Publishing at its core is a reactionary industry, responding to current trends, prevailing attitudes and, inevitably, demographics. More than any other factor, perhaps the sheer numbers out there are driving what industry watchers peg as one of the hottest emerging markets in bookselling: teen spirituality. But this is not your "Junior Jesus" crowd. The kids who populate today's teen market—the children of baby boomers—will likely surpass their parents as the most numerous generation in U.S. history (according to a study released by the Barna Research Group in October), and they often out-maneuver them in the battle of wills. Teens don't want pabulum; they crave the literary equivalent of raw meat and potatoes. They prefer rough-cut reality to slick platitudes. They soak up "reality TV" programs, gravitate to extreme sports and crank the bass loud enough to rattle the neighbor's windows. And when it comes to spirituality, don't even think about offering them "three easy steps" to knowing God.

"This generation seems to be more spiritual than any generation since the Jesus Movement," Hayley Morgan, brand manager for Thomas Nelson's Extreme for Jesus line of books and Bibles, told PW. "They've been raised in an environment where there are no moral absolutes, they're mostly children of divorce and now they're pursuing any kind of spirituality they can get their hands on. I think there's a part of kids today that's saying, 'I need something bigger than what I see in the world.' It's why they're searching for God."

According to Monthly Labor Review, teens influence more than $48 billion of family spending every year, from cars to grocery items, and in 1999 they spent $105 billion of their own money. Other, more recent studies put the figure at $153 billion. The "Marketing to Kids" newsletter estimates that by 2005, the teen group will be the largest single demographic in America, a group that exceeds 76 million by Barna's calculations.

But how do publishers target a reading audience whose interests change as fast as junior high school girls change boyfriends?

If anybody knows how to crack the teen market, it's Morgan. A former actress/model who traded in glamour shots for the world of guerrilla marketing at Nike, Morgan now studies teens for Thomas Nelson the way Dian Fossey studied gorillas in the mist. She hangs around malls, talks to teens every chance she gets, observes their interactions, tracks their spending patterns. "You can't reach them unless you understand them," Morgan said. "Five years ago, we kind of took what worked for adults and slapped a teen cover on it, often very cheesy covers. We had 60-year-old men trying to figure out what 15-year-old girls wanted."

But Morgan's passion for teens reaches beyond bottom lines and marketing gimmicks. When she converted to Christianity in her late 20s, she was troubled by the fact that most Christian books spoke "Christianese." She made it her mission to create product that speaks a language kids understand, or, as she puts it, to "take the dork factor out of Christianity."

Originally brought on board to promote Thomas Nelson's Extreme Teen Bible (1999), Morgan convinced company v-ps that a lot more could be done with the teen demographic—and the Extreme for Jesus brand. Within three years, the Extreme line has grown into a $7-million division, with more than 35 products and one million units sold. The brand now develops about 20 products a year and plans to roll out a new line of Extreme Fiction in July, debuting with three titles (Point Blank, Breakout and Real), followed by another two in spring 2003. The fiction themes are as gritty as the world teens inhabit, encompassing school shootings, teen suicide, unwanted pregnancy and other contemporary issues. Written in MTV-type language, with one- to two-page chapters, the novels appeal to what Morgan loosely calls the teen ADHD personality—"they're the ones with five different screens open on their computer monitors, TV and music playing in the background."

For that reason, Thomas Nelson deliberately keeps the Extreme products nonlinear and changes its book covers two or three times a year. And tying the whole brand together is a marketing tool that many publishers are convinced is the way to capture the elusive teen spirit: a Web site (, complete with a well-attended chat room, an "Ask Hayley" section, articles on "Deep Stuff," featured product and computer freebies such as wallpaper and downloads. The marketing minds at Thomas Nelson also discovered a clever way to "teen test" new book covers: a pop-up window at the site's home page invites browsers to choose their favorite cover for the November release David.

Other Thomas Nelson releases for the teen market include Why So Many Gods? by Tim Baker (Apr.), Wait for Me: The Beauty of Sexual Purity by Christian recording artist Rebecca St. James (Aug.) and the similarly themed Kissed the Girls and Made Them Cry: Why Women Lose When They Give in by Lisa Bevere (Apr.). Last month, the Tommy Nelson division released He Chose You by Max Lucado. The author's first book aimed at "tweens" (kids aged 8—12), it intertwines fictionalized stories of young teenagers by writer Monica Hall with Lucado's narrative from his bestselling adult title He Chose the Nails (W Publishing, 2001).

Choosing My Religion

Christianity is by no means the only religion on offer in the teen sections of bookstores. A range of publishers hawk a smorgasbord of religions, from Zen to the fast-growing Wiccan religion. Although its alternative religion cousins are faring well, Wicca especially seems to have enchanted the young adult crowd.

