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Interview with Sandy Nathan: ‘The competition to stand out even with a superior product is brutal’

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Sandy Nathan writes to amaze and delight, uplift and inspire, as well as thrill and occasionally terrify. She is known for creating unforgettable characters and putting them in do or die situations. She writes in genres ranging from science fiction, fantasy, and visionary fiction to juvenile nonfiction to spirituality and memoir.

“I write for people who like challenging, original work. My reader isn’t satisfied by a worn-out story or predictable plot. I do my best to give my readers what they want.”

Mrs. Nathan’s books have won twenty-two national awards, including multiple awards from oldest, largest, and most prestigious contests for independent publishers. Her books have earned rave critical reviews and customer reviews of close to five-star averages on Amazon. Most are Amazon bestsellers.

Sandy was born in San Francisco, California. She grew up in the hard-driving, achievement orientated corporate culture of Silicon Valley. Sandy holds Master’s Degrees in Economics and Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling. She was a doctoral student at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and has been an economic analyst, businesswoman, and negotiation coach, as well as author.

Mrs. Nathan lives with her husband on their California ranch. They bred Peruvian Paso horses for almost twenty years. She has three grown children and two grandchildren.

Her latest books are The Angel & the Brown-Eyed Boy, Lady Grace: A Thrilling Adventure Wrapped in the Embrace of Epic Love and Sam & Emily: A Love Story from the Underground, which are all part of the Tales from Earth’s End series.

You can visit her website at www.sandynathan.com.

Visit her blogs: http://sandranathan.net and http://yourshelflife.com (blog for writers)  http://talesfromearthsend.com (series blog)

Follow her on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/sandyonathan

Friend her on Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/sandy.nathan.author

To purchase a paperback copy of Sandy Nathan’s The Angel & the Brown-eyed Boy at Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Angel-Brown-eyed-Boy-Sandy-Nathan/dp/0976280906

Purchase at Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-angel-the-brown-eyed-boy-sandy-nathan/1028502802?ean=9780976280903

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Sandy. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

I’ve got six books in print now. Hopefully the total will rise to seven or more in 2013.

Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?

We created our own small press. Lots of work, but the results are gorgeous!

I did the usual rejection road thing, querying agents. I wrote my best query letter. That was rejected. I worked harder and wrote a better one, which was rejected. Hired my brilliant editor to write a letter for me. Hers was rejected just as fast as mine.

Then I watched one of my dear friends, a very high-powered retired attorney throw herself at the literary scene. While I would send out six or ten queries, she would send out one hundred. She forwarded her rejection letters to me. Some came back faster than the return mail. If she couldn’t make an impression with her credentials and skills, it was hopeless for me to try.

I bagged that line of endeavor. Part of it was, I was angry. I have a MA in Marriage, Family & Child counseling. We were trained in systems theory, where you look at everyone involved in a family and how each person’s role in the system works to create the family’s problems.

I could see the psychological system that is the publishing industry. The only system I can imagine more harmful to people than publishing is Big Law, major legal firms. They grind their new law school graduate employees up and spit them out. One of the reasons I opted to start a small press and not keep querying is the toxicity of the system. It’s very bad for everyone involved, especially the writers. Read this blog article I wrote about it.

Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?

Surprisingly enough, even though we created our own small press and were in control of everything, it took years. That’s because I had a book consultant involved and an army of editors, proofers (they didn’t get all the mistakes), designers, artists, web designers. I’m a perfectionist and so was the consultant we were using, so it took a long time.

However, when the books were out, they cleaned up in the contests for independent books. Numenon: A Tale of Mysticism & Money won a Silver Nautilus Award, a Silver Medal in the IPPYs, and four other awards. Stepping Off the Edge was a Benjamin Franklin Award finalist, won a Bronze Medal in the IPPYS, and four other awards. The time spent was worth it.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

I have no clue. My first book came out in 2007, I think. It’s now 2012. Five years is the long time in the digital age. I probably felt gratified, but exhausted. So much went into those first books that I was worn out most of the time. I was amazed at my contest wins with my first two books. They were thrilling.

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

We hired a very famous and pricey publicist. She sent out maybe fifty review copies. She advised us on how to put together an effective web site and got us a very well know web designer. The publicist did more that I can’t remember. I can’t see that we got much of anything from it.

Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?

