Category: Spurs Writers’ Corner

Being a Successful Author Using Social Media, Plus Online Etiquette, Spamming, Cyber-bullying, and Avoiding the Dangers of On-line Particpation

Life Is Rough: Being a Successful Author Requires Skill. (Please note that I'm crying about Elvis Presley's biography, on the table before me, not anything to do with books.)

Skillfully using social media is a major key to an author’s success. That’s what all the book industry marketing experts an book publicists say––and I know people who have parlayed on-line eBook and print book sales  into contracts with major publishers and top literary agents. They’ve created the top-selling literary careers that other writers, indie press owners, and self publishers want. Careers that even bestselling authors who have literary agents and are published by traditional publishers want.

How? I have no idea. I know how to win book contests––twenty-one of them to date––and produce exquisite books that get five star reviews. I’m working on sales. (Ahem.)

OK. Let’s drop the search engine optimization-laden verbiage and get down to it. (And that intro and article title are about as SEO sticky as you can get. SEO is my latest thrill. I’m looking forward to seeing how the Google analytics come out. [2 years later: They came out just the same as usual. No change.])

This blog post has been grinding around inside me. I’ve been trying to distill what’s bothering me and what I want to say. I’m going to put it out as a series of articles, the first one centering on on-line participation and getting mangled, which happened to me recently. is about achieving success and sanity as an author or writer.

In the publishing world, success is measured by two things: the number of books sold and the amount of money made selling them. If you want to test this, go anywhere that authors or writers congregate. Check out my Facebook wall (or yours). Authors crow about their book sales and big events and triumphs as they happen. In this world, life in its complexity, beauty and richness is compressed into an obsession with Amazon sales.

Sanity is harder to define. If  you want to get picky, you can always take the MMPI, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (or have it administered by a clinical psychologist). The MMPI is a great tool to determine what type of psychopathology the taker has, and how much. How crazy you are, in other words.

My less precise but way more illuminating definition of sanity is contained in a series of questions: Are you happy? Not the kind of manic, hysterical happiness shown on TV quiz shows. Are you really happy, deep-in-your-gut happy? Do you feel your life is meaningful and that you are traveling in a direction which is taking you closer to the person you were meant to be? Do you feel in communication with God, if you believe in God, or whatever you consider the source of the universe? Your Higher Power? The Great Bazonga in the Sky? Are you in touch with That?

So here’s the question: Is it possible to be successful and sane in the writing profession? Writing is hard. Getting published in a professional manner is harder. (Whether you self-publish or go the traditional route.) In my experience, marketing is hardest of all.

I’ve talked to other writers about this. They say the same thing: “I dunno. I’ll tell you when I figure it out.”

One of the personally/spiritually positive things about writing is the fact that it continually challenges you to do terrifying things. And learn stuff that you never, ever would have thought about before.  Or wanted to. Like search engine optimization. And leading. Do you know what leading is? [The distance between the lines of print in a book.] Do you know which printer gives you the best price on copies of your book and the best distribution? How to set up and write a blog? Establish a web site. You learn things like this as your career progresses.

OK. What happened to me on-line the other day? I have certain terrors, like everyone else. Things that are hard and scary that I have to force myself to confront. We all have such things. For some of you, running into the creature below would be terrifying. Getting up close and personal with him might put you into intensive care:

Capoeira BSN, a Peruvian Paso Stallion

Capoeira BSN, a Peruvian Paso Stallion

Working around Cappy does not bother me, particularly. (Especially since he’s in Australia.) You have to pay attention when you’re around a stallion, but he’s manageable. This is my personal source of terror, what makes my knees go weak and my eyeballs shake:

The Kindleboards Homepage

Kindleboards Home Page

One of my friends, an extremely successful author, gave me clear instructions on what to do to succeed in internet marketing.

