Llewellyn Worldwide, which was founded in 1901 in Portland, Ore., celebrates its 120th birthday in early September in what v-p Gabe Weschcke calls a “happy, mature, successful, healthy phase” of its long history as one of the largest spirituality publishers in the world.
The company was started by Llewellyn George, an astrologer who emigrated from Wales in the late 19th century and launched his publishing career with newsletters, books, and almanacs, including the Moon Sign Book, first released in 1905 and republished annually ever since. The A to Z Horoscope Maker and Delineator, released in 1910, put the publishing house on the map for the astrology community, and a revised version remains in print today.
George moved the company from Portland to Los Angeles in 1920, and he continued to run it until his death in 1954. It was briefly owned by a printing company before Carl Weschcke—seeing that Llewellyn was for sale in Publishers Weekly—purchased it in 1961. He moved it to his home city of St. Paul, and today it’s housed in nearby Woodbury, Minn.
Weschcke, who died in 2015 at age 85, had a lifelong interest in the occult (as many subjects such as tarot and astrology were known then) and was a gifted marketer. Shortly after taking over Llewellyn, he began reestablishing its name and his efforts led to the publication of one of the biggest sellers in company history, The Complete Book of Witchcraft by Raymond Buckland, based on a series of lectures the author gave. Since its 1969 publication, it’s sold more than one million copies.
To generate interest in Llewellyn’s entire list, Weschcke sponsored festivals focused on magic and paganism, and the publisher became known among authors and booksellers as the Father of the New Age, according to his obituary in Publishers Weekly.
Weschcke’s wife Sandra Weschcke and son Gabe Weschcke now own and operate the publishing house, and they credit his vision for its continued growth. “Llewellyn became what it is because of him,” said Sandra, who is Llewellyn’s president . “Carl wasn’t a trend watcher; he was a trendsetter.”
Top titles on a backlist of more than 1,500 works include Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner (1989) by Scott Cunningham, with 1.25 million sold, according to Llewellyn; Animal Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small (2002) by Ted Andrews, with 750,000 sold; and Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life Between Lives (1994) by Michael Newton, at 750,000 sold.
With 70 employees, Llewellyn now focuses primarily on witchcraft, paganism, and tarot, publishing roughly 135 titles annually. One of its top recent books is Psychic Witch: A Metaphysical Guide to Meditation, Magick & Manifestation by Mat Auryn, which has sold about 70,000 copies since its January 2020 release.
Sandra Weschcke said that over the past several decades, Llewellyn has benefitted from increased interest in its subject areas. “Thirty-five years ago, not many people were interested in topics such as Wicca and tarot,” she explained. “Now the numbers of authors and subjects we publish has grown. Authors have gravitated to Llewellyn because we have such a strong line.”
Gabe Weschcke said that though trends are important, Llewellyn has prospered because it stays true to its mission. “We are where we are because of who we are and what we publish,” he noted.
“Our mission/vision was and is to be the leading provider of information for personal growth of body, mind, and spirit,” publisher Bill Krause said. “We strive for all of our titles to have a how-to component to provide readers with options and tools for exploring and expanding their consciousness and potential.”
Sales increased slightly during the pandemic, and Gabe Weschcke predicts sales will remain at those higher levels, noting that over the past year and a half people have gotten back into the habit of reading. Indeed, sales and marketing director Tom Lund said sales to date are up by double digits over 2021.
Though Llewellyn offers direct-to-consumer sales via its website and its books are available in national chain stores, independent stores have been important accounts for decades. “Llewellyn supports the small metaphysical stores by having books for them to sell,” Sandra Weschcke said. “They have experienced wonderful growth, and we are proud of our relationship with them.”
In addition to its sales in the U.S., Llewellyn generates about 7% of its revenue in Canada, while other overseas markets account for another 7%.
Gabe Weschcke said the recipe for success in the future is simple: “We will continue to do what we love to do: work with great authors, have great books, have fun, and keep the author and customer community strong.”
Ann Byle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to PW’s Religion BookLine.