SANDY NATHAN Award Winning Author of Numenon, Stepping Off the Edge, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, and Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could


A couple of months ago, something was bothering me. I didn’t know what it was, just that I felt like I’d swallowed a granite egg. I went about my business of reworking manuscripts my editor had shredded, planning publicity for my new book, Numenon, and hobbling around on my ruined ankle.

Every time I passed the slight depression in the dirt by the side of the garage that marks the location of our septic tank, I thought: marketing. I would rather take a dip in our septic tank than degrade myself by doing some of the stuff the mega-marketers suggested. And yet I knew that if my books didn’t sell, my writing career would be over.

Friedrich Nietzsche could have done something neat with this; I just felt like I’d swallowed a rock.

In this life, you don’t get to sit with something too long before something else happens. In my case, the egg began to hatch and the little darling inside it began to claw its way toward daylight. I felt worse. Conflicted. Weighed down. Desperate.

I felt as though my soul was about to don a slick suit and a plastic smile and hit the bright lights suggested by the big marketing guys. I would begin sending emails to my list three times a day and advertise seminars that promised nirvana for a thousand bucks.

I’d rather die.

By purest happenstance, an old friend contacted me. We chatted, catching up. Boy, had she been through it. Terrible life trials, the kind that have you thinking, I’m glad that happened to you, not me.

Much to my surprise, as she outlined horrible and very expensive events requiring lawyers, she said, “I kept thinking about that horse show you wrote about where you worked really hard preparing, and you kept losing and losing and losing …”

That could be almost any of them, I thought.

“And then finally, at the end––you won the prize for the best barn in the show!”

Oh, yeah. That one.

I wrote about the show on my Rancho Vilasa web site and forgot about it.

A revisit to the article revealed that I wrote it ten years ago. My ten year old write-up gave my friend strength to face the hurdles before her.

The words shelf life popped into my mind. I realized that what had been eating me was the concept of shelf life. What is the shelf life of my work? My life? Our work and lives? Does shelf life matter? Those questions led to contemplation, and sparked an insight leading to the blog you’re reading.

I rewrote the article about that horse show where I lost until I won. Here it is: ON SANDY’S OTHER BLOG. I recommend that you read it. It’s lavishly illustrated, full of spectacular horse photos, lore from the glamorous horse show world (“Barry, where did you put the manure fork?”), and a huge life lesson that I was dragged out of me with red-hot tongs. It’s also longer than a standard 900 word blog entry. It’s more like a book chapter, which it probably will be some day.

The bottom line of the article is: I went to a horse show. I am a compulsive competitor and winner. It just kills me to lose. I will do anything moral and within the rules (of the universe and humanity) to win, including driving myself and everyone around me crazy. I went in one class at the show. My horse and I were unschooled, unready, and out of shape. He bucked every time I asked him to do anything. Buck. Buck. Buck.  All around the arena. Judges frown on horses bucking in pleasure horse classes. We came in last.

Whoa! Did I freak out. The article above is about my freak out and how when I finally went, “I lost. So what?” The instant I finally let go, the horse show committee called my husband and I into the arena and awarded us a gigantic perpetual trophy for being the best barn in the show. I started bawling.

Talk about an enlightenment moment.

But it lasted. I wrote about it and ten years later, a friend told me it helped her.

We got something here. I’ve been through the publishing mill. I’ve read all the books and gone to writing groups for 11 years. Done some big seminars. I’ve popped out my best, best, BEST query letters only to have 22 year old literary agents not even reject me until I called them and asked for it. Me with my massive resume and vast collection of horse show ribbons.

I know the world that writers face: I am one of you. Inevitably, the question arises: Why am I doing this? The literary world is the screwiest I have ever seen, and after the places I’ve gone, that’s saying a lot. Why am I doing this? And why can’t I stop?

What do I want from the enormous task of putting what I think and feel into words so that I can figure out what I really think and feel––and that other people can benefit, too? I didn’t know at the beginning what the granite egg was–-now I do.

What are we really going for? REAL PUBLICATION––meaning publication by a traditional press where they pay you for your words? This is the mecca of the scribbling world.

I’ve seen it many times: “When I’m published …” The speaker’s eyes glaze over and she looks into the distance, the way saints are often depicted on bird baths. The eyes of the members of her writing group look similar. Their heads nod in agreement. “When I’m really published …” My life will begin.

This is bull shit. It’s sick. I know all about it.

Say you manage to snag an agent. Your writing group explodes in applause. The group leader is euphoric.