“You have to get on the Kindleboards. Go out, introduce yourself, make friends. Don’t talk about your book much. Get to know people first. Establish a presence on-line. People will get to know you. Then they’ll buy your book.” A couple other people said the same thing. And I’ve heard it on-line.

I gave it a shot. Opened the Kindleboards site and was confronted by the biggest, most  complicated and (to me) least user friendly web site I have ever seen. I managed to sign up, stagger into the writers’ area, and attempted to register my books. It took me maybe five tries. I did it wrong––putting my books on separate pages, which seemed to be what other authors were doing. That was wrong: All books were supposed to be on one page. I finally mastered listing my books, with various emails from the moderators. I was ready to leap into the 500 million forum threads, all with different rules.

Lord, have mercy! I haven’t been back, even though I suspect worlds of meaning or something exist on the Kindleboards.

After that experience, I thought I’d try Goodreads, another big site for readers and authors. I have over 1,300 friends there, somehow, but I’ve not been on their forums (or any forums) much. I was delighted to see that they had reader groups with subject areas like those of my most recent book, The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy, which can be put in the  science fiction, visionary fiction, or fantasy slots.

I carefully read the posting instructions and put notes in the forums for the three categories  The Angel fit. “Hi, I’m Sandy Nathan, I wrote The Angel. It’s about . . .” And then I set up a page for the book itself. I immediately forgot what I’d posted and where. It was late and I was exhausted. But I was delighted that I’d gotten that far and thought this on-line stuff would be clear sailing from now on.

The next morning, I was greeted by a politely stated, but pointed, email from someone who said I’d spammed him the night before with 6 emails into his box. That people found that offensive and that I should post once and repeat with weekly or so intervals. Although the note was polite, it hurt. I was stung. Shaking. [Since posting this, I've heard from another author who said the same thing happened to her. It took her two days to stop shaking. All is not friendly in cyber-space!]

I was upset because I’d followed the rules, I looked them up, read, and followed them. I wrote back to the spammed man, groveling, and he wrote back. Then other people on the forum wrote about what happened. Turned into quite a lively discussion. It turned out the fellow who thought I’d spammed him was on a number of groups, the same ones I was on, and since I’d posted to those, a separate email had been sent to him from each by Goodreads. I hadn’t done it.

So the culprit was Goodreads programming, not me. The group decided I was innocent and would not be executed. That was the feeling I had.

Lord have mercy, again!

This situation got handled. The guy who wrote the email and I have communicated. He even bought The Angel. Things are cool.

But is this anything for a 66 year old woman with two master’s degrees to be doing with her life? I ask myself this all the time. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings and adventures in the world of on-line marketing. And writing in general. Blogging.

I’m going to have articles on the psychology of the internet, success, and more later.

All the best,

Sandy Nathan

Sandy Nathan is the winner of twenty-one national awards, in categories from memoir, to visionary fiction, to children’s nonfiction. And more.

Sandy’s  books are: (Click link to the left for more information. All links below go to Kindle sale pages.)
The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy
Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money

Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice

Two sequels to The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy are in production with a 2012 release date. If you liked  The Angel you’ll love Lady Grace and Sam & Emily.







Negotiation Skills and Working with Professionals – Add a little Sugar!

I'd work for these cookies––French macaroons.

Cookies make a difference. These are French macaroons, or Luxembourgers, made by Burdick Chocolates of Northhampton, MA. Photo courtesy of Burdick Chocolates.

I recently posted an article by super publicist Susan Schwartzman about working with a publicist and the importance of sending cookies once in a while.

This seems like a small thing––maybe even a bribe––but it’s not. What Ms. Schwartzman introduces is the very large topic of use of influence. Use of influence means what authors can do to maximize their impact in an intensely competitive world. Ms. Schwartzman‘s message applies not only to publicists, but to everyone the author touches in a publishing endeavor.

The author’s problem is BEING NOTICED. Whether self published or published by the majors, an author needs to get the attention of  his or her literary agent, book shepherd, cover and interior designers, publisher, publicist, editor, and especially intended readers.

