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Robert Beatty Could Have Retired in His 30s. Then He Pursued His Second Goal and Became a Bestseller

Matt Peiken | BPR News

Robert Beatty was still in his 30s when he sold his tech company for millions of dollars and moved with his wife and three daughters from Michigan to 32 acres of green forest in Fletcher.


Beatty never had to work again, and his story could have ended there. But success in business was just one of his two life goals. Beatty set a detailed, determined plan to fulfill the second.


“I am constantly looking out at what I want out in the future and where I want to be and make decisions at this moment to help me get to that position,” he said.


On this day, Beatty is dressed in khaki business slacks and a button-down maroon shirt. He’s middle-aged with a receding hairline. This isn’t the picture of a bestselling author of fantasy novels for teenagers.


But to appreciate where Beatty has arrived, you should know the hurdles he’s cleared, the humility he’s absorbed and his calculated efforts to engineer success. He will sign his books July 28 at Malaprop’s Books in Asheville and Aug. 11 at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in Cherokee.


There’s another story to tell here, about the robotics business Camille and her sister Genevieve run with their father’s help. They machine their own parts and build small, programmable robots from the vast garage below Beatty’s writing studio.


Sales to children’s museums around the country are strong enough to support fulltime attention, but Camille is headed to Columbia University in the fall to study engineering, and Beatty is diving into book promotion.


“I had a very successful corporate career, but through all those years, I’d even tell my wife sometimes, I just feel like a failure because I hadn’t achieved my one goal, which was to be a published author,” Beatty said. “So to do that, I thought I could self-publish and effectively use the money I’d made as a CEO to publish anything I want, but that wasn’t the way I wanted to go. I had to be a traditionally published author.”


Beatty remembers himself as an 11-year-old, pulling out the family’s IBM Selectric typewriter, rolling in a sheet of paper and typing “Chapter One,” and he’s never really stopped writing. As a corporate CEO, he would come home from work and spend his evenings writing.


Mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction -- he finished about 15 manuscripts and sent pitches to hundreds of agents and publishers. None were interested. All the while, Beatty’s eldest daughter, Camille, hounded him to write something she was allowed to read.


“She came in and put an old typewritten manuscript on my desk and she said ‘What’s that?,’ real accusatory. She said ‘Oh, I found it in an old box in the basement,’” he recalled. “I said ‘That’s a manuscript I wrote when I was 13 or 14 years old. That’s a fantasy story for kids, and I don’t write books like that anymore,’ and she said ‘well, you should, because I just read it and I love it.’”

Beatty set aside the book he was writing and, with his three daughters egging him on from new chapter to new chapter, he stepped into the world of teen fantasy.


“They would bash in the door of my office, flop onto the sofa, and if I wasn’t ready to read it to them, they’d say ‘What have you been doing all day? C’mon!” Beatty said with a laugh.


After a month of writing and 11 months revising, Beatty had his story, about a brave, unusual girl with a heroic heart named Serafina. Camille remembers helping her father shape his characters and settings so young readers could better relate to them.


“Shifting it to be an emotional story, and showing her overcome those emotions and showing her become a brave girl,” 18-year-old Camille Beatty said. “My sister and my part in this book has been bringing out the believability and vulnerability in that story.”


At a literary conference in Florida, Beatty pitched 10 agents -- all 10, he says, offered to sign him on the spot. He wound up signing a publishing deal with Disney. He has since written three books in his Serafina series and self-financed lavish video trailers for them, attracting hundreds of thousands of views and helping to vault each onto the New York Times bestsellers list.


His new spinoff book, “Willa of the Wood,” just debuted at No.1 among middle-school hardcover books. It’s about an orphaned 12-year-old and set in the Great Smoky Mountains.


“I had fallen in love with this area and so I felt a lot of passion to express myself in my love for the region, the people, as well as the forest,” Beatty said. “All that combined with the excitement and involvement of my daughters and wife, it created a melting pot of ideas and creativity, and we really enjoyed working on it together.”

Matt Peiken, BPR’s first full-time arts journalist, has spent his entire career covering arts and culture.
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