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Answering Cross-Market Questions

Welcome spiritually-curious readers and writers. If you have questions about the audience of The Shack or wonder about the best ways to reach this nebulous psychographic of readers, you're in the right place.


Ready to look at our burning questions from last time?


Q: Why are these [spiritually-interested] books without a clear goal or “take-away” so vastly superior for this audience?


This is an answer you need when it comes time to pitch your book. Bottom line: the experience of these books IS the take-away. The story is the appeal. Fiction and non-, the point is in the journey, not the goal or destination. This means the emphasis is on allowing the entire progression of the narrative to “teach” the message, and not offering the usual didactic, message-driven approach propped up by illustrations or manipulated scenes in a novel. Authors of these books start at a different place, often intending to discover alongside the reader, not to design a coersive read. Largely, these are writers seeking after mystery and beauty, not answers or reassurance.


Q: What's the best way to prove I can reach these readers?


By doing it. Reaching this audience absolutely requires a satisfying read like the one I just described. Whether that’s self-help, memoir, fiction, or investigative journalism, you have to get people talking about the amazing and unique experience your book is. And that writing skill goes hand-in-hand with your skill in marketing. The shift toward more author-driven marketing is strong proof of our increased desire to hear an authentic individual’s story as opposed to the familiar hard-sell coersion tactics of ad campaigns and publicity spin-doctors. You either embrace this new-world thinking and feel passionately about it, or you don’t. As I always point out to potential authors, if you’re onto something and you know it, it’s just a matter of time before others know it too. Ultimately, your marketing should be an extension of your passionate search in your writing. How you prove that is by being an authentically passionate connector (We’ll get more specific about this in next week’s post).


Q: Should I just self-publish my spiritually-interested book?


Good question. It follows a more important one: Do I have one book or several? If you are a career writer, you need to put in the time to your craft and learning the business to find a partner you feel best understands you and serves your ambition level. If you have one book or one burning story within you, it might be best to look outside of professional publishing. I make this distinction when it comes to spiritually-interested books because few writers can (or want to) write several. Staying in a perpetual state of searching is hard to keep up (ask Don Miller). There’s something of a life-stage consideration here—an age where self-awareness and spiritual evaluation is where you are, and a possibly more spiritually-mature stage where you are more decided in your outlook. Your comfort with mystery vs. assurance may change over time and that’s normal. Another reason is producing your book on your own can actually be a benefit in reaching this audience since you aren’t affiliated with any established, traditional house and won’t have to cater to them or compromise to fit their assumptions about the audience. Smart readers like yours are very aware of that dynamic and actually like the idea of an undiluted read (The Shack as exhibit A here again).


Q: Are some publishers and retailers really actively seeking these books?


Absolutely. In fact, I’m not sure you can find an adult general trade publisher in Christian or general market who wouldn’t be open to looking at a book for the spiritually-interested audience. All will have their own particular flavors and assumptions, but again, self-publishing is a great way to prove you have an audience and can connect with them before attempting to find a publishing partner. Of course, you need to consider how well a potential Christian publisher partner is able to reach the general market, because the place these readers are generally not is Christian bookstores or the Christian shelves at Barnes and Noble. If you see yourself next to John Eldredge and Bruce Wilkinson, you might want to reconsider your approach.


As always, your questions, comments and complaints are welcome and appreciated. Next time we’ll talk about what you can specifically do to find readers and build a following. Until then, don’t sweat any of this–and keep writing!

5 Responses to “Answering Cross-Market Questions”

  1. John Cox says:

    Interesting and helpful – thanks Mick

  2. Nicole says:

    “This means the emphasis is on allowing the entire progression of the narrative to ‘teach’ the message, and not offering the usual didactic, message-driven approach propped up by illustrations or manipulated scenes in a novel.”
    Mick, I agree with your definitions and examples except for using The Shack here. To my thinking this novel preached from the moment the protagonist reached “the shack”. It was one long sermon with many interesting concepts, several of which couldn’t be backed up in Scripture, sending Christians to their Bibles or the lost into their thoughts of God.
    Teaching in fiction doesn’t warrant much of a separation from preaching in fiction. Story rules whether or not it’s done successfully or effectively either way.

  3. Mary DeMuth says:

    I have folks emailing me saying, “Memoirs aren’t being acquired anymore.”
    Not true. Mine did, and I’m not a household name. The key is telling the story in an engaging way.

  4. As always, good stuff here Mick. Great food for thought and lots to chew on.
    Back to writing!!

  5. Hi Mick,
    This has been a fascinating discussion. As I read this post, though, I wondered: in fiction anyway, shouldn’t the story always be the lesson (the takeaway, as you call it)?
    I think this is why so much Christian fiction is off-putting to me: it preaches. It tells me what to think and how to feel rather than letting me experience another world, another life, and live the questions in that life.
    One recent exception was Lisa Samson’s QUAKER SUMMER, which was all about a middle-aged woman’s search for meaning and for faith. The novel worked because the locus of this searching was within the narrator, who seemed like (was! in my mind) a real person. Her searching opened questions of my own–but her answers are not my answers, and that’s okay. That’s the power of a story: to raise the questions and (maybe) provide an answer, without claiming it’s THE answer.
    And I think this is where so much “Christian” fiction fails: it proclaims that Jesus is the answer as if that settles all questions, when of course it doesn’t (at least, not in my experience). When we claim to know THE answer, we cut off questions, and most people have a lot of questions, even if they know, love, and (try to) follow Jesus.
    If I’m understanding you correctly, it seems that the books that will reach this spiritually interested audience you’re talking about will be the ones that don’t claim to have THE answer, but are willing to ask all kinds of questions and maybe propose an answer or two, but in a way that allows for other, different answers.

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