Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Author Interview: Karl Beckstrand

Media professor Karl Beckstrand is the bestselling and award-winning author/illustrator of 25 multicultural/multilingual books and more than 60 ebook titles. His survival thriller, To Swallow the Earth, won a 2016 International Book Award, and his multicultural kids’ books have been lauded by Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, The Horn Book, and School Library Journal.

Raised in Silicon Valley, he has lived abroad and worked with people from all continents (except Antarctica). His work reflects cultural diversity—not only in protagonists, but in collaborators (his illustrators hail from Latin America, Europe, and Asia). Beckstrand has a B.A. in journalism from BYU, an M.A. in international relations from APUS, and a broadcast/film certificate from Film A. Academy. He teaches media at a state college and, since 2004, has run Premio Publishing.

Beckstrand has presented to Taiwan’s Global Leadership for Youth, city and state governments, festivals, and schools. His Y.A. stories, ebook mysteries, nonfiction, Spanish/bilingual, wordless, career, and STEM books feature ethnically diverse characters—and usually end with a twist. His work has appeared via: Amazon, Apple/iBooks, Baker & Taylor, Barnes & Noble, Costco, Deseret Book, Follett, Ingram, Papercrafts Magazine,, The U.S. Congressional Record,, FB, and Twitter. 

How long have you been writing? Since 1991—I began writing by accident. I didn’t used to like to write; but story ideas kept coming to me (when I should have been doing my homework).

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 speak on traditional vs. digital/self-publishing. I’m 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 arrived here alone, not knowing English. I found the account—and then got hooked on family history. So, now I’m writing other true immigration stories. I have ideas for novels—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! Join a writer’s group to network and get feedback.


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 a justification for entering the field. My desk is covered with folders and papers filled with ideas that come at me all the time; things people say, scenarios that explode in my mind, phrases that have a fun meter...I may never get them all published. 


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). You’ll need an agent with a good track record.


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 range. They are the ones who are going to buy the book, and I don’t want them to cringe when a kid asks them to read a Karl Beckstrand book. I want them to get the 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. I try to write every day and am both a plotter and seat-of-the-pantser. I do some illustrating too.


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 to spend 50% of my time marketing, but I would have to do it even with Penguin-Random House. Publishers used to have ideal distribution; now anyone can.


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 afterwards about being a guest/article subject; if you self-publish, Amazon’s 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 a book noticed.

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


Do you speak Spanish? Yes, my mother spoke broken Spanish to us as kids; then, living in South America made it my second language. I’m learning German.


How many books have you written, and how many of those have been published? I have written about 30 books; 25 have been published (with translations/ebooks, I have about 130 titles).


Can you tell us about your 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 female who’s unintimidated in the worst kinds of opposition.


What “Made It” moments have you experienced? To Swallow the Earth won a 2016 International Book Award (also a Laramie Award finalist), She Doesn't Want the Worms - Ella no quiere los gusanos named in top 10 "Best Books" of 2011 – ForeWord Reviews Magazine and featured in School Library Journal. Bright Star, Night Star: An Astronomy Story hit #2 on Amazon's Hot New Children's Books list.


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!). I illustrated Crumbs on the Stairs, Butterfly Blink, and It Ain’t Flat.


What were the biggest challenges when you set up Premio Publishing, and how did you overcome them? Having enough titles to get a major distributor--and financing hardcover printing. I wrote a lot, found artists that were willing to accept a percentage of profits over an advance, and then cranked out several books. (Today, with POD this is more doable.)


What is one thing that no one would usually know about you? No matter how many achievements I have, I struggle with self-doubt, fears, and (at the same time) pride.


What did the best review you ever had to say about you and your work? Museum-quality art, top 10 best books of 2011 (She Doesn’t Want the Worms – Ella no quiere los gusanos) – School Library Journal


What has been the best experience you have ever had in your life? Living abroad for two years as a missionary


What is the strangest thing you have ever had to do to promote a book? Make a smoothie on television


What are some of the books you have on your nightstand—or name favourite authors? I love history, so anything by David McCullough is ideal. Other authors, I love: Tolkien, Harper Lee, C.S. Lewis, Clancy, Grisham, Shel Silverstein


Who were your early writing influences? Who or what has inspired you during your career and ignited your imagination? I didn’t like to read as a kid. When I got 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 (textbooks still seem dull). I love Shel Silverstein. Some of his contemporaries captured the same whimsical feeling in The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense by Louis Untermeyer, illustrated by A. and M. Provensen (Western Publishing, now Random House?). Untermeyer collected some of the silliest verses from brilliant writers of the previous hundred years. He added his own wacky lines and the Provensens crafted images to match the mirth.


What is your favourite genre to write? I enjoy putting together biographies (mostly family stories that have inspired me) and mysteries are always fun.


Can small publishers make a mark on literature and the book market? How? Technology has revolutionized book sales. My revenues were low until I started POD and ebooks. Fortunately, these technologies are available to even small publishers (and are growing in global reach).