That’s the bare beginning. Your agent likes your work, but sees a few ways it could be improved. (So why didn’t he/she write it?) You comply, happily. The eventual publisher also wants changes. Big ones. It’s not your work any more––but you sold it. What are you going to do, give the money back? The changes happen. The book hits the streets three years after your agent sold it, which was two years after accepting you.

Your book is out, only five years after your agent got it! You get an author copy and do one book signing. The publisher goes belly up, and your book is pulped.

Your shelf  life is about three months, unless a miracle occurs.

If you self publish or start your own micro press, you can go a little longer: until your money runs out.

So here I am, in my writing life. I’m thinking about how long my work will last, how I can get it out without going broke, and without being further insulted by an industry I consider ludicrous.

Let’s consider some books with long shelf life:

Tarzan of the Apes

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Win Friends and Influence People

The Great Gatsby

Popeye the Sailor Man, Vol. 1

You see, the possibilities for books with long shelf life are many and varied.

Hence, YOUR SHELF LIFE. Why worry about it? Because even if you work and slave and diminish your world so that all the vast grandeur of the universe becomes compressed into squiggles on paper or electronic surfaces––you shelf life will be about three months unless a miracle happens.

I believe in miracles!

7 Responses to “WHAT’S YOUR SHELF LIFE?”

  1. Hi,
    I love your comments on publishing and writing, it’s so difficult to “get published” that we forget that it’s okay to write, to be a writer, you can just write and feel the joy of creating scenes, words and a history of your own life.
    Thank you for addressing that.


  2. Felicia Ford says:

    Publish American has published by book” Quiet Desperation.” It will be in print shortly. I realize most publishers(unless the renowned ones) are scans, Unfortunately I had no money for an agent or other publishers who wanted money up front. Sandy, what is your advise on marketing you own book? I afraid I’m not that good at computer, enough to get me by. I have a good women’s book on addiction though and I want the message to get out for all those who suffer or struggle. Is faith in one book enough? Any help would be a blessing.
    Felicia Ford

  3. admin says:

    Thanks for the support, Catharine & Felicia! I’m glad to see my words are touching people. Regarding marketing your work, Felicia, a couple of things to remember. An old timer in the publishing world told me “the most important factor in the success of a book is the persona of the author.” That means your image or “personal branding.” Also YOU––who you are and how you communicate yourself to others. I find that I sell books any time I am personally present, like at a signing. With your book having a strong message and your personal commitment and enthusiasm, you should do well if you learn and apply marketing skills. Many books and courses on marketing exist. Penny Sansevieri is an expert, as is MJ Rose. Dan Poynter writes about marketing. You can search for their books and courses on line. Penny’s From Book to Bestseller is very good. Another thing to remember is that LOTS of books are published each year. Googling “How many books are published each year?” gave me results of 170 to 190,000 books in the US each year. The author’s problem is to make his or her book stand out in that huge crowd––that’s the job before you. It’s a matter of mastering and applying what the experts say––find your niche and connecting with the people in it––producing a top notch book, and grace. Yes, a successful book in today’s market place nothing less than an act of God. And maybe more. You might want to define your criteria for success in terms of reaching and moving people rather than in the number of books you sell. I wish you the very best in your endeavor and hope my answer supplies some of what you need. We authors need to stick together.

  4. Lois Carey says:

    I have 4 professional books out they continue to do well – I authored one and co-edited three. I am a social worker who has specialized in play therapy, particularly Jungian Sandplay. In January, Fisherking Press released my “quasi-memoir”, A Salty Lake of Tears, which includes about 50 years of various types of writing – memoir, fairy tale, mythology, travels, a play. It has gotten wonderful reviews (Amazon.com) but, since I am an Introverted Feeling type – marketing is a foreign language for me. I know that friends and family have bought it but I have to really get it out there. Any concrete advise MOST appreciated. Incidentally, your site is phenomenal!

    • admin says:

      Lois, just time for a note now. I’ve been editing like crazy all weekend and am pooped. Will get back to you. Your career and writing sounds fascinating. In my experience, marketing is much harder than writing/publication. I get such a kick out of my friends in writing groups and MFA programs who slave to get their manuscripts perfect and think that once they’ve done, the work will be over. From where I sit, writing is the easy part. (Not that you don’t have to work to get it right.) So. Thoughts on marketing tomorrow. I just got John Locke’s How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in Five Months. He’s got the magic!

