Publishing Your Tarot Deck: Always More Work Than You Bargained For

Life… can be so hard. In theory my card image files (like what you see above, the Ace of Swords) should be perfectly centered. But it’s not. As you can see after I superimpose the template guidelines that the manufacturer sent me. Look at where the blue line ends on the left side, then look at where it ends on the right– it’s not symmetrical. Also, all content must be within the blue line. Crap. Oh.. F me.

So let me explain before you’re like, wow, you have no idea what you’re doing. I had previously formatted these image files toward Manufacturer A while I was working on some digital sampling with Manufacturer A. For some reason I assumed there was some sort of industry standard, so what works for one should work for all others.

Nope. When I started the same process with Manufacturer B, the spec requirements were measurably different. So I have to go back to Card 1 and re-do the formatting all over again. In other words, formatting requirements can differ slightly from printer to printer. What was centered with just a little bit of white space all around for the borders in one template from Manufacturer A may very well end up looking off-center with no space at all almost border-less in the template from Manufacturer B.

Another interesting thing I learned. Most of the deck creators we all know and love don’t order the custom samples, because the custom samples are anywhere between $250 to $750 just to print physical copies of your final product to check quality. Because the price is so astronomical, deck creators forego the check and just pull the trigger, I guess hoping for the best?

Every industry is different. I get it. I’m coming from OEM (original equipment manufacturing) experiences in very different industries, so maybe it’s just me. But pulling the trigger to produce 1,000 copies of something without first obtaining a physical copy of the product to check quality seems kind of absurd to me. And that’s industry standard among tarot and oracle deck creators? All because they’re like, nah, $750 is too much money?

Here’s the thing. My personal OEM background is fashion. Working professionally during The Day Job in joint venture where we’re equity partners in companies from a wide variety of industries, I get to observe some of their OEM logistics, too. And I’ve never come across an industry where obtaining physical samples/prototypes weren’t mandatory. And also budget-friendly (or at least reasonable, given the specs). I mean. Real talk: I can get an OEM custom-designed heated shiatsu massage chair with magnet therapy sample for less money than what it takes to get the sample for a tarot deck— are you kidding me??

Sorry. Still ranting. It’s just insanity to me.

So I’ve been the busy bee getting RFQs, which in OEM terminology stands for “Request for Quote.” You send a prospective manufacturer your specs and they send you a price quote. In case anyone reading this ever decides to independently publish their own deck, here’s what I did. See above.

I created that chart and filled it in for each company I got a quote from. That way I can do a head to head comparison for each. I write down the company name and my sales contact from that company. I ask for the same specs from each, and then request the unit price given my specifications. I also ask questions about shipping estimate– I give them my city, state, and zip code, then request a shipping estimate, which they’ll get from their own import/export forwarding agent.

Oh, and don’t let that edging note in the chart be a misrepresentation: I do not know if I’m going to go with gold gilted edges yet (which would need to be a matte gold anyway, since my card finish is matte). Here’s why.

Still scrutinizing over the details. Here’s what I thought was the final version, ready to go. See next image for the minor changes I made…

So based on my research and really basic understanding, the gold edging process requires an intense blast of heat treatment to the cardstock to get that edge. For a cardstock like 350 gsm (standard tarot, these days– this is better than commonly found mass market decks but not as good as, you know, the high-end indie ones that are stiff and near bulletproof), there’s a pretty high risk that sometimes, the heat treatment causes rippling in the cards.

In other words, you can’t reasonably guarantee that every single gold-gilded deck will have totally straight, not-dented cards. It’s just a risk that comes with the territory of applying such an intense heat treatment to the edges.

To clarify on some of the distinct traditions of interpreting The Fool card that Crowley talks about, on Initiate, added the Green Man to the two sides of the archway. On The Keeper, added three white doves forming a triangle blade down (water glyph) for Holy Ghost.

Given that newfound knowledge, I don’t know if gold gilded edges (even the matte version) is the way to go for me. I don’t want the risk of even a portion of the decks being all wrinkly and bleh when they arrive in the hands of customers. I would be so heartbroken if that happened.

On the other hand, there are improvements in the technology now that some manufacturers have adopted, which reduce that risk. Or I can go for a much heavier cardstock (and in the process, increase my overhead cost…). So there are still a lot of decisions to be made.

Also, just a PSA to future deck creators: getting shipping estimates one by one from every manufacturer is super important. So far I’ve found that the estimate can vary as much as $1,500 in price difference. Not 100% sure why it can vary so much, but I’m on it– investigating as we speak.

