15 Dec

Sandy Nathan
SANDY NATHAN Award Winning Author of Stepping Off the Edge & Numenon
We’re talking about shelf life. I was 46 years old when the photo above was taken. That’s really me: No nips and tucks, injections, or fancy lenses. That was then. Time is cruel.

A while ago, something inside was goading me. I felt as though I’d swallowed a granite egg. Large and rough surfaced, it hiccuped every now and then. I was incubating something that threatened to erupt.

I went about my business, responding to my editor’s comments on a manuscript, planning marketing activities, writing new stuff. Worrying about sales rankings and how to be seen among the bazillion writers out there.

My internal load could have stayed with me forever, but, by purest coincidence, an old friend contacted me. She’d been through horrendous life trials, things that you hear about and think, Boy, am I glad that happened to you and not me.

She described her adventures and said, “I kept thinking about that horse show you wrote about where you worked really hard preparing, and you kept 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 that horse show on my Rancho Vilasa web site and forgot about it. I went back to that article and read it again. Hmm. Interesting.

It’s about what winning really means. What do we win when we win? I rewrote the article, filling it with details and tons of pictures of horses and people in actual horse show situations. (I live and write on a horse ranch.) I put it on my other blog in its expanded glory. WHAT DOES WINNING REALLY MEAN? Jump on over there and read it. It’s longer than a blog article, more like a book chapter, which it may end up being.

What do you really win at the end of the day?

What do you really win at the end of the day?

What struck me about this episode was that I wrote the original article ten years ago. My words stayed with my friend for ten years, and came to her when she needed help.

About the time my friend contacted me, I’d just been rejected by another 22 year old literary agent, my national award winning books were churning up the Amazon charts at about the two millionth level, and ten new books about how to sell books had arrived on my doorstep. (Who really makes money with books? Those who tell writers how to succeed.) Not only that, the stock market continued to plunge, banks kept on failing, and we slid into something that was as close to the Great Depression as anything I’ve lived through.

After living the unending round of work that is the life of the small press owner for a few years, I was about to begin searching for an agent in earnest. The prospect made me nauseous. (Sorry, agents. Don’t take it personally.)

I knew traditional publishing wasn’t the solution, either. For one thing, the majors are hit so hard by the recession that I doubt they’ll be signing anybody new. If they do, it will be for peanuts. The agents who have rejected me are likely to be unemployed soon. And even if I did run the gauntlet and manage to get a “real publisher” take one of my books, when its mangled ghost came out in three or four years, in all probability its shelf life would be six months.

That’s reality. If your traditionally published book doesn’t sell like crazy in a maximum of six months, your little darling will be pulped or remaindered. Or, you could get lucky: Google might copy and sell it when its “out of print.” People will read it, but you’ll get nothing from it financially. (This blog is about reality, not positive thinking.)

My friend’s reaction to my old article about winning brought me back to my self. Self. Soul. The internal unease I’d been feeling fled.

Why do I write? To express myself and be of use to other people. What do I want? A “real” book that lasts ten seconds in the market and means nothing, or more?

I  realized what I was after: Shelf life. I realized that some books have a longer shelf life than others.

Independent People by Halldor Laxness

Independent People by Halldor Laxness

Independent People, an epic saga of independence at any cost, won Icelandic author Halldor Laxness the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955. That’s 53 years of shelf life. Not bad. This is may all time favorite book.

Other books have pretty good shelf life. Another favorite of mine:

D.H. Lawrence’s John Thomas and Lady Jane.
The second manuscript version of Lawrence’s masterpiece, Lady Chatterley’s Lover,
this book is hard to find, but worth the search. One of my favorite books. Written in 1928, that’s 80 years and counting. It’s still a great read.

Some books have extreme shelf life:

A classic of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita is thought to date from between 500 and 200 years BC. Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila’s masterful description of the development of the soul was written in 1577. Rumi lived from 1207 to 1273. His ecstatic poetry continues to show us the face of the divine. The Pratyabhijnahrdayam: The Secret of Self-Realization is a foundation text of Kashmir Shaivism. Who knows how old it is? We must add the great books of all the religious traditions to this group: Extreme, Extreme shelf life.
Why? What they say is timeless and valuable to all humanity.

* * *

Am I suggesting that you use one of the books above as your sales model?

No. I’m suggesting that you reach into yourself and produce your story, your deepest offering. I’m suggesting that you and I aim for eternal goals instead of writing something that will earn you a place on the Rite Aid shelves for twenty seconds, if that. You can write in any genre and achieve what I’m suggesting. Books are great because they touch the timeless in us.

I ran these ideas past a friend of mine the other day. She looked at me and said, “You haven’t sold out yet, have you?”

No. I haven’t. I want my writing to have something of value that will help people ten, twenty, thirty years from now. That means aspiring to a higher goal than “I gotta get published.” That means shooting at a different target than those put out by the marketers jamming my inbox with notices of more teleseminars, better ways to sell books, or how to be ten or a hundred times more famous next year.

Make no mistake, that doesn’t mean I’m about wimpy writing or not making money. I like to win more than most––some of those ribbons on the saddle up above are mine. I’m intensely competitive, ranging toward ferocious. But I want to do it in a way that preserves my person and integrity.

If you’re interested in that for yourself, please come back. Keep reading. Say hello in my Comments box. Tell me what you want from your writing life. Tell me your problems and what hangs you up. What shortens your shelf life?

I’m planning all sorts of things here––how to exercises, contests, guest speakers on every topic. I’m an old dog with lots of tricks, not to mention 2 very useful master’s degrees and a few careers. I’m happy. That might be my greatest achievement.

Next time I write, I’ll tell you about my Amazon Bestseller Party. I’ll spill all: How to do it, what happened, what I say now. Was it worth it? You’ll see next time …

Happy trails,

Sandy Nathan in 2008


  1. Wronnogma January 30, 2009 at 11:53 pm #

    yo, great name for site)))

  2. admin January 31, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    Yes, the name was quite an inspiration. I’m collecting pictures of moldy bread and rotten apples for illustration. This time on earth is limited. We need to take care of it.