This week, I received my first statement of sales from the publisher. From May to October: there were 66 copies of “The Other Side of Virtue” sold in the UK & Europe, and 322 sold in Canada & the USA.
It’s difficult to say whether this is a lot of books, or very few books, compared to other similar titles. The average, by the way, for a new book in the English language is 500 copies, worldwide, in the first 12 months, followed about two or three years later by discontinuation. I won’t say what my royalties were, but I will say that I won’t be quitting my day job. That is to be expected, of course. I know I’m not the only writer who can’t rely on royalties to pay the bills.
However, this has given me an idea.
The problems are:
- Too many pagan books on the market that merely rehash the same things;
- too many writers with brilliant books who have no idea how to market them;
- no easy way for prospective buyers to tell the difference between a truly excellent and ground-breaking book from yet-another-Wicca-101 book;
- and (perhaps) too many small-press or POD publishers, few of which have enough economy-of-scale to mount a decent marketing campaign or do decent distribution.
Might something like a Pagan Writer’s Guild be part of a solution?
I know that there are a lot of small pagan presses out there, doing good things with POD publishing. But perhaps there would be some benefit for the whole community if there was some instrument for networking them with each other, and with bigger publishers too, and an instrument for networking the writers.
I therefore offer the idea that there should be a Pagan Writer’s Guild. It could open its membership rolls to people who:
- have published at least one actual, printed-on-paper book,
- have a regular column in a printed pagan journal or magazine,
- work as a freelance writer for pagan journals and magazines,
- have a online blog that is contributed to at least once a week, consistently over (let’s say for the sake of argument) the last six months,
- work as an editor for a periodical, or as a literary agent, or reviewer,
- work for some kind of pagan educational organisation in a teaching or pedagogical capacity.
It may be useful for such a guild to publish its own catalogue, complete with critical reviews, author bios, and the like, both in print and online, which writers could bring to their events and distribute, thus benefiting all members.
It may be helpful to treat guild-membership as a quality-control device and as a promoter of a higher standard of literary excellence. In short, membership in such a guild could be a way for readers to trust that writers do not have a history of plagarism, or racism, or poor research habits. The book listing page on Witchvox.com has a similar policy. This could be done on an “innocent until proven guilty” basis, but I think it would be of great benefit to the community. It could help prevent books with bad arguments, glaring factual errors, or nefarious political agendas from becoming (or remaining) popular, and thus grant a certain degree of credibility and respect for books and for writers whose work passes muster.
Related to that, the guild might also offer annual merit awards: say, one for “best new book of last year”, one for lifetime achievement, and so on.
Perhaps it would also be helpful if the guild set up a database on the internet that is searchable by titles, subjects, authors, level of difficulty, and so on. Again, Witchvox.com already has such a database, but you can’t post reviews to it, like you can to a book’s Amazon listing. Perhaps such a database could also include short samples of the text, chapter synopses, and author’s biographies, at the author’s discretion, to give prospective readers the maximum product information. Such info could also be put in a printed catalogue, which could be mailed to subscribers two or three times a year, and brought by pagan writers to the events where they are promoting their own books.
The idea is that if you are helping to promote the work of, say 10 other writers, and they do the same, then that’s also 10 other people promoting your book too. Co-operation can be powerful.
Furthermore the guild could operate a second, members – only database, for marketing. My publisher operates a database which is accessible to the writers. We are encouraged (although not compelled) to log all our marketing activities on the database, along with dates, locations, contact names, etc. In return, we have the ability to search that database. If, for instance, I was going to visit New York, I could go on the database, enter “New York”, along with a few other criteria, and find a list of newspaper contacts, bookstores with spaces for public speaking, local radio show hosts, etc., which other writers have added to the database. It’s a brilliant system.
Maybe some day the guild would be able to employ a few marketing or PR people full-time, so that some of the burden of marketing our books is transferred to professionals. After all, we’re writers: what do we know about marketing?
For that matter, although this may be thinking very far ahead in the future, perhaps the guild could set up a “compassionate fund” to offer financial assistance to its members, which would serve the function once served by advances. Many publishers are no longer offering their authors advances on royalties anymore, because it’s expensive and risky for them. But the whole point of an advance is to allow writers the time and financial security to write. If I have to take 500 hours to write a book, well that’s 500 hours in which I’m not doing a regular job, and thus not making the money I need to pay the rent and keep food on my table. And that is one of the biggest impediments to writing.
Basically, what I’m suggesting is not much different from the co-ops and the craftsman’s guilds of the recent past, but for pagan writers.
What do you think?