Crafting the Runes: A Venture into Self-Publishing

by Alaric Albertsson
Also appeared in The Heartland Spiritual Alliance newletter.

As I explained to my acquisitions editor over lunch last year, I needed a set of Anglo-Saxon runes for my next book, “Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer”. In addition to the book’s outline and a few sample chapters, I gave her several illustrations for the rune cards I hoped would be sold with the book.

Why cards instead of runes carved into little pebbles or bits of wood? Well, why not? The use of divinatory “rune stones” dates back to the early 1980’s – hardly what anyone would consider an ancient tradition –and I am pretty sure the early Saxons and Scandinavians would have made use of cardstock if they’d had it. Cards suited my purpose. Each rune card would include an illustrated conception of the corresponding passage of the 10th century Old English Rune Poem. One of my goals is to make the runes and their mysteries more accessible for people, and a significant percentage of my target audience is already familiar with the Tarot deck as a divination tool.

The illustrations were provided by Pagan artist Taren Martin. I wanted to work with him on this project not only because of his previous work, but also because he understood my vision. At least a dozen or more rune decks have been published over the years, but the overwhelming majority of these have been decks of the Elder Futhark, which lacks nine of the Anglo-Saxon runes. The decks frequently have illustrations which cannot be supported by the rune lore preserved in any of the Rune Poems. I wanted to create a deck that includes all of the English runes and, more importantly, a deck that remains true to the extant lore.

My acquisitions editor took my proposal back to Minnesota and I returned to Pittsburgh. For the next several months Taren and I continued working on the rune deck. I would send him a vague idea of what I wanted. Sometimes I was not sure of what I wanted, which was extremely frustrating for him. He would put together an image and send it to me, and I would then send it back explaining why that was not quite right. It is a testament to our friendship and to Taren’s enduring patience that I am alive to share this story today.

Meanwhile I continued working on the text for “Wyrdworking”. This book will present traditional Anglo-Saxon magic for our modern world. The chapters will cover herb magic, scrying, galdor and other magic techniques in addition to rune magic. At that time I was focused on the latter, and so the book and the rune deck were parallel projects.

In late spring I learned that the publishing house had rejected the deck. They wanted my book, just not the rune cards.

“But I can’t sell this book without the runes,” I protested to my acquisitions editor. “Thirty years ago I could do it. Maybe twenty years ago. But today every new age store in the United State sells the Elder Futhark. Most people are not going to the trouble to make their own runes when they can buy a set, even if that set is lacking almost a third of the symbols.”

My acquisitions editor, Elysia Gallo, understood and was sympathetic to my plight. In fact, hers was the most lovely rejection letter I have ever received. Unfortunately it was not within her power to overturn the decision. If the rune deck was to become a reality, Taren and I would have to pursue another course.

I was afraid Taren would be discouraged by the news but, if anything, he became even more determined to finish the rune deck. While he moved forward with the remaining cards, I talked to a few fellow authors about the problem. A publisher provides two essential things: capital and distribution. It soon became apparent that the publishers who could give us the distribution we wanted were unacceptable for other reasons. A couple of friends suggested we look into self publishing. The idea was not unreasonable. If we had to distribute and promote the deck ourselves, self publishing would generate much more income per deck sold.

While figuring all this out, I began to realize something else. It was time for me to turn the project over to Taren. I would still help him, but without the accompanying book, the rune deck was his baby. And so the cards became not just “the rune deck”, but the Martin Rune Deck.

In June, while I was at a book signing for “Travels Through Middle Earth” at Aquarius Books in Kansas City, my friend Barbara Criswell showed me Toby Evans’ Chakra Labyrinth Cards. Toby had decided to self publish when she created her chakra deck. I’ll readily admit that I know next to nothing about chakras, but I know a well crafted product when I see one, and Barbara told me that Toby had been very pleased with her printer.

Barbara Criswell is one of modern Paganism’s unsung heroes, so I’m going to sing a bit about her now. This woman has consistently supported the Kansas City metropolitan area’s Pagan community for decades. Twenty years ago when the Heartland Spiritual Alliance and other area organizations were trying to buy a Pagan campsite, Barbara offered space and promotion for fund raising projects to help bolster this monumental project. Around the same time she offered a meeting place for a discussion group known as Spirit Circle, which still convenes to this day. “When Travels Through Middle Earth” was published she threw a cake-and-lemonade party for me at the Heartland Pagan Festival to help promote the book, and then later invited me to speak at Aquarius Books where she showed me Toby’s Chakra Labyrinth Cards. She is a woman who puts her community first, and it is a great honor to be numbered among her friends.

So Barbara put me in touch with Toby Evans, I then introduced Toby to Taren and she introduced him to her printer in Hong Kong. This, of course, was not the end of the story.

The next thing Taren needed was investment capital. Notice how this has become “Taren” instead of “we”? Although I was still involved with the project and deeply supportive, I turned my attention back to “Wyrdworking” and began to devote most of my time to the book. I had signed a contract for the book now; I had a deadline. For the most part, the Martin Rune Deck was in Taren’s hands.

Scott DeRousse provided the investment capital. We had also considered soliciting multiple investors, but making a single payment each month is far preferable to paying back loans to a dozen different people. We now had another partner for the project. Anyone who knows Scott at all knows that he is the ultimate silent partner, but Taren acknowledged him in the accompanying booklet as a man “whose warmth and generosity knows no bounds”. That’s not entirely true; Scott’s generosity does know a few bounds. Fortunately the capital needed fell within that parameter.

I authored the aforementioned booklet. If you have ever bought a Tarot deck, you know the booklet I mean; the tiny brochure with an even tinier font that’s tucked into the box along with the cards. It was a challenge to describe the essential mysteries of the runes on pages only slightly larger than a business card. I do think the booklet gives the average customer enough information to get started, and he or she can always buy “Wyrdworking” when it’s released next year for a more comprehensive coverage of rune magic and divination.

It was just before Yule when Taren received five boxes of the Martin Rune Deck from the printer for his approval. If they were satisfactory, the entire order would be printed and delivered. To describe them as satisfactory would be an understatement; they were all that we had envisioned and more. Taren and I both felt that the final product validated the work and time we had invested in the deck.

The Martin Rune Deck can be used for divination or as a meditation tool. It is now available online through WolfDen Designs. Retailers should contact Taren Martin through the website under the Contact Us link for information about wholesale pricing.

About the Alaric:
Alaric Albertsson is the author of “Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagon”. To learn more about Alaric visit his website.