Posts tagged: How To

The Psychological Structure of the Publishing Industry: Writers and Authors are the Children, Literary Agents Are the (Good or Bad) Parents and Publishers Call the Shots

Addiction. This drawing by my daughter Lily shows the many-tentacled nature of addiction better than words. The thing about addiction is: It ain't fun.

Today, we examine the psychological structure of the publishing industry, trying to figure out why we may feel so lousy pursuing a literary career. (Unless you’re one of the anointed few making mega-bucks with your scribblings. I doubt that feels lousy.)

We’re going to take three different points of view, which add up to very similar conclusions. My fellow authors, Ruth Harris & Anne R. Allen, wrote a great blog article about Writers’ Masochism.  That refers to writers taking  garbage and ill-treatment from their bosses that no one in any other industry would tolerate.

Except maybe in the practice of law, our second point of view on this issue. Here’s a  link an article by Will Meyerhofer, an attorney and psychotherapist. If you read Mr. Meyerhofer’s article, I think you’ll agree that the legal profession and publishing industry have much in common. Or at least many people living and working in them feel just as rotten.

After practicing law for a period of time, Meyerhofer discovered that depression is common in attorneys. He became a psychotherapist who treats attorneys. In his article, Meyerhofer presents a psychological model explaining how depression is created and supported within the individual’s mind and by the legal industry. The depression-creating system he presents is one basis of the writer’s masochism post by Ruth Harris & Anne R. Allen. I recommend reading both for an understanding of writer’s masochism. Meyerhofer’s description of how lower level attorneys feel in Biglaw mirrors my own feelings as a fledgling author.

Then there’s the systems approach, widely espoused in many schools of counseling and psychotherapy. Before leaping into the world of writing, I had a broad professional life. I was an economist, negotiation coach, businesswoman, and horse rancher before the need to write knocked on my psyche. I have a couple of master’s degrees, including one in counseling. I earned my counseling degree in a program stressing family structure and systems – how a family’s unspoken rules can work to keep some family members powerless and unhappy and allow others to be fat cats and bullies. This background has served me well.

After a devastating personal experience in 1993, I entered the world of writing. Was I healing myself? Yeah. I jumped into writing groups and spending quality time with editors and spent all day sitting at a word processor. Once I learned to write decently and had enough  work on paper to need a publisher, my personal learning ratcheted up.

I became acutely aware of of the psychological structure of the literary/publication world.

At the bottom of the pyramid are hordes of wannabe authors – and they have to be published traditionally, only. Being traditionally published means: a publisher buys your manuscript according to a contract, which the publisher writes and controls. You get money (but dribbled out over time, so it’s not as much as it seems when you sign on the dotted line) and they get to do whatever they want with your work, including not publishing it. If your book does come out, you, the author, get to pay for marketing it and do the work involved. (This is lots of work.) Because of this, being traditionally published is considered by many to be far superior to and more prestigious than publishing your work  yourself. 

I recall seeing a video of a famous author giving a seminar about writing. Her fans gazed at  her with devotion normally reserved for east-Indian gurus. Rapture didn’t come close to the intensity of their focus. They were addicts, of her and of getting their work in print. Lust lived in that room. I’m astonished that no one noticed how bizarre the situation was.

Back to the publishing industry: Above the wannabe authors in the power hierarchy (way above) are the literary agents, gatekeepers to the hallowed realm of the publishers. The literary agents are numerous, but a tiny fraction of the number of wannabe authors.

Above the literary agents are the publishers, a much smaller group which  hold the keys to kingdom: the transcendent realm of publication.

In this system, power flows downward: publishers have way more power than agents who have way more power than writers/wannabe authors, who have almost no power. Publishers decide what goes into print, period. That’s power. Agents can funnel authors and writers to the publishers. No agent’s endorsement means no access to publishers. That’s power. Writers without agents learn to write powerful query letters. Imaginative query letters to seduce agents into loving them in three paragraphs. They write a lot of these. This is not power.

