Book Advice: Writing a Better Grimoire

January 28, 2010

I’m putting together a list of recommended titles that I’ll be posting on a separate page. Hopefully I’ll have that list up by the end of the month. Basically I’ve been going through my personal collection and other books I’ve read and I’m figuring out which books were either a great source of new ideas and inspiration the first time I read them, or books I’ve gone back to again and again as a reference.

Doing this, I’ve gotten a better idea of what I like in an esoteric book, what makes them valuable and worth the price, and also the books I don’t ever use. Since there are quite a few low price to free small press, self publishing, and POD options available, there are a lot more writers on the market, and really anyone can do it. They’re also flooding the market with books few people actually want and find valuable. Anyways here some things that I think really make a book stand out:

1. Keep it Short – This is the number one rule, granted there are some exceptions. If you’re doing a book on a very detailed in depth subject like tarot or astrology, or if you’re doing a compilation or overview, if it’s well organized you can have 300 or more pages. Generally though I’d say between 30-150 pages would be ideal for an esoteric book.

I mean, has anyone here actually read The Secret Doctrine cover to cover. A major work and a major influence on many of the authors who came after it, it has a strong reputation, and it’s in the public domain so it’s free, so it should be a lot stronger than a lot of new books by new and even established authors on the market. But no one reads it because it’s over a thousand pages long! At best, it maybe gets skimmed, sometimes. And it doesn’t mean that a reader is not devoted to their spirituality or lazy because they won’t read a 1200+ page book. It just means they have better things to do with their time and they’ll get the information somewhere else.

Books that are lean and concise, full of useful information, and which can be quickly read and added to ones accumulated knowledge are very attractive to a lot of practitioners, especially ones who may have money to buy books but not a lot of time to read them. And number two will help with this too.

2. Pick a specific subject and work with it – It’s a common complaint that everything on the market is magick or wicca 101. The problem is most of these books try to cover everything, and even in 500 pages we’re talking a few pages devoted to each subject, just enough space to give a cursory overview and not enough space to get in depth. But a book dedicated to a specific subject, like evocations or astral projection, can usually cover the subject completely, covering basic information and in depth information.

3. Completions and overviews can be useful –
I’m adding this because a few of the books that made my list are very long overviews of magick in general and completions of materials from other books. Done correctly, these can be wonderful collections of information. They’re great for exposing a beginner to a lot of different information, and they’re great as a single reference of many works for a more experienced practitioner. Unfortunately, due to modern copyright law, they’re very difficult to put together, unless you manage to work for a major publisher who is willing to allow the best parts of all their works to be compiled into a single volume.

4. Keep it separate and organized – You don’t want a narrative flow within your work. You don’t want a work that starts with a few ideas, and builds on them chapter to chapter, until the reader reaches a point of understanding at the end. Readers usually don’t like that book, or if they do they’re forgiving it its shortcomings. Readers will get a lot more use out of a book when they can easily turn to the information they want out of it right now. Books that can be used as a reference are a lot better than books that can’t. Some people will only want a book for one or two chapters. An experienced or even well read practitioner may already be familiar with the basic information you’re supplying and only want the book for the advanced material. To them, it’s important that they can skip to the best part of the book. When a person first sees a book, nine out of ten will go right to the table of contents and see how many chapters look interesting. Then they’ll pick a couple of interesting chapters and see if they have anything worthwhile in them.

5. Be original and speak from experience – Too many books just reiterate the information from other books. This is a common complaint from many readers. Before you even start writing a book, you should really ask yourself if you have anything new or original to add to the subject matter, or a new way of presenting it. Remember all of these subjects have already been covered by other authors, authors who are better established and more well known, and whose books have been out longer (so there’s a good chance someone interested in the subject matter has already bought their book).

6. Be positive, not negative – This is something that I see more and more with new self-published authors as opposed to established names. They’re negative. They talk about groups of people they don’t like, they talk about authors they don’t like, and they talk about how people are stupid. It looks unprofessional for one. It also alienates potential readers. No matter how good your book is, if your opening chapter dismisses Wiccans, or New Agers, or any other major group, any devoted follower of that ideology is going to put the book down and never come back. Also an established author will have a fan base, and when you bash that author, you turn his or her fanbase away from your work. A lot of times this comes down to nothing more than an author being petty or jealous of someone or some other group’s success. And this isn’t an attractive image to project. You’re supposed to be knowledgable and an enlightened guru of sorts, not someone partial to petty drama and full of teenage angst.

