Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Publishing Pagan Books, Please Read.

Dear Pagan Publishers, especially you larger ones with your Capitalistic model of publishing..
The world is changing, and along with it how people and Pagan purchase books is also changing.  Now why do i think this, well let me explain.

A few years ago i was researching my masters, which was on books, specifically Modern Pagan books from 1954 to the present day.  It is called a Witches library, and being that i didn’t write  it as per university requirements I am still i guess you could say researching and seeing if some of my conclusions are coming to fruition, which i believe they are.  *ponders this*  If you want to listen to a series of talks i gave on the topic you can do so by googling “pauline lind witches library”  it is 4 recordings all about 45 minutes long or so,  however i will give you a brief overview here.

There are 4 waves or styles of books staring with Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today published in 1954. Now this book and the few that followed afterwards, are what i call First Wave, and the identifying character of these books was that they were written for a coven based audience, or somebody who was soon to be involved with a coven or group, thus they do not have overt instructions, and it is expected that 1 you will read between the lines, and that 2, your coven will teach you the details of such things, like grounding and centring, raising energy etc etc.  Most of these books were published in England, with a smattering from America, although America had quite a few more books written by plucky reporters who had discovered covens of witches.*insert dramatic music here*  The other important First Wave book and the beginning of what i call bridge books is   Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows which  introduced ritual scripts, which were a copy of the oath bound Gardnerian Book of Shadows, apart from the Flame Wars that this books caused, it also had a basic framework of rites and rituals which enabled new traditions to go forth and blossom, predominately   in America.   

The Second Wave, was strongly influenced by the books coming out of the Goddess Movement, such as Starhawk, and Z Buddapst, which I placed in the first wave but as a bridge, this was because while their focus was still on a coven based audience, there was room and allowances made if you were practising alone, and they introduced the explicit instruction but still contained enough theology and history to keep them in the first wave. So by the end of the first wave books were staring to be published that had rituals scripts and explicit instructions such as grounding and centering, breathing, drawing energy etc etc. 

Second wave books as you may have guessed where aimed at an individual based audience. This is the defining thing that separates second wave from first.    These second wave books also are mostly published in America, from around the late 70s petering of around the late 90s and early 00’s.  Having said that, there are several types of second wave books that are still being published today, mostly the introductory type of second wave, but it is lessening.  The other characteristic which is important for the Pagan publishers to note, is that these books simplified the theology and history.  It could be said that these books to a degree watered down the theology and history that could be found by reading between the lines of the British first wave books.  This was and is both good and bad, the second wave produced some good introductory books, which was lacking, however it at times simplified things a little to much, and to be honest, not much depth.  And many of these second wave books became dated very quickly.. Almost faddish, publishing houses beginning to cash in on the growing Pagan community. .. Also important note is that many of these later 90’s second wave books where written at the behest of the publisher,  again cashing in on the Pagan community and the growing public’s interest in all things magic.  This mean that a lot of what might of been good Pagan authors had to go the not so good rout in writing and researching to get their book out within the given time frame.. this in my opinion was where Pagan publishing began to lose the plot. 

Now we come to an interesting point, as it is during the end-ish of the second wave that the 3rd wave came about, larger publishing companies began noticing the success of Pagan books, Llewellyn publishers went from being a now medium sized publishing house to one that was worldwide,  and Buffy showed up on our TV screens, with a character called Willow, and a magic shop called the magic box, oh how i envied that shop, but i digress.  What Buffy did was to fuel what i call the witch hungry public, and large publishing houses jumped on the Pagan publishing bandwagon, and a slew of spell books came out.  What characterises these books from the second wave and first wave is pretty much the amount of spells and the glossiness of the paper.  Plus many of these books where set out like women’s magazines, with little or no history or theology, hell mostly they just had spells like cooking recipes.   They are however how many  young and not so young Pagans during the late 90’s and early 2000’s  got their introduction to Modern Pagan thought.  If you look at the census stats you will see a spike in the rising Pagan religious numbers.. well it is in NZ.. which coined the continual phrase in the media, “Paganism the fastest growing religion and or spirituality in the world today.”  

Now while this was happening something a little different was happening with in the Mature Pagan community itself, Pagans where asking for more, more depth, more history, more food for though and less obvious instructions and rituals scripts.  However what they were getting was the tail end second wave or what is also known as Wicca 101, and spell books.  

