Marketing to Younger Readers

A challenge for book promoters is trying to market to a narrow group of people and discovering they are not easily distinguished one from another.  People are born every day and there is no definable space between demographic markets. Generational identifiers are not scientific, but arbitrary for marketing convenience sake.

In case you don’t know all the terms:

Traditionalists – Born up to 1945

Baby Boomers – Born 1946-1964

Generation X – Born 1965-1976

Millennials – Born 1977-1995

Gen Z – Born 1996 or later

(I am sure we will come up with a new identifier for the next generation after Gen Z. Who knows, maybe all this is cyclical and they will be the “New Traditionalists?”)

Marketing too broadly treats people alike, when they can be vastly different. The practice forces characterization based on age and gender, which rarely works well.

Marketing too narrow ignores the fact people most often do not fit a simple profile. In fact, many people intentionally work to defy the profile assigned them by others.

Just because I am a male of a certain age, of a certain race and live in a certain place does not mean I must like a certain type of book or hold a certain life-view. I addressed this general issue here months ago when I asserted we need more ways to distinguish reader segments.

I simply don’t like labels.

I also take issue with the current discussion about publishing Christian books effectively for millennials or Gen Z’ers.

Why?

Because it is not a new discussion. Every couple decades the discussion resurfaces in a predictable cycle.

As time passes, those in publishing grow older and find themselves unaware of the younger market, realize they are out of touch and seek to find a solution through some strategic initiative or dramatic effort.

But it is a cyclical and perpetual process. Like clockwork, we lose touch, and then seek to get back in touch.

And every time it comes up, the solution to reaching younger audiences over an extended period of time is always the same. There truly is nothing new under the sun. It’s happened numerous times before. Let me count the ways.

The broader (non-Christian) publishing world actually has a far more difficult challenge before them to stay connected to younger readers because in general their core message is in a constant state of change and evolution. To remain relevant, they need to reinvent themselves to meet the next big thing. They chase things which might pass way in a year, or less.

In the Christian publishing world, there is no new message for a new generation. Regardless of translation, the God of the Bible is the same. Good news for every generation. A millennial is not subject to different Biblical truth than an 85-year old person.

Of course, different techniques of communication and approaches to writing should adapt as time goes on. In addition, various general themes might resonate more with one generation than another.  One generation might be more spiritually “inward” and the next more focused spiritually “outward.”

The issue for every Christian writer in every generation is how to point someone to the reality of God. And it is the same reality for every generation, just wrapped in a different set of words.

Every generation needs books which gently push readers to a place where they worship God above all else, think about others more than themselves and grow to be courageous disciples of Christ.

Making sure there are Christian books for all generations for the long term is found in some very specific elements which are always (or should be) underway:

  1. Education and mentoring structures to encourage young authors.
  2. Apprentice and mentoring structures for young literary agents.
  3. Intentionally hiring young people where appropriate at publishers and booksellers and allow them to grow into the next generation of publishing professionals.

Better to have an ever-present program to permanently stay in touch with new readers than a once-a-generation publishing panic attack.

 

13 Responses to Marketing to Younger Readers

  1. Shirlee Abbott February 6, 2018 at 3:47 am #

    My heart goes out to Christians who find it hard to read (almost half of American adults read at or below the 8th grade level). God calls me to write adult ideas in words that don’t exclude them. All too often, they are treated as baby Christians, regardless of their age and spiritual maturity. We writers sometimes forget that literacy isn’t the cornerstone of sincere faith — God loves reluctant readers.

  2. Brennan S. McPherson February 6, 2018 at 4:32 am #

    I was born in 1991, and my nephews and nieces born after 96 have grown up in such a different world that at times I feel I can hardly relate to them. It’s a bit startling that just a few years can make such a massive difference, but they have. However. . . I think age has much less to do with it. If older men and women spend time discipling younger generations, they’ll know how to communicate to them. They’ll know how to reach them. Perhaps the issue is caused by an insular focus. What do you think, Dan?

    • Rebekah Love Dorris February 6, 2018 at 8:10 am #

      Amen times ten. The next generation becomes a puzzle for me whenever I’ve lost my passion for serving them.