Keith Bollum, manager of Muse Book Shop in DeLand, Fla., a suburb of Orlando, said he's seen a spike in sales of books on alternative religions and paganism among teen buyers in the past couple of years. Ironically, the shop is located near Stetson University, a Southern "Ivy League" college with roots in the Baptist denomination. The bookstore's most consistent author in the genre is Silver Ravenwolf, whose 1998 title Teen Witch: Wicca for a New Generation (Llewellyn) still rings up regular sales.

Jack Clemens, a bookseller at Joseph-Beth in Cincinnati, echoed Bollum's findings, noting the same trend and even the same stand-out author: Ravenwolf. "Paganism is a very bolstering part of the industry right now," Clemens said. "We've seen a lot more interest in it over the last couple of years, consistent with adult books on that topic. Publishers have taken note of that [interest] and aimed books at middle teens, even late adolescence." Ulysses Press also hopes to ride the Wiccan wave with the May release of Spell Bound: The Teenage Witch's Wiccan Handbook by Teresa Moorey.

Inner Traditions publisher Ehud Sperling was so convinced of the trend toward alternative religions among teens that he created a new line in fall 2000 to service it. Bindu Books' leading title for the summer is The Goddess in Every Girl by M.J. Abadie, author of Bindu's debut title, Teen Astrology (Feb. 2001). This fall, Teen Feng Shui by Susan Levitt will join the Bindu roster. The impetus for Bindu Books came from Sperling's personal encounters with teenagers, namely the children of friends. Home from a study-abroad program, the teens came by his house to "sit at his feet" and study spirituality.

"These kids were more interested in spirituality than in going to discotheques," Sperling said. "I realized the baby boom generation had produced children who were way ahead of us in terms of exploring these ideas. Here I was sitting with 14-year-olds who were confirmed vegetarians, ecologists. I thought, 'Wow! If this is what they're like at 14, what will they be like at 30?' "

Sharon Janis, author of Spirituality for Dummies (Hungry Minds, 2000) and a self-proclaimed teenager at heart, agreed that the key to captivating teen readers with spirituality is realism and soul-deep messages. "Adults will listen to any old crap, but teens can smell it," Janis told PW. "They're creating a new worldview, they're trying on different personas, figuring out who they want to be. Teens want to know the reasons behind the theories, whether it's Christianity or not. What does it mean 'He died for my sins'? Why do we have to follow these rules? 'Because I said so' is not acceptable anymore." One of the reasons Wicca and other mystical religions are so attractive to teens is because they contain an element of mystery, Janis added.

Though she stands at the opposite end of the religion spectrum, Extreme for Jesus's Morgan admits publishers of books on pagan topics are on to something: "Wicca is the fastest-growing religion on college campuses because they offer the mystery, the magic. Unfortunately, Christian publishing has made everything squeaky clean and safe. But the world is not that safe; God is not that safe. He's not somebody you can treat like your fairy godfather. It's a lot easier to follow a bunch of rules than to have an experience with God. But kids would rather have more of the unknown."

Classics Get a Facelift

According to Jennifer Leep, an acquisitions editor at Baker Book House, one of the biggest trends in the teen spirituality market is youth editions of classic adult titles, repackaged with teen-tested covers, renovated interior designs and often added material. A division of Baker, Chosen Books did this last fall with the classic book God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew, famous for smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War years. The imprint simultaneously brought out a 35th-anniversary edition of the original book while sister imprint Fleming H. Revell released a youth version titled A Narrow Road, featuring a foreword and multimedia CD by Christian rock group Jars of Clay. Both titles are selling well, Leep said.

On its fall 2002 list, Revell plans to release The Calling, a teen edition of God's Call, also by Brother Andrew (1996). And next month, Elisabeth Elliot's classic Passion & Purity relaunches for teens with an updated look and a foreword by Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye (Multnomah).

Multnomah made the obvious leap to publish The Prayer of Jabez for Teens after the phenomenal success of The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson. Zondervan will follow suit in April with a teen edition of The Case for Faith by journalist Lee Strobel. The publisher anticipates first-year sales of 30,000. Meanwhile, NavPress also tackles apologetics (the defense of the Christian faith) in its April release Sticking Up for What I Believe by Gwendolyn Mitchell Diaz.

Health Communications Inc. (HCI) created Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul in the wake of its blockbuster Chicken Soup series, and now the line of Chicken Soup teen titles (six in all) has become a series-within-a-series totaling 12.5 million units sold. The flagship book is the second bestselling title in the entire series, behind Chicken Soup for the Soul, with 5.7 million copies sold, according to director of communications Kim Weiss. Two other HCI series, Taste Berries for Teens and Teen Ink, have racked up impressive sales as well, selling hundreds of thousands of units each.

HCI also reports brisk sales of its October 2001 Teens Talkin' Faith: A Christian Perspective by Nevada schoolteacher Michelle Trujillo. Judging from the enthusiastic response of Christian booksellers, Weiss expects the book to gain momentum. Trujillo's first title for HCI, Why Can't We Talk: What Teens Would Share If Parents Would Listen (2000), has sold 18,000 copies, and in just five months, Teens Talkin' Faith has exceeded 14,000 units.