Can you do it? Don’t think the quality of your book alone will catapult you to the front lines––you need negotiation skills here. You need communication skills and more.

Do you know how to listen to another person and deeply understand that person’s point of view? Can you send messages about your wants and needs that don’t feel like threats? Can you formulate a solution to the problem that benefits all participants?

If you can’t do these things, take a communication skills course. Add a negotiation skills course on top of that. You don’t have to spend a fortune doing it––most community rec departments offer them. Local junior colleges and high school adult ed departments give such courses. Learn personal skills, in addition to “How to write a perfect query letter.”

I once led a T-group at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. A T-group is like a therapy group, except it focuses on personal skills as they impact business situations. Studies have shown that students who do well in T-groups at the major business schools excel in their professional and personal lives. These are the movers and shakers: They make the most money and win life’s prizes.

The professor in charge made a devastating comment: “If you can’t motivate this group, how do you expect to attain your life goals?”

If you can’t move those closest to you, how to you expect to end up the CEO of a major corporation? Or save lives in Africa? Or get anyone to read your book, much less buy it?”

How can you motivate others? With cookies.

Of course, your publicist will work hard for you without them, but how do you make sure your job is the one that gets done at the end of the day?

Good manners is part of it. Assertive good manners. [Take an assertiveness training, too.] I’ll go over assertive techniques in later posts. Be kind and understand the point of view of the person you’re dealing with. That’s why I liked Susan Schwartzman’s article so much: Though she’s a top publicist, she reveals herself as a person in her blog post.

[Nathan Bransford is a blog writer who gives his audience a clear view of what a literary agent's life is like. This is very useful information for one attempting to be represented by an agent. Mr. Bransford talks about the joys of coming to work on Monday and finding 400 queries in his in-box. How do you approach someone in this situation? This is an opportunity to practice communication and negotiation skills.]

Life as a publishing industry professional is rough. How does one keep going?

He looks cute, doesn't he?

Raj looks cute, doesn't he? Hah! This 30 pound dog flipped an 80 pound Aussie on her back and terrorized a German shepherd.

Cookies really help. Positive reinforcement, behavioral psychologists call it. Here’s a story about positive reinforcement, also known as operant conditioning.

As a lifelong horsewoman, I’ve known about positive reinforcement for a long time. The “horse whisperer” type trainers use it. But when we got a “special needs” Cocker spaniel from the pound, I understood the real power of positive reinforcement. [Click for an article about this problem dog.]

Raj was a frigging nightmare, the attack-Cocker from hell. Within days of our rescuing him, he’d terrorized our much larger dogs and dominated our household. He made me a nervous wreck and caused my husband to rave about sending him back from whence he came. So what if they’d off him? He was killing us.

In desperation, I called my vet, who said, “Call Amanda!” Amanda is a dog trainer who uses only positive techniques. She was so nice that I couldn’t imagine her handing an aggressive dog, much less our stone cold killer.

Raj adored her. By the end of our sessions, she had him eating out of her hand (not eating her hand). He became a positive member of our social unit. Today, the human and canine Nathan pack loves Amanda––and Raj. [I wrote a series of articles about this transformation. Here's a link.]

What was the secret? Amanda rewarded-–in a currency that the Raj appreciated (bits of hot dogs)––everything he did that was desirable and IGNORED the rest. This sounds like it would take forever, but it’s actually very fast.

Find the currency the person you’re relating with wants and give it to them. (Subject to moral and legal constraints, of course.)

POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT IS 9 TIMES AS EFFECTIVE AS NEGATIVE. (Maybe even more. I forget the statistics Amanda cited.) Praise, cookies, acknowledgment, kindness––all of these work better than hostility, blame, rank pulling and abuse, physical or verbal abuse.

You can get noticed being a bad guy.

