Saturday, October 10, 2015

Regarding "Muggle Jobs"

Over the last couple of days the magical blogosphere has turned its attention to the notion of "public occultism," which in my experience is something of a non-starter to begin with. Maybe there was a time when a significant number of people could make a living off selling magical products and teaching classes, but that time is not now. I wonder if it ever existed.

Now I can't say that I have a dog in this fight, but I do have something to say about what I consider a particularly dangerous point that came up during the whole kerfluffle - the idea that someone without a "muggle job" who instead spends their time promoting magical products and classes is somehow automatically a better magician. Because here's the thing:

Promoting magical products like books is a job. Not only that, in my experience it's a really bad job.

Back when I was getting my first book ready for publication I had this romantic notion that someday I might be able to make a living off my writing. A lot of budding writers think this might someday happen, and look forward to that day. I like to think that my expectations were at least somewhat managed - I understood that if it ever happened it would take years, and I had no expectations of making a good living at it even then.

A little over a year after my first book came out I was on a panel at a local Pagan convention talking about publishing books. What surprised me the most was that there were a lot of people there who had this idea that you could make a lot of money selling occult books if you could "market the heck out of them," as one audience member put it. It was clear to me that none of them had ever looked into the real numbers involved.

I went ahead and broke down what the earnings would have been for Modern Magick, one of the bestselling occult books of all time. I figured that it probably made Donald Michael Kraig about $20,000 a year over the course of the last twenty years. It's a living, I suppose, but not a very good one. And that was the ceiling, not the floor.

Still, what I learned within the next couple of years after releasing Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy was even more sobering. The book got good reviews, and I have corresponded with a number of people who really like it. But what so many people forget is that the occult is a tiny, tiny niche area. So far in my best year I made about $1200 in royalties. That's certainly not nothing, and a lot of occult writers do worse. But it's nothing even resembling a living.

Not only that, I found that after putting a lot of effort into promoting my books I actually hated promotion more than most "muggle jobs" I've ever had. The exception was phone tech support more than twenty years ago, which was so utterly awful that to this day I still don't like to talk on the phone. But "slightly better than the worst job I ever had" is not exactly a ringing endorsement.

So I program computers and design databases professionally. I'm good at it, it pays really well, and I like the work. I could throw a ton of magick at trying to make a living off my books, but I can pretty much guarantee if I did that full time I would be miserable. So for me, collecting a six-figure salary from an information technology job is far more in harmony with my will than shilling books. It just is.

For a true magician, magick is part of everything, so in that sense there's no such thing as a "muggle job." I use magick to solve difficult technical problems at work, to deal with political and interpersonal issues, and to make sure the best opportunities come my way. I'm not going to stop writing any time soon because I love writing, but barring some incredibly unlikely sequence of events I'll never be able to live off it. And you know what? I'm okay with that.

But beyond my personal circumstances, I've seen a disdain for regular jobs do a lot of damage in the Pagan and magical communities. It's one thing to hear it from a successful promoter, but another to hear it from somebody whose idea of a decent life is running around in Renaissance Fair garb and mooching off anyone who will give them the time of day. Maybe it's not politically correct to point this out, but in my opinion people who live like that are losers. Eventually they burn all their bridges and are left destitute.

It's not necessarily the case that a successful magician has to rich. I'm not pitching some sort of twisted Prosperity Gospel here. Judging the will of others is pretty much impossible, and money is a lot more important to some people than it is to others. However, it should be a no-brainer that a successful magician should be able to meet his or her needs without having to resort to exploiting the goodwill of others and just sliding through life.

Usually, in this day and age being able to stand on your own two feet means having a job, rather than devoting all your time to cultivating your "magical weirdness." And the truth is that not all jobs are awful - some are quite challenging and rewarding. But if you believe that all jobs are awful, you may not realize that your best possible option might be to put your magical skills towards finding a good one that you may like.

One of the things I appreciate about where OTO seems to be headed is that over the last decade it seems to have attracted more people who understand the value of having a good job, even when their personal lives may be much more alternative than the mainstream culture. I have no idea if this is the case with other magical organizations, but it should be. This trend has led to more members being able to afford local dues, which has in turn facilitated the maintenance and acquisition of dedicated temple facilities and so forth.

I can only judge other magicians from my own perspective, which is inevitably biased. But it does seem to me that a magician who finds themselves incapable of cultivating some amount of stability in their life needs to spend more time working at doing so. I know that back when I was younger and had problems along those lines, using magick to get myself a good job was what worked. I'm not a good salesman and never will be, and I'm an excellent software developer.

But for someone unwilling to even consider taking a "muggle job," the situation becomes a whole lot more challenging.

