Pagan Writer’s Guild

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?

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16 Responses to Pagan Writer’s Guild

  1. darakat_ewr says:

    As a Librarian and a Pagan, I would say its a excellent idea. We really need something like this in the pagan community and I would willingly volunteer my time and energy to it if needed.
    Though for the book reviews there are quite a number of good websites, Megalitha’s has a site were she has done quite a lot of great work in reviewing and editing. Her recent book “Talking about the Elephant” you may have heard of.

  2. This sounds like something that is really needed. The pagan community is ultimately pretty small, and its books are mainly for those same pagans. A pan-pagan guild could do wonders for marketing and support, IF one could somehow get pagans to work together. Aye, there’s the rub, no?

    Perhaps one could set in place some kind of viral marketing campaign program. For example, each guild member agrees to maintain a web presence or other marketing venue, and agrees to promote 5 other guild books in exchange for each of their own that gets promoted. Since recognized pagan authors tend to be influential as far as web presence and readership, what is promoted on their sites may easily be picked up and spread around the pagan blogosphere. It could be more efficient at reaching a highly specific audience than a general publisher’s generic advertising campaign.

    On an unrelated note, have you checked out Neos Alexandria’s recent publishing work? I mention them only because I’ve been surprised at the number of projects they’ve been able to turn out despite being so new and despite working outside the traditional large publishers. They might be interested in connecting with a larger network of pagan writers.

  3. starryseed says:

    I love this idea and I have a suggestion. I’ve become hugely into the world of podcasting, and there are several authors who release books via podcasting, then through print-and I’ve seen their books jump to the bestsellers lists within hours of release, thanks to getting the word out through podcasts. Have you ever considered that as a venue for some of the books? I think that it could help at least get things out there for people, and thus generate more interest in the books, which increases revenue for the writers and a community that would be great for pagans and a guild of the nature you’re suggesting.

  4. great idea!
    i’ve started a pagan guild of ancient arts, (germinated at ethos gathering). website should be up this week, it;s been ready for months but i finally think I might have a handle on the upload software. ;)
    can i link to this when it’s up??
    aislinn

  5. drui_en says:

    I think it’s a bloody brilliant idea, Bren.

  6. ecstaticlght says:

    I think it is a brilliant idea. Do you mind if I pass this on to Thorn Coyle and Teresa Hawkes and get their feedback for you?

  7. lupabitch says:

    I thought about doing this, or a variation for smaller pagan presses, a while back. I mainly didn’t because, quite honestly, I knew I’d have the bulk of the work to myself, and I simply don’t have the time to do it. I would most certainly be interested if you do start something up; can’t guarantee how much involvement I would have due to school, but I’d want to do at least the minimum for membership and do some promo.

  8. heartsease says:

    Greetings. I hope you don’t mind if I poke my head in here. I worked as an indie publishing rep for many years and can perhaps shed a little light on some of the challenges facing small presses these days as far as getting into stores goes.

    In the US, most esoteric bookstores get all of their books from a large distributor, such as New Leaf. As a former buyer myself, I can tell you they don’t exactly push any title unless they are paid to. And by paid, I mean very large amounts of co-op. Unfortunately, that means even if a title has an enthusiastic rep (such as myself), most small specialty bookstores avoid ordering direct from the publisher and order through the distributor to get a better deal. If they remember to. Often, they don’t. The problem with this set up is that they have to know about your book since it’s not likely they will be presented with it in any professional capacity from a distributor or sales rep. Books like yours, which should be stocked in every general bookstore, suffer from the Llewellyn effect when presented to a lot of folks. Most buyers are uneducated about the realities of current pagan scholarship and still think all books on the subject are of that “light” variety. General bookstores that have appropriate sections for this subject matter do very well with them, so don’t focus all of your efforts on the specialty market. I’ve sold quite a few pagan and pagan friendly titles to stores all over my territory here in the Southeast once I got the dialogue going.

    I think the biggest challenge is marketing and education. It’s not a subject most of the general store buyers will know anything about.

    Now I’ll just nip back into my pile of books and hide, since I am merely a bookseller, not a bookwriter. ;)

  9. Hm. Sort of like a Pagan-oriented Library Thing, with more of a local component? It’s a very attractive idea, and badly needed- both as a quality filter for Pagan books a la the NY Times Book Review and as a networking tool for publishers, authors and readers.

    I’d foresee the main problem being one of politics– if this is an organization that will, among other things, decides which works meet its higher standard of literary excellence, there’s the potential for a lot of hurt feelings. Not saying this isn’t justified, as we need some way of sorting the dreck from the gold. But with works whose quality isn’t easily quantified, like devotional works or books of poetry– how would the guild decide which titles deserve entry? Or works with terrible scholarship in the first chapter, invariably entitled History, but otherwise spiritually useful creative material or meditations?

    I have some reservations– which doesn’t mean it isn’t a brilliant idea or that I’m not excited as heck by its potential!

    • admin says:

      Well the main criteria for excellence (for non-fiction books) would be fairly practical and more-or-less objective: is the writer a plagarist? Does it use reliable and trustworthy research resources? Is the book expressing some form of hate speech?

      Furthermore this criteria could be applied on an “innocent until proven guilty” basis: that is, just about any and all writers would be admitted on a prima facia trust basis. Then if other writers, guild members, readers, editors, reviewers, etc., observe a consistent pattern of unacceptable writing standards, he or she could be voted off the island.

      I can think of two or three writers who I already know have a consistent reputation for plagarism, hate speech, and just plain not checking the facts. But otherwise, initial membership could be open to just about any writer who wants to join.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Pagan Writers Guild

    Book promotion….well, as a consumer of books, that are becoming harder to get, because I do not want the latest hash, I think that consumer response has potential.

    But, like the New Leaf Distribution, and buyers go, there is a middle man that is deciding what goes to market. But, that being said, harnessing the viral marketing would get some lesser known press materials out there.

    I have not had a chance to buy my copies of your latest books, Brendan. I have had expenses too, and they go on my list of books to get ( I have now trained people to buy me book store gift cards.) However, because what I want does not really exist locally, I buy most of the new books in my collection online. Because of that, I am using other ways to import the books I want, if I can get it in print. That sometimes means auction houses, and by then, we know that the author is not getting anymore royalties.

    Maybe that is part of what has changed, is the way books could be marketed. Food for thought. But, like any other organization, how much time would it take to maintain?

    Good on you
    Charlene Ross

  11. eldaradan says:

    This is brilliant.
    Almost always, it seems, the most direct solution to our problems… pool our resources, and work together. Sharing is caring! Co-ops and guilds have existed for a long time, for damn good reasons.

  12. alfrecht says:

    Do keep us apprised of developments in this area–this is an excellent idea, and I’d like to be a part of it in some capacity (even as “just” a member)…

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