  5. Hi! Please consider writing a book review of my novel, Rarity from the Hollow. It is available as a paperback, PDF, MOBI, or EPUB. http://www.lacydawnadventures.com

    Following is a recent review that compared the writing style to Kurt Vonnegut! While I’m flattered by this review, please note that my novel has been found by another reviewer, the editor of Atomjack Science Fiction Magazine, to be “laugh-out-loud funny” in some scenes. Long-time book critic, Barry Hunter closed his review, “…good satire is hard to find and science fiction satire is even harder to find.” It has a HEA ending. I just received a book review written by the retired editor of Reader’s Digest: “The most enjoyable science fiction I’ve read in several years.” This review is also copied below.

    My work utilizes SF/F cross-genre as a backdrop. It includes elements of everyday horror, paranormal, true love type romance, mystery, and adventure. The content addresses poverty, domestic violence, child maltreatment, local and intergalactic economics, mental health issues – including PTSD experienced by Veterans and the medicinal use of marijuana for treatment of bipolar disorder, capitalism, and touches on the role of Jesus: “Jesus is everybody’s friend, not just humans.” This is not hard science fiction despite the following reviews that imply such.

    A review posted by you would likely be very helpful to the expansion of the Lacy Dawn Adventures project since your work is so respected. I recently retired after 52 years of contributions into the Social Security fund so that I could write and promote my fiction. I’m a financially broke licensed social worker and former mental health psychotherapist in West Virginia. This novel was published in 2012, but after coming home drained from working with child abuse victims, I did not have the energy left to begin self-promotion. It will be reprinted sometime in July 2015. Author proceeds from this project have been donated to a child abuse prevention program in my home state.

    Dog Horn Publishing is a traditional small press located in Leeds. Adam Lowe is the owner. He didn’t charge me a cent to edit, create the book cover, or to print my novel. Albeit small, I have been paid royalties. The novel is available from various outlets, not just Amazon. http://www.doghornpublishing.com/wordpress/books/rarity-from-the-hollow I can send you a PDF, or I can ask Adam to send you a different format.

    Target Audience:
    Piers Anthony found that my novel was “…not for the prudish.” Kevin Patrick Mahoney, editor of the once noteworthy site, Authortrek, found that it was, “…not for the faint hearted or easily offended….” An early voice in the 1st chapter speaks about things that no child should know. It is that of a traumatized child – a voice most of us never listen to, or want to hear, but in real life is screaming. This passage is mild in comparison to some of the stuff that kids have said during actual group therapy sessions that I facilitated over the years. By child developmental stage, it is similar to the infamous early adolescent insult in E.T: “penis breath.” It is tame in comparison to the content of the popular T.V. series, South Park, which was devoured by millions of teens. My story does include marijuana smoking.
    Except for a scene involving domestic violence in the 3rd chapter, this early dialogue is the only mildly graphic content. There are no graphic sex scenes in the novel. The renewed romance between the protagonist’s parents does include sexual reference. The android coming of age during his pursuit of humanity is reality based. However, Lacy Dawn never lets the android get farther than to kiss her on the cheek. The android expresses no interest in sex – he falls in love, all consuming love by the middle of the story. The “F word” is used once, but there is no other profanity. Rarity from the Hollow is A Children’s Story for Adults.
    Lacy Dawn is a true daughter of Appalachia, and then some. She lives in a hollow with her worn-out mom, her Iraq War disabled dad, and her mutt Brownie, a dog who’s very skilled at laying fiber optic cable. Lacy Dawn’s android boyfriend, DotCom, has come to the hollow with a mission. His equipment includes infomercial videos of Earth’s earliest proto-humans from millennia ago. DotCom has been sent by the Manager of the Mall on planet Shptiludrp: he must recruit Lacy Dawn to save the Universe in exchange for the designation of Earth as a planet which is eligible for continued existence within a universal economic structure that exploits underdeveloped planets for their mineral content. Lacy Dawn’s magic enables her to save the universe, Earth, and, most importantly, her own family.
    Link for excerpt: http://www.wattpad.com/12596126-rarity-from-the-hollow-excerpt
    Thank you and please continue to read the following book reviews and supporting information,
    Robert Eggleton
    Permission to reprint or excerpt the following book reviews has been granted as long as the authors and their blogs are credited:
    A Universe On the Edge
    RARITY FROM THE HOLLOW. Robert Eggleton. Doghorn Publishing. Published 2012.