The publishers and agents take on the parental and adult roles in the system, doing everything good and bad parents do. Judging, evaluating, rejecting, and generally doing the naughty things described in Ruth’s and Anne’s article. This hierarchical dehumanization is part of the structure of the industry.


Angst - We all face existential anxiety, but the system in which writers operates creates a more than usual load for writes. Drawing: Lily Nathan

In this model, the writers/authors are trapped in a PERMANENT state of the powerless child. That’s what Ruth and Anne describe above, in talking about rotten deals and being forced to overwork and accept bad terms. This is a PERMANENT state, unless a writer gets lucky and enters the hallowed realm of the ACTUALLY PUBLISHED and her book sells like crazy. (Or unless the industry topples. It’s been shaken by the Great Recession and the eBook and self-publishing revolutions.)

Everyone in the traditional system is stuck. Literary agents and representatives of publishers are also mired in a PERMANENT state of the ADULT or PARENT. They are perennially superior to and controlling of the child/writers. Who are shoved into permanent INFANCY. This is lousy for the personal/spiritual development of everyone involved.

* * *

Attempting the traditional approach to publication in the beginning, I queried agents a bit and was rejected soundly. When that failed, I hired my editor to write a query letter for me. That was rejected just as fast as the ones I wrote.

The biggest learning came from watching one of my friends query. A very successful attorney, she whacked out a hundred queries for every one I wrote. She was efficient, ruthless, and did everything the books on querying said.

She said that some of the queries came back rejected faster than they would if bounced back at the agent’s mail office. “No one read the letter, much less my writing samples.”

My friend showed me that intensity and focus in the querying process yielded the same results as my dilettantism.

Nathan Bransford, the former literary agent turned author and popular blog writer said said something like this  in one of his postings. “I used to receive 15 to 20,000 query letters in a year. I took on two or three new clients.”

That’s a 0.015% chance of acceptance. Getting into Harvard Medical School is many times easier than getting an agent to take you on.

I got all this. Something inside me went, “**** this. I’m not willing to be abused.”

That was the end of my traditionally published career.

* * *

When I was in economics or coaching negotiations at the graduate level, professional life was different. In a “regular” profession, if you write and present a few excellent papers and do your work well, you’re treated like a valuable adult team member. Not so in publishing.

Anne and Ruth present some steps to take to reestablish oneself as a powerful individual in the writing world.

My solution was to create an independent press – a legal entity as  valid as any other press.

Some people start foaming at the mouth when anyone talks about  indie-presses or self-publishing. They assume that all self-published or  indie-published work is garbage. Some of these people are highly focal and even obnoxious about airing their opinions. I would like to suggest that that attitude belongs with the folks who are addicted to being traditionally published, at the cost of themselves.

People talk about the abysmal quality of self-published work. It’s true: A lot of it is junk from one cover to another. But not all of it.

As of this 2015 update, my books have won thirty awards at contests for indie-presses. I have judged one such contest. I’m not allowed to say anything about that contest, but I will say that the best of the indie-produced books far exceeded the quality of books published by the majors.

And of course they do – the majors can’t afford to put the resources into a book that some independently-funded small presses can. Books of amazing quality won in that contest.

What is the point of this diatribe? Everyone needs to create a path which will allow him or her to attain goals, while maintaining one’s soul. Anne’s and Ruth’s article gave some suggestions. Will Meyerhofer’s article gives others.

What do I suggest? Do what works and dump what doesn’t.

I chose to create my own press. I’ve got nine books on the market. Most have won multiple awards.

As an indie-press owner and indie-author, I work harder than even I, the achievement-addicted economist from Silicon Valley, could have predicted. Seven days a week at this point. The market is so flooded with author-produced ebooks and POD books, that making a good book show up above the deluge is difficult.

Communion is way more fun than feeling like you're going it alone. Drawing: Lily Nathan

The bottom line is: Writing/authoring is a tough way to make a living, no matter how you do it. Is what I’m doing easier than going the traditional route? No. It is easier on my gut.