Now when the Buffy Series, and its off-shoot Angle finished, these Third Wave books where resigned to the $1 bargain table,  and these large publishing houses figured out they were flogging a dead horse, it was noticed that Pagans where still calling out for ‘advanced’ books

Some, less than scrupulous publishers became aware of this wanting for more ‘Advanced” Text, but what was published was far from what the Pagan community wanted.  Just because a book has Advanced in the Title didn’t actually mean that is was actually advanced. This is when Pagans began to feel stung, and for some used.  Some of the better known publishing houses lost a lot of respect and trust from the Pagan community in general during this time  Which leads us into the fourth wave.  (also, i am generalising.. i figure its a blog post, and not a book mmk)

Pagan Publishing has now come full circle with fourth wave books.  Once the’ not so scrupulous publishers’ realised that it was difficult  to pull the wool over Pagan eyes, they began looking at publishing actual ‘advanced’ Pagan books, but at the same time they had lost the trust of many from the Pagan community,  what started happening is that smaller specialists, or boutique publishing houses starting showing up, these are small independently  own publishers, who  are focused on specifically Pagan and magical type books, that are beyond that of the Wicca 101, books that are have in depth, theology, history, discussion, and specialists types of topics. No longer telling the reader what to think and how to perform certain rituals, but more about encouraging the reader to think about what is behind what they are doing.  These publishing houses are somewhat fluid, and have a tendency to come and go, but there are a few earning a good reputation. 

i have also noticed that the ‘normal’ capitalistic model of printing and selling fast doesn’t work for Pagan books, and the reason for this is pretty clear.   If you look back to where i discussed a little, the story of the early ‘advanced’ books, and the plethora of 101’s just with different titles, making so many Pagans feel like they had been fleece, dooped, at the mercy of greedy publishers, you will see why. Pagans did not like purchasing a new book on the promise that it was advanced or different from the ones they already had on their bookshelves, and they did not like feeling that the publishers were just out to make as much money as possible, at the detriment not just to them as readers, but also to the Pagan authors.   

Pagans have for the most part always been a somewhat of a word of mouth community, they took to the internet like ducks to water, and then went to Pagan gatherings and festivals, and talked to one another, discussed magic, other festivals, magic and many discussed books, what books they had read and what books where good and what books had the good stuff.  I would guess that there was even on occasion discussion on various experiences from the various rituals, meditations and practices within the books that they were reading.  This would of course lead to recommendations, and because you knew or had met this other Pagan, you would be happy with the recommendations.  in short Pagans have become discerning in their choice of books.  Also Pagans are becoming a lot more conscientiousness of where their money ends up, in the hands of the author, or the publisher?

What does this mean for you Pagan publishers.. Well it means that your books that you have published and your authors whom are writing the books, need to be of a high value, written with integrity, heart, spirit, and references, with sources cited..(Even if it is my guide said, or in my experience, because this will let the discerning Pagan decided for themselves if they believe what your guide said, or if your experience is what they also experience.)  Your authors also need to have a truck load of integrity and be honest with what they have or have not experienced.  it is easy for most Pagans to tell a book written from the heart, & spirit and one that is written just to make a buck.   

Also your wonderfully written book will not sell out within the traditional time frame of publishing books, especially if you are a first time author being published.  It is going to take some time for your book to earn its reputation and it will take time for your first time author to gain the respect of the Pagan readers.  (of course it will help it the author already has a blog, or podcast *nods*) .  It will take more than the ‘traditional’ review on Amazon or on your publisher’s website.  It takes time to read and digest a good Pagan book; it takes time for the stuff to be understood, for the rituals and practices to be tried.  Thus  it will take some time before it shows up on respected Pagan book review sites such as Pagan Book Review and Pagan Bookworm, and before it has shown up there it will of probably been reviewed on various Pagan bloggs, and journals, and then spoken about at festivals, and coffee meets, as well as coven meets. Also i suspect that reviews that are written by experienced Pagans will hold much more authority than those written by one books wonders, (Pagans who have only read one book and know it all)  or those ‘employed’ by the publishers themselves.  All of this will take time, and i am not talking a matter of weeks or months, more like a year or at the very very least six months, but i would bank on a year.   which for the way the current publishing model works, is a disaster because currently publishing and economy just dosn’t work that way.  (i believe it is changing though) however this  also means that you will need to start looking at a new economic model with which to sell these books.  The idea that books will languish on someones shop self for a year before it sells can give many people nightmares, but you know what, its going to happen with Pagan books, thus a new economic model is needed, one i suspect that is not about squeezing as much profit from the Pagan community as possible but more one that is about providing the Pagan with a service, sure make a living but do not get greedy.. *coughoppsrantingcough*

Oh and other thing that might help, the Modern Pagan community is constantly evolving, and changing, some books from the second wave are now considered dated this is because the Pagan community has grown past them.  How we view the our Pagan and magical history is a good current example.  Our perceptions of some magical practice and understand has deepened and much of our practice has evolved as well, but then Paganism and magic is a living tradition thus prone to evolving and change.   Sometimes, however a Pagan author will write a book that is a Little ahead of its time, and sometimes it can take a couple of years for the rest of us to catch up.  Also at the other end of that scale, Pagan authors will sometimes write a book that dates faster than yesterdays fish’n’chips wrapper, but that is generally an author who writes with too much ego and to many $$ in their eyes, and little understanding.  Having said that,  there are some Pagan classics, that have withstood the test of time.  These are the ones that are still recommended today and were published over 20 years ago.  And no i am not talking about Bucky’s big blue or Silvers broomstick, both which was good for their time, but is now in my opinion quite dated.  Scott Cunninghams solitary practitioner, is commonly recommended around these parts, with the caveat that it was written in the 80’s and bits are dated.. but it is still a good book.  (Do you see what i am getting at?)

