How To Write & Publish A Magic Book
This month (September 2021) we celebrate the release of How Magicians Think. This book is a celebration of everything wonderful about magic. As Neil Patrick Harris observes, “There are a myriad of books that explain how to perform magic. But there are very few that explain how to watch magic. A smart take, and an excellent read.” Finally, this is the book you can share with your uncle’s brother’s cousin who just loves magic, or with that friend who doesn’t do magic, per se, but loves watching it.
This is the story of How Magicians Think and how it came to be.
For years I observed how people would approach me and say, basically, the same thing. “My brother in law loves magic, so I bought him your book.” What puzzled me was that they bought him my previous magic book, MAGIC: The Complete Course, which is a how-to guide to magic. I couldn’t really understand how someone who “loved” magic would automatically want to read a book showing how to do it. In my estimation, most people who love magic are fascinated by it, but they don’t actually want to learn tricks.
For example, I love film, and Civil War history, and music, but I don’t want to actively engage or perform any of these hobbies. I would just love to know more about it. There didn’t really exist a book for such a magic fan. So...I wrote it.
It’s How Music Works by David Byrne, but for magic. That was the pitch. David Byrne wrote this fantastic love letter to music. He expressed what he loved about making music, musicians he admired, his own struggles and triumphs, and the result was a deeply personal account and overview of the music industry. I wanted to do the same for magic.
It took years to convince a publisher to take a risk on How Magicians Think. At first they just wanted me to write more books on tricks, or on the history of magic. But I wanted to do a more personal project, and this was my chance.
I think what made the book hard to sell are two things. First, people feel (not inaccurately) that magic is a niche, and there isn’t enough interest to support a major book. I am of the belief that magic is a niche craft, and there are very few magicians. But I think many, many people are fascinated by magic and therefore make a great audience of readers.
The other roadblock was the format. I can’t say for certain why so many execs found the format of answering core questions about magic so mystifying. I see this format used in every other performing art. There are books on art and music and film and theater and celebrity and home decoraating and stamp collecting and everything else you can think of, and all of those books do a deep dive in their intended subject. Why magic, in particular, was such a hard sell for so long, escapes me even now. Fortunately, Workman saw what I wanted to do and helped me get there.
The Green Light
I got the green light four years ago and I poured myself into the writing. I turned the book in on time, but it was pushed back twice (more than a year) because of scheduling conflicts with the publisher. Then, when we were finally on track, the pandemic hit, and we all agreed to wait until the world opened up more before I would tour with the book.
The Writing Process
My writing process is hard to describe, but I have a few personal rules that might prove interesting to you. I tend to write late at night and only when I feel things are flowing. If I sit for thirty minutes and it’s clear I’m writing uphill, and forcing it, I just walk away. I tend to be in the best frame of mind when I’m most alert: after I’ve eaten, and particularly after I’ve watched a fantastic film.
I also do my best writing when I’m closest to my subject. So I wrote the chapters on Teller and Blaine and Copperfield more or less immediately after I interviewed them. Even after a couple days some of the spark would dissipate, so I did my best to write about people and subjects while they were freshest in my mind.
And the old adage that writing is rewriting rings true for me. I purposely over-wrote the book by about a third, and I tried my best not to take it personally when we slowly whittled away much of what I wrote in the editing process.
There were two full editing processes: one was before I turned in the manuscript, and then a second, even more rigorous editing process took place alongside my publisher. I asked twelve trusted friends to read and help shape the draft I turned in. They were a mix of published authors outside of magic (including a couple writing Professors), as well as magicians who knew me and my work pretty well.
Then, with Workman Publishing, I worked with my fantastic editor on three passes. Finally, it went to a copy-editor who fine-tuned the language and fact-checked every element of the book.
Because this book was not visually driven, the “proofs” stage was a little more relaxed. Kass Copeland did all the interior and cover illustrations, and she has a fantastic style. I hope when you read the book you’ll spend some time on her interior chapter illustrations. They reflect the content of each chapter in really subtle, playful ways.
As I write this, the books have been printed and are on their way from the printers to our warehouse (and bookstores across the globe). It’s a helpless sort of feeling—once you’ve done your part and signed off on the book. You have to just close your eyes and hope for the best. It’s still a little early for even my friends and family to see the book, but I’m looking forward to those moments, and I hope (nervously) that the book resonates in the way it was intended.
There are many great reasons to love my publisher, Workman, and I’ve had a relationship with them that spans twelve years. But the very best reason to work with them is that they believe in the books they publish, and they will do everything within their powers to promote the book to the world.
I’ll be embarking on a 36-city book tour this fall, and visiting many institutions and magic clubs and book stores to promote the book and speak about. I’ll also be doing local and national television and print media, as well as numerous podcasts and radio interviews. I hope to see many of you on the trail.
Pre-Order How Magicians Think now