Religion goes undercover as publishers seek to reach the “nones”

The growth of religiously non-affiliated Americans or the “nones” is leading to a significant shift in religious publishing, not only in marketing books to religious professionals attempting to win nones back to the faith but also in targeting this amorphous group of readers that includes a mix of disaffected believers and non-believers. Publisher’s Weekly (Feb. 22) reports that the dilemma publishers face in finding a readership among the nones concerns “discoverability, when readers don’t think they care about your topic. How will those indifferent to religion find books they’re not looking for, especially if they avoid anything that carries a whiff of religion?” Lynn Garrett writes that publishers are tending to make their offerings as relevant and cliché-free as possible, such as the provocative title The Faith of Christopher Hitchens (referring to the influential atheist writer) from Thomas Nelson. Young adults and nones are often one and the same audience, since Millennials represent the fastest-growing segment of this phenomenon. In books for this audience, a conversational tone and “authenticity” are important, as well as using digital media environments.


There is also the trend of targeting the “dones,” those who have left their faiths, often with autobiographical accounts of leaving and then rediscovering spirituality and religion. One such popular title is Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson), which traces the author’s journey from disillusionment through her discovery of the sacraments. But it seems that many of the offerings to the nones are similar to the generic spirituality titles that were popular in the late 1980s and `90s; Thomas More, a pioneer in generic spirituality writing, is back with titles on the wisdom of Jesus for seekers and on creating a personal spirituality. If anything is different, it is the attempt to be even more indirect and even covert in introducing religious and spiritual topics. Such authors as David Nico and Ingrid Macher don’t emphasize their faiths and introduce spirituality only after they have hooked readers with their diet and fitness methods.