I’m going to take it one day at a time, noting the carpal tunnel creeping into my wrists and the shrieking of the bursitis in my hips that I got from sitting too long, and weighing them against benefits achieved.

That’s all a person can do.

Readers should note that many  other ways to make a living exist in addition to writing. In this market, I’d say, “If you’ve got anything to rent, do it. I can rent my vacation home and make more in a week than some poor soul who who busts her butt to get a publishing contract on a book she took two years to write.”

Writing is not the only game in town.

Happy trails and best wishes!

Sandy Nathan

Sandy Nathan has lots of books to explore. This is her Amazon Author Page.
Here’s her website. 

Award-winning Book, Award-Winning Cover

I’ve got a great article from designer Lewis Agrell about what an award winning cover needs already posted on Your Shelf Life. You can read it here. Lewis says that the most successful book covers are the most beautiful. I think so, too.

They’re a few other things winning covers need as well. Here are some guidelines for award-winning covers, illustrated with covers of award-winning books.

  1. The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

    The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy--This book won four national awards, including the Gold Medal in the 2011 IPPY (Independent Press) Awards in Visionary Fiction, the Visionary Fiction Category in the 2011 Indie Excellence Award, and New Age Fiction in the Best Books of 2011 (USA Book News). It was also a finalist in Fantasy/Sci-Fi in the Best Books Awards. This cover achieves dominance by being light and airy. It's theme, the transcendent dancer, carries out the theme of the book. It is a beautiful cover, meeting Lewis Agrell's standards. (It should: He designed it.)

    The text on your cover should be visible from six feet away. Some designers are in love with the notion that “small is beautiful.” Maybe, but not on book covers. If the type on your cover is tiny, blurred, or unintelligible, your sales and saleability will be impaired. You won’t win anything in contests. Sorry.

  2. “Achieve page dominance.”A concept from telephone book ads. For a quick tutorial on commercial design, let’s look at phone book ads. Open the yellow page ads in any phone book. Scan the page quickly. Where do your eyes land? Note the ad. Do it again on another page, and another.In all probability, the ad that draws your attention is simple. Uncluttered. Either black, white, or mostly empty. The ads that grab your eyeballs and hold them have attained page dominance. People hire consultants to create dominant ads for them.Now go to a bookstore sale table and look at the books. Which books grab your eyes? Which do you pick up? Buy? A book contest is like that table. Clear, bold design that dominates the competition will win.Your cover must have an emotional hook. Think archetypes. Primal images. Something that grabs the inner psychology of your reader/judge.To win contests, and much more importantly, to be purchased, your book cover and spine must dominate any table and any bookshelf.
  3. Your title is really, really important. Your title embodies your book’s essence. It is the first text the reader sees. It should be engaging, easy to read, evocative, and compelling––it should set the emotional tone for your book. As should the subtitle or tag line (the one line description below the title). Also, most of the big catalogs of books will list your book by its title only. It better be memorable.
  4. The words on your cover, flaps, and first few pages of your book, your book’s copy, should be unforgettable. These words are your prime real estate and are what will make your book succeed. The book contest judge, book store owner, and your buyer will make a decision about your book based on these words––in seconds. You want emotional hooks, ease of reading, and enchantment.Writing copy is a skill. You can write text like an angel and not be able to pump out a winning tag line. Emmy-nominated screenwriter Laren Bright, the best copy writer I know, wrote an article about “The Most Important Writing in Your Book.” It’s copy. That’s what sells the book.
  5. Book design, interior & exterior: Your book should look like Random House produced it, no less. Every page and every word should be as well designed as your cover. Go to a book store and look at bestselling books. Get a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style––a gigantic book that lays out everything about books––and make it your best friend.
  6. Numenon Cover

    Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money. This book won the Silver Nautilus Award in Bicultural Fiction, the Silver Medal in the IPPYs, and awards in Visionary and Religious Fiction in the Best Books and Indie Excellence Awards. Notice how this cover would dominate pretty near anything.


