courses built upon their personal experience and firsthand knowledge of what works to help their members become more successful in their writing careers. Their program is based upon real results, using proven, empirically researched methods and a tailored approach. We had the opportunity to talk with Celeste about Bardsy, who gives us a look behind the curtain of this incredible program.




WOW: First off, I love how much Bardsy offers its community members. How did this idea for Bardsy come to be?

Celeste: Bardsy grew from a belief that great storytelling is absolutely, 100 percent, a teachable skill. Too many people think successful authorship depends on “innate” talent. When developing Bardsy, we ran into many writing teachers, including bestselling authors, who hadn’t thought beyond their personal process and, so, were only helpful to those with similar learning and writing styles. Others deliberately mystified the process in an attempt to make themselves indispensable.

We realized that to teach writing successfully, we’d need to clearly articulate and share what a good story looks like. This led to our Publishability Index™, or, PI™—a set standard for great stories. We spent years synthesizing conventional writing advice to create a comprehensive framework for evaluation.

Then we organized our findings into a writer-friendly rubric. Divided into familiar story elements: character, world, conflict, theme and plot, as well as less recognizable sub-dimensions, the rubric has twenty-three items in all. Most importantly, we added a special element: cohesion. Though seldom discussed, cohesion is literally the glue that turns otherwise great writing into successful novels.

With the PI™ as a foundation, we next looked to pedagogy: how to teach anything effectively. Certain elements were non-negotiable. First, everyone on staff had to be effective teachers along with being traditionally published authors. Second, teachers would need to get to know their students one-on-one.

Third, writers would get support from peers and learn by helping others in a kind, constructive setting. Finally, we wouldn’t impose artificial time limits, such as six or eight-week terms, knowing that the time it takes to go from initial idea through first draft to a polished manuscript varies dramatically by author.

And that’s how Bardsy got to where we are today.

WOW: I love that you built this upon the idea that writing can be taught. I wholeheartedly believe that! When you first started to plan the creation of Bardsy, what did you know you needed to give authors that wasn’t already out there?

Celeste: At Bardsy we teach with compassion and integrity, meaning we don’t offer the kinds of false hope or gimmicks that ultimately lead to frustration and cause many talented writers to give up. Programs promising “six weeks to a successful novel” just don’t work. Also—and very importantly—our teachers are all traditionally published, meaning they can relate to our members’ struggles and offer them sound advice. It’s amazing how many “gurus” out there have never published anything of consequence.

WOW: I really appreciate your program uses authors that are already successfully published. I love that you come with an incredible depth of experience. How did your own success as an author guide you in creating Bardsy?

Celeste: Both Adam and I know what it takes to be successful and have suffered through all the typical feelings of rejection and imposter syndrome that every writer experiences. Along with research and testing, we have come to understand the creative process well enough to know that it can be developed and fine-tuned in just about anyone who has the will to learn.

Celeste Davidson

“At Bardsy we teach with compassion and integrity, meaning we don’t offer the kinds of false hope or gimmicks that ultimately lead to frustration and cause many talented writers to give up.”

WOW: You have also been a teacher! How did your experience as a teacher inform your own writing? How did it inform you on what writers need to grow? How did this experience guide you into creating Bardsy?

Celeste: The funny thing is that I became interested in teaching only after having published. While touring, I fielded many questions on process, and quickly realized that what worked for me wouldn’t work for everyone. Around the same time, I was asked to teach an extension class at UC Berkeley and discovered I loved to work with students who had a commitment to creative and intellectual growth.

To provide a better foundation for teaching, I first enrolled at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education and earned an MAT with a Secondary English teaching credential. Fascinated by the potential of online teaching, I then pursued a doctorate program and research in education at the University of California at Santa Barbara. This training, combined with a desire to leverage technology to reach beyond traditional classrooms, led to the methods Bardsy uses today.

At about that time, I met my business partner, Adam—a self-described MIT drop-out, PhD and former Yale instructor who’s also pretty handy with tech. He was looking to create an online platform for meaningful engagement, an antidote to Facebook, if you will. We immediately hit it off and decided to work together toward a goal of creating real community through creative writing.

We worked hard to understand what made certain stories successful and then how to teach others to write stories of that caliber. For example, we thought through and tested how to combine small group and individual learning opportunities. The notion of community standards has also been very helpful in developing writing groups, in particular, as they foster respect, and a safe space within which ideas flow freely.

WOW: How awesome! How did your own background and experience in the publishing world play a part?

Celeste: I’ve published five books (and contracted three more) with great publishers, including Viking, Bloomsbury, and Grosset and Dunlap. To date, I’ve sold over six hundred thousand copies and been blessed to receive numerous awards. My students know that I speak from experience and see me as an empathetic model who offers advice likely to increase their chances of success.

