Posts tagged: successful author

Yoo-hooo! Calling my Tribe – Where Are Youuuu?


I received a message from a fellow author wanting to know how I, as a successful person (and assumed, successful author) built my platform. She loved what I was doing and asked for advice on what to do to gather her own tribe and have her message resonate with potential readers. She mentioned a bunch of stuff she was doing, in addition to writing her book and sharing it widely. What else should she be doing?

I thought to myself, I can answer this in two ways: Give her the truth, or make up a bunch of **** and sell it as a seminar.

Truth or consequences? I may end up doing both, but I’ll start by telling the truth. Here’s the basic question, authors: If you aren’t already making a living with your writing, do you need to for some reason? Some people make big bucks as authors. That’s cool. But if you are struggling to make a living with your writing, thinking any day will be the big break through––I would suggest that you change professions. That’s even if you did take a course on following your dream and living your passion. Writing is just a dismal, hard way to earn a buck. I wrote a blog article somewhere about the tens of thousands of Bureau of Labor Statistics job categories that will earn you more than writing. Pick one of those and do your scribbling in your spare time.

If you already make tons of money with your writing, cool. If you don’t currently rake in the dough and don’t need to make a living with your writing, you won the jackpot. You can have lots of fun without spending too much, and maybe make some money, if you pay attention to what I say below. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll end up crazy, just like authors trying to make living at the dismal occupation. (The unofficial name for economics is “the dismal science.” It’s not as dismal as writing.)

I used to be an economist. It was easy: just earn straight As for at least a BS and an MS, and a PhD if you can. (Though I only did a year of the PhD.) While in school, wow your professors with your erudite and insightful grasp of the subject, so that they enthusiastically recommend you to their friends, who are in a position to hire you. (Remember the days when a person got out of school and there were jobs?) After getting a job, I found success was a simple matter of analyzing the **** out of whatever my bosses pointed me at. And presenting it at professional meetings and to local governments. I did that, and my bosses loved me and so did their bosses, and even people like the economists and analysts at the RAND Corporation and National Science Foundation. Easy peasy.

Not so with writing as a career. The woman who asked me “What do you do to build your platform?” does not want to know what I did to succeed or for how many years I did it. I did everything any writing pundit, no matter how obscure, said, for years and years. Enough so that when the IRS audited our literary adventure and I told them what I had done to be a commercially successful author, they fell to their knees, sobbing, “Oh, you poor baby.” No, the IRS does not do that. But we won. Anyway, I did everything that the major books about what you should do to succeed as a writer say.

After years of study and doing everything, I have formed the following basic principles about succeeding as an author that I’d like to share with you. Buckle your seat belts, compadres: my maxims pack a wallop. (I wrote this yesterday when I was in a feisty, facetious, and, indeed, flippant mood. Perhaps too flippant. I’m going over this today to make sure I said what I really meant and to clarify where needed. This “turn all the rules on their heads” model is new to me. I’ve tried it in previous years, often for days at a time But I always fell back into the crazed maw of obsession with sales that is the publishing world. Well, the worm-ette has turned. I’m going for what feeds me. And that’s below:)

All the marketing/authoring pundits say the opposite. Great. They aren’t you and they don’t live in your skin. If you feel lousy because you’re hanging your well-being on your Klout score, your writing will stink. I need to amplify that.

Of course you want your work to succeed and you want profession friends and buddies. Of course you want to show up effectively in whatever genre you write. But at what cost? Your individuality? Your soul? Do you want to sound like everyone else–”Grow your tribe.” “Establish your platform.” Do you want to lose yourself running from one pub-guru to another? This is funny, because I’ve been self-pubbing since 2006. Most of the dudes giving the classes and seminars had not heard of independent authors or presses then. There’s a scene in my book Stepping off the Edge where I’m in Mark Victor Hansen’s huge MEGA Selling University. The MEGA University is reduced to a set of CDs now, but it was a big deal when I took it. In that scene, an editor from a Major Publisher speaks, and the floor tilts toward her as thousands of publication-lust-maddened wannabe authors stampede toward her … The scene captures the world in which independent and traditionally published authors find themselves as well as I could capture it.

