On the Work of Writing

I answered some interview questions for a blogger and thought it would be fun to share a little about my publishing experience here, how my latest title came to be, and when/where people can ask me questions in person. Enjoy!

What genre is your newest book? Juvenile business (The Bridge of the Golden Woodfree this month on Kindle, #1 in 3 Amazon categories, with 5,000+ downloads), I hope it helps bridge the gap between what kids learn in school and what they need to know/do to succeed in life.
What draws you to this genre? Seeing a lack of kids’ curriculum on how money is made—how to earn a living. I used to be a recruiter in Silicon Valley; today’s graduates don’t seem as prepared for work as their parents. Many young people don’t know that failure is normal and can nourish future success.
Please describe what the story is about in one sentence. A child with a knack for solving problems learns that helping some hungry fish—who can’t pay him—facilitates his finding a treasure.
What was the time frame for writing your last book? A few days (illustration is the real work—and I had to do some on this book.)
How much research do you do? More for this book than a typical picture book; I had to present valuable tips and business ideas I’ve learned over the years.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day? No (but I spend hours on books/marketing every day)
What is the easiest thing about writing? Ideas that ambush me
When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer? In college … when I should have been doing my homework
What are your thoughts on good/bad reviews? Every review can be helpful (even bad ones contribute to visibility—and they offer great feedback)
Which do you prefer: Pen or Computer? And how do you stay organized (any methods, tools you use)? I usually write ideas on scraps of paper in odd moments/places, then I write out the story on my laptop.
How do you relax? Volleyball, music, films, books
What were your biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process? When my first publisher died; I had to learn the publishing business.
What would you have done differently if you could do it again? I would have sought more reviews for my early titles.
Something personal about you people may be surprised to know? No matter how many achievements I have, I struggle with self-doubt, fears, and (at the same time) self-absorption.
What’s next? What are you working on at the moment? Non-fiction stories about immigrant kids and more bilingual books
Do you re-read books? One book that you would read again & again? The scriptures
Your influence(s), favorite author(s)? I love history, so anything by David McCoullugh is ideal. Other authors I love: Tolkien, Harper Lee, C.S. Lewis, Clancy, Grisham, Shel Silverstein
What book(s) are you reading at present? Major Problems in American Colonial History by Karen Kupperman
Best piece(s) of writing advice we haven’t discussed? Write every day and join a writer’s group

See a trailer for The Bridge of the Golden Wood. For business and career ideas, see ChildrenEarn.com. I’ll be contrasting traditional publishing vs. digital/self-publishing at the Kearns Library in Salt Lake County on June 29 at 7 p.m., 5350 S. 4220 West, Kearns, UT 84118. Hope to see you!

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Folk Tale Shows Kids How to Earn

Adults get business and money-making tips too

Doing things for free may not sound like a great recipe for earning; but a new picture book by a former Silicon Valley recruiter shows how providing free service can build skills, ideas and a reputation — all of which can bring income.

 

“Some people graduate from high school or college and expect to be paid right out of the gate,” said author Karl Beckstrand. “Most employers want experience,” he said. “Seeing problems and providing solutions — even without pay — can give job seekers the edge.”

 

“The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living” (for ages 5 and up) came to Beckstrand after he had visited many schools, observing almost no curriculum on earning money.

 

Beckstrand’s 18th book (number one in three Amazon categories) shows how a child with an eye for solving problems helps some hungry fish and finds a treasure. This illustrated Asian folk tale comes with ideas for businesses, finding customers and managing finances.

 

“I hope it helps bridge the gap,” Beckstrand said, “between what kids aren’t being taught and what they need to know in order to make a living. Money shouldn’t mystify.”

 

Beckstrand, winner of a 2016 International Book Award, says that earners start young — with no expectation of reward. “Doing something for nothing not only helps you feel good,” he said, “it gives you experience, a good reputation and, sometimes, money-making ideas.”

 

“Many children and adults lack confidence that only comes through experience,” said Beckstrand. “We get experience by finding and filling needs, solving problems.”

 

While he wanted to be a rock star, Beckstrand’s first job out of college was as a technical recruiter in Silicon Valley. “I got that job because I had worked some summers and semesters as a human resources assistant.”

 

Some of the people Beckstrand recruited had great ability and egos, some had no ability and great egos, but some had an idea of what they didn’t know,” he said. “The latter group had the best chances because they wanted to learn how to bring value.”

 

Beckstrand worked in high tech, sales and public policy before publishing his first book. “I did get to sing professionally,” he said, “even if our band was basically a wedding band. The point is, by trying lots of things I learned what I like and developed skills that help in any industry.”

 

“Maybe you don’t get that Fortune 500 job,” Beckstrand said, “maybe, while you’re serving someone in need, you get an idea the turns into the next Uber or Amazon, only it’s your company.”

