Sime~Gen Inc. Presents
"The Profit Motive and the Christmas Buying Season"
One of the Greater Mysteries of the publishing industry -- the reason why an editor can never tell which book will be a runaway best seller and which a total flop -- lies at the philosophic point where the profit motive intersects with the pleasure motive.
The following may seem a bit too elementary to most of you, but it will frame a point of view in which I'd like to make a very complex esoteric point, a point having to do with the Pentacles suit of the Tarot, the 10's, the 9's and The Universe. The point may help you increase your own life's profit margin and you may even learn to avoid buying books you ultimately find unreadable.
Editors, publishers and their accountants are drawn from those whose formal education has rigidly excluded the magickal view of the universe. One subgroup where I have found numerous exceptions to this rule is sf and fantasy editors, agents, and publishers. But they live their professional lives among those whose psychic barriers are made of pure neutronium and so they must take on protective coloration and behave in a way that meets with general approval -- or lose their jobs.
The purpose of publishing is not to provide you, the buyer/reader with a transcendental spiritual experience, but to sell books. The publisher doesn't care if you never read the book you bought.
Likewise, the purpose of TV entertainment is to glue you to the screen through the commercials, to deliver you to the mesmerists who will condition you to spend your money on something you don't want or need. Purveyors of TV fiction don't care if you really watch or not -- only that you stay tuned. The less your critical faculties are activated, the more effective the commercials are, so the fiction is supposed to lull the critical faculties to sleep.
The purpose of the customer -- the TV viewer, movie patron, book buyer -- is to acquire a pleasure-hit, to obtain the payload that the author of the fiction built into the piece.
The purpose of the publisher/broadcaster of the fiction is to make a profit. The purpose of the creator of the fiction is to deliver a "pleasure-hit" to the consumer. The purpose of the consumer is to acquire a "pleasure hit." The seller does not create the work and does not consume it. He/she is a "middleman."
A book or TV show is successful when the writers who have something to say actually reach the reader/viewer who wants to converse on that subject. Every reading experience is a conversation with a writer on some obscure, abstract philosophical point (e.g. the theme of the work.)
The key to the middle-man's profit margin is the ability to identify the market for a given work of art and then to pull off the even more difficult trick of delivering that work of art to that market.
The reason why even seasoned professional editors with large numbers of runaway best-sellers to their credit still regard the publishing business as a random, mysterious, unpredictable, hit or miss proposition, is that they understand marketing as an operation confined to Malkuth -- the 10th sepherah of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life.
When I teach Beginning Tarot, I identify this 10th Sepherah symbolized by the 4 10's of the deck as "The Space/Time Continuum." It is "The Kingdom" referred to in the Lord's Prayer, and it is the "reality" that non-sf/f readers refer to when they tell you to stop reading that garbage and "get back to reality." Malkuth is the domain in which the "Laws of Science" are perfectly defined and make sense, the domain in which mastery of the Laws of Science will give you enormous power. For example, try thinking of money as stored potential energy, then reinterpret the suit of Pentacles in your Tarot deck.
But Science is only one small branch of Magick, a special case whose Laws, while analogous to the Laws of Magick, are nevertheless different from the Laws of Magic. That is to say, Malkuth is the "As Below" which is like the "As Above" -- like, but not identical.
Thus, the best way to learn Magick is to learn Science, and master the laws of "reality." Then expand on that mastery.
Now let's look at publishing from a magickal point of view.
Publishing is a process which occurs in Malkuth. The purpose of publishing is to deliver a Work of Art from one point in Yesod to another point in Yesod. More on Yesod in a moment.
The purpose of the Publisher is to make a profit -- i.e. to get out of the activity more than he/she put into it. That is not the "root of all evil" but rather the purpose of life. God Creates Something out of Nothing; incarnated creatures Create Something out of Something. Put another way, living things are the counter-entropic force in the universe. Rephrased: what you are is God's gift to you; what you make of yourself is your gift to God.
The Publisher is performing a piece of the Great Work, and it is a sacred trust. Few of them are aware of that, though.
Note that because of this lack of awareness, the purpose of publishing diverges from the purpose of the publisher. The publisher will make a profit only when that divergence is reduced. But how to reduce it?
Now let's go back to the larger picture and look at it from a magickal point of view. If the purpose of publishing is to move Art from one point to another in Yesod -- what, then is Yesod?
