The homeschool market is so intriguing for many Christian authors. Earlier this year, I gave an overview of the different types of homeschoolers. It’s always difficult to make general observations about groups since they are made up of individuals, but I received great feedback. I was encouraged that my observations aligned with many people’s experiences.
One listener asked about the term fundamentalist, which I used to describe the largest segment of homeschoolers. That listener pointed out that the term is considered a pejorative in the mainstream culture. The AP style guide discourages its use unless a group refers to themselves as fundamentalists.
I grew up in the fundamentalist stream of the homeschool community, and we used that word to describe ourselves. Many of us wore the label “fundamentalist” as a badge of honor. Preachers would say, “Don’t let anyone shame you for following the fundamentals of Christianity.”
I’m using the term as a descriptor because it’s the word we used ourselves. I feel comfortable using it because I came from that community, and I didn’t see it as an insult.
Although my parents held academics in high regard and had college degrees, they homeschooled primarily for religious reasons, which is why I put them in the fundamentalist category as opposed to the academic category.
If you don’t know the difference between academic and fundamentalist homeschoolers, please listen to Episode 51, where I provide an overview.
This article will focus on the fundamentalist segment of homeschoolers for two reasons:
- They’re the most different from mainstream culture, so you must make the biggest adaptations to your marketing to reach them.
- They’re also the largest segment of homeschoolers that buys Christian books.
Ten Things to Know about Homeschoolers Before You Try to Sell Them Your Books
1. Homeschoolers Have a Book Culture
We didn’t have a TV for half of my growing-up years. Instead of watching TV, my family read books out loud for hours at night. Many homeschool families have the same daily routine. Homeschoolers talk about books as much or more than any other topic.
Mainstream families read aloud to young children, but many homeschool families continue to read aloud as a family through their kids’ high school years. The book The Read-Aloud Family encourages this practice and will help you understand what homeschool parents want when they’re searching for a book to read aloud.
Author Tip 1
A good read-aloud book for this segment of homeschoolers would appeal to multiple ages. If you want to appeal to this audience, create a Pixar-type story that parents enjoy as much as the kids.
2. Homeschool Students Tend to Read Above Their Grade Level
When I was growing up, the prevailing belief amongst fundamentalist homeschool families was that the government created public schools to keep the American population ignorant and subdued.
For that reason, most homeschool families greatly emphasized phonics and early reading. For example, my homeschooled wife learned to read at age three.
Homeschool students often read four or five grade levels above their actual grade. A second-grade homeschool student may be reading seventh-grade literature.
Once they attain that higher level, their parents want them to maintain it. Many fundamentalists homeschool families want their kids to read at the level of good Victorian-era fiction so they can wean their children off the “modern trash” literature.
Author Tip 2
If your book is for second-grad public school students, realize that it probably won’t appeal to second-grade homeschool students. There is a preference in the market for a higher reading level. While there are exceptions, homeschool students read-full length novels long before they are adults.
3. Homeschool Culture is Matriarchal
If you’re selling to homeschoolers, you’re selling to moms. Only a few homeschool dads can afford to take an active role in schooling the kids because they are often the sole breadwinners.
These single-income families also typically have more children than average non-homeschool families. The average mainstream household has 1.5 incomes, but the average homeschool family has one.
Fathers work long and hard to feed their large families. Their larger families also tend to push them farther from urban centers, which means he also has an extended commute. He’s not as present in the home as you might think, so the mom makes most of the decisions. She may run the decision by him, but he’s not generally choosing the curriculum or books.
As with everything, there are exceptions. Some fathers have jobs that allow them to be closer to urban centers, and their income allows them to be more present at home.
This matriarchal culture leads to a culture of Helicopter Parents, where parents keep a very close eye on their children. Even though the crime rate is lower than in the 70s and 80s, the fear is higher. While helicopter parenting is a trend in American culture, it’s especially prominent in the homeschool world. Parents don’t want to let children out of their sight.
For this reason, many homeschoolers aren’t allowed to date or read books where the protagonist is in a dating relationship or goes on a date. Some families don’t allow their children to date even after they are old enough to vote and serve in the military. I’ve written extensively about this phenomenon in my book, Courtship in Crisis.
This prolonging of childhood keeps the children close to home, where they can be watched and protected. They are sometimes discouraged from going away to college and often don’t get their driver’s licenses until their later teen years.
Again, this is not always the case, but these phenomena are common in the most fundamentalist families.
Author Tip 3
Homeschool moms screen all books before passing them along to their kids. Usually, read every book they give to their children. If they haven’t read it themselves, they’ve heard a personal recommendation from a homeschool mom or leader they trust.
Your book must pass the mom’s filter. If a homeschool leader or influencer approves of you and your book, moms will be more likely to buy your book and let their kids read it.
4. Some Homeschool Fundamentalists Have a Low Opinion of Christian Books
Growing up, I often heard homeschool parents complain that Lifeway stores were too liberal and that their books weren’t educational enough. Those parents didn’t trust Lifeway.
Author Tip 4
If your book is too edgy for Lifeway, it will likely be too edgy for the fundamentalist segment of homeschoolers. I suspect that part of the reason Christian retailers like Mardel outlasted Lifeway was that Mardel stores were more homeschool-friendly than Lifeway.
There was a general feeling amongst homeschoolers that Lifeway merely tolerated the homeschooling movement. Since the movement was such a huge book-buying market, that sentiment hurt Lifeway’s business.