      When I’m constantly praying for them and reaching out to them, it’s easy to remember how their shoes felt.

      Love your comment. God bless you (and your homeschooling parents)!

    • Dan Balow February 6, 2018 at 8:11 am #

      As a boomer, (even though I don’t like labels) I heard a lot of the current type of comments about young people and reading 40-50 years ago. The preceding generation had little tolerance for the boomers. After all, we didn’t experience the Great Depression, WWII and had television, which was destroying young minds and the generation was destroying America…blah, blah, blah.

      So, now, boomers are complaining about the next generations?

      We have become our parents.

      Older generations always write off (metaphorically speaking) the younger generations. Millennials will do the same to generations which follow them.

      Just keep writing. Readers will follow.

  3. Loretta Eidson February 6, 2018 at 5:32 am #

    My, how time flies and I’ve moved up the ladder of baby boomers. So much has changed since my childhood. I love seeing young people take an interest in reading and writing. Anything we can do to encourage them is a plus.

  4. Vanessa Burton February 6, 2018 at 7:20 am #

    I love this post! The message of the Bible never does change and should be addressed to each generation! I am a millennial (born in 1992!), and I do find that the fiction I enjoy is sometimes different than other generations. But sometimes it’s the same! I love YA fantasy and have met quite a few people twice my age who love it, as well! Thank you again for the post!

  5. Carol Ashby February 6, 2018 at 9:35 am #

    Dan, I probably have an easier time than most spanning generations because I’m writing stories of forgiveness, agape love, and transformation set in Roman times, with a romantic subplot included. That culture is outside everyone’s personal experience, so the only cultural context I need to worry about is keeping as close to 100% historical accuracy as I can manage. I’ve been told a historical novel can get raked over the coals for getting details of the time period wrong.

    But stories of forgiveness, love, and hope deal with something important to people of every age, and I see that in the photos of the people who post ratings of my kind of book at Goodreads. My 23-year-old daughter just discovered Francine Rivers when she got her latest as a Christmas gift. She asked her husband for two more Rivers novels for her birthday.

    I suspect writers of contemporary stories have to worry about this much more than historical writers, but the “young” can be as hungry for spiritually satisfying stories as those of us who’ve racked up more years.

  6. Amanda Cleary Eastep February 6, 2018 at 12:17 pm #

    I’ve found three ways to stay in touch with young adult readers. I hang out with my daughters (who now are leaving the teen years and getting “old”); I read what young people are reading in the genre I’m writing (YA fantasy); and I volunteer at my local teen center teaching writing workshops for teens 12-17. Their voices as young people and as young writers can be raw and powerful. An amazing learning opportunity for me!

  7. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D February 6, 2018 at 2:25 pm #

    My co-author is 21 years old. She keeps me younger than I would otherwise be (or maybe she is wearing me out…nope, I am actually wearing her out!). We are working on our first novel and I am having a ball reading her young perspective on things! She has some amazing ideas.

  8. Peggy Booher February 6, 2018 at 10:06 pm #

    Dan,

    The other day I used the expression, “I goofed”. The girl behind the register (probably a teenager) laughed at the phrase, and I realized the communication differences that can exist between generations.

    In my new day job I work alongside people of all ages. It’s a bit of a cultural adjustment for me, as some of my male co-workers wear earrings, and some of the females color their hair in purple, green, blue or a mixture. But I’m seeing this job as a training field. If I’m to write and witness about God’s Kingdom to people who choose to express themselves like this, I have to get over it and see the person beneath the appearance. The deeper I look the more I find similarities between them and me, provided I look without judgment.

    For me, writing to younger readers starts with that mindset.

  9. Debra Celovsky February 7, 2018 at 9:10 pm #

    A great reminder of keeping the main thing the main thing. Our primary task as Christian writers is and has always been to “point someone [of any generation] to the reality of God” in a way that both invites and challenges – in language that is clear, interesting, and thought-provoking.

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  1. Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 02-08-2018 | The Author Chronicles - February 8, 2018

    […] Marketing only works if you reach the proper audience. Brian Jud has tips on how to target your book’s audience, and Dan Balow explores marketing to younger readers. […]

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