Yesod is the 9th Sepherah. It is the Astral Plane, the place you go when you dream, the level on which one's ectoplasmic body exists, and the nearest, easiest level to access when one first learns to step out of body. It is the level of reality on which ghosts exist. It is the level of reality on which what you imagine comes to be instantly and without resistance.
It is the Tarot 9's, and in astrology it is symbolized by the Moon -- the karmic baggage you've drug with you into this incarnation, your desires, and your intersection with the public, i.e. what you have in common with others.
In Kabbalistic parlance, Yesod is The Foundation. That is, it is the Foundation of Reality. It is the level of existence which supports reality and shapes it.
Science Fiction and Fantasy readers know that Imagination is the most important cognitive faculty, though our formal education insists that Reasoning is the most important. Reasoning is the cognitive faculty which masters Malkuth. Imagination is the cognitive faculty which masters Yesod.
The Tarot is often called The Royal Road because its cards depict a path and act like a roadmap through sequential initiations. The cards are often called Keys. They open doors between the rooms in the Mansion in which God dwells. Two of the "rooms" in that Mansion are Malkuth and Yesod, and the key to the door between them is the major arcanum The World or in some decks The Universe.
Using these definitions, I think you can see immediately that Art is created and consumed in Yesod, though it must travel through Malkuth to reach the consumer. That is, Art is an idea imagined, and then it must be cast into a medium -- an oil painting, a bit of graffiti on an overpass, a computer program, a skyscraper, a silk-screen pattern for a T-shirt, a symphony, or a science fiction novel.
Now, how can you, the magician, tell if a Work is Art or not? What is Art -- how do you know that you've consumed Art?
Like an iceberg, a Work of Art exists mostly below the surface. It exists in Yesod and protrudes a little into Malkuth. When encountered in Malkuth, the Work of Art opens a door into Yesod and the realms above (in Kabballah there are 44 such realms, not all of which are accessible to the incarnate). A Work of Art is a circuit which conducts Godshine into Malkuth.
Place one of your hands against the other so the fingers and thumbs exactly match. Now displace one hand so that the fingers of one hand fill in the gaps between the other fingers. With the gaps filled, you have a portrait of a Work of Art that fails as Art for some technical reason having to do with its construction in Malkuth. With fingers disaligned, you see a novel with an unclear theme or cardboard characters or no conflict. With the fingers exactly aligned, you see a Work of Art such as the novels I review here. (This is Recommended Books, remember; I don't review books that aren't worth reading.)
You know you've encountered a Work of Art when it stops you in your tracks, your breath freezes in your throat, your eyes tear though you don't know why, your mental vision clears and everything becomes bright-edged. Suddenly you realize you've lived your life without ever knowing what the word "beauty" means. And now you do know.
You experience Beauty -- i.e. a pleasure-hit -- when you encounter in Malkuth something which is exactly congruent to what you perceive when you visit Yesod -- or for higher initiates the realms above Yesod.
You are a Stranger incarnated in a Strange Land, and you encounter a bit of Home -- and you are moved beyond words. Your Soul tastes or scents something familiar from a previous life or between lives, and for an instant out of time you remember who you really are and why you've come here. The things which create this effect are Works of Art, whatever their apparent form.
The most powerfully effective Works of Art are those placed in our paths by God: a rose amid a wild bramble; a rainbow; a perfect tree aflame with fall's beauty; an icicle; an empty beach strewn with storm wrack; a shred of cloud blown on the wind; a person to love.
As a writer and a teacher of writing, I deal on a daily basis with people who struggle with all their heart and soul to capture that sensation -- the encounter with a Work of God's Art -- and convey it to you, the reader in a form that will work for you. The writer is trying to discuss with you one of God's Works of Art that particularly impressed him/her. We call the subject of such discussions philosophy, and in a novel it is found expressed in the Theme.
As a professional novelist of twenty-five years experience with the publishing industry, I know how often it happens that the writer succeeds in creating a Work of Art only to have publishers fail to convey it to its market, fail to make a profit, and then blame that failure to make a profit on the writer for failing in his/her Art.
As a reader of more than forty years experience, I know how often it happens that a reader experiences an overwhelming helpless frustration at being unable to get more of a particular kind of novel, a particular author, or a particular TV series.