Mardel, on the other hand, sold homeschool curricula in the store. That made homeschoolers feel accepted, and homeschoolers chose Mardel over Lifeway.
The fundamentalist homeschool market, the Christian market, and the general market are very different markets. There is little overlap. Books that cross over and succeed in more than one market are rare. One exception was Ted Dekker’s Circle Trilogy. It enjoyed popularity in all three markets.
5. Homeschool Fundamentalist Parents Want Books that Model Good Character
The most popular books in the homeschool movement when I was growing up were Beric the Briton by G.A. Henty and Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley. Both books are over 100 years old.
Fundamentalist homeschool parents don’t want a conflicted protagonist with a dark past. They are looking for a book to educate their children and present a role model.
The G.A. Henty books were popular because they taught history through main characters modeled after the ideal Victorian young man. Henty’s characters were not well-developed because they always made the right decisions and did the right thing. Homeschool parents wanted to give their children that example to follow.
The second generation of homeschool parents are far less likely to recommend Elsie Dinsmore because of its ethnic slurs and racism, but some people still use it.
Author Tip 5
Determine whether your book teaches a lesson and models good character. If it’s not, you may want to tweak it so that it appeals to this homeschool market.
When I was young, I read a series of detective books for the homeschool market by an author from our church. He was not a homeschool parent, but he did a lot of research. The homeschooling he represented in his books wasn’t real homeschooling. It was the ideal of homeschooling, not the messy reality with books, papers, laundry, and kids strewn throughout the house.
His books did well, but it’s important to know that homeschoolers aren’t necessarily looking for their culture to be portrayed in a book.
Most fundamentalist homeschool families avoid secular books. For example, academic homeschoolers read and enjoyed Harry Potter. The Fundamentalist Homeschoolers did not.
6. The Kindle has Changed Homeschool Book Culture
Since homeschoolers tend to read old books, most of which are no longer copyrighted, several publishing companies made their money printing these out-of-print books for the homeschool market.
When the Kindle came along, kids could get every G.A. Henty book on the Kindle for free, and many publishing companies went out of business. It was a changing of the guard in the publishing industry that is still happening in some houses.
Author Tip 6
Make sure your book is available on Kindle.
7. The Homeschool Market is Very Price-Sensitive
When you’re buying thousands of books, you have to be conscious about how much you’re spending. In most states, homeschooling parents pay out of pocket for their own children’s education and pay taxes for other kids’ public education. The expenses can be stressful for one-income families.
One shining exception to this price sensitivity is the Alaskan homeschool market. Alaska gives each Alaskan parent $1900-$2400 per child to cover educational expenses, including books. A family with five school-aged children may have $10,000 to spend on books each year.
I used to attend homeschool conferences as a vendor. Other vendors said they would make as much money at one small Alaskan homeschool conference as at major conferences in the lower 48.
Most states don’t subsidize homeschooling. The homeschool community vibrantly debates whether they even want to be subsidized by the government. “He who pays the piper calls the tune,” as they say, and most homeschoolers don’t want the government telling them how to homeschool.
Author Tip 7
Attending an Alaskan homeschool conference may be well worth your time.
8. Homeschoolers Read a Lot of Library Books
Your local librarian will tell you homeschoolers check out more books than any other group.
Some libraries are friendly to homeschoolers, and others are hostile. Librarians tend to differ politically from fundamentalist homeschoolers, and there can be friction. Rural libraries tend to have more harmonious relationships with homeschoolers.
Author Tip 8
A great way to boost your sales to the homeschool community is to encourage homeschool moms to request that the library order your book.
9. Homeschoolers are Regionally Segregated
Your book may be popular with Southern homeschoolers, but that doesn’t mean West Coast homeschoolers know about you. There is more interconnection than there used to be, thanks to Facebook groups and homeschool-mom blogging, but it’s still fairly regional.
If you sold curriculum to the state of Alabama, you have no guarantee that Idaho would know you or want your product. You have to sell to each state individually.
The same principle applies to selling books to homeschoolers from different regions and different homeschool segments. You must approach each group separately.
Author Tip 9
One shortcut is to have your book recommended by one of the national homeschool-mom bloggers. Some homeschool-mom bloggers are well-known throughout the country, and if one of them recommends your book, you are golden.
10. Being Added to a Homeschool Curriculum is the Ultimate “Cheat Code” for Book Sales
When my parents were homeschooling, they had only a few curriculum options and no internet. Today, homeschoolers have hundreds of options. Sonlight and Abeka are the big names, but hundreds of smaller curriculum publishers tour the circuit of homeschool conferences to present their approach to homeschooling and sell their curricula.
If one of those sellers adds your book to their recommended or optional reading list, you will sell books every year. Homeschool parents will either buy your book from Amazon or directly from the curriculum company. Sometimes the curriculum companies will sell a box of all the books on their recommended reading list. If your book is in that box, your book will be an evergreen hit.
Many authors quietly make money because they’re featured in a homeschool curriculum. The author often has relationships with someone at the curriculum company or a prominent homeschool leader.
Author Tip 10
To build relationships with homeschool curriculum publishers, you need to attend their conferences and meet people in person. Don’t attend simply to hype your books. Get to know the parents and the vendors. Find out how each curriculum is unique, and listen for ways you can connect your book with their curriculum.
Remember, fundamentalist homeschoolers are looking for an educational book with ideal role models. If your book meets those criteria, the homeschool market might be eager to read it.
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