Then I ask about sampling policies. This can vary from company to company, too. Some it was $250. Others it was closer to $750. Some say it’s non-refundable, the end. Others say yeah, well, we can give you back 50% if you order X amount and 100% of it is credited back to you if your order exceeds Y amount. So this is important to ask one by one.

You’ll see in the above table image that it looks like I’m going with a teeny tiny white-stapled LWB. Yep. But also the Big Book (what I refer to it as at the moment) will be offered, though most likely digitally. I won’t be printing and producing the Big Book as a physical text. It’s just not economical to, especially since it throws shipping, packaging, and pricing issues off balance by way too much.

J and I had a little bit of an argument over the LWB. He was going through all the decks in my tarot collection with LWBs and pointing out to me that my 60-page little black and white LWB needs to contain card meanings, like a sentence or five keywords or whatever, and a one-page introduction about what tarot is (I almost choked on my coffee, because come the fuck on, like someone at the point of wanting to buy a deck like mine wouldn’t already know a shit ton about the tarot).

I said I am not doing that because it’s stupid. He said everybody does it. Look. Proof. Everybody does it. I said no I’m not doing that. No one reads that shit. It’s insufficient info for true beginners and it’s irrelevant to intermediate and advanced readers. It’s just bullcrap. I have no idea why everybody else includes it, but I’m not.

I’d rather utilize those precious few pages I’ve got for the LWB to write more narrative stuff about the background of the cards, its overall system design at play, and that kind of thing. Not “The Fool card means new beginnings….” and some stupid fluff opening that starts out, “The tarot is a deck of 78 cards…”

The end result is he’s trusting my judgment, but reserving his doubts for the record. He still thinks I need to include keyword one-sentence card meanings in my LWB. I just think that’s a waste of everybody’s time and space. When it comes to the more unique-to-this-deck card meanings and symbolism my deck is going for, I feel like it’s either all or nothing. Either you get it in the Big Book or I don’t include it at all. I have no idea how to lift a few keywords or one sentence from each card entry in the Big Book for the LWB. There’s just no way.

Now, as for page count of that stapled LWB in the box– that’s been an interesting adventure, too. So after I decided on at least having some sort of insert with the deck, in addition to offering the Big Book, I started a working draft of the LWB, now conscious of page count.

Problem is, every manufacturer seems to have a different page count maximum. So first it was 70, so I was like okay, let me work at putting together a 70-page tarot-card-size booklet of something. Then I did it. 70 pages covering the story, purpose, and magic of the cards, a couple of invocation and spirit petition or prayer references, and explaining the three realms: the primordial realm, the seven upper realms, seven lower realms, the Empyrean courts of the Holy Guardians (don’t worry– these are all just fancy stupid names for Major Arcana and Minor Arcana because I can; everything really remains the same. No learning curve required. If you can read with an RWS or Thoth, then you can read with this tarot deck right out of the box).

Then another company was like yeah, we can only do 50 pages. Another was like we can do 64. Another, 68. Another is like yeah you should keep it to about 16. Aargh. Screw my working draft!

Anyway, so I’m still stuck on the RFQ phase because I’m doing my due diligence, getting quotes from different manufacturing provinces in China (there are noticeable differences between the provinces, so you want to cast a wide net and check different regions), and trying my best to look up the company profile, background, etc. of each business.

I’m kind of glad I did because I sniffed out a big… here’s what I’ll say publicly. Somehow, this one single company has like ten tentacles and it has staked a monopoly over all the bid sites, such as Alibaba, and many of the deck creators we all know and love use this company without knowing they’re all using the same company.

Now, there’s nothing too overtly awful about the company and they do produce great product. The thing is I think internally the corporate culture must be shit. The culture seems to be to pit their own sales associates against each other. Their attrition rate is also extremely high, so if Deck Creator Bob is working with sales associate Joe six months ago and then Bob refers me to Joe, I find out Joe is no longer working there. That did not just happen once; it happened three times all for the same company.

Furthermore, if you happen to request price quotes for the same specs from five different sales associates at that same one company, you’ll get back five different price quotes. I have this thing called the smell test. Does it pass the smell test? Since so far the company had not, I dug further. Turns out this company is rather huge and the analogy of having many tentacles is a good one. They’re very much in bed with the Chinese government and do have what is, in effect, a monopoly, which is concealed from view by different names, but it all leads back to the same big fat rich guy where all these sales associates are played like poorly-paid pawns. Let’s just leave it at that.