Bardsy Publishability Index

WOW: So, I’m fascinated by your Publishability Index™. Can you tell us about it and how it works? What kind of feedback will it give an author trying to find out whether a story is ready for publication or not?

Celeste: Of course. The PI™ is easy to use but comprehensive. As previously mentioned, it has twenty-three dimensions that address every aspect of stories. For added precision, the PI™ has two criteria for each dimension—one “good” and another “great.” You can see the entire PI™, for free, here: Authors should approach the PI™ as a checklist—one that will help them determine whether and what revision is needed.

To illustrate, the “character/backstory” dimension has two specific thresholds, good and great. These standards call for a story’s characters to have a “past that contributes to their identity” and “relevant histories that spur individual development and action,” respectively. Authors (or developmental feedback providers) should go through the PI™ one dimension at a time and decide, holistically, which criteria are satisfied.

The idea is to highlight concerns from which point authors would prioritize and revise accordingly. Then, they’d use the PI™ to conduct another review. This iterative process continues until the story receives “great” checks across all twenty-three dimensions. We consider stories that reach this level to be eminently publishable.

WOW: That’s so helpful and offers such helpful insights into how to approach the revision process. I see that you offer writing groups, and I’m impressed that you create a group based on the specific needs of who is joining and what they bring to the table. Why did you decide to format your groups this way?

Celeste: Our directed writing groups reflect our experience being and teaching graduate students. First, they’re small, no more than six members, not counting the instructor. So, everyone gets to know each other and their work. Each member is carefully screened for ability, commitment, and attitude; for example we exclude people who think they have nothing to learn. Prior to officially joining, each member undergoes a free “trial” to see whether they’ll be able to benefit while contributing.

Because we have many small groups, we’re able to assign members by genre, the stage and level of their work, and intangibles, like chemistry. And we periodically shuffle them to bring fresh perspectives to each other. All this ensures steady progress and the occasional breakthrough.

Celeste Davidson

“Because we have many small groups, we’re able to assign members by genre, the stage and level of their work, and intangibles, like chemistry. And we periodically shuffle them to bring fresh perspectives to each other. All this ensures steady progress and the occasional breakthrough.”

WOW: It sounds like an in-depth experience. What kind of experiences can you share that people gained from being part of these groups?

Celeste:  Let me discuss a few typical members while respecting their privacy.

Many authors we’ve worked with—especially those doing science fiction and fantasy—have created an amazing world, complete with complex characters and plot. However, they overwhelm the reader from the first page. We’ve developed a tool for them called the Minimal Complete Story (MCS), which helps these writers understand their story’s essentials and stay on track. Using the MCS turns their vision into a coherent story that builds steadily in their readers’ imagination.

Others produce beautiful sentences and paragraphs but haven’t had publishing success because their words don’t culminate in an impactful story. To make the story compelling, we’ve developed another tool, which we call the Inventory, that enables authors to step into the reader’s shoes in order to assess how well a story develops and pays off.

I’m especially proud of our work with members who have had little previous support for their writing. Many are isolated due to geography or other issues. Some have less than encouraging friends and family. Our community provides the space and encouragement for them to gain confidence and prioritize their goals. We've seen amazing and tremendously satisfying transformations.

Finally we have a few successes that hit close to home: members with a passion for helping other writers and who have an intellectual drive to study storytelling and teaching. They essentially apprentice with us, becoming familiar with our method and tools. And, with any luck, they’ll join our staff to direct writing groups of their own.

WOW: That sounds amazing! I love that you offer coaches. I think that’s an incredibly impressive part of your membership! Who are your coaches, and what experience do they bring to the table? And what can someone expect from working with a coach?

Celeste:  As mentioned, every Bardsy instructor has an academic background as well as publishing credentials. These assets, along with our desire to work directly with members, led us to combine our directed writing groups with personal coaching. It’s akin to university office hours because the group’s instructor is also a personal coach.

In this way, our authors get an extra meeting once a month with their instructor/coach to go over things best discussed one-on-one. Because we don’t have artificial time limits, we really get to know who we’re working with, something that is much too rare in this world.

The agenda for these meetings varies. Usually we talk about process and progress, and, at the appropriate point, strategize and review publishing and marketing efforts. For example, sometimes a member just wants to check in and be held accountable. At other times, they may have a problem with their process or a story element. Often they want me to review a specific query letter or an agent pitch.

They may also just need a little cheerleading on occasion, and we’re very good at that. As authors ourselves, we get it! Really, it’s up to them; we’re here to support them in any way possible.

WOW: I appreciate you really personalize the experience based on the writer, not a one-size-fits-all. Who would benefit from a writing coach?

