These days, it seems everybody is homeschooling.
Believe it or not, long before lockdowns forced many families to stay home, a large population of parents actually chose to homeschool their children. I grew up as that kind of homeschool student.
While each homeschool family is different, most of them have one thing in common: a love for books.
It is not uncommon for a homeschool family to own thousands of books. They don’t relegate their books to a single shelf. They have a room full of bookshelves. My mom now has two rooms in her house dedicated to books. While she has retired from homeschooling, her book-buying habit has continued.
Homeschool often designate a significant portion of their family budget to purchase books.
These are the kinds of readers authors want!
So, how do you tap the homeschool market?
How to get Homeschool Moms to Buy Your Book
To find out, I interviewed USA Today Bestselling author and homeschool mom Tricia Goyer. She’s written 70 books while feeding and homeschooling her ten children.
Tricia Goyer: You are exactly right about homeschool moms and bookshelves. I probably have 15 bookshelves filled with books. I’ve run out of rooms for bookshelves, and now I have the garage lined with boxes and crates of more books. I was looking for a book the other day and went through three bins in the garage, and I still didn’t find the one I was looking for.
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: You would think that selling books to homeschoolers would be easy. They’ve got a big budget for buying books because they need to own a lot of books. They don’t often have access to a school library filled with enough books for 500 students. So, a homeschool family basically creates their own library, and it’s shared between five to ten children.
And yet, selling to homeschoolers seems to be a mystical, difficult challenge for many authors. Most authors have no penetration into the homeschool market.
Why is the homeschool world so hard to reach?
Tricia: First, most homeschool families are very conservative. They’re looking for a specific type of book. The good news is that if you have the type of book they’re looking for, they’re going to buy everything you have.
They form their own little groups or huddles, so you have to learn where to connect with them. When they find something they love, they will tell all their homeschool friends about it. They love buying every book by their favorite authors. But you must know where they’re gathering and how to connect with them.
Thomas: We recently talked about literary fiction on the podcast. The golden chalice for a literary fiction author is when their book becomes required reading in schools. There’s a big conference for English teachers, and it publishes a huge catalog of books teachers can use in their classrooms. Some authors think that their presence in that catalog would give them credibility with homeschool teachers, but it actually has the opposite effect.
There’s a lot of distrust between the two groups. There may be less animosity now, but when I was a homeschool student, we felt persecuted. We hid from the police. At that time, police officers, garbage collectors, and mail carriers didn’t know what the laws were, and they’d call the truant officer when they saw kids at home on a school day.
Children have been pulled from their homes because their parents were homeschooling. So, if public school teachers endorse your book, it’s actually a mark against an author in the homeschool market.
Is there one large homeschool conference or are there many?
Tricia: Homeschooling tends to be regional, but there are some big organizations. Teach Them Diligently has a conference in six different states. The Great Homeschool Conventions also span multiple states. But most states have their own state convention, and you’ll be able to find it by searching online.
These are huge conventions. I was supposed to speak at a conference in Florida last year before the pandemic hit. They normally have 8,000-10,000 families in attendance. That’s not 10,000 people. That’s 10,000 families. The Florida conference draws people from all over because families can attend the convention and then go to Disney World to make a fun trip out of it.
Those families come to the convention to buy books.
I’ve spoken at many of these conferences. Sometimes speakers will teach on homeschooling, but they cover a wide variety of topics, including how to write a novel and teaching children about exercise.
Speakers also have tables where they can sell books and resources. If you’re not a speaker, you can still pay for a vendor table. All the vendor tables are set up in a huge convention hall.
While many big book conventions aren’t happening anymore, they are still happening in the homeschool market.
If I’m not speaking, I’ll buy a booth, set up a couple of tables, and bring at least one assistant with me. We are busy the whole time because people want to make sure they visit every table. They want to know about the books.
Usually, these are three-day conferences. On Friday and Saturday, people are mostly just looking. By Sunday, they’ve figured out what they want to buy, and they will go back to the booth to make a purchase.
It’s important to have a presence at those conferences. Even before I started speaking, I found that the price of a vendor table usually paid off. First, you get your initial customers, but they’re also loyal customers. When they join your email list, you can continue to connect with them throughout the year. The next year, they’ll come back to you.
Often, someone will buy a book to check me out. The next year, they’ll buy five books, and the following year they’ll come and say, “My child loves your books! You’re our favorite author.” Then they’ll want to buy more books.
Once you get connected with homeschoolers, they are faithful readers.
Thomas: Are you selling books so fast that you need an assistant at your book table to help you make transactions?
Tricia: Yes. Absolutely.
Thomas: In most industries, trade shows don’t work very well for making sales. Even before the pandemic, trade shows were becoming a less valuable marketing strategy because people weren’t coming to make purchases. They would come to your table to look, and then they would buy it from Amazon instead. Trade shows ended up being showrooms for Amazon.
That is not the case for homeschooling. The big conventions are often the main social event of the year. My wife was homeschooled, and her father helped run the main homeschool conference here in Austin, TX.