As a person, I'm familiar with the cynical reaction to these failures: "The best shows are always cancelled."
Anyone who listens to the news knows that the Christmas Buying Season is make-or-break time for retailers and manufacturers such as Publishers and Booksellers. However much you or I may view this artificially whipped up frenzy with disgust, it has become a fact of life in the United States. Those who do not "make it" through this season, die.
The publisher's purpose, remember, is not to deliver a pleasure-hit via Art but to make a profit. Also recall that such profits happen when the publisher's purpose and the purpose of publishing coincide. Once rewarded with a profit, a publisher is likely to repeat the behavior that earned the reward.
Now, how many books have you bought this year that did not deliver a pleasure-hit to you? If your failure rate is significant despite the guidance of this column, let me suggest that an understanding of the book-buying process in terms of the Malkuth/Yesod model I've described may allow you to decrease your failure rate and at the same time spur publishers to provide more of what you're looking for.
Think back to the book which most moved you, most impressed you, most excited you -- the most memorable book you've read. Or it might be a group of books -- a series by one writer, or a number of series by writers who bounce ideas back and forth.
The night before you intend to book-shop, while you are falling asleep, imagine yourself into the universe depicted in that book or series. When you wake, try to retrieve the ambiance, the feeling, of the place on the astral plane where that universe exists. Hang this feeling on a Tarot card or some other relevant symbol and take it with you on your shopping expedition.
In the store, stand back from the shelves, summon that universe, let your eyes go unfocused, and see what book spines or fronts are clearer, brighter, or translucent to astral energies. Look for the Godshine emanating from the author's name, the book title, or even the edges of the pages.
Don't be fooled by glittery packaging techniques -- an expensive cover on a book may mean that the publisher paid more for the manuscript than it is worth and is desperate to sell copies. Or it may mean the publisher has great confidence in this product. Rarely does the choice of how much money to spend on the cover have anything to do with how powerful a work of art the novel is. Look through the cover to find traces of that power.
It may take some practice, but you can learn to find the works of art that access that part of the astral plane you find the most fun to visit. It's probably best to practice at the library first to minimize financial losses.
Here are two more things you, as a practicing magician, can do to spur the production of the kind of Art you need to progress on your path. Buy books with all the concentrated deliberation you bring to the culmination of any sacred ceremony. By bringing yourself into full focus at the moment of purchase, you communicate to the publisher in the publisher's own language.
Later, those books which affect you the most can then be separated out and meditated upon, adding energy and definition to those universes on the astral plane. That added energy can then be grounded by writing directly to the publisher, not the author but the publisher -- without the author's name on the envelope. Say in a sentence or two what it was about a book that you particularly liked. Use your fully focused Attention when you mail the letter.
Remember, that in Malkuth today, the only contact line between publisher and reader lies through the accounting computers. If we want to change the way this system works, we must forge another line of communication. Discovering where to put that line and how to forge it will take a full magickal understanding of the circuitry. But knowledge is power, and there is a great deal of profit to be made on all sides.
Throughout this year, I have tried to use this column to show how and why novel reading, especially sf/f novel reading, is an important adjunct to magickal training. If this point has made sense to you, it is time to give some thought to what you, as a trained magician, can do to shape and direct the next "golden era of sf/f."
Now I find I've written an entire review column and haven't even mentioned one new book. In my January column, I will discuss P. N. Elrod's Red Death from Ace Fantasy, Kris Jensen's Healer from DAW Books, Laurell K. Hamilton, Guilty Pleasures, from Ace Fantasy, two from Sharon Green, Silver Princess, Golden Knight and The Hidden Realms, both from AvoNova Fantasy, and Jane Toombs' Silhouette Shadows entry, What Waits Below. These are books that you might discover on your shopping expedition.
And do remember, there are a lot of once prosperous but now starving writers out there. If you must give a gift this season, give a book. And do it with all magickal deliberation.
Send books for review in this column to: Jacqueline Lichtenberg, POB 290, Monsey, New York, 10952.
Find these titles by using copy/paste (in MSIE use right mouse button to get the copy/paste menue to work inside text boxes) to insert them in the search slot below -- then click Book Search and you will find the page where you can discover more about that book, or even order it if you want to. To find books by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, such as the new Biblical Tarot series, search "Jacqueline Lichtenberg" below.
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Reviewed by Jacqueline Lichtenberg