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Author Spotlight: Dan Sheehan

Posted by CreateSpaceBlogger on Oct 7, 2013 5:05:29 AM Dan Sheehan, a helicopter pilot in the United States Marines, returned from his last combat tour in Iraq, he struggled to cope with emotions that were keeping him from moving on. He found a therapeutic outlet in writing, which led him to compile his experiences into a book, After Action. Here, Dan shares how he wrote, polished, and independently published a professionally edited and designed book, and how his story is helping other military service members and their loved ones deal with the effects of war.


Tell us about your book.

After Action is about my combat experiences in Iraq and how I came to understand their impact on me as a person. For five years after my last combat tour, I refused to admit anything was bothering me. Each time the emotions and reactions from combat began to leak out I'd angrily push them back, struggling to move on with my life against forces I didn't understand. It was a battle I found myself fighting more and more frequently even as I told myself I was fine. Then my younger brother crashed in Afghanistan. In the aftermath of his crash, and my unexpected reaction to it, I knew I had to find out what was going on. I began writing in an attempt to figure out what was bothering me and, in doing so, found my distress was more common among veterans than I ever imagined.


Care to share your author bio?

I served as an officer in the Marine Corps from 1996 to 2008. I flew AH-1W SuperCobra helicopters on several overseas deployments prior to the Iraq War. In 2003, I was part of the initial invasion of Iraq and provided close air support for coalition troops on the march to Baghdad. In 2004 I returned to Iraq, this time as a forward air controller with a special operations unit. For this second combat deployment I was on the ground, moving with small teams of operators on missions targeting insurgent leaders in and around Baghdad. For actions taken during these deployments I was awarded the Bronze Star and two Individual Action Air Medals, all with combat distinguishing devices. I am now a stay-at-home father raising two young kids while working on a second book.


How did you come to independent publishing?

I chose self-publishing because it offered me the best way to attain my goal of helping my fellow veterans. I felt what I had written could improve, and possibly save, veteran's lives and was determined to make it available to those who could benefit the most. I queried agents for six months but was told the market wasn't interested in "another war book." However, the main focus of After Action isn't combat, but rather gaining a better understanding of what it means to be a warrior. Independent publishing offered a clear path for me to share that understanding with a wide audience.


I believed in my work and set forth to make it available on my own. With help from David Hazard, my developmental editor, I focused on polishing the manuscript. I benefitted greatly from his guidance throughout the writing process. It was David who recommended CreateSpace for its responsive customer service, solid quality control, and ease of use. I chose to use Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) for the same reasons and because my experience with CreateSpace had been so positive.


Tell us about your marketing efforts. How did you get the word out about your book?

I initially marketed my book via word of mouth. There aren't many Cobra pilots in the Marine Corps so when one of us writes a book the rest of us generally buy it - if only to make fun of the author. After that initial flurry, I began marketing through public speaking engagements with veterans groups, active duty military personnel, and civic organizations. I also maintain a blog on my website that actively pushes posts to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.


I was fortunate that Publishers Weekly Select chose my book for a starred review in July and also ran an interview with me in August. I also contacted an NPR show, "Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane," that has featured authors of books similar to my own. After Marty Moss-Coane read After Action, I got an invitation to appear on her show scheduled for October 16, 2013. Targeting specific people who have demonstrated an interest in the subject matter I write about has been a very effective marketing strategy. But it takes time - usually months - from initial contact to final interview.


What are your goals with your book project?

My goal in writing After Action was to figure out how my combat experiences were still affecting me. My goal in publishing it was to share what I'd learned with other veterans and their families and encourage them to face, not hide from, the challenges of coming home from war. CreateSpace and KDP have given me a way to share my message in a polished, well produced, and professional book.


What have been some of your biggest successes so far?

The biggest success to me has been the way After Action has been received. The messages I've received from people who've read it - service members, parents of fallen Marines, widows, folks seeking to understand how combat affects a person - have been extremely gratifying. Several Marines I served with sought professional help with their readjustment challenges after reading my book. Complete strangers have confided in me their innermost fears and painful memories because, after reading my story, they trust that I can understand. I'm extremely proud that my book is having that effect.


What's next for you?

I'm working on a second book right now. Where After Action is narrowly focused on my personal experiences, thi current project is wider in scope. Aimed at warriors whose time on the battlefield is over, my second book will address the challenges of returning to normal life after combat. This is a life transition that few modern veterans are prepared for even though these challenges are common across centuries of recorded history. My goal is to encourage veterans to view post-combat challenges as inevitable extensions of the battlefield, motivate them to face those challenges head on, and offer a guide for how to successfully navigate their own full return from combat.


What advice would you offer your fellow authors?

Independent publishing has gotten very easy. I felt the draw to "just get it out there" before my book was actually ready to go. Luckily, I listened to some good advice from my writing mentor and held off. That additional time allowed me to fine-tune the editing and create a solid cover design that fit with the internal format of the book and tone of the writing itself. All this effort coalesced into a professional book that looks good and reads well, which I think helps sales.


I would recommend new authors find a reputable writing coach with extensive industry experience and listen to their recommendations. As much as the publishing industry is changing, certain truths are persistent. Find someone who can advise you on the basic requirements of a successful book and adjust them to fit the changing realities of publishing.

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