Instead be positive. Don’t talk about how horrible someone elses information is. Talk about how great your information is. Talk about how once the reader finishes your book, they’ll be able to practice the subject matter much better than they could before. Focus on how great your book is and what it can offer to the reader, because in the end this is what matters to someone buying your book, not how the market is overflooded with inferior work or how everything by author or group X is pure crap.

And remember, there’s nothing wrong with ignorance. If it wasn’t for ignorance, no one would need your book. If your book fails to alleviate ignorance, it’s not the fault of your readers or potential audience either. It’s because you failed as a teacher, or as an author, or in correctly marketing your work.

7. Have spells, rituals, or exercises included in your work –
Depending on what your writing, one or more of these may be appropriate. A book on general magical practices will probably be partial to spells. A book that is an introduction to a new or established religion will probably be partial to rituals. Things like astral projection and remote viewing usually are more geared towards general exercises as opposed to formal ritual work. But these are all practical information.

Practical information makes these books useful. They give the reader something they can do or try to better themselves. It’s something that makes a book valuable even after its been read. It’s something that most readers really want out of a book, and it’s usually the part of the book they value the most. Meanwhile if you don’t have any practical information, I can only assume that you don’t know enough to create it. You can’t write a spell, or ritual, or figure out exercises to help me improve a skill; and if you’re not at a level where you can do that, why should I buy anything you write?

8. Expand without fluffing – Suppose you pick a subject, let’s say astral projection. You write your little book and say everything you want to say, and you only have twenty pages. You could, at this point, publish a twenty page book (and some have). What most people do though is try to expand the twenty pages into sixty or a hundred. They don’t add any valuable information, what they do is reorganize it and go more in depth on various subjects and try to expand each section as much as they can. What they end up with is the same twenty pages worth of material, only now it takes up five times as many pages.

The fluff is usually non-valuable and useless, and there’s no reason for it. Instead try to find more useful information to add into the work. This may mean expanding the subject of the book into related topics. For instance, lucid dreaming and meditation would be closely related to astral projection, and chapters on these subjects would easily fit into a book on astral projection. Now your core information is still just twenty short pages, you haven’t fluffed it up any. Instead you’ve added new information about related subjects which will make your book even more valuable to a potential reader.

9. Mention other authors and books you like – You can do this in a few different ways. You can mention them directly in the text. Or you can have a recommended reading list. Or you can have a works referenced page at the end of your book. It really doesn’t matter, but I’m not talking about a list of other books you’ve written or a page or advertisement for other books by your publisher. This won’t so much help you sell your book, but it’s a good practice. It informs readers who like your work of other works they may enjoy. It helps promote other authors in the same field. It helps you direct people towards the good books and helps you make sure that people are spending their book buying money on good purchases, and not buying the crap books you’re not supposed to talk about according to #6. A while back this was a standard practice in esoteric works. It’s kind of fallen out of vogue (and the reason why probably has something to do with certain publishing houses too), but it was a good practice that should really be revived.

10. Concluding thoughts (time and value) – Most of what I’ve written here about good books comes down to two words, time and value. I know I don’t have time to be reading books all day long. I assume most people don’t either. Most people have a job they have to go to, they have families they have to take care of, and they have significant others they want to do fun things with. They also want leisure time to relax and watch TV, or a movie, or keep up with the internet, or whatever. And spiritual people also have to have time to practice their spirituality and deal with groups and meet-ups and rituals and what-not. It’s not that people are lazy or don’t want to read or better themselves, it’s just that they don’t have the time to wade through forty pages of crap to get two pages of something interesting. People value their time, and as a writer you should too. You should make it easy for someone to get exactly what they want out of your book as quickly as possible.

The other word is value. What is the value of your book? A lot of authors have tried to use number of pages or word count to value their work. But more often than not the smaller books are the more valuable ones, if for no other reason than the fact that they’re more accessible. The information in the book is what makes it valuable. And what may make a book worth anywhere from $5 to up to $500 in the case of some rare OOP books for someone might not be any more than a few pages or even sentences. Fill your book with new information that people will actually want and find useful and practical information and a lot more people will find it worth buying.