I am going to be extremely snobby and judgmental for a bit. I write visionary fiction (Amazon calls it Metaphysical Science Fiction and Fantasy. Amazon will call it whatever wants. That’s the thing about a monopoly.) To me, visionary fiction is fiction–made up stories–with a moral core. That means that right and wrong, good and evil, exist and the book is about the struggle for right over might. Doesn’t mean good will win. In addition to having a moral core, my kind of visionary fiction features at least a few characters who reach a higher level of human development. I don’t go so far as some writers in positing that the species elevates to the woo-woo sphere, because I see no empirical evidence that our species is on anything but a dive into the nasty. But to be my kind of visionary fiction, some people in the book grow in spirit and consciousness.

This type of writing is more demanding of the writer than, say chick-lit (Most likely. I’ve never written chick-lit, nor have I written romance or other addiction-based genres. Yes, that’s judgmental.). My soul writes my books and does everything else for me. For this to work, my soul must be cleaned up so that it coughs up verbal sparkles of enlightenment, rather than dirt clods. Chiefly, this means taming my major addictions and being whole spiritually. What does this mean in concrete terms?

This is what I feel like if I’m in good shape spiritually: I feel the outlines of my body, a solid core. I feel my heart beating. It radiates, light, love and good will. That’s what hearts do. It’s state pulsates outward. I feel my chakras, those pesky energy centers that no one can see but are there anyway, lined up from my tail-bone to the crown of my head. My energy is pulsating and I can feel all of it.

Nothing disturbs my equanimity, my peace. I’m not reaching out trying to grab for something, living in a state of lust. I’m not attached to getting anything, nor am running in terror or any kind of aversion from anything in my world. I am free and blissful.

“Detached from aversion and attraction, the yogi lives in peace with a silent mind.” (The Bhagavad Gita says something like this. Google wouldn’t find it for me.)

You can write some killer visionary fiction from that state. Any kind of fiction or nonfiction, too. My Stepping off the Edge, a cross-genre nonfiction memoir/self help for writers and everyone else, was written in that state and higher. (Meditative states have an infinite up side.) I expect that regular writers do their best work from that sailing “wheeeee” that accompanies the state I just described.

Say I read a  book or go to a seminar and someone tells me that I have to find my tribe and grow it and have a brand and follow the hottest, sure-fire marketing plan? How about I start charting my daily sales figures and looking at my website stats all the time? What if I read all the writers’ blogs and FB threads about everything I have to do to be a writer? What happens?

I lost my tribe, before I found them. And my sales . . .

My chakras deflate in an instant. If I’m hanging on people, numbers, friends, or likes, I cripple myself as a writer of spiritual fiction or any kind of work that requires “soul clarity and truthfulness.” I might be able to cough up a salable book or two, but they won’t be of a caliber that will satisfy any spiritually developed person. Spirit sings. Also spreads its bliss.

Think about yourself. This upside-down thinking is new to me. I used to play “She with the most FB Friends wins.” “Every five-star review is a step closer to heaven.” I used to get really upset if my books didn’t sell the way I thought they should. In other words, I used to think marketing, platform, selling first, and Sandy second, or maybe fifth. What I did with that was run that racket hard enough to make myself sick.

Not too long ago, I was a mess. My hands hurt. Thumbs most, but a good writing session on the computer will cause everything, including my pinkies, to howl.  My hands are well on their way to being wrecked from spending so much time on my iMac. Not too long ago, my brain was fried. I was crabby, and exhausted. Snapping at everyone, mostly my dear husband. I thought obsessively of going to Venice, the one in Italy, not the one near Los Angeles. I wanted to escape.

About a week ago, I made the inner flip that resulted in what you’re reading here. I’m changing my behavior so that how my body feels and the joy I feel with my profession is the barometer to success. I want those chakras flaming! Spinning! Frolicking! And I want to write and sell a lot, too.

How does my brave new world work, relative to the opposite? I have no clue, other than to say that I had just made the transition to putting my soul and my physical well-being first when that stranger-to-me author contacted me about my great platform. Just a coincidence?

WHY YOU SHOULD BE INTERESTED IN SPIRIT I started making these Maxim cards when putting out the second edition of Stepping off the Edge. The book bristles with these pithy bits. I may make a picture book out of them, ir some on-line, subscription presentation. Who knows. Was this the result of building on my book's platform? Was it part of my marketing program? No. The idea just came to me. It's a good one. If people can't/don't get my book with words, they'll get it with pictures.