 

After a couple of books through other publishers, Beckstrand now runs Premio Publishing in Midvale, Utah. They specialize in multicultural mysteries, biographies and language books for families. “They’re not about race or ethnicity,” said Beckstrand. “They simply happen to have characters of color.” They have received awards and raves from national publications like School Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Horn Book’s blog and ForeWord Reviews.

 

Even after getting a master’s degree, Beckstrand noted that none of his courses taught earning or managing money. He says his most valuable education has come from running a business and living abroad. He has included tips he has learned in “The Bridge of the Golden Wood,” written in dyslexic-friendly font and available in hard cover (pre-order), soft cover and ebook (free thru July 23 on Kindle) via major distributors and PremioBooks.com.

Beckstrand will contrast traditional with digital or self-publishing on Thursday, June 29 at 7 p.m. at the Kearns Library, 5350 S. 4220 West in Salt Lake City.

Publisher Interview via Twitter

Yesterday, I was interviewed on Twitter by Profnet–a media company with enough pull to get my photo up in Times Square. Here’s the transcript:

Profnet: Can you please tell us about your background? I was raised in paradise (San Jose/Silicon Valley) —the perfect climate, much like Valparaiso (Chile, where I lived for two years [LDS mission]). I have a bachelor’s in journalism (never planned to be a reporter) and a master’s in International relations. I teach media at a state college in Utah, and am an arts/media junkie (music, art, films, books, theater—oh, and history!)

How did you begin your writing career and have you primarily focused on children’s stories since then? This was a complete accident because I hated writing (and reading) as a kid. While I should have been doing homework in college, I would get ambushed by ideas for kid’s books and write them—thinking I’d get published when I retired from a “real” job. I joined a writer’s group and met a gentleman who wanted to publish one of my manuscripts. Unfortunately, he died the day we were to print. I got a crash course in publishing/marketing. One other publisher asked me to write a true story about an immigrant child. I knew about a girl in my family history who had arrived here alone, not knowing English. I found the account—and then got hooked on family history. Now I’m writing other true immigration stories. I have ideas for novels—but only one is published so far.

What’s the first thing a writer with an idea for a children’s story should do (besides write it)?  Hire a professional editor (even for kid’s books). They are affordable and will save you grief/help you stand out!

Karl, Where do you get your ideas and where can other writers find inspiration?  This is a hot button (for someone who works in perhaps THE most competitive genre). If you’re not constantly hit with ideas, then “I’d like to write a children’s book” is probably not justification for entering the field. My desk is covered with folders and papers filled with ideas: things people say, scenarios that explode in my mind, phrases that have a fun meter … I may never get them all published.

How can a writer find and work with illustrators? Should a children’s book be illustrated when you submit a manuscript?  Only get an illustrator if you self-publish (which I recommend). Otherwise, find a good children’s lit agent and let the publisher match your work to an artist. I find illustrators through networking (LinkedIn writer/illustrator’s groups, alumni groups, people whose work I’ve seen and fallen for—I just persuaded a genius artist I’ve been stalking for years to do one of my books!)

Once you have your book written, how do you find a publisher?  You must be unafraid to communicate (phone, mail, email, social media, in person) and you must be unrelenting (but get an editor before you drive agents/publishers crazy—which you will. The idea is that when they finally look at your stuff, it’s wonderful).

How is the process different with books for children and families compared to books for adults?  I try to write to entertain adults–regardless of the target age. Adults are the ones who will buy the book. I don’t want them to cringe when a kid asks them to read a Karl Beckstrand book; I want them to get the nuances and humor that the child may not get. I want the parent/teacher/librarian to stay awake and read my books even when they are alone!

Do you prefer having your books published by a publishing house or do you prefer self-publishing? What are the pros and cons of each?  After learning so much from publishers (learning isn’t always a good experience) I realized that I would rather control content, MARKETING, and revenues. Publishers make lots of promises, but the author is—really—always the engine for sales, even if a large publisher promises the moon. I don’t like spending 50% of my time marketing, but I would have to do it even with Penguin-Random House. Publishers used to have distributors in their pocket; now most anyone can access distributors.

Once you have your book published, how do you market it, and does it make a difference whether it’s self-published or not?  No big difference: you post it on social media; do giveaways on Goodreads, bookbub, Authorsden, Librarything (give it in exchange for a sincere online review—these are important); send press releases—call the media afterward about being a guest/interview subject; if you self-publish, Amazon’s Createspace.com can get you in with major distributors (but you must still contact distributors to truly get your work to booksellers). I don’t usually pursue book signings for two reasons: Bookstores are not the best place to stand out; and, unless you have a large following in a particular city (which you might) you won’t sell a lot of books. Presentations to groups/schools are great.

