The Search For A Better Pagan Book Market

Yesterday’s post about Phyllis Curott has got me thinking about the current state of the modern Pagan and occult book market. Curott claims that shelf space is shrinking due to pressure from cultural conservatives emboldened by political power and recent evangelical best-sellers. This theory isn’t shared by many Pagans who believe that the shrinking of sales and sections is due to a bad economy and a glut of bad books.

So if the problem is that we have a glut of bad books what do we do about it and what kind of books do we want to see line the shelves? The two main gripes I hear are that there are too many “Wicca 101” books and spell books. Often modern Pagans claim they want a “Wicca 202” (or “Wicca 333”) and similar “advanced courses” in practice. But are harder instruction manuals really what we want or need? Has our focus on presenting lesson plans and ritual structures of differing levels really what our evolving community should expect from it’s authors? The current trends in Pagan publishing seem to be exhausting themselves and readers both young and old seem ready for a new focus in what books we want to see.

What follows are areas I want to see Pagan publishers and authors explore. I invite you to give your own thoughts, ideas, and critiques. This should be a broad conversation held in many different forums and venues. Feel free to cross-post this (or at least the gist of this) to your own community, blog, or journal. If we truly want to see change in the books we buy we have to be proactive and decide what form that change should take and ask for that change in a clear, direct manner.

History

I think one of the best things the book “Triumph of the Moon” did was fill me with a hunger to know more about the evolution and history of modern Paganism. How did all the different traditions of Wicca get started? Who are the key players in the development of modern Asatru? What was the genesis of the current festival culture? What about the schisms, debates, and changes that have raged over time? I want to read about this! I want to see Pagan writers documenting our history. A fuller understanding of our roots will bring more depth to our faith than a hundred advanced ritual primers. There is some progress here. Pagan scholar Chas Clifton is finishing up a historical study of American Paganism called “Her Hidden Children”, there are rumors that Ronald Hutton may be working on a history of Druidry in England, and Isaac Bonewits has books on the history of Druidism and Witchcraft coming in 2006. But there is so much more to be explored, and a lot of fine material that is no longer in print.

Biography/Autobiography

Our elders are dying off. As modern Pagans we don’t fear death, we embrace it as part of the natural cycle of life. But when these elders and crones leave us they often leave their stories untold. Or told to only a select few who have no inclination or time to make a document of their history or teachings. Without these narratives our history can be fraught with ignorant revisions, and can warp our own understanding of our past. Good autobiographies need to be written about the founders of modern Paganism. Elders and crones alive today should look to their legacies and consider writing the story of their life. Modesty is a fine thing, but we are at a critical juncture where these stories can have a great impact on our future.

Theology/Thealogy/Theilogy

I think that for those who hunger for depth in modern Pagan publishing this is a crucial area. Books that go beyond “we believe in a god AND a goddess” and analyze our belief systems, cosmology, the nature of our god(s), interactions with other faith traditions, and interactions with scholarship and modern cultures. There has been some groundbreaking work on feminist thealogy (Christ, Caron, Starhawk, Raphael), Jordan Paper has a book out called “The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology”, and Michael York has an excellent book out called “Pagan Theology: Paganism As A World Religion”. This is just scratching the surface and there are so many vibrant voices in our family of faiths that could start to explore these topics.

These are just three ideas, starting points on a journey to a more robust Pagan publishing market. Despite the doom and gloom of some I see a lot of hope on the horizon. There are great leaps in the publishing of academic Pagan Studies, and more books are coming out that talk about different manifestations of our culture, our interactions, and our ethics.

So what do you want the Pagan shelf at your local bookstore to look like?

Jason Pitzl-Waters

Posts

  • Rubicon

    “bad economy and a glut of bad books”I can agree with that. Out of all the books you’ll find on wicca/witchcraft section of Chapters, I own just a few. Mostly because a lot induce eye-rolling due to fluffy-bunny authors making up history, blathering about the “burning times” and being pretenious with words like “magick”, “magickal” and “olde” religion. meh.As for wicca 101 books; that’s basically all the Craft books you need. Once you got the basics you need to browse the rest of the store. Go visit the history section or self-help/psychology, anthropology even health/well-being or environmentalism. Point is being a witch or pagan isn’t a step by step way of being. Once you got the basics down then the rest is up to you to create and discover.

  • Rubicon

    I got whole lists of books on my pagan blog that people can check out and only a handful are Craft books.