That’s a good question. I started writing long ago. I was screened as creatively and intellectually gifted in kindergarten or thereabouts. I was in school a very long time and wrote a great deal in academia. I also wrote professionally when I was an economist and have several publications. People told me I was a very good writer.

All that meant nothing when it came to writing well-crafted fiction. I started learning what it meant to be a real writer in 1995, when I joined the writing group of a local poet. I was in that group, writing and being critiqued, for nine years. Then I became a member of a writing group led by a professor of English at the local University of California campus at Santa Barbara. Most of the people in the group were published authors. The atmosphere was extremely focused and intense. I found it traumatic at times, but hung in there for two years.

Then I had a great breakthrough. I discovered a master editor who was as incisive and brilliant as the people in the professor’s group had been, but could shred my work and present the result to me in a way that didn’t leave me reeling.

I’m talking about my apprenticeship. This is all beyond professional/academic writing. It took me eleven years of writing groups and maybe five or six with the editor to be able to write a manuscript worth being published.

Now I’ve internalized my editor’s voice. I can be writing along and know what she’ll chop and exactly how she’ll comment. (“This doesn’t move the story forward.” Her mantra.) I learn with every book, and every book I produce is better in every way: structure, plot, language, and character development. The whole enchilada.

My first novel, Numenon, is a good book. It carries many of the flaws of first novels, but that’s what it is. Some people absolutely loved it. I promised its sequel in the Author’s Note. I get emails all the time from readers saying, “Where’s the sequel?”

I feel badly about not being able to deliver it sooner. I have a complete early draft on my hard drive. The draft makes every possible mistake that a new writer can. For years, I had massive writer’s block and couldn’t do the rewrite.

I’m working on the draft’s rewrite now and am delighted that I wasn’t able to chuck it out faster. What I’m writing now is exponentially better. I would have been embarrassed if I’d published the original draft, and my readers would have dumped me en masse. Now we’ve got a win-win situation.

That’s my story and how much I’ve put into my writing craft. I get really perturbed when I come across a (usually indie) book whose author has done none of the above. If I didn’t pay for the book, then I just delete it. If I’ve paid for the thing, I get mad.

You can toss family stories or your bedtime stories for your kids out into the digital world and have them made into books for your friends and relatives. That’s great. But when you slap a price tag on the mess and throw it onto Amazon for unsuspecting readers to buy, that’s different. Grrrrr. Not reputable. Not a good practice.  There’s a moral obligation of author/writers to put out material that meets minimal quality standards.

I hope that this story of mine inspires readers to upgrade their expectations and writers to upgrade their production.

Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

The competition, which is escalating. My first book came out in 2007. The next one in 2009. I don’t remember the competition with those earlier books. The competition on line is ferocious. Numenon came out as a hardback in 2009. We had it made into an eBook and put it on Amazon. It cruised immediately to #1 in three categories of Mysticism and hovered around the 1,000 in sales mark for almost a year. I had no idea how good that was, until the book began to slip down. I didn’t take any screen shots!

Now things are really different. There’s Twitter, Facebook, the whole social media thing. Anybody can get in print. The competition to stand out, even with a superior product, is brutal.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?

Getting the book out of my head. I love the way my books have come out. I did everything I needed to create a quality product. That means in every dimension, my writing, all the proofreading and copyediting, working with the book designer. The eBook guy. I’ve done all that. I’m sitting at my desk now, looking at big posters of the covers of the three books of Tales from Earth’s End.

That’s very rewarding. I can think of two places where I’m really happy. When my editor tells me she likes the manuscript. My editor is very good, has a huge background editing. I usually pass a manuscript by her three times. When I get that final pass back, I feel very good. She’s hard to please, in a good way.

The other time I feel rewarded is when I’ve got a book out, published. I’m promoting it, but I have time to do some writing on my NEXT project.

That feels so good. I’m working on Numenon’s sequel, Mogollon (I know, weird names). I finally have a clear runway so I can take off. I LOVE to write. That’s where the satisfaction lies. Giving birth to my darlings.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Just do it. There’s no need to fret and dream of publication in this age. Create a small press and publish your own stuff.  Go with one of the self-pubbing companies. Just do it. But do it well.

But recognize if you do anything outside the mainstream publishers, you will limit your distribution. You may be able to get a store to order your books, but you won’t be in Costco. You will find yourself in a world so competitive that it makes Wall Street trading floors look cozy. Win some, lose some.


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