A solid strategy for selling books is to speak at the conference. When you speak, people will connect with you. The showroom is big, and you won’t be the only author there. If you can pick a topic that will resonate with a homeschool market, they will visit your table, and you will sell books.
After a time or two at a homeschool convention, you’ll start to learn about the people and their vernacular. You’ll find out they expect very modest clothing. Don’t wear anything super edgy or too trendy.
Homeschoolers often gather regionally. Being popular in one region doesn’t necessarily make you popular in the nearby region because there many regional differences.
I used to sell at homeschool conventions. In fact, my first business was an audiobook business for homeschoolers. We made audiobooks and sold them at homeschool conferences.
I learned that Alaska’s homeschool conference is one of the best conferences to attend because Alaska is one of the few states that subsidize homeschooling. When parents walk into that convention, they have money in their pocket, and if they don’t use it, they lose it. You can sell a lot of books at the Alaska convention.
What are some tips for having a good booth at a homeschool book fair?
Tricia: Arrange your booth so that people don’t have to walk into it. They like to be able to approach it without feeling like you’re going to jump on them. We set a table in front with all the books displayed so they can see the covers. They’re just getting to know you, and walking into a booth feels like making a commitment, so I make my booth approachable and my books accessible.
I display all my books on little racks with signage about specials. I also put a simple newsletter sign up sheet on the table. They write their name and email address to sign up for my newsletter, and I tell them we draw for a $50 gift card at the end of the conference. Probably 90% of the people sign up because they want to get to know you. They want to know more about you, and the newsletter is a great way for them to do that.
We also display a stack of books they can pick up and touch, and I communicate with them as soon as they approach. “How are you doing? Your kids are adorable. What grades do you have? Would you like to sign up for my newsletter?”
Once you start the interaction, they love getting to know you.
When I was just getting started speaking at conventions, I ended up getting a huge discount from my publisher on one of my books that was going out of print. I think I bought them for a dollar each. That year at the convention, I gave a free novel to everyone who came to my booth. It was great because many came back the next day and said, “My child was up all night reading your book. She loved it and told me to buy another one.” Once you get one book or a sample of your writing into their hands, they can see if their kids are interested in it.
You often see kids sitting in the halls reading with piles of books beside them. If the parents are readers and reading is promoted in their home, the kids are readers too. If you get their kids excited about the books, you can guarantee the parents are going to be back buying more books from you.
Thomas: It’s not uncommon for the children to outnumber the adults in the room at these conventions.
Tricia: In my workshops, there will be at least as many kids as adults. Sometimes double the number of kids. They sit on the floors and in the aisles. Kids are everywhere, and they’re all reading.
Often the kids will come up and want their pictures taken with me because I’m an author. When you’re at a regular book convention, bookstore owners see authors all day and night. Seeing an author isn’t special.
But at the homeschool conference, kids think it’s great to meet an author. They ask how I wrote the book and how I did my research. Homeschoolers are curious. They want to know about everything.
I tell them about my interviews with World War II veterans and what it was like to be inside a bomber. I will have a conversation with a 14-year-old for 15 minutes because he’s interested in the history.
The worst thing an author can do is sit down in their booth and not engage. Do not wait for people to ask you questions. If you’re not trying to engage with people and their kids, they’re not going to engage with you. I’ve seen vendors sit in the corner of their booth like they’re scared of homeschoolers. Don’t do that. Homeschoolers are nice people, and they want to talk with you.
Homeschool Parents Are Cautious Consumers
Thomas: Your strategy of giving away a sample book is great because homeschool parents are cautious. A homeschool parent will often read the book before giving it to their child. It’s expensive to buy a book, read it, and then decide you don’t want your kid to read it because it’s got magic, dating, or kissing in it. Those are the things that conservative homeschoolers are checking for when they read your book before giving it to their child.
These are the kinds of people who don’t like Harry Potter. That may be hard to understand, and it’s not true for every homeschool parent, but the ones who don’t like Harry Potter talk to each other.
If you can get your book into the hands of a few of those parents, they will tell others, “Tricia Goyer is an approved author. We like what she has. She doesn’t have any bad content in her books.” That leads to sales. Generosity on the front end can help people get over that suspicion gap.
Tricia: I tell them my books are clean. There are no curse words or bedroom scenes. I do have Amish romance books, but I explain that the relationship with God in these books is just as prevalent as the relationship between the boy and the girl. I tell the parents that the characters usually get one kiss at the end, and most parents can handle that.
One year I took a friend’s books. She’s a well-known bestselling author who writes teen books with boy and girl romances, and I could not sell a single copy. The parents would ask if the teen characters dated, and when I said yes, they would pass. No one bought that book.
You must know the type of parents in attendance, but once you’re on their approved list, they love you, they love your books, and they will tell their friends about you.
Thomas: That is one big cultural difference. The social norms regarding romantic relationships are very different than anything that has existed before. It’s not traditional. It’s new and different. I wrote a book about it called Courtship in Crisis (Affiliate Link), and if you’re curious, you can find the book on Amazon. I’ve written about the history of how it emerged. It’s a fascinating subculture.