Over at Tyndale House, tweens have become a big market, commanding a fully staffed house imprint (Tyndale Kids), about 50 products a year and a $100,000 marketing budget. But the elusive teen market is one the publisher is just beginning to tap. Its first teen-targeted product, a metallic-silver Bible, will hit shelves in September, priced at $24.99. "We've seen this as a trend," Andrea Martin, marketing manager for Tyndale Kids, said. "It looks similar to a Palm Pilot, with an aluminum casing. There's nothing else like it on the market." Martin foresees the metal Bible line expanding, along with the publisher's foray into the teen market.

"Right now, we're still looking at what's out there. It's a challenging market to reach because the trends come and go so fast," Martin said. "A lot of teens prefer to read adult books. If you're 15, you're probably reading the adult Left Behind series, not the Left Behind for Kids series."

Armed with statistics about tweens' online habits, Tyndale created a Web site ( ) that opens to a splash page for seven of its bestselling series. The site links to separate Web sites for each of the series and engages young browsers through online games, message boards, articles, reading tools and enough graphics and music to grab short attention spans.

Martin said a big chunk of her marketing budget is funneled into the Web sites, and she employs grassroots marketing tactics to get the word out. To raise awareness of the cool2read site, Tyndale announced a writing contest and mailed packets to 450 Christian schools. The contest, which ends March 30, features a story-starter—the author begins the story and readers complete it—by Sigmund Brouwer, author of Tyndale Kids' Mars Diaries series, whose 10 titles have sold about 30,000 copies. "From the research I've done, this is an age group that's a lot more savvy than they used to be, and a lot more mature," Martin said. "They have a lot of influence and a lot of money to spend."

Aware of the lure of the Internet, at least two publishers have tailored books to the Web-surfing teen crowd. RiverOak Publishing's In the Chat Room with God by Todd Hafer and Jedd Hafer (Mar.) tracks the interaction of five teens in a late-night chat room who seek to discover the identity of a mysterious visitor.

Following a similar theme, www.Here-I-Am by retired British physics professor Russell Stannard keeps readers guessing along with main character Sam, who stumbles onto a Web site that appears to be authored by God. Is it a hacker or is it really God? Published by the Templeton Foundation Press, the book allows readers to wrestle with issues for themselves and never discloses the true identity of the person on the other side of the computer screen, said Joanna Hill, director of the press.

Jana's Journal, a novel by Jeanette Windle coming in April from Kregel Publications, handles sticky subjects in the form of a teen's private thoughts written in her electronic diary during a tumultuous senior year at high school. Multnomah's fictional Diary of a Teenage Girl, Book 3: Who I Am by Melody Carlson (Mar.) documents a high school senior's fight for racial reconciliation in her community.

In-your-face topics seem to dominate publishers' spring and fall teen lists, among them Saying Goodbye When You Don't Want To by Martha Bolton (Apr.), Majoring in Life by Manfred Koehler (Apr.) and Stressbusters by Steve Shores (Oct.), all from Servant Publications' Vine imprint. Helping teens know Where Do I Go from Here? is the subject of an April release from New Leaf Press, written by Nicholas Comninellis, on facing and resolving the big choices of life. Jim Fletcher, senior editor at New Leaf, believes teens are even hungrier for deeper spirituality than adults are. "The books we see doing really well are books with a lot of substance, plus packaging that's attractive to teens," Fletcher said. Responding to that trend, New Leaf bumped up production on its teen list in the past three years and now publishes half a dozen titles annually.

Casting a Wide Net

If pinned down, most publishers—and booksellers—would agree that they're passionate about certain titles more than others. The same goes for entire genres or, from the perspective of a bookstore, markets. Kindred, a Christian superstore in Nashville that opened last fall, doesn't try to hide the fact that it's ga-ga over young people. The 26,000-square-foot store has succeeded in hooking the young adult crowd. With live music three nights a week, a full-service café with Internet stations and corrugated metal flooring in the teen book section, Kindred shouts hip to its customers. And it's no mistake that the teen section shares floor space with the music CDs, said general manager Greg Davis.

Within Kindred's teen spirituality section, Thomas Nelson's Extreme for Jesus line has garnered the briskest sales, Davis said. "It comes from a little edgier angle than what is typically put out there for teens. Five to 10 years ago, there wasn't as much available. What was available might have been good quality stuff, but it wasn't geared for teens. Now publishers are being purposeful rather than throwing teen titles on the back end."

Inner Traditions' Sperling said that "purpose" is what gets his adrenaline pumping every day at work. "It's our mission to provide substantive material, sort of like putting a net out. You throw that net out, and many teens will get involved. We hope to lead them to a lifetime of interest in spirituality. Spirituality is like an ocean without shores—you can never swim to the other end of it. It's rich, and if you can pick up on that in your teens rather than at the end of your life, what a fantastic thing."

Ultimately, publishers have the most basic reason in the world to pay attention to the teen market. As Sperling noted, "They will become our core audience for the next 50 years."