So if you are going to publish Pagan books, and  there is defiantly a market out there, it is just a very cautious one.  Remember these few things:

o   It takes quite a bit of time for an author to build a reputation, a solid one, so many times the first book is excellent but the second just becomes are hash of the first with added bonus bits or it just falls short of the mark. It helps if your Pagan author has a blog or journal that they regularly post to, it give potential readers a chance to learn a bit about said author.  Remember even some of the better respected authors still find that their books sell slowly.  And the reason as i see it Pagan books will sell slowly because the Pagans themselves have become what i like to call discerning about what they purchase. 

o   Pagan Books and its economic model of selling is quite different from that of the ‘classic capitalistic publishing model.  You are going to need to come up with a new one and one that is not based in Greed, mmk.
o   It is much harder to pull the wool over the eyes of most Pagans so don’t think that just because the title is different that we won’t notice the contents is the same as all the others. 
o   Smarty Pants Pagans are where we are at, and trust is earned.  Something you will have to earn. (Smarty Pants Pagans said by Juni and Bren of Standing Stone and Garden Gate podcast first)

(As an aside, you have a very untapped market over here in little old New Zealand, we are in many ways starving for books of the advanced variety, but alas like so many things it becomes quite price prohibitive to get them here, and or any of the authors.. *sigh*.. but i digress sort of.  

Also Pagans are not always very good at saying what it is that they want, then know that they want a more in depth book, one that contains food for thought, and one that is well references and sources cited.. However when further asked about what topics, generality here will be some silence, maybe a cough or two and staring.  This is when you need to ask more focused questions about what they want.  would you be interested in a more in depth book on the subject of virtue, (actually there is a wonderful author who wrote about that Brendan Myers) *grins* would you like a more in depth book on Pagan community and it dynamics, for those who are looking at stepping out and facilitating their local Pagan community in a face to face way.. ?    (i might be projecting *grins*) You will kind of have to give the Pagans you are questioning, permission to go wild, to imagine, to get the topics they are interested in at a deeper level.  

right.. any questions? Further clarifications, Job offers?  (I’d make a great Pagan Publishing Advocate)  *nods*

*ponders things*       


  1. ..You know, i hadn't known about Standing Stone and Garden Gate until you mentioned them.

    Found you through etsy, not a kiwi sadly, just an american yankee, but this is awesome.

  2. hi crazyfurries, great internet name *grins*..

    standing stone and garden gate are one of my favourite podcasts, i am going to be posting about my other favourites soon, *beams*..

    also thank you for your comment

    *twirls around*

  3. I just found your blog today. So far, I'm enjoying it. I like what you have to say about the publishers of Pagan/Magical materials. However, it seems that you have missed all of the small privately-owned esoteric publishers popping up (or I have missed it in your writing). Xoanon, Copper Cauldron, Oroboros Press, etc. Could this be the 5th wave?

    I've wanted to write books on witchcraft and the occult for several years. I think when I do, I will abstain from sending the manuscripts to Lewellyn or Weiser and try to find an inexpensive way to publish it myself. There used to be an esoteric publishing house, Phanes Press, in my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Unfortunately, Weiser bought them out. We are still the home of one of the largest Christian publishing houses called Zondervan's, however. ;p

    Yes, we are moving away from the time of shiny cover DIY witchcraft books that just seem to repeat themselves over and over. There are more and more original, scholarly books that require cross-referencing and multiple-reading-sessions to allow the dense knowledge to soak in. These are my favorite kinds of books.

    Anyway, nice to read your blog. Keep up the writing!

  4. hey fratermercurious the small publishing houses were how pagan publishing started, way back in the first wave.. and now that we are coming into the 4th, and perhaps 5th wave i am finding that pagan books are once again being published by small publishing houses.. its a circle.. well it is pagan after all.. looking aback at what i wrote i did mention the small publishing houses in passing. i am not sure we are at the 5th wave.. but i am now pondering if we could be.. would have to do some pondering and wandering about on pagan publishing sites.. mmm might have to purchase more books.. !!

    also thank you for your comment and sorry about the lateness of reply, but still i am pondering things now.. yay