Taboos and Pagan self-publishing

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It’s not that Pagans – neopagans, at least – don’t have taboos. It’s that we tend to consciously forgo old-school taboos or be completely unaware we have them. Homosexuality? Stupid, especially since it occurs in nature. Incest? An important taboo, also reinforced by nature. (Deep apologies to any who finds this triggering; it is an example, but not a casual one. There will be nothing further on that aspect .)

It’s the non-conscious taboos that sneak up on us. When pointed out, we do what humans do: deny it, then justify it. We then ignore it and hope no one brings it up again.

Pagans are a paradoxical group. On the one hand, we embrace modern life, modern changes and we welcome scientific advances as Mother Earth revealing herself.  On the other hand, only a minority of us accept the possibilities brought on by computers in magical use at more than a surface level. We try over and over again at publishing periodicals that we very much need but continuously fail to adapt to changes in distribution and communication and we are just plain weird about book publishing.

To be fair, the entire book publishing industry is just plain weird right now. It makes me wonder how horse breeders felt when the car became cheaply available.

In Pagan-land, a Pagan gets fame (sort of) by publishing a book.  In this particular subculture, book publishing is one of the only ways to claim micro-fame. This is not fame or fortune on the Hollywood scale: the best writers enjoy mid-list fame, which means nobody outside the Pagan community knows who you are. There is no fortune – you often have to purchase passels of the book yourself, and peddle it at signings (rapidly going out of vogue, as book tours are expensive and not typically fronted by publishers) as well as market it yourself, more or less. You might be able to afford a publicist, but even then, odds aren’t great: Oprah’s gone, and she preferred Christian New Age to Pagan. There just isn’t much in the way of national talk shows willing to explore that historical analysis of ancient grimoires. You probably do have to supplement your income by teaching workshops.

While the technology of distribution has changed, this situation is nothing new for Pagan or other occult writers. Nor is the the strangeness of the topics, the extreme niches and at times the violent, irrational opposition such topics can receive from the “overculture” of even from within Pagan culture.

Without self-publishing back when it took a great deal more financial and social risk, modern day Pagans and occultists would not have quite a few of our beloved source materials, such as Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy.

Yet there are many Pagan publications and review sources that refuse self-published work. There’s definitely logic to it, but unfortunately, there’s an increasing chance that the reasons behind that stance stance are, for the most part, not objectively valid.

The common reasons for avoiding self-published work are the following:

Quality

Self-published books are considered a lesser quality than books issued by a traditional publisher. In fact, publishers are viewed as gatekeepers to book quality.

This used to be true, with many flagrant exceptions. Publishers do tend to quality, but it’s a secondary priority. The question an agent or a publisher really asks is, “Can I sell this work?”

Twilight was salable.  Chuck Pahlaniuk, on the other hand, had five of his novels rejected. Publishers may not be the gatekeepers of quality we expect.

Factuality

It’s often assumed that books issued by traditional publishers are fact-checked and therefore more accurate than their self-published counterparts. In the case of larger publishers – those who don’t typically take Pagan and occult books – this is still true. Smaller publishers often have to jettison these positions and leave it up to the author to oversee the work’s accuracy. In fact, this is a niche that desperately needs someone to fill it for the Pagan market – having an independent fact checking service could prove helpful to multiple small publishers as well as to indie/self-published writers.

Format

As ebooks do make inroads on the book market as we know it, the design that makes a book work changes drastically. Epub is the new source of most swear words, and utterly unavoidable in a world where more and more people want to see an electronic edition first. This leads to the downside: self-publishing isn’t easy, but it’s free (aside from the marketing effort.)  This gets us a world of unprofessional covers, weird layouts and a slew of books such as “Voodoo Love Spell to Prevent Divorce.” Painfully opportunistic, but in the grand scheme of things, this is not new. These works have simply moved from ads in the back pages of National Enquirer to Ebay and now on to Kindle, where you can send Amazon $10 on your debit card instead of $75.00 on a cashier’s check to some woman in L.A. you don’t know.

The ground has shifted, and while we experience it utterly differently from those who went before us, we are experiencing some of the same things in different ways. Self-published alone is not a strong enough reason to reject reviewing a work; in the occult a work that finds a publisher can sometimes be just as bad as standard vanity work, or the person self-publishing may have profit motives that are perfectly valid given that most authors make less than $1.00 per copy of any book sold.

The perception filter by which we assumed a quality Pagan/occult book had to have a non-author publisher no longer applies. We’re all stuck taking these books on a case by case basis.

So much for that taboo.