You can get noticed being a bad guy. Poor Sumo was so scared he wouldn't get out of the cart when Raj was around. Is this good? No. Raj is lucky he's alive.

You’re in a negotiation called life. You want your world to notice you. You can get noticed by being the meanest, most foul mouthed, bad-patootie on the block. By getting full-body implants and flaunting them. By setting yourself on fire in public––metaphorically or in reality.

Do these tactics buy you what you want? Why not figure out what those on your team want and give it to them? Why not figure out what the guys on the other team want and see areas of commonality? Why not use all your skills, including those of your heart and soul, to attain your goals?

Cookies are a tie breaker. Give cookies and you’ll get noticed in a positive way. Undoubtedly, the good wishes and intentions behind such gifts are what motivate theor recipient to expend that little extra bit of energy––that puts you in Time Magazine.

One more story on the value of positive reinforcement:

My daughter Zoe went to school in New York.  On one trip home, her plane had some problem and was taken out of service.  Everyone had to be rerouted. It was a mess; inconvenient, irritating.

Zoe stood in line at the airline’s counter and watched her fellow passengers REAM the airline employee who was working hard to put them on different, hopefully functional, planes. They acted as though the employee had personally disabled the first plane.

When she finally reached the desk, Zoe said, “Everyone’s acting like it’s your fault, but I think you’re doing a great job. Thank you!”

The woman gave her first class tickets all the way home.

You think cookies matter?

Award Winning Author of Numenon & Stepping Off the Edge

Award Winning Author of Numenon & Stepping Off the Edge

Sandy Nathan
Award winning author of Numenon and Stepping Off the Edge.
(And negotiation coach, as well as teacher/coach of communications and assertiveness trainings!)

Would you like some of the cookies up top? They’re all the rage in Paris––lines form to purchase “les macarons”––and now Burdicks is shipping them! These hand-piped, tender meringue treats are filled with flavored buttercreams. All natural flavorings of chocolate, coffee, pistachio, raspberry, lavender, almond-citrus and ginger. The assortment of fifteen is presented in a unique polka-dotted box. Click here for a review. Click to go to  LA Burdick Chocolate’s website to order.



Sandy Nathan, award winning author, rides her horse for the first time after having her ankle fused. Little did she know that getting over writer's block would be harder.

I wrote an introductory article on unlocking writers block a few weeks ago. (The one illustrated with photos of us trying to get a horse into a trailer.) After three weeks of vacation in New Mexico, I’m home and happily and productively working on the rewrite of Mogollon, sequel to my award winning novel, Numenon.

What did it take for me to break through the dreaded block?

Well, I stepped in a rut in the driveway with my fused ankle about three days into my vacation and spent the next two weeks in great pain and unable to walk. Before that, I had in a kidney infection along with a major flu.

That’s right, I had a kidney infection at the same time as the flu.

Is suffering necessary to break through writer’s block?

Was for me.

I put a longer and deeper write up of my experience these last few weeks on my personal blog ( Here, I summarize a few key learning points that may help you deal with your dragons:

1.    Accept and surrender.
If you’re unable to write what you want, or reach the depth that you know you’ve got with your writing, acknowledge it. You don’t have to like it or embrace it, just accept the fact you’re blocked. And surrender to the fact. Journal about it. Write a blog article or entire book about it.
2.    If you don’t accept your blocked state and surrender to it, you can search the Net for tips and techniques to deal with writer’s block and paralysis. You’ll find lots: Try them all. Maybe they’ll work. Chances are they won’t. When you discover this, accept your block and surrender to it.
3.    Hit bottom. I did this in my idyllic New Mexico escape, bruised ankle propped on pillows and my foot and lower leg––all the way to the knee––looking like an angry eggplant. That was after I got over the kidney infection and flu.
4.    Truly give up. Hand your whole life over to your Higher Power. If you don’t have a Higher Power, make One up.
5.    Note that the universe really is in control of your life, not you, despite what The Secret says. Healing is a combination of grace and self effort. When you surrender, the spooky stuff starts happening. For instance, when I finally hit as bottom as I’ve been in recent years, I decided to read by book club’s selection for the next month, which was:
6.    Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza. This best-selling book tells the story of how Immaculee Ilibagiza survived the murder of one million of her fellow Tutsi tribe members by rampaging Hutus. She hid in a 3 X 5 bathroom in Rwanda with 7 other women for 3 months. This book is a miracle, the finest example of contemporary Christian mysticism I have read. It jolted me into contact with my spiritual roots and provided the ground of my healing.
7.    It’s also evidence that writer’s block is not the worst thing that can happen to you.
8.    Neither are low book sales.

