How to Break Into Occult Writing

Here are some suggestions for those who want to write books about the occult:

1. You have to have something to say. If everything you have to say is everything everyone else has had to say, you won’t get very far. The best way to get something to say is to go do some magic. You want to write a how-to about making wands? Then go out into the woods and get some branches and start making wands until you can say interesting things about the process. Don’t just make up some stuff that sounds good. Actually do the exercises and techniques you want to talk about.

2. You have to say it well. Hone your craft by writing, a lot, and reading it aloud. Find a few authors whose style you admire, and imitate (but not copy!) them. Learn to cite your sources. Learn to write clear English, and easily understood instructions. This could take years, and so you should get started as soon as you can. I began writing when I was about sixteen. Before the world ever saw anything I wrote, I had written five or six very bad novels, countless terrible stories and essays, and enough poems to choke a pretentious horse.

3. Take criticism. Someone who criticizes your writing is criticizing your writing, not you. There are two, and only two, ways to take criticism. If it’s valid, address it. This happens a lot, even among very skilled writers, because no one can see everything even in their own writing. If it’s not valid, ignore it. Never talk back or try to argue with a critic. It’s a waste of time. If they’re wrong, they’re wrong, and that’s okay. This goes triple for when you have published the book and reviewers respond to it. Someone gives your book a bad review? That sucks, but move on with life. You can’t please everyone. You don’t have to disparage their judgement, or attack their integrity, or respond publicly at all. Maintain your dignity. (It may be acceptable to send the author of the review a short note, but it should be friendly, private, and should say something like “thank you for your review. It’s given me a lot to think about for my next book.”)

4. Learn the business of publishing. Your publisher is not your baby sitter, your friend, or your therapist. They’re a business arrangement, and you should approach it that way. Forget all the silly notions you may have of authors being prima donnas, making demands and so forth. Meet your deadlines like a professional. Take criticism from your editors as a professional (this is the only time you can argue with criticism, by the way — but do it as a professional and only when you’re sure you’re right). Be friendly, concise, and polite in all your dealings. This goes triple if you’ve been rejected.

5. Don’t let publishers walk on you. Most publishers aren’t really cut-throat. That’s just a thing for movies. But do have enough of a backbone not to cave. The first contract they send you is a perfectly fair, acceptable contract. Don’t sign it. Instead, read it very, very carefully. If there’s something you don’t like, ask to have it removed or changed. For example, publishers will often happily send you more complimentary copies than listed in the boilerplate. If you intend to give talks, classes, or readings, ask that this number be increased. They may or may not raise your royalties if you ask, but you can always ask for a graduated royalty schedule, where you get paid more if you sell a certain number of books. No publisher will ever say “Hey, you asked for an extra 2% if you sell over ten thousand copies. That’s nonsense! The deal is off!” They might laugh in your face, but they won’t usually cancel the deal unless they say no and you refuse to budge. If they request changes, make sure you can make them before you agree. Make sure you understand how translation and foreign rights work, and if there’s not a clause for it, ask their lawyers to write one.

6. Deal with your editor fairly. If they tell you that something needs to be changed for the good of the book, don’t have a kneejerk reaction of “no way.” Think about it and make the changes if they make sense to you. If they tell you to do something that you know is wrong (like get rid of citations), tell them no. It is still your book. Your name is on it. Any input they give you on the cover is a kindness they’re offering you; most contracts do not give the author control of the cover.

7. The author never gives money to the publisher. If you are told otherwise, you are not dealing with a publisher, but a scam artist.

8. A typical size for a book might be around 50,000 words. If you write 1,000 words a day, you’ll finish the first draft in a couple months. Assume that it takes you an hour to write a 1,000 words (that’s fast!). That’s 50 hours. It usually takes, by rule of thumb, at least twice as long to revise. That’s another 100 hours for a total of 150. Research and practicing the techniques (see suggestion #1) will also probably take you a while, so say another 50 hours for that and thinking time. That’s 200 hours to write a book. You could do that in three weeks or so, working most of the day. So it is a doable task, but it won’t break down that easily. You’ll make false starts, have days that involve staring at the lawn and not writing a word, and so on. It usually takes most authors a year to finish a book, including downtime and so on. You may make, total, a couple thousand dollars in royalty on most books. $2000 a year is a very bad salary. $10 an hour isn’t great either, and would require you to write nearly all day every single day. The moral: don’t write for money. Write for the fun of it.

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