What are the biggest challenges in the publishing process?  Getting reviews/getting your book noticed.

Can you tell us about your latest novel?  It’s Young Adult suspense set in the Nevada silver rush: To Swallow the Earth. It won a 2016 International Book Award (also a Laramie finalist). I inherited the manuscript from someone who grew up exploring the Sierra Nevada Mountains on horseback nearly a hundred years ago. My challenge was to develop the characters while preserving the action and authentic language. It’s about a man and a woman who clash in a land scheme that leaves both unsure who to trust—and scrambling to stay alive. In addition to a tough outcast (half-Mexican, raised by Indians), there’s a gutsy heroine who’s unintimidated in the worst kinds of opposition.

Your work is racially diverse with many of your characters being of color and/or bilingual.  My stories are really not aimed at a certain audience—they’re not even about racial diversity. They are exciting/witty stories that just happen to reflect the diversity of the world in a natural way.

You speak Spanish?  Yes, my mother spoke broken Spanish to us as kids; then, living in South America made it my second language. Many of my books are bilingual with English-Spanish pronunciation guide. I’m learning German.

What are some of your future projects?  I’m working on a graphic novel, an audio book, biographies, and more kid’s books.

Where can we find your many books?  Amazon/Kindle, Nook, the major distributors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor/Follett, Brodart, BN.com, iBooks, Kobo, OverDrive, SCRIBD), and PremioBooks.com. If you email me that you’ll leave sincere comments/stars online, I’ll send you any ebook free: Karl@ PremioBooks.com.

How much of your personality and life experiences are in your writing?  My books are my life laid out in color (my food obsession has found its way into most of my works).

What is your writing schedule?  I write or research every day—usually in the morning.

Who were your early writing influences? Who or what has inspired you during your career and ignited your imagination?  When I got the measles in the third grade, my grandmother bought me a chapter book: Bicycles North: A Mystery on Wheels by Rita Ritchie. I learned that books can transport and excite. I love Shel Silverstein.

What is your favorite genre to read?  I love suspense.

Do you have a favorite comment or question from a reader?  I love it when someone says a book I wrote held them captive—or that the twists were totally unexpected.

Conviction & Accolades

After being named a finalist—but not winning—the Laramie (western novel) Award, and after getting Literary Classics’ seal of approval (but no novel award), I was beginning to doubt there would be any real recognition of my hard work. Yesterday I learned that my novel, To Swallow the Earth, had indeed won in the 2016 International Book Awards. If you know you have a quality product, never give up hope!

Perpetual Education

In April, 2001, then President, Gordon B. Hinckley, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in the church’s 171st annual (world) General Conference that the church was going to establish a Perpetual Education Fund for young adult members whose access to education and job training was limited by cost or other circumstances. The program was to be modeled after Brigham Young’s Perpetual Emigration Fund of the late nineteenth century, which helped bring 26,000 Latter-day Saint converts (mostly from Europe) to Utah Territory (Utah was not made a state until 1896) (Deseret News).

President Hinckley was concerned, as he visited members in various parts of the world, that many of them (including returned missionaries) were unable to fill their potential—or even adequately meet the needs of their families—because the cost of education was prohibitive. “We don’t want to give away money and make people weak,” he told the program’s future director (LDS Church News). “‘Where there is widespread poverty among our people, we must do all we can to help them to lift themselves, to establish their lives upon a foundation of self-reliance that can come of training” (LDS Conference Report).Since LDS ministers are lay clergy (non-paid), even these must have gainful employment outside their church service; and the standard of living in many states where the church operates was not conducive to job training or learning.

The educational loan fund was to be established initially by volunteer donations (which quickly poured in from all over the world), the interest of which is loaned out and then replaced as employed graduates paid back their loans into the fund. Early Mormon converts whose immigration was facilitated by the Perpetual Emigration Fund worked to restore monies into the Fund to assist other converts in their journey. Today, Perpetual Education Fund loan recipients work to replace what they have used so that others may benefit.

In 2001, the year of its creation, the PEF was offered in Mexico, Peru, and Chile. “The potential for failure might have loomed as the PEF’s newly appointed leaders rushed to begin providing loans by autumn of 2001, as President Hinckley had directed. Outside of the prophet [Hinckley]’s inspired outline there existed no business plan, no detailed proposal. The program was organized using the text of President Hinckley’s conference talk as its charter. Hundreds of loan applications were flooding into Church headquarters even as directors were being called and the basic structure of the program was being formed.

