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So You Want to Write a Book…

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on May 12, 2011 | Comments (7)

It almost always happens that when I go to any event, someone tells me they’d like to write a book. Sometimes their approach is one of looking for advice. Sometimes they are more aggressive (“I can write a book better than that!”). I always encourage them and offer to help. This is because when it comes to occult books, there really isn’t any competition. You see, I don’t know of anyone who buys just one occult book. When someone gets one of my books they end up buying books from other writers. And if they buy a book by someone else, they eventually get one of my books, too. Even if someone is writing on the same topics as I do, their book is publicity for my books and my books are publicity for theirs. So I encourage people to write books…especially if they’re good books.

Two Types of Occult Book Writers

Generally speaking, there are two ways to approach writing a book on an occult or magickal topic. The first is based on an old writing adage, “Write what you know.” This is the type of writing I do. I write on subjects I know intimately. I don’t write on subjects I don’t know. Right now, if someone were to ask me a question about a subject I know, work with, and try to embody in my life, I could speak for hours. What I say could become a book. In fact, Modern Magick began that way.

I spent well over a decade studying and practicing magick before I started teaching classes. After teaching the information for years, I took my classes and converted them first into a series of mail-order lessons, and then into a book.

But there is another way to write books. It’s based on the concept of “writing for the market.” A great book that explains this method is by Richard Webster:

How to Write for the New Age MarketHow to Write for the New Age Market expertly explains this technique. The basic idea is that rather than writing what you know, you look to see where there is a hole in the market. Is there a subject that isn’t covered? Are there books already in a subject, but you have a different approach? When you determine that there is a hole that needs filling, your next step is to become an expert in that area. Read and study everything you can on that subject. Practice all of the techniques. Make sure you know a subject inside and out. Then, write your book.

So the two approaches are :

  1. Write on a subject in which you are already an expert
  2. Become an expert in a subject and write on it

Of course, the challenge in either approach is to determine the subject on which you are going to write.

Will Someone Publish This?

The best way to determine if a publisher will print and support you is to check with the publisher before you start to write. You could send a “query letter” asking if they’re interested in a proposed book. However, virtually every publisher with an on-line presence has a listing of the topics they’re interested in. This can usually be found on a page which tells you how to format your submission and is known as the “Submission Guidelines.”

If you visit Llewellyn’s Author Submissions page, you’ll discover a list of topics Llewellyn is interested in publishing along with specific guidelines for submitting your work for consideration. It doesn’t mean these are the only topics Llewellyn will publish, but they are the primary ones on which Llewellyn is currently focused. Requirements as to formatting the text and how the publisher wants to receive a submission will also appear on the guidelines. Pay close attention to them! Publishers receive many submissions and you don’t want to give them a reason to ignore yours.

That Other Option

Years ago, self-publishing was called vanity publishing. This was because it was very expensive and people usually did this when they couldn’t find a publisher for their writing. In other words, no publisher thought the book would be good enough to sell. Most often, that was true.

Today, however, many people are looking at self-publishing as a first choice. It costs far less than it used to, bringing self-publishing into most people’s price range. It has two great advantages. First, you have total control of the way the book will appear. Second, you will earn more money per book sold.

However, in my opinion, there are still a lot of disadvantages. Although you will have more control, most people don’t know about things such as editing and design. Many self-published books look absolutely horrible and unprofessional. Some people still look down on self-published books. Further, when you self-publish you are also the advertiser, publicist, distributor, promoter, etc. You literally have to do several jobs.

My friend, Devin O’Branagan, self-published one of my favorite Pagan novels, Witch Hunt. She has also published a hugely popular young adult vampire novel called Glory. They are well-written and exciting, however they have really obtained popularity because she is literally working on publicizing them every day with blogs, interviews, websites, etc. Self-publishing is full-time job and a lot of work.


Reader Comments

Written By Rebecca Elson
on May 12th, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

This is an interesting topic and one that could spawn a book unto itself…in fact, it has spawned many, many books! The self publishing debate has been going on for about a year now amongst some of the writers I know and there is no cut and dry answer as to when to self publish and when not to. We’ve finally settled on whatever the author thinks is best for them.

Written By Scott Smith
on May 12th, 2011 @ 8:25 pm

oft inspired
nary the time.

Or… I don’t make the time. But that’s how the blog gets bloated with me thoughts. 🙂

Really tho this is a great entry. It IS motivational.

Written By Diana
on May 13th, 2011 @ 1:23 am

Thank you for writing this. I’d forgotten about Webster’s book, and never have had a chance to read it. I think that along with the topics we want to write about in this field (genre?) we have to consider the global condition of the market: we’re in a down cycle when it comes to certain types of spiritual interest books. While we’re certainly not out, the number of books any publisher can print are limited, and that’s also what’s driving self-publishing.

I tend to write from an “I found this hole in my practice and worked up this solution,” angle, which in a way combines both approaches. I’m also working hard to build my own audience – writing on the occult, or on anything else, requires a lot of legwork beyond just writing a manuscript.

Written By Brandi Palechek
on May 16th, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

I have to disagree with your points regarding self publishing. While this may have been the case in the past, self-published writers can do quite well for themselves if they are willing to invest in their work by hiring an editor and designer who understand how to transform their book into something truly special. Writers also have to be willing to put in the hours and energy to promote the book, but this is also the case for an author who is published by a company like Llewellyn. The biggest benefits to being published by a company such as Llewellyn are its distribution channels. Llewellyn has relationships with independent bookstores and metaphysical shops all across the United States, Canada, as well as overseas. Llewelyn also spends a great deal of money on advertisements in publications, sends copies of books to reviewers, and has a huge community of fans who are always eager to get their hands on an exciting new read. Keep in mind, even if your book is published you still have to do the work to promote it. All publishing companies divide books int A, B, and C list publications. The amount of energy and attention they invest in your work will depend on which list it is placed. Also, after 3-6 months, publishers have to move on to the next big read because reviewers and publications focus on new releases, they have very little time or interest in books that are considered to be backlist (books published more than 6-12 months prior).

Written By Donald Michael Kraig
on May 16th, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

Hi, Brandi!
I don’t think we disagree at all. Yes, writers do have to promote their books and the big advantage to working with an established publisher rather than self-publishing is that the publisher already has links and relationships set up. The self-published author has to discover and find them. Thus, for the self-published author, there is more work to do in promotion.
I agree that having these promotion links and distribution channels are some of the biggest advantages of being published through a company such as Llewellyn. However, a good publisher also pays for professional editing, artwork, design, and advertising. Many, if not most self-published authors don’t do this, which is one of the reasons so many self-published books are riddled with typos, have poor design, poor typography, and little in the way of advertising. So I’d say that going with a publisher has these advantages, too, and I believe they are very valuable.

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