UPDATE: Several points have come up in the wider blogosphere and social media discussion of this topic that I would like to address.

First off, as I mentioned about halfway through the article, the whole "muggle/non-muggle" false dichotomy is not something that I endorse. I think it's dumb, hence the quotes. The term was used in the original article to which I was responding, and I'm not linking back to it because the whole piece was stupid enough that I don't want to give it any more traffic or get dragged into the original discussion. The point I'm making here is tangential, that denigrating people who work day jobs is really out of line.

In characterizing the promotion of magical problems and services as a "bad job," I was speaking from my own perspective - hence the phrase "in my experience." On Facebook Jason Miller disputed that characterization, but the fact is that whether a job is good or bad can really only be evaluated from an individual perspective. I hate doing it, while Jason apparently loves it. So obviously, from his perspective it's a great job, and he also reports making a good living at it. At the same time, over the last several years I've learned that it's really not for me.

However, I stand by my contention that in general selling to the magical market is not going to pay as well as selling any product or service that can be marketed to a larger audience. It should be a matter of simple economic math, as statistically speaking so few people are interested in the occult. Modern Magick, my example above, did fantastic for an occult book with 300 to 400 thousand copies sold over twenty years, but it's an all-time occult best seller, the success of which Donald Michael Kraig was never able to duplicate.

Now compare that to the numbers for all-time mainstream bestsellers. J. K. Rowling made a billion dollars off the Harry Potter series. The Da Vinci Code sold 80 million copies in six years. The numbers are orders of magnitude apart, at least if we're talking book sales. The ability to promote and sell products and services is the same skill no matter what you're selling, and my suspicion is that anyone who can make a good living selling in the occult market could make a great one selling something more profitable.

UPDATE #2: So the original poster that prompted this response is now claiming that he was talking about "our whole economic system" in his article. That's funny, the whole thing sounded to me like he was making fun of one particular person for having a day job instead of making a living shilling magick-related products. Not only that, said person is not some random wage-slave but a high-level IT professional like myself.

Since most of us like what we do, as I see it the whole "spending your life doing this thing you hate until you can finally retire" frankly doesn't really apply. Being a successful IT professional requires way too much thought, insight, and creativity for anybody who hates it to be good at it for very long. You simply have to love solving problems and coming up with the answers to be successful in the field.

The other thing that really doesn't make any sense is that magick-related products are not some special field off on their own. I will grant there's some difference between working for yourself and working for someone else, but lots of salespeople work for themselves because they make a living on commissions. In that sense, there's no difference between a magical salesperson and a car salesperson.

There's nothing wrong whatsoever with making a living in sales, but trying to spin an argument as if commissioned salespeople or even successful entrepreneurs somehow don't participate in "our whole economic system" is quite naive. They most certainly do. Everybody living in America does unless they live completely off the grid, generating their own energy, growing their own food, and paying no taxes on their income.

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Morgan Eckstein said...

A lot of people look sideways at my muggle job--erotica writing.

Alma Moreneta said...

Sounds more like a "snuggle" job, Morgan.

Ivy said...

I've heard the same toxic attitude and even had it directed at me by people I considered friends (and who were happy to take advantage of my house for rituals, eat my food, and drink my liquor). But I love my "muggle job" as a program manager in the IT field and make a really good living at it. And not only do I leverage my magic to help me at work, I leverage the skills of my job to make my magic better.

What you say about the OTO really interests me as well and it makes a lot of sense.

Nerd said...

Books are like business cards or pamphlets. If you give someone a pamphlet, they will thank you and throw it out as soon as you leave. But if you give them a copy of your book, they will put it on their shelf and brag about having met you.

But the real money to be made is on teaching or giving workshops on the subject matter of your book, if that's something in which you are interested. It can also be a good way to get your name "out there," professionally.

morino ravenberg said...

Yeah,the occult is an abstract field & isn't really for making a living since it isn't an everyday neccesity.But like you said,what you can do is use your occult knowledge to find a job that you like & make some good $ with.

Unknown said...

I agree that the real money is in teaching or doing workshops. E-courses are popular right now but of course require a certain level of marketing. All a book does is establish you as an "expert" on a certain topic.

Scott Stenwick said...

I would agree that in theory you can make more money on courses and workshops than on books. You certainly make more from each participant, which is important given how few people are actually interested in occultism. But getting people in the door requires the same promotional skills and activities that you need in order to do well at book sales.

The New Agers seem to have figured this out, with their incredibly expensive and over-produced courses. "Give me $10,000 and spend the weekend with me in the desert, and you can call yourself an 'initiated shaman!' Get all your friends to come too!" But the level of sales ability necessary to pull those off is pretty hard for me to imagine. I don't think I could say any of that with a straight face.