    A very important note: Never have your title page on the left side of the book. Do not do that. (I saw books with this flaw in a book contest I once helped judge. This is such a bad error that if you don’t know how bad it is, you’re in big trouble.) Know the proper order of pages in a book. Know what a half title page is and where it goes. The contest judge will know about these.

    I was going to put a few links to other sites about award-winning covers, but when I looked up the articles, I found I didn’t like their covers. A major rule is: If it’s your book (or blog) you should like the cover.

  7. I’m going to do a scrapbook of winning covers below.
    [My blog software has decided it doesn't want to work any more on this post. ;-(  So I can't label the last image. That's the cover of a new book, Sam & Emily: A Romance from the Underground, Book III of Tales from Earth's End. It hasn't won any contests yet, but I hope it will. It fits the book perfectly.]

I’ll sign off here. All the best,  Sandy Nathan



Stepping Off the Edge: Learning & Living Spiritual Practice. Another big winner:2007 Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist in New Age (Spirituality/Metaphysics)Bronze Medal Winner in Self Help, 2007 IPPY AwardsNational Indie Excellence Awards 2007: Finalist in THREE Categories: Autobiography/Memoir, New Age Non-Fiction & Spirituality.Best Books of 2007, USA Book News, Finalist in


Sam & Emily: A Romance from the Underground

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy Won Four National Awards!

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy - This is the book's original cover. We've put a new cover on it, but the text is exactly the same. The version with this cover is no longer available. Links below take you to the new version.

HAVE YOU HEARD OF THE ANGEL & THE BROWN-EYED BOY?  This sci-fi thriller with a heart caused a stir when it came out. Now it’s got a new look, two sequels and a boxed set to go with it. 


WAA-HOO! The results from the Best Books of 2011 contest (sponsored by USA Book News) are in! The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy is an:

  • AWARD WINNER the “Fiction: New Age” category of the Best Books of 2011 Awards . 
  • The Angel is also a FINALIST in the “Fiction: Fantasy/Sci-Fi” category.

The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy has now won four national awards:

1.  2011 IPPY (Independent Press) Awards Gold Medal in Visionary Fiction: The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy The oldest and largest contest for independent presses. Almost 4,000 books were entered in the IPPYs this year.

2.  2011 National Indie Excellence Award Winner in Visionary Fiction: The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy The Indie Excellence Award looks for a book’s overall excellence. Content, cover design, interior and exterior, and everything that goes into the production of a book are evaluated.

And the new wins noted above:

3.  Best Books of 2011 sponsored by USA Book News: The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy is an AWARD WINNER in the “Fiction: New Age” category.

4.  Best Books of 2011 sponsored by USA Book News: The Angel is also a FINALIST in the “Fiction: Fantasy/Sci-Fi” category.


Red Adept Reviews gave it FIVE STARS OVERALL.

The Midwest Book Review gave it FIVE STARS!

Check out its Amazon Reviews, too. (Links from here down take you to the Amazon page of the new version.)

If you like Fantasy, Sci-fi, Visionary Fiction or just a good, engaging read, check out The Angel. You won’t be disappointed.

The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy - Dedicated to David Oddstad

UPDATE TO APRIL, 2015: Not only is The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy an incredibly inventive book with a message and a heart, two sequels are available. Find out what happens after the world blows up.


Available now:

Lady Grace and the War for a New World

Lady Grace & the War for a New World, Earth’s End 2 brings The Angel’s characters back together and puts them in another struggle for existence. This time, they’re fighting against the elements and a degenerate society which the nuclear war has spawned.


The Headman & the Assassin

The Headman & the Assassin is The Angels second sequel. The Headman, is a love story involving two characters from The Angel over a span of more than 30 years. It sizzles.


Earth's End Trilogy

You can also take in the Earth’s End Trilogy in one enormous ebook: The Earth’s End Trilogy.

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