9.    You don’t have to be obsessed with your on-line sales, the number of blogs you write on, your web site stats, or anything about the world of writing.
10.    Life would go on if you never wrote another word.
11.    You might even enjoy your life more.

Freedom is letting go of attachment and aversion.

Freedom is letting go of attachment and aversion. No more: "I gotta have it," alternating with "I'd better run from him/her/it." Freedom is our birthright.

This is freedom. Once you attain this knowledge that you don’t need to write and the inner state that goes with it, the fountain of creativity inside of you may start to bubble again. You may get new angles for the book you were working on. You may WANT to write. You may be able to write.

Or not. You may want to run screaming from the literary world.

Try my method: Drop everything. Get to a dead stop. See what your soul says to you about your writing and your life. Do what it says.

I’m back at work writing, but in a different way. No more pounding the keyboard until my shoulders won’t move and my wounded ankle feels like it’s poured full of molten lead. No more obsessing.

I’m doing things differently and letting the immense love and good will of the universe carry me forward. If my stuff is supposed to sell, it will because people find value in it––and in getting to know me.

In God we trust, right? That’s the title of that other article I wrote about my recent three weeks of high altitude spiritual regeneration in Santa Fe.

Two more tips that could radically improve the level of peace in the world and might even help your writer’s block:

1.    Watch where you put your feet. If you watch where you put your feet, you won’t step in it. It can take many physical and metaphorical forms. The rut in the driveway that nailed my already screwed-down ankle taught me the wisdom of simple truths: Watch where you step.
2.    Keep your ankle above your heart.
This is a variant of an Eastern spiritual practice. In Eastern religions, worshipers pranam, bow, to their gurus, sacred objects, or representations of deities. The pranam involves either going down on one’s hands and knees and touching one’s forehead to the floor or a total prostration, lying face down on the floor with your hands over your head––a full pranam.

The pranam honors the sacred and forces one to put one’s head below one’s heart. That is, a pranam puts the rational, judgmental function of the intellect below the empathetic, intuitive, compassionate function of the heart. This is a good thing. Few people get in trouble because they’re too compassionate.

My episode with my ankle indicated that keeping your ankle above your heart can be an equally powerful means of attaining surrender, peace and nonviolence. Could those Hutus have murdered all those people if they’d kept their ankles about their hearts? No.

You can’t do much lying on your back with your ankle above your heart. This posture does provide a perfect opportunity to catch up on the meditations you’ve missed since you started writing seriously twenty years ago. You can contemplate existence like crazy.

With your ankle above your heart, your ankle’s swelling will go down, and so may that of your head. It’s a humbling thing, lying with your leg in the air. Humbling enough to allow your soul to talk and tell you what it thinks of the way you’ve been living.

Your soul may point out certain deficiencies in your behavior that have contributed to your inability to write anything but checks. Your soul may suggest alternative behaviors. In my case, if I didn’t run myself into the ground and chase foolish …  (Contemplation can be brisk.)

Writing and lifestyle are interrelated, or so my ankle and heart told me.

In words my editor sent me (from Ephesians): Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

In God I trust, while walking the walk.

If you want the longer form on my personal blog, click here to go to Sandra

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