    Lacy Dawn is a little girl who lives in a magical forest where all the trees love her and she has a space alien friend who adores her and wants to make her queen of the universe. What’s more, all the boys admire her for her beauty and brains. Mommy is very beautiful and Daddy is very smart, and Daddy’s boss loves them all.
    Lacy Dawn, the eleven year old protagonist, perches precariously between the psychosis of childhood and the multiple neuroses of adolescence, buffeted by powerful gusts of budding sexuality and infused with a yearning to escape the grim and brutal life of a rural Appalachian existence. In this world, Daddy is a drunk with severe PTSD, and Mommy is an insecure wraith. The boss is a dodgy lecher, not above leering at the flat chest of an eleven-year-old girl.
    Yes, all in one book.
    Rarity From The Hollow is written in a simple declarative style that’s well- suited to the imaginary diary of a desperate but intelligent eleven-year-old – the story bumping joyfully between the extraordinary and the banal.
    The central planet of the universe is a vast shopping mall, and Lacy Dawn must save her world from a menace that arrives in the form of a cockroach infestation. Look again and the space alien has made Daddy smart and happy – or at least an eleven year old girl’s notion of what a smart and happy man should be. He has also made Mommy beautiful, giving her false teeth and getting the food stamp lady off her back.
    About the only thing in the book that is believable is the nature of the narrative voice, and it is utterly compelling. You find yourself convinced that “Hollow” was written as a diary-based autobiography by a young girl and the banal stems from the limits of her environment, the extraordinary from her megalomania. And that’s what gives Rarity From The Hollow a chilling, engaging verisimilitude that deftly feeds on both the utter absurdity of the characters’ motivations and on the progression of the plot.
    Indeed, there are moments of utter darkness: In one sequence, Lacy Dawn remarks matter-of-factly that a classmate was whipped to death, and notes that the assailant, the girl’s father, had to change his underpants afterward because they were soiled with semen. Odd, and often chilling notes, abound.
    As I was reading it, I remembered when I first read Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” at the age of 14. A veteran of Swift, Heller, and Frederick Brown, I understood absurdist humour in satire, but Vonnegut took that understanding and turned it on its ear.
    In the spirit of Vonnegut, Eggleton (a psychotherapist focused on the adolescent patient) takes the genre and gives it another quarter turn. A lot of people hated Vonnegut, saying he didn’t know the rules of good writing. But that wasn’t true. Vonnegut knew the rules quite well, he just chose to ignore them, and that is what is happening in Eggleton’s novel, as well.
    Not everyone will like Rarity From The Hollow. Nonetheless, it should not be ignored.
    by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
    The most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in several years
    Rarity from the Hollow by Robert Eggleton is the most enjoyable science fiction novel I have read in several years. Who could think of an intergalactic handbook for entrepreneurs? Who could turn a tree-hugger into a paranormal event of death-defying significance? Who could create characters so believable, so funny, so astonishingly human (and not)?
    Robert Eggleton, that’s who.
    I put this book on my IPhone, and it followed me everywhere for several days. Strangers smiled politely at my unexpected laughter in the men’s room toilet stall. They looked away as I emerged, waving the IPhone at them as if it might explain something significant.
    Oddly, the novel explains a great deal that has become significant in our society. Rarity from the Hollow is satire at its best and highest level. It is a psychological thriller, true to traits of mankind (and other species). It is an animal rights dissertation (you will laugh when you understand why I write that). It celebrates the vilest insect on earth (make that Universe).
    The characters created by Robert Eggleton will bug your brain long after you smoke, uh, read the final page. Thanks for the laughs, the serious thoughts, the absolute wonder of your mind, Mr. Eggleton. A truly magnificent job.
    by Temple Emmet Williams Author, former Reader’s Digest Editor
    Purchase links:
    http://www.amazon.com/Rarity-Hollow-Robert-Eggleton-ebook/product-reviews/B007JDI508 (includes additional reviews)
    About Robert:

    Robert Eggleton is best known for his investigative reports about children’s programs. Today, he is a recently retired psychotherapist from the mental health center in Charleston, West Virginia. Rarity from the Hollow is his debut novel and followed publication of three short Lacy Dawn adventures. Author proceeds are donated to a child abuse prevention program operated by Children’s Home Society of West Virginia.

    • admin says:

      Hi, Robert, Thank you for thinking of me with respect to your book. I have never done reviews by request and finally removed my email from the Amazon page and requested authors not to contact me. I do review books, but only those I find myself. Good luck in your endeavors, Sandy Nathan

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