Celeste:  Everyone serious about writing would benefit from one of our writing group/personal coaching combinations. Who wouldn’t want a successful author and experienced teacher to personally mentor them? Then we add a group of like-minded, capable peers to really amplify their progress.

WOW: I notice you offer both workshops and groups. Is there a difference between the workshops you offer and the smaller groups that are available?

Celeste: Workshops are “one-off” and focus on an important subject or tool that we think is relevant to our entire community. They’re opportunities to bring us together that are also open to all interested writers. For example, we just held a workshop on “retelling” that demonstrates ways in which a writer can test the success of their work with beta readers. This workshop is offered to the general public for a fee, and to members at a significant discount—they’re also a lot of fun.

WOW: That’s good to know! What are the memberships available?

Celeste: Our Elite membership, at $79.99 per month, includes directed writing groups and personal coaching. We’re currently offering a 50% discount on the first two months. We also offer Elite members a guarantee: a full refund—if after attending all their meetings, they’re not satisfied with their progress.

It’s hands down the best value in the industry. We keep the price low to make the community accessible. We want to welcome serious authors who may not have the means to afford alternatives, like an MFA.

Our other membership is $12.99 per month. It’s a way to reward people who continually submit to our anthology contests and attend our workshops. They receive a 15% discount on fees for these as well as our a la carte editorial services and coaching. They also receive asynchronous writing courses ideal for beginning writers.

WOW: You really give so much through the Elite membership! How does someone know what membership they need?

Celeste: Elite membership is highly recommended—for the reasons I've described: value, comprehensiveness, and community—for serious writers who want to make steady progress. For beginning writers or those who aren’t ready to share their work in a group setting, we encourage submission to our anthology contests. As discussed below, our feedback provides an opportunity to improve their writing while they benefit from our courses.

Bardsy Anthologies

WOW: The Elite membership sounds fantastic for writers to improve their craft in many ways! Your anthologies look so impressive. Tell me about why you run these anthologies.

Celeste: We love our anthologies, too! They satisfy three main goals. First, to make professional feedback available to all writers for a modest fee. Second, to give authors—especially those taking their first steps into the publishing industry—a win by publishing their work when it meets our standards. Third, to iterate our PI™, which also ensures that our feedback is consistent as entrants steadily revise their work.

In addition, we work closely with entrants whose submissions are selected for publication. Thus, our anthology contests offer an editorial experience similar to what they can expect if their novel, for example, is accepted by a publisher.

WOW: That’s so valuable. What types of stories do you see are the most successful and well-received by those who review entries?

Celeste: The stories that are most successful are those that satisfy our PI™ standards, regardless of genre. One other thing we pay attention to is attitude, namely, do entrants behave professionally? Writers should follow directions and carefully review their work before we ever see it. Failure to follow these simple rules, or outright rudeness, is a huge red flag.

Celeste Davidson

“Use of the PI™ ensures that feedback is comprehensive and systematic. By systematic, I mean that no matter who at Bardsy judges a work, their comments will be similar and thorough.”

WOW: I think that’s such an important factor. I appreciate that you allow writers to rewrite their entry based on feedback after submitting to the contest. What kind of feedback can writers expect?

Celeste: Writers receive feedback based on the standards we set forth with our Publishability Index™ (PI™). As our editors read, they rate the story on each dimension of the index. Use of the PI™ ensures that feedback is comprehensive and systematic. By systematic, I mean that no matter who at Bardsy judges a work, their comments will be similar and thorough.

I’ve seen too many writers get it backward. When self-editing, or providing feedback for others, they focus on line editing (which is fun) instead of developmental editing, which has a larger impact. We think of our feedback as triage, as we focus on big issues first.

WOW: I agree. Why is feedback such an important part of someone’s growth as a writer?

Celeste: Often, we’re blind to our weaknesses. We also tend to be blind to our strengths! Good feedback helps writers revise productively and progress toward success.

When the editor and writer are working toward the same goals—those outlined in our Publishability Index™—it’s astonishing how much a piece can level up. We have given thousands their first taste of professional editorial feedback, and it’s one of my favorite parts of what we do.

WOW: I can only imagine! Why is individual attention such an important part of writing success?

Celeste: Every writer needs individual attention because they and their process are unique. Thus, when it comes to teaching and coaching, you need to get to know your writers in order to deliver results. For Bardsy, the bottom line is that an individual’s creativity is expressed within a universal framework to produce great work.

Celeste Davidson

“I’ve seen too many writers get it backward. When self-editing, or providing feedback for others, they focus on line editing (which is fun) instead of developmental editing, which has a larger impact. We think of our feedback as triage, as we focus on big issues first.”