On the other hand, if you give a damn and push farther in to your road of research, you can come upon more mom-and-pop printing companies in China where the whole company is like five people who are all friends and decided to start a company together and all five of them know a lot about the tarot, have Instagram accounts where they talk about metaphysical things, go ga-ga for crystals, and are in the business because they’re metaphysical-oriented. The prices can be a little higher (not by so much that it’s insane, but yeah, a touch higher) because they don’t have the clout that the mega corps do.

But I mean. If you’re going to go with a company that makes you feel good, which would you go with? Right?

One more thing I hope Westerners can learn here: price quotes are not fixed. They’re always negotiable. The Chinese business culture is a bit different from American business culture in that way. Their pricing is based on a presumption of negotiation and barter, so it’s padded. If you take the price as-is, it’s at a padded price.

By the way, everything is manufactured in China these days. I tried talking to a few U.S. printing companies to produce the decks domestically, only to find out all of them were nothing more than the middle man, and the decks were going to be printed in China anyway. They just help with quality control and all the other things I can totally do myself (correction: James can do himself).

I’m still tinkering with the art to make sure each card really does express everything I want it to. The more I scrutinized over my Star card, the more I questioned whether it fully conveys the goddess Nut, like it’s “supposed” to (hence she’s always depicted as nude and there’s that big ass star in the sky). I got the big ass star, but since I opted out of the nudity, I felt like I really needed to add something more.

So I went back and added a sycamore tree in the background to the right. Yeah. I know. It’s disproportionate compared to the tower (from Key 16) over to the left, but the good thing is in the spirit of the medieval art style I’m going for, everything was drawn disproportionately back then.

In other words, not only am I fine-tuning the lines in preparation for printing, but I’m also fine-tuning the symbolism. I noted in the captions of two images earlier in this post with regard to one of the Key 0 versions that’ll go with the deck (there will be three versions of Key 0 that you can choose from to work with, based on three traditions of interpreting The Fool). For that whole Holy Spirit motif in The Keeper version of The Fool, I lifted the dove I drew on the Ace of Cups and placed it in the formation I wanted in The Keeper card. Now, I think, the narrative and the story here is clarified.

So progress report for this past week: On top of scrutinizing over and fine-tuning each image, I got 12 different full price quotes, which includes shipping estimates, sampling policies, list of past tarot decks they’ve produced, notes on each company’s experience, and what I could dig up about each company based on my professional China corp contacts in Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Guangdong. Then I whittled 12 down to 7, spoke more with those 7, and then down to 3. Now James and I are mulling over these 3. (Anyone immediately noticing an occult-y pattern? Mystic rose? Kabbalah? No, yeah? I’m not that clever. It was not intentional. That’s just how it worked out. After it happened and I counted, I smiled and was like, well hey, will you look at that!)

Read more entries from the

Progress Diary

documenting the production of

Spirit Keeper’s Tarot

6 thoughts on “Publishing Your Tarot Deck: Always More Work Than You Bargained For

  1. Keep up the Great Work. As a Qabbalist and esoterica, I am fully enjoying your posts. The LWB is the point of initiation for the reader. Make the deck, one that helps to launch the journey, not do it for them. Create the digital book for purchase for those enjoying research. Can’t wait!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Every time I read a post about the Spirit Keeper’s Tarot, I learn so much. I think I could read about what you drew, how you changed it, why you did what you did, etc. for hours at a time…. there is no book that would be too long!
    I am so glad you are going to print the deck. About the book, I like your idea of a uniquely “Benebell-style” LWB and also a digital Big Book where you can say everything you want to say and not worry about that printing cost. I think a lot of us who follow you are fine with printing your materials at Lulu or somewhere like that. I do want a physical copy, and you make really easy to have that done at Lulu.
    Currently I’m doing a rough draft coloring of the majors, and it is a spirit-affirming activity for me.
    I love this deck, and I love reading about it. Thank you for sharing this beautiful part of your life and enriching mine.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I thought tally get it. My background is in mfg as well, electronics, and tested prototypes are mandatory. A Kickstarter program for a special limited edition may be a solution for raising funds needed for the prototype/proofs run.

    Like

  4. Well, I can’t wait, either way. I definitely want to read the big book, though, in whatever format it comes in. I like big books and I can’t deny. If it’s digital, would it be possible to print a copy from Lulu? Or have you thought of selling the physical version of the book through Lulu so people who want it can get it that way?

    Like

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