Looks like this will be a series of articles. This particular article is I’m already at 2,900 words, but I can’t quit without adding this crucial bit about writing books that get read. I have more than 700 books on my Kindle. Most of them I got through BookBub, ENT, Blurb-a-minute, or Read-Me-or-I’ll-Die–the emailed, juried lists of new, cheap, or free books that fill our in-boxes every day. Those arbiters of mass taste and harbingers of our success as authors are hard to get on. You may have to beg, as my friend Consuelo illustrates here, but it’s worth it for what they can do to your sales, often for a week or more.

So, as a self-pubbed author, you devise the perfect book cover and two sentence blurb, hustle up fifty great reviews (this requires magic, black or white–whatever works) and you are accepted by one of the big book advertising sites. By some trick of fate, I see the ad and your efforts snag my attention for the approximate ten seconds needed to download your tome. I get it. And forget it. I’ve already downloaded 700 books. But say I open your book for some reason.

I read two pages. Blecch. Delete. Bad writing shows up that fast. A book has to  hook me in a page or it’s off my Kindle.

Writing fiction is not the same as professional or academic writing. I did LOTS of both. Here’s an example from a study I participated in with the RAND Corporation. (My previous married name was Tapella.) Here’s an amazing example of academic writing from my MS thesis in economics: 

“The determination of the cost of sprawl is based on the differing responses of service providers to increased demand for services from contiguous and noncontinuous new urbanization.”

That was an easy sentence compared to some in that thesis. If you’re going to have anyone read your stuff, it can’t sound like that. (However, that sentence and many more like it got a master’s degree that got me a job that earned me more than 90% of the population of female workers, including writers. So, go figure.)

Though I’m pleased with the way my work reads now (and so are my reviewers), it took me nineteen years to attain that proficiency. In 1995, I had the big YOWSER spiritual experience that I write about in my Author’s Notes that started me writing full time. From there, it was work, work, work. I was in one writing group run by a local poet for nine years. It petered out and I joined a group of traditionally-published professional writers led by a professor of literature for two years. (In the following article, when we discuss controlling your PTSD in writing groups, I’ll go into this more.)

After eleven years in writing groups–let that sink in: eleven years–I had a giant breakthrough and met my current editor. She is reputed to be a niece of Freya, the Norse Goddess of War, and does her edits with a golden machete. I love her. She’s tougher than the lit professor was and does not let an extra word slip by. It’s all: action, action, one word of dialogue, then climactic action. That’s the modern novel. She delivers the manuscripts she has dissected in such a kind way that I seldom sob for more than an hour after receiving an edit back. I’ve been working with her for eight years. I don’t claim to be the best writer in the world, but what I’ve become, I owe to her. I’ve internalized her voice, so that when I begin to write words like “price elasticity of demand,” my fingers refuse to type.

So, if you spend nineteen years working on your writing and learn to throw out everything but verbs, you may develop a writing style that guarantees success.

In future articles I will divulge my other secrets.

All the best! Don’t forget: put yourself first! If you feel lousy, your work will stink.

Sandy Nathan: Remember, You Come First

Sandy Nathan
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This lil’ article kicked up a fire storm for me. Here are a few topics for later posts:

  • FORGET FOCUS GROUPS AND BETA READERS AND MOST PARTICIPATION ON LINE. Don’t forget editors, copy editors, and proofreaders.
  • DON’T BE AN IDIOT. If it seems too good to be true, it is. This is a predatory industry. Lots of people want to take your money to help you with your book. They’ll promise anything to get it.
  • GIVE UP YOUR MESSAGE. Whatever your message is–save the planet, get everyone enlightened, treat the breweries right, kill the immigrants, or a least their parents (these are real messages I’ve seen on FB)–it is wrecking your writing. Stop it. Or write your message out it full, put it in a drawer, and write something else. If you have a real message, it will come through your words without effort or thought on your part. I have a great example here using my Earth’s End sci-fi trilogy. When I dropped my message, the writing sizzled.
  • DON’T PARTICIPATE IN SOCIAL MEDIA TO “FIND YOUR TRIBE.”  Finding your tribe is a good concept: connect with people similar to you who like the same stuff. Maybe you can help each other, or, if not, have a good time. How many people are currently selling seminars, running FB groups, or trying to teach you to “find your tribe”? The tribal concept is overdone, like vampires. Time has come and gone for tribes and bloodsuckers.
  • HOW TO HAVE A GIGANTIC TWITTER PRESENCE EASILY. I have about 6,700 Twitter followers. A famous author found out about that and wrote to me, ecstatic. “Oh, you have such an amazing Twitter presence.” She still didn’t give a blurb for my book.




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.







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