“But miracles were already taking place. Within the first year, millions of dollars had been donated to the program. Several individuals whose backgrounds made them uniquely qualified for the work of the PEF were immediately available to serve as volunteer directors. The infrastructure necessary to support the PEF globally had already been laid in the form of Church Educational System’s institute programs and Church Employment Resource Centers [around the world]. Things fell into place quickly, providing the program with what President Hinckley reported in April 2002 to be a ‘solid foundation’” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

Education has always been a paramount objective of the Latter-day Saints. After building temples, the church has typically sought to establish schools as its next highest priority. Church founder, Joseph Smith, Jr. taught, “whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection” (Doctrine and Covenants 130:18). LDS scripture also instructs, “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). “In part, this means that Mormons recognize a kind of learning that incorporates both intellect and spiritual insight. They also acknowledge that these are not unrelated: spiritual understanding, for instance, is necessary to give rational inquiry its ultimate purpose. Moreover, Latter-day Saints affirm that faith and reason are not fundamentally hostile to each other” (LDS Newsroom).

Brigham Young taught that Mormons embrace truth regardless of the source. “It is our duty and calling, … to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, or the Church of Rome, or the Methodists, the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, the Shakers, or any other of the various and numerous different sects and parties, all of whom have more or less truth, it is the business of the Elders of this Church … to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, … to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion” (Discourses of Brigham Young 1940,248).

In the ten years since its inception, more than 50,000 people in 450 countries have received PEF loans. “As of February 2011, 90 percent of those who have sought work after completing their schooling have found employment. Some 78 percent of those now employed say that their current employment is an improvement over what they had before receiving schooling, a figure expected to improve with time. The average income after schooling for PEF participants is three to four times greater than income prior to schooling, representing a vast improvement in economic status” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

“Today the program is made up of 47 percent men and 53 percent women. Of the men, 80 percent of the participants are returned missionaries and 82 percent of all participants work while going to school. On average, education and skills training takes 2.6 years, and the average total loan for one participant is about $1,800” (LDS Church News).

As more people donate to the fund, it expands to more countries. And the loans impact many more lives than just those who receive education. Rex Allen, PER Director of Training and Communications, explained: “As each participant marries and begins a family, the number of people blessed doubles, triples, and continues to multiply into the hundreds of thousands” (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Loan recipients are able to give time and means to other worthy endeavors—including sharing the blessings of education with others.

“‘This program is growing very, very rapidly, and it really is quite a challenge to keep up with it,’ according to Elder John Carmack, PEF Director. Each area in the Church has its own committee to screen PEF applications. More than 98 percent of the applications that reach PEF headquarters in Salt Lake City are able to garner final approval.

“Elder Carmack estimates two-thirds of PEF recipients are current with or have completed the payback of their loans. ‘We would love to have 100 percent payback,’ he said. ‘These are people most of whom never even had a bank account. They have never been involved in a business transaction or signing a promissory note. But they’re paying back better and better all the time. For example, those who just joined the program in the last 12 months, their paying-back percentage is something like 88 percent. These people are showing their integrity, and we keep working to move that up’” (LDS Church News).

Still in its infancy, the PEF has much territory to cover (the PEF currently operates in 45 of the 175 countries and territories in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a presence). It is difficult to estimate how many of the more than 14 million Latter-day Saints have need of education assistance.

The LDS Church Welfare program, which focuses on people’s temporal needs and helping them be self-reliant, began as a resource for church members only (today, church membership is not a requirement). Additionally, Latter-Day Saint Charities regularly delivers food, clothing, medical and other disaster relief, as needed, around the globe. As the PEF matures, the day may come when anyone who desires to improve their situation may apply for such a loan.

REFERENCES

Deseret News. Perpetual Education Fund a Success, but with Challenges.www.deseretnews.com/article/705380579/Perpetual-Education-Fund-a-success-but-with-challenges.html?pg=2(accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Askar, Jamshid. 2009. Perpetual Education Fund is Making a Difference. LDS Church News, Sept. 11. www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/57887/Perpetual-Education-Fund-is-making-a-difference.html  (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

LDS Conference Report, April, 2001. The Perpetual Education Fund.http://lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,49-1-183-21,00.html (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Perpetual Education Fund Fulfills Prophetic Promises. lds.org/church/news/perpetual-education-fund-fulfills-prophetic-promises?lang=eng(accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Doctrine & Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

LDS Newsroom. Mormons and Education: An Overview. newsroom.lds.org/article/mormons-and-education-an-overview (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

Widtsoe, John A. Discourses of Brigham Young. Deseret Book, 1941.LDS Church News. Celebrating Ten Years of the Perpetual Education Fund.

http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/61195/Celebrating-10-years-of-the-Perpetual-Education-Fund.html (accessed Nov. 22, 2011)

PEF.LDS.ORG.PEF Success Stories. pef.lds.org/pef/southafrica_shirley?locale=eng(accessedNov. 22, 2011)

See also: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASteMXNHN-8 

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Originally posted by Karl Beckstrand 2/7/2012 11:02 PM