A sobering look at best-selling Pagan titles

the Monkey on My Back
the Monkey on My Back (Photo credit: magickalrealism)
Cover of "Living Wicca: A Further Guide f...
Cover via Amazon

An article on Scott Cunningham’s dynamic-changing book Living Wicca pointed out that, as a best-selling title on the subject, it sold 400,000 copies.

For the Pagan genre, that’s huge. For a lot of books in any genre, that’s huge. But it comes nowhere near best-seller category. While there’s no consistent number for what makes a bestseller – you just need to outsell the other guys – 400K over the lifetime of a book in print is smallish. Being a “mid-list” author – someone with middling/mediocre sales takes selling 5,000 books and that may change even more now that self-publishing is not a bank-breaking endeavor. We don’t need to go over how little authors make back from those sales – copy editors, ISBN assigners, cover designers, etc. all require feeding and visits to the vet, so of course, a good chunk of money rightfully does go back to the publisher.

These books also came out before the noise-to-message ratio rose exponentially. The same story mentioned Starhawk’s Spiral Dance, considered a seminal (pardon the word choice) book on feminist spirituality in the 1970s came in behind it at 350,000. Out of curiosity, I also looked up the much-reviled To Ride a Silver Broomstick by Silver Ravenwolf because I had heard it was considered a knockout bestseller. The book has sold 300,000 copies to date.

I’m not sure if that’s sobering or relieving. I’m well aware that marketing my book Divorcing a Real Witch is going to take some hump-busting. I’m also obligated to consider the following factors in the sales of the above books:

  1. This doesn’t take total distribution into account. By that, I am referring to piracy, legitimate book lending, and the circulation of used books.
  2. These books have all sold internationally. The above includes standard purchases in the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia without taking into account the languages these books have been translated into.  Given that the US has 330 million people, which seems huge until you realize our geographic distribution creates millions of small towns that are often culturally invasive when it comes to religion and religious questioning (or absolutely anything else that might make those in power think they themselves aren’t normal) and that people in Australia still have to fight tooth and nail to get anything on Pagan subjects they don’t make themselves, that’s still a pretty small number to chop off for those who can’t safely get access to the book.
  3. All of these were published at a time when publishing conditions were completely different than they are now.

Still, the above are arguably the three worldwide best-sellers on the subject. Compared to the Harry Potter series (chosen because of its popularity among the Pagan set AND because it started publication in 1997, close to Ravenwolf’s 1995 book) these are … tiny. The Potter series sold 450 million, and still counting. Now, the specialization of the information combined with marketing practices – most books, even formally published books are now marketed solely by their authors – will dilute the odds further. And I’m not writing a Living Wicca. But just looking at those numbers tells me that whatever I’m doing, it’s really going to be an eye-opener about how much publishing has changed since I sold my first article to Llewellyn in 1999.

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