David Beshears is a writer with a mission. After his son was severely injured in an IED blast in Afghanistan, David started his own publishing company to raise funds for a community center for others who are disabled. In this interview, David tells his story and discusses his extensive and insightful marketing experience and advice for indies.
1. Tell me briefly about your books – what are they about and what motivated you to write them?
First of all there’s Climb the Mountain, the story of our struggle to bring our son back from severe traumatic brain injury after he was injured in Afghanistan. We spent six weeks at Walter Reed in Washington, DC, seven months at the Polytrauma facility in Palo Alto, California, and now home in Washington State.
While our focus these past few years has been our son, my literary interest is primarily science fiction, though I occasionally drift to fantasy, horror, young adult, and even dark comedy from time to time. I’ve been writing since I was twelve. I wrote a short story for extra credit when I was in the sixth grade. The next day, my teacher handed me an empty theme book. She told me to fill it up with stories. The purpose in writing Climb the Mountain, and in publishing this and all my titles through our own company, was to support the creation of a community center for people with disabilities and their families. After bringing our son home, we found there to be a critical need for such a facility.
2. How have your sales been?
Sales rise and fall depending on how actively I’m marketing. When I’m pushing, I sell; when I’m not pushing, nothing. So we’re in the 100s, not the 1000s.
3. You’ve published through Greybeard Publishing. Describe your work with them.
I sell my books through our Greybeard Publishing company in order to fund the creation and support of the Greybeard Community Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to people with disabilities and their families. 100% of the proceeds, including our own production costs, go to the fund. We started this after our son was injured in Afghanistan, suffering severe traumatic brain injury and other major injuries. There’s background on our son at the “David’s Journey” website, here.
4. You’ve been self-publishing for a while. How have you liked it so far?
I like the control. I like being the administrator, the one managing and making the decisions. I just wish I had someone else doing the actual marketing. Would be nice if we could afford a marketing director. Unfortunately, self-publishing is 10% administration, 90% selling the books. Kinda the way it works. Kinda the purpose.
5. What sort of marketing techniques have you used to sell your books, and which ones have been most successful?
First I established a presence on the Internet with the websites. I then sent press releases out to the regional media. In our case, we focused our press release on the underlying purpose, that being to establish the community center. From this, we had our story on the front page of a number of Sunday editions of northwest newspapers. The newspaper exposure got us a lot of publicity and initially a lot of activity on our websites. As my picture was on the front page, for a few weeks I even had people coming up to me in public. Strange experience having folks come up to you in grocery stores and talking to you as if they know you. I was surprised at how few sales came out of that. What we did receive, though, was credibility.
From that point on we were a true entity, and our existence had a purpose. Since that time, we’ve had a few online contests, some community book sale events. An interview with an internet blogger/book reviewer garnered us some global attention. I’ve also expanded my presence on the internet to include a few professional and social media sites. I collect email addresses from the contests, sales, and other activities to build on a distribution list for a monthly newsletter. This newsletter puts us in the minds of some folks for a few minutes every month. We try to keep the newsletter more about providing information and less about “please buy me.” We want to be a presence in their lives long term. We hope to draw them to one of our websites and eventually to the shopping cart. Hopefully more than once.
Because of the subject matter of our “Climb the Mountain” title, and the format in which it was developed, we felt it was well suited to medical office waiting rooms. We received permission to place the book, with a sticker on the front cover and identifying bookmarks in a pocket inside the back cover. We’ve received some sales from this, and even more emails of support (one person mentioned that she remembered me from the newspaper article a year earlier). We initially only placed copies in two waiting rooms. We’re probably going to be doing more of this.
6. Are there any marketing techniques you intentionally avoided or discontinued, and if so, why?
We had three titles on the HarperCollins “Authonomy” website for a while. We thought it might be another avenue for promoting our titles and advancing name recognition. We received very positive feedback and received a lot of moral support. Climb the Mountain was even in the top 5 rated books list for a brief time; the other two we posted occasionally got close. Unfortunately, to maintain any visual presence on the site you have to spend all your time trading ratings and bookshelf placements with other writers (if you do me, I’ll do you). I found it to be mostly about working the system. Too bad, really, because I did meet a number of sincere authors on the site. Even though the three titles we had on the Authonomy site continually advanced in the ratings throughout the two months we were there, I don’t know that a single sale came out of it. I’m still registered on the site, and you can see the author background, but I’ve pulled the titles.
7. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you started out?
Because you spend 24 hours a day with your books and your publishing company, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that your existence isn’t the major focus of everyone else. You may be thinking about your books every waking moment, but you’re probably alone in that activity. Very few people are thinking “I’m going to buy one of David’s books today.” No matter how sincere their intentions, most people aren’t going to actively seek you out and buy your book. Not even your friends. They’re busy living their own lives. You have to continually put yourself out there and draw them in.
8. If you could do one thing differently in publishing your books, what would it be?
Expand the scope of my market. In my own situation, my focus was on selling books to raise funds for the community center, not just to sell books. While that made us all warm and fuzzy about our purpose, it skewed how we looked at marketing. You’re only going to get a small percentage of the audience you’re targeting, whatever that target market. If I’m focusing on selling only to those who might buy my books in order to support my cause, my sales are going to be limited to a small percentage of a small market. If I broaden the scope, I may get an even smaller percentage, but the market is larger. Do I want 10% of a 1000 market, or 5% of a 100,000 market? Or whatever the actual numbers might be, I’m just throwing those out there. I am going to be developing marketing strategies for two audiences: 1) those who buy books in order to contribute to an important cause, and 2) those who buy books to buy books. Each of these two strategies will be targeting two markets: one local and one global. From a business perspective, we should sell books to sell books, not to build a community center.
9. Independent authors face the obvious challenge of marketing their books without the resources of traditional publishers. What advice do you have for an indie author just starting out?
You’re going to have three full time jobs. 1) writer 2) publisher 3) job where you earn a steady paycheck. Make time for each of them. Hopefully #3 will merge into #1 and #2. However, #1 and #2 will always be fighting for your attention. You’ll need to take care of both of them. Full time.
Establish your credibility as a true publisher. Every action you take should make the statement to the world that you are a publisher, not that you want to be one. We started out with “I have a cause and I want to sell books to support that cause.” What we should have been saying right from the start was “we are a book publisher, and we support an important cause.” Okay. We’re doing that now.
Develop two marketing strategies: one local, one global. Each should be multifaceted. Map them both out. We have a large whiteboard dedicated to this. It keeps marketing in the forefront of our minds and allows for changes and updates.
10. What projects are you currently working on?
I’m finishing up the third book in my Shylmahn trilogy. Readers of the other two books in the trilogy have been rather insistent that I get the third book out this year. I hope to have it out by late spring. I’m also developing a Christmas screenplay. A producer who read one of my other screenplays a number of months ago asked if I had a holiday script lying around. She wasn’t in a position to take on the project she had read, but liked “the voice” in my writing and would have been interested in seeing a Christmas themed screenplay. I thought I should develop something along those lines and have it ready the next time a producer asks. It should be ready in a month or so, in plenty of time to get picked up and developed for the 2012 holiday season
11. If you could market your brand – not just one particular book, but your overall brand of writing – in one sentence, what would it be?
I take ordinary people and throw them into extraordinary circumstances.
12. How can readers learn more about your books?