What are some of your other books? Samuel Sailing: The True Story of an Immigrant Boy; Agnes’s Rescue: The True Story of an Immigrant Girl; Gopher Golf: A Wordless Picture Book; GROW: How We Get Food from Our Garden; It Came from Under the High Chair: A Mystery; Great Cape o’ Colors – Capa de colores; The Bridge of the Golden Wood: A Parable on How to Earn a Living; 4 Spanish-English Books for Kids; 4 Spanish Books for Kids; Polar Bear Bowler: A Story Without Words; The Dancing Flamingos of Lake Chimichanga; Bad Bananas: A Story Cookbook for Kids; Ma MacDonald Flees the Farm: It’s Not a Pretty Picture…Book; Horse and Dog Adventures in Early California: Short Stories and Poems; Anna’s Prayer: The True Story of an Immigrant Girl; Ida’s Witness; No Offense: Communication Guaranteed Not to Offend; Crumbs on the Stairs - Migas en las escaleras: A Mystery; Bright Star, Night Star: An Astronomy Story; She Doesn’t Want the Worms: Ella no quiere los gusanos; Why Juan Can’t Sleep: A Mystery? Sounds in the House! Sonidos en la casa: A Mystery; Butterfly Blink: A Book Without Words; Arriba Up, Abajo Down at the Boardwalk; Muffy & Valor: A True Dog Story; To Swallow the Earth; A Sky So Big; It Ain’t Flat: A Memorizable Book of Countries (Free ebook)


What projects are you working on now, or planning for the future? I’m working on more multicultural/multilingual children’s books and a semi-autobiographical self-help book.


Where can people find you/your work? Titles available via Amazon/Kindle, Baker & Taylor, Barnes &, Brodart, EBSCO, Flipkart, Follett, Gardners, iBooks, Ingram, Inktera, Kobo, Library Direct, Mackin, OverDrive, Quality, SCRIBD,,


What kind of advice/tips do you have for someone who wants to write and get published? Write every day. Write from your heart—from what you know first-hand. Don’t try to write about something that you think is popular (unless that’s what you know). You don’t have to have an agent or publisher. Have several people critique your work—people who won’t gloss over glitches. These people can help you be your best.


What do you do when you are not writing? Marketing, studying, volleyball, socializing and making music


How do you publicize your books? Press releases, email, TV/radio appearances, social media, websites, blogs, personal appearances/presentations—anyway I can!


Do your books have a teaching objective? Yes. I write mostly to save families from the “I’m bored” disease. But yes, my stories teach language, counting, courage, friendship, sharing, faith, cooking, astronomy, geography, zoology, and entomology.


What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? I think ebooks are becoming more interactive—even animated (I worry that this will be a disincentive for reading).


Is there always an editor assigned to the author? Publishers should have in-house editors (don’t rely on these alone). Have as many as 20 people review, critique, and edit your work.


Is there a marketing budget for new authors? It is never enough (most publishers don’t do very well in this department). There are lots of free ways to market too.


What should an author know about her/his publisher’s distributors? LOTS. Sometimes, getting your book in certain venues is up to you (be careful not to jar publisher egos/rules in the process—though increased distribution should please them).


Can books usually be purchased from the publisher? Some publishers give advanced copies. All should offer wholesale rates to the author and others.


Do all publishers assist the author in exploiting their subsidiary rights? Not always.


What considerations should be given to a book’s cover art? Some publishers want total control. If you know what is right and will work, be assertive. The cover is key. Don’t skimp.


What should an author know about royalties? They are low (5 – 12%. Which is why I recommend self-publishing)


Should sample books be distributed to various reviewers, newspapers, bookstore owners, retailers, and radio stations? Absolutely. Be choosey about who gets a review copy—this can get expensive. Try sending an ebook.


Do most publishers provide posters? Shelf talkers? Bookmarks? They do if they think the book will do very well. Bookstores are not where most book sales take place. Most sales take place in unusual venues, associated venues (e.g.: Crate & Barrel for cookbooks) and online.


How long does it take a publishing house to make a name in the industry? I think establishing one’s reputation is an ongoing process. It’s nice to have enough titles to get distributors’ attention. It’s awesome to have more than one bestseller.


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


Are the names of your characters important to you? Almost never


How did you choose a title for your book? Sometimes the title is the first thing to come to mind, other times I have to stew about it (I keep a file of potential titles too)


Have you ever wished that you could be or do anything else instead of writing, and if so what? A rock star (really)


Do you think there is any elitism attached to the different genres of books, both in the fiction and non-fiction worlds? Absolutely. I have an unfinished scholarly manuscript that I finally shelved thinking it wouldn’t stand up to what’s out there already.


What was the most important thing you learned at school? How to research and learn


Have you had to learn new skills or attempted impossible feats in order to get a book finished? I had to learn Nevada geography for my novel. I’ve had to learn to account for my business.

You can find Karl and Karl’s books on the following online platforms:










Karl is also available for Interviews, Speaking and Consultation:   801-953-3793

Speaking topics:

"Getting Your Book to the World - Traditional vs. Digital publishing"

"Entrepreneurship: Bless Lives, Earn with Your Gifts"

"Artistic Education - How the Humanities Enrich Us"

"Writing Scripts for Shows, Film, Ads & the Web"

"Writing for Media: News Stories & Press Releases that Get Attention"

"How Diversity Enriches Everyone"

"Making Habit Work for You - Replace the Bad with Milestones"

Reviews by Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Horn Book, ForeWord Reviews


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