WOW: What a great mission. I see you are hiring! Tell me about the roles available and the importance they play in Bardsy?

Celeste: Our core staff is devoted to helping our members succeed through our anthology contests and directed writing groups. Most have come through our community. We’re also hiring research assistants, again from the community, to help with developing our research and experience into a forthcoming series of writing guides. Administrative, marketing, design, and tech experts are also hired as needed.

WOW: Lastly, what kind of feedback have you received from writers who have joined Bardsy?

Celeste: These are some of the testimonials we’ve received:

“Bardsy has been an amazing experience for me. I started by stumbling upon it for the first chapter contest and then was welcomed into an amazing writing group. Through the group meetings and working alongside Celeste, my writing has soared. I was always open to taking feedback and editing my writing, and with their help, I believe my book has changed for the better. I have added, taken away, and even changed full chapters. Celeste and everyone in the group has been extremely supportive and have greatly helped my confidence as a writer. My book is well on its way to being wonderfully polished all thanks to the help of the Bardsy process! I would highly recommend this for any writer.” — Jocelyn C.

“Before joining Bardsy, I was getting stuck in my writing. I spent a year crafting multiple drafts for my first fantasy novel, but things weren’t clicking like I wanted them to. But once I had my first meeting with Adam, I was given feedback/critiques that quickly got me thinking about my story in a new way. Now having attended many group workshops, my writing has improved significantly—especially my ability to tell stories. Everyone puts in the effort for your own work with the expectation you’ll do the same for them, and it’s been a wonderful system. Not to mention the helpful guide of the Publishability IndexTM we all try to use when giving our critiques.

I’ve also learned how to better critique my own work due to the practice of critiquing/supplying feedback to others. Lastly, I love getting to connect with other authors; their perspectives, experiences, and feedback have been invaluable. They’ve made me a better writer! Bardsy is here to help with your writing journey because they genuinely believe every story is worth telling. So whether you’re feeling stuck, looking to try out the writing contest, or just wanting a second opinion, you’ll receive invaluable encouragement, feedback, and direction from this awesome organization.” — Ariel J.

“Bardsy’s founders, Celeste and Adam, have significant experience in the literary world and have provided me with valuable guidance. The writing groups at all levels at Bardsy provide advice in an environment that encourages writers while at the same time providing feedback in a positive manner. I have made my way in a couple of years from a novice short story group to one where everyone is working on a book that they want to publish.

I would highly encourage writers at all levels to visit Bardsy and explore their various offerings. As a writer who is currently working on her second book in as many years, I am very thankful that I have Bardsy in my corner.” — Kalpana R.

“This is a wonderful community at Bardsy, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. It’s been instrumental in shaping my soon-to-be-released book, Finding Davy. My writing group offered honest feedback and continual encouragement as I wrote, rewrote, revised, and polished the manuscript. Their input helped me prepare it for querying, and I landed a publisher. I’ve benefited tremendously from their input and couldn't imagine my next book without them!” — Pamela R.

“My work with the Bardsy Elite group has pushed my writing to a more professional level. My coach has challenged my writing a lot and helps me evaluate the components of my story for good craftsmanship. In this group, we can all handle the mechanical aspects of writing—each person knows how to wield words—but much more challenging is the endeavor to craft a complex story that brings readers into another world and draws the reader into the life of your characters. In these workshops, not only do the coaches help us drive our work forward, but we learn together how to support and compel our colleagues to create excellent stories.” — Neal M.

“As much as we’d like to think that writing a book is something we can do alone, it’s not. Bardsy is different from other critique groups because they consciously select competent, supportive, and focused writers for every Elite group so that each session is productive and effective with high-quality feedback. No time is wasted. I’ve made more progress in the past six months on my manuscript with my group than I have in four years alone or with any other critique group.” — Sarah K.




Many thanks to author, educator, and co-founder and CEO of Bardsy, Celeste Davidson!

Writers: visit Bardsy to find out more about their memberships, groups, writing contests, and anthologies. If you don’t know where to start, you can fill out an assessment, and Bardsy will provide a free personalized success plan tailored to you and your goals here:

Be sure you take advantage of their 50% discount on the first two months. They also offer Elite members a guarantee: a full refund; if—after attending all their meetings—you are not satisfied with your progress.



Nicole Pyles

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in Sky Island Journal, Arlington Literary Journal, The Voices Project, The Ocotillo Review, and Gold Man Review. A poem of hers was also featured in the anthology DEAR LEADERS TALES. Her short story, “The Mannequin of Lot 18,” was nominated for Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy for 2024. Since she’s not active on social media very much, stay in touch by following her writing blog at World of My Imagination.


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