  • Chas S. Clifton

    For some reason, there are more British Craft autobiographies than American. And I agree withyou completely that a generation of elders is vanishing without their stories being told. Her Hidden Children, which is supposed to come out in March, just scratches the surface.Chas

  • Marcus Foxglove Griffin

    Here I am, stuck in the middle with you?After reading comments about pagan publishing at Daven?s Journal as well as those that are being expressed here at patheos.com, I felt the need to chime in on this particular topic for two reasons: Firstly, pagan publishing is a topic that is very relevant to my current situation and I need to ?talk? about it with people who are willing to listen. Secondly, I can offer some unique insight and perspective into the world of pagan publishing and its current condition. Why am I able to offer insight and perspective into the world of pagan publishing? Because I am currently stuck squarely in the middle of this world. I am Lord Foxglove, author of Advancing The Witches? Craft, New Page Books, 2005, and I have a huge quandary. For many years I have heard cries from the pagan community about the overabundance of mainstream Wicca 101 book and the lack of serious advanced texts, so I decided to write one. I am quickly discovering however, that from an author standpoint, by doing so I may have shot myself in the foot. Even though my advanced book has received numerous five star reviews from professional reviewers and is being touted and honored as a ?truly advanced text?, advanced books don?t sell well, and the reasons why they don?t sell may surprise you. I know they surprised me. After many conversations with my own publisher (New Page Books), as well as with other big and not-so-big publishers, I discovered the sad truth that most of them are afraid to publish advanced books. Bookstores (even metaphysical bookstores) are afraid to stock them, and the majority of pagans aren?t buying them. How can this be after years of outcry from the magickal community for serious advanced work? Exactly where does the buck stop in the world of pagan publishing? Surprisingly, the buck stops with us-the readers. All signs point to the fact that those of us who consider ourselves to be truly advanced or who are ready and willing to advance ourselves are by far the minority of the magickal community. If this is true, then it will probably become increasingly difficult for pagan authors to get serious advanced works published and on the bookstore shelves. If it isn?t true, then the bottom line is that book-buying pagans aren?t showing nearly enough support or interest in advanced works to give them credence in the eyes of pagan publishers. Simply put, publishers are in the business of making money and tend to shy away from genres that don?t sell well for them. Most metaphysical bookstores are struggling to keep their doors open and shy away from titles that tend to sit on their bookshelves gathering dust. Writing a full-length book takes a lot of work, and pagan authors will understandably distance themselves from topics that will for the most part be ignored by the book buying public. I myself am now in the undesirable situation of not knowing where to go next as a pagan author. Five star reviews are great, and getting e-mails thanking me for writing an advanced book are wonderful, but getting the majority of the pagan population (not to mention the online presence and the leading pagan publications) interested in an advanced book is like pulling teeth from the mouth of a crocodile. It simply isn?t happening.I am not using this forum to complain or get up on a soapbox, but hopefully to gain some understanding. It is my greatest desire to continue writing advanced books and get them published, but my very future as a pagan author has pretty much been predetermined by the lack of interest and support that the pagan community has given to advanced books. In a nutshell, it has been stated to me with great clarity by pagan publishers that if I wish to continue being published and am to have a future as a pagan author, I am either going to have to water-down my advanced work or start writing mainstream books. It?s an entirely different world on the other side of the pen, and in many ways it is our readers who predetermine our fate and decide what we are able to write. It all comes down to the fact that if the pagan community is unwilling to support advanced work, then pagan authors and pagan publishers will be unwilling or unable to provide it for us. In the end it comes down to the types of books that are being purchased and promoted by the pagan community.Foxglove

  • Deborah

    I had an interesting conversation with an editor at Llewellyn, who complained that they had received many letters asking for Wicca 202 books, and had published a few such books, but those books never sold as well as the Wicca 101. She basically said “If they don’t want Wicca 101, why do they keep buying them? And if they do want Wicca 202, why don’t they sell better?Good questions.Meanwhile, I farmed around a proposal for a book that would combine memoir and theology; sort of an autobiography through a spiritual lens, and no one wanted it. I thought after Ellen Reed and Phyllis Curott the market for that sort of thing might open up, but alas. My spellbook is coming out in the spring, and believe me, I never thought I’d write one. But the subject of elemental spells for elemental purposes really grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go.Maybe that’s the trick. Instead of writing another 101 book, write something that impassions and excites you, damn the torpedoes, and see if you can sell it. That interests me.I mean, I thought Phyllis’s Love Spell was outstanding, and it wasn’t a subject that would have interested me in advance. It was excellent because she wrote it from the gut.

  • Anonymous

    To main subject and Foxglove….I agree, and it is a shame, but I’m thinking that the Pagan book market might be so specialized that it doesn’t fit with big publishers for this kind of stuff.I think an answer would be to self-publish a hundred or so of the advanced books and hang on to them, and mildly market them on various Pagan internet sites and at Pantheacon. What does mildly market mean? Do spellwork/ rituals to get them to sell, and then have ‘normal’ conversations on whatever Pagan sites you ‘normally’ read on a regular basis, waiting for someone to complain as above (Wicca 333, etc), or ask about advanced teachings, etc. Then discuss what it would take for someone to write such a book (covering the work you have already done), and ask what they’d be willing to pay. Since large soft-covers are heading for $15-$25 nowadays, I would aim for $7 – – – after all, this is paying you back for the cost of self-publishing, but you don’t have to split the money with anyone. For that matter, Kinko’s has an arrangement where someone in a city (near to or far from you) can request a copy of your book, get approval from you (after the check clears or whatever), and the Kinko’s at their location will print up and bind it for them. This saves you having to store your self-published books anywhere, and from having to wrangle about shipping costs. But you should have a few ‘in hand’ to take to Pantheacon.[ raxivar@yahoo.com ]