Crossing Over: Who Is Your Audience?

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In the closing month of 2008, Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion released these findings:

  • 20% of Americans said they have “heard God’s voice”
  • 55% feel they are protected by a guardian angel
  • 23% say they have witnessed a miraculous physical healing


In a similar survey in 2005, 67% of Americans were convinced heaven exists. Dick Staub made an interesting related commentary recently about all these spiritual seekers (estimates say it’s commonly around 82% of Americans) who perpetually come up empty in their spiritual search. This is not a new audience.



 


But the “spiritually interested” audience is this group. Among their primary interests are a spiritual reality that isn’t immediately apparent to the five senses. They are not necessarily looking for doctrine, Bible studies, or tips on successful living. They are not even necessarily looking for verifiable proof, tangible evidence, or practical application of this spiritual reality. Their interest is more elemental—tracking closely with universal human curiosity. To wit, the spiritually interested are:


  • Open to new ideas and possibilities
  • Eager to consider new ways of looking at life and reality and the universe
  • Concerned about issues such as personal freedom, self-realization, destiny, fulfillment
  • Not geared to motivators such as paranoia, shame, legalism, and fear. In contrast to many evangelicals, these motivators are off-putting to the spiritually interested.
  • If God exists, they want to know that he/she/it loves them  
  • Tuned into invisible reality, which includes spiritual reality, parallel reality, mystical reality, supernatural phenomena, mystery, spiritual power, intersections between the physical realm and the spiritual realm, and direct experience of these things
  • Tuned into spiritual power, especially as it helps them live everyday life and achieve their goals/desires/aspirations
  • Interested in exerting control over external circumstances through spiritual means
  • Driven by direct experience over theory, logic, or arguments
  • Open to new possibilities, not bound to dogma, religious systems, schools of thought or worldviews.


This “cafeteria-style” approach to belief, religion, and spirituality is exhibited in the self-improvement fields, which lends itself very nicely to current CBA and ABA nonfiction focused on self-help and a humanistic worldview. In fiction, this is harder to quantify, but redemptive stories that illuminate a benevolent, engaged, and beneficial spiritual reality are aiming at this broad audience. But in fiction and in nonfiction, this audience is interested in information that illuminates:

  • Natural laws of the universe and how one can live in harmony with it
  • Special wisdom and/or knowledge about those laws, power within them, and often control over them for personal gain and making sense of chaotic life
  • The future and what lies ahead
  • The other side, heaven, the afterlife, angels, the parallel spiritual realm, non-corporeal experience


In general, the types, genres and categories for these books is broad. They can be fiction or non, straight-forward or deceptive, traditional or quirky, literary or crassly commercial. They may have direct discussion of spiritual reality or opt for organic discussion of spiritual reality woven in. They may speak of Christianity as a supernatural faith, of meeting God & the devil on Haight-Asbury, or finding Heaven in an oil-slicked parking lot. They may be tame or surprisingly wild, serious or funny, artless or crafted, emotional or intellectual, scientific or not. Most will engage with experimental elements that break assumptions and illuminate a supernatural theme (which can include everything from vampires to superheroes to commercial thrillers to literary magical realism).



 


Some comparative titles to this audience:


The Shack, William Young (Windblown Media)


Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, David Gregory (WaterBrook)


The Secret, Rhonda Byrne (Atria)


A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle (Plume)


The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle (New World Library).


90 Minutes in Heaven, Don Piper with Cecil Murphey (Revell/Baker)


The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs (S&S)


Walking the Bible, Bruce Feiler (Harper)


Journey of Desire, John Eldredge (Nelson)


The Faith Club, Idliby, Oliver, Warner (Free Press)


What Jesus Meant, Garry Willis (Viking)


The Traveler’s Gift, Andy Andrews (Nelson)


Closer Than Your Skin, Susan Hill (WaterBrook)



 


Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Francis Collins and Timothy Keller. This audience is not a new one. Obviously, this creates something of a “supercategory” that quickly becomes unwieldy. But for readers of this blog, I hope you see how it may include books that present an indirect gospel essence to those not yet convinced. Books of this nature don’t sound like a typical Evangelical Christian book, largely because they aren’t written by your typical Evangelical Christian. Yet these books can still be completely orthodox and in line with the biblical account while connecting with an audience most Christian books will never reach. This is why publishing to the “spiritually interested” is a significant growth area and we need to find out how best to position ourselves to intentionally and strategically target this market.



 


That is the million dollar question. If your book with spiritual themes can invite anybody in no matter what they believe, and put them on an equal footing, without teaching or preaching, that’s the first step. If you allow readers to draw their own conclusions, if you are comfortable asking “What if ….?,” and allownig your curiosity to guide you, you can write for this audience. If you acknowledge that there is still much to be discovered about the universe, the challenges of life, God, spiritual reality, etc., and you are someone who asks Why me? instead of feeling grand or entitled to your opinions, you have the voice. This makes you valueable to this type of reader. Because these readers are looking for authenticity, an author who knows enough to ask that question and not expect an answer is someone different than those the establishment likes to hype. Nine times out of 10, they’re more real. And readers want their books for that reason.



 


This is how you will open the door wide to the “emerging” readership.

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3 thoughts on “Crossing Over: Who Is Your Audience?”

  1. Personally, I hate all the “buzzwords” that seem to have to be created in order to validate authenticity in writing and create a market around it.
    Alas, I suppose that is the bane of marketing, but sometimes it just seems so clinical, picking it apart and analyzing it all. Makes me feel like now if I go and write what was already coming naturally to me I’m suddenly “trying” to follow a trend and capture some previously undiscovered section of the market.
    I’m not trying to be snarky here, but it makes me wonder…
    Maybe writers should just write.

  2. Fascinating research…
    Quiet question: Would this audience find actual references to Scripture, chapter and verse, off-putting?

  3. Madison, absolutely. Just write. Forget all this market and sales stuff when you’re writing.
    Ann, great question. And yes, it’s possible. Depends how it’s done. Proof-texting is right out, isn’t it? Again, The Shack is a guide. No references, but there’s scripture shining through (see Finding God in The Shack, Randall Rauser). Aim for it being an organic element of your work.

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