Beliefnet.com and the Zen of Lingerie
"Alright, but if I'm gonna be holy, I gotta get some fun out of it." - John Wayne, in the movie Angel and Bad Man (1941)
From the Dalai Lama to Mary Baker Eddy, Beliefnet.com brings the voices of spirituality and religion to the Web. From Baha'i to Zoroastrianism, this one-stop site covers 22 different religions, with features that include newsletters, columns, quizzes, daily mediations, prayers and horoscopes.
On the "Pagan and Earth-Based" religion page, you can connect with others who believe in fairies, nature spirits and "wee folk." There's a co-branded Chicken Soup for the Soul section, and other marketing partners are as wide-ranging as Victoria's Secret.
Unsure about your own faith? The site feature Belief-O-Maticô will ask you "20 questions about your concept of God, the afterlife, human nature, and more, and Belief-O-Maticô will tell you what religion (if any) you practice...or ought to consider practicing." It comes with this warning:"Belief-O-Maticô assumes no legal liability for the ultimate fate of your soul." This blend of hip humor, inclusiveness, and slick design and function have made the site a huge success, tallying a half-million unique visits each month.
Launched in 2005, the site's mission is "to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness." Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman is the former National Editor of US News & World Report, National Correspondent for Newsweek in the Washington bureau and editor of the Washington Monthly.
Changing Platforms Without Getting Hit by the TrainWhen youíre reinventing yourself as an author, how do you change platforms without getting hit by the metaphorical train?
Award-winning, critically acclaimed author and independent Celtic scholar Carl McColman is figuring that out right now. After thriving on a platform created to market his ten books to Pagan, Wiccan, and Celtic Spirituality readers, McColman underwent a profound spiritual transformation and converted to Catholicism, appropriately enough, on Easter 2005, just a few months after I profiled him and his successful platform building in my Nov-Dec 2004 Independent Publisher feature, Youíve Gotta Have a Gimmick: The Truth About Author Platforms.
Among McColmanís ten books, his third, Embracing Jesus and the Goddess: A Radical Call for Spiritual Sanity (Fair Winds Press/Rockport 2001), may have foreshadowed the authorís own eventual spiritual leap, but it was followed by such titles as The Complete Idiotís Guide to Paganism (Alpha Press/Penguin 2003), and Before You Cast a Spell: Understanding the Power of Magic (New Page Books/Career Press 2004).
I spoke with Atlanta-based author Carl McColman recently to discuss the challenges, and, yes, even triumphs, of creating a new platform, and what other authors can learn from his experiences.
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ND: What has this transition from Pagan author to progressive Christian author been like for you?
CM: Iím really back to square one and I have to build a new platform. Thereís a level at which my platform isnít defined by religious identity. I donít think my future is as a Christian author, but as an author who explores post-modern Christian mysticism. Thatís a subtle, but important, difference. I donít live because I write, I write because I live. I learned that by walking away from a career that was no longer working for me. But, overall, my career is much more exciting than I thought it would be at this time.
How so? What are your new opportunities?
Iíve gone from a market of 400,000 people to one of about 50 million. Iíve become a very small fish in a big pond. Iíve been focusing on my blog, on the internet, and on teaching. Iím concentrating on building a new platform.
Some Pagans have an interfaith approach to their Paganism, and they think itís cool what Iím doing. The new readers are comfortable with the fact that I used to be a Pagan. Theyíre liberal.
The bad news is that I havenít sold a book in two years. The good news is that I have two book proposals circulating and publishers are reading them. On some level it would be a mistake to publish right away because my platform isnít where it should be. One of the reasons I was frustrated as a Pagan author wasnít just because I didnít want to be a Pagan anymore, but because my platform had gone as far as it could.
How is your experience building a platform different this time around?
Iím more objective about what a platform should be than I used to be. Iím more demanding of myself. I have at least 5,000 readers of my blog every month and itís growing. As a Pagan, that wouldíve been a big number, but as a Christian, itís chump change. My blog isnít a Christian blog, though, because I write about other things. I call myself a Druid with a rosary. Iím a much bigger ďformer PaganĒ than I was as a Pagan. Iíve become better known for being a former Pagan than I was when I was a Pagan author.
Thatís pretty ironic. What do you make of that?
I became a ďformer PaganĒ because thatís what I needed to do spiritually. Ironically, even thought I knew it would kill my career as a Pagan author, itís now made me better known. Liberal Christianity is all the rage right now. Suddenly, itís hot to be a progressive Christian, so my timing turned out to be good. If you do what you love, the doors will open sooner or later.
There comes a time when youíve gotta move on. Reinvent yourself. Then, suddenly, youíve got a clear playing field. If it ainít working, just let go of it.
Part of building your new platform is teaching. You used to teach spirituality and mysticism with Celtic, Goddess, Pagan, and Wiccan themes. What are you teaching now?
Iím teaching mysticism and spiritual philosophy at Emory University (in Atlanta), and at churches I teach Celtic Christianity and Christian mysticism.
And, what about your writing? In addition to your blog, where are you getting published now?
Iím writing a lot for Beliefnet, and I think theyíre my best audience. Whether itís a publication or books, Iím less and less interested in writing to make my editors happy. If they have a vision thatís not my vision, Iím not going to do it. Iíll turn it down. I turned down a book idea (that I didnít like) that one of my previous publishers had for a Christian mysticism book.
Being a writer is perseverance, and not taking no for an answer. Iím having fun building my new platform. Iím more confident because Iíve done it once before. Iím doing this because I love it, because I want to write, and because I want to help people. Iím much more at ease with who I am as a writer than when I was a Pagan, so itís more than just where I belong spiritually. Itís amazing the doors that have opened to me just by me being who I am.
The things youíre doing to create your new platform are income-producing: primarily teaching and writing.
Thatís right. Like most authors, books have never been my primary source of income. Iíve always made more money from teaching and one-on-one counseling. Right now, Iím also ghosting a book thatís not Christian or Pagan. Itís Hindu, and itís a memoir about the relationship between a woman and her guru, and about yoga and meditation.
What advice do you have for others who are building their first platform, or, like you, are reinventing themselves and crating a new platform?
Do what you love, the success will follow; the miracles will follow. Embrace it, walk into it, be comfortable not knowing what your next book is going to look like. Donít give up. Donít be a victim. Just do it.
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Nina L. Diamond is a journalist, essayist, and the author of Voices of Truth: Conversations with Scientists, Thinkers & Healers. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Omni, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Chicago Tribune, and The Miami Herald.
Ms. Diamond was a writer and performer on Pandemonium, the National Public Radio (NPR) satirical humor program, for its entire run in Miami and select markets nationwide from 1984-1998. As an editor, she works frequently with other authors and journalists on both fiction and non-fiction.