You need to realize there are two groups of homeschoolers. One group homeschools because it’s convenient.
In the other group, homeschooling is a subculture. It’s almost like an ethnic group without a blood connection. They eat unique foods, have unique diets, clothing, music, and books. It’s a full-blown subculture that doesn’t get any media coverage, which results in a lack of understanding. I breakdown the different homeschool subcultures in this episode of the Christian Publishing Show.
Most people have no idea this other world exists because it’s not covered. It’s fun to sell to this group because it’s different and new, but it’s also challenging.
What kinds of books do homeschoolers want?
Tricia: They love stories that educate. They are thrilled when I tell them my historical novels are historically accurate because they feel good having their child read them as they’re studying World War II.
If a bomb fell in my novel, it really fell at that place in history. I’m not making up stuff. Students will learn what it was like inside a bomber because I interviewed a veteran, and he told me about it.
They also love a series where their child can get into the characters and follow them from book to book.
Any material you provide that isn’t going to be a lot of work for them before they give it to their child is great.
It needs to be clean. They don’t want to see cussing, drinking, sexual activity, any of those types of things.
Chuck Black is an author who is often at conventions with me. He writes a medieval series and always has a huge line in front of his booth. He sells medieval swords and a board game that goes with the book. Kids and parents love products that go with the books.
Kids run around checking out the tables, and they bring their parents to see what they’ve found. We often have stickers or candy to pull them in so we can get connected.
But homeschool parents often like to read themselves. So even if your book isn’t one an 11-year-old would read, parents are also looking for books for themselves. You’re catering to the whole family.
Even if you don’t write for kids, if you write clean fiction, you can definitely reach adults at the conventions.
Thomas: Homeschoolers often read four or five grade levels above their actual grade. Once a homeschooler turns 12 or 13, they’re reading adult-level books. Many homeschool parents don’t even want their kids reading “dumbed-down young adult” books, not because of objectionable content, but because they want them reading complex material.
These parents buy Victorian books that have not been adapted or abridged. When I was selling audiobooks at homeschool conventions, we offered books that were no longer copyrighted. Everything we sold was older than 1924, and much of it was older.
Homeschooled kids read dense tomes. You may not write for children, but homeschool students may still flock to it. You need to know what homeschool buyers are looking for and typically they are looking for one of two things.
The first is education. You don’t need to necessarily be religiously affiliated if the educational appeal is strong enough.
The other way into the market is the religious angle. Authors with Christian books may do well in this market. Your sci-fi book doesn’t need to be educational if it has a strong religious component.
Christian speculative fiction doesn’t sell well in the general market, and many authors have difficulty finding an audience. But Christian speculative fiction authors who attend homeschool conventions can have a line at their booth. Homeschool parents are looking for those kinds of exciting books for their kids.
Some authors like to classify themselves as “a Christian who writes books” rather than a “writer of Christian books.” Well, homeschoolers are looking for explicitly Christian books or at least books written from a Christian worldview.
Homeschool Parents Shop for Role Models
Tricia: To homeschool my own kids, I use a literature-based curriculum, so I am always reading classic books out loud to my kids. Most high schools don’t read the books I’m reading to my third and fourth graders. My kids are used to the vocabulary and complicated storylines.
Homeschool parents don’t want simple little stories. They also don’t want books about kids fighting or “nerd” books or “geek” books. Parents want to uphold a moral standard, and books like that don’t uphold their morals.
Thomas: In the general market, there’s a push for relatable, flawed protagonists. In the homeschool market, the demand is for role models or ideal protagonists.
The former is meant to be a realistic, believable person. The latter is meant to be an ideal to which you aspire.
You find both in classical fiction and great works of fiction, but books with ideal protagonists sell better in the homeschool market.
Homeschool Parents Read Out Loud
Thomas: You also mentioned reading aloud as a family, which is very common in the homeschool world. When I was growing up, my family may have read 100 books aloud. We read about ten books each year as a family.
If you’re writing for the homeschool market, it’s important to read your book aloud when editing. Your professional audiobook narrator won’t be the only one reading your book out loud. Parents will also be reading your book for the first time at the end of the day when they’re really tired. If your sentences are clear and clean, it will be easier for the parent to read aloud. Their kids will beg for one more chapter and then one more book. And suddenly, they’ve bought your whole series.
Tricia: Andrew Petersen’s Wingfeather Saga series is a perfect example of that. He started reading his books out loud on Facebook, and my kids and I started tuning in. They’re fantasy books along the lines of The Chronicles of Narnia. I ended up buying the series, then the audiobooks, and then I bought the series for my grandson because my kids liked the series so much.
Because Andrew Peterson read his book on Facebook, the news about his books spread. I think his first videos were viewed 17,000 times, and those people ended up buying books because he took the time to read them out loud.
Readability is important.
Homeschool Culture is a Book Culture
Thomas: The homeschool community is a book-loving culture. It’s not a TV or movie culture. We joke that homeschoolers don’t know about the latest TV shows and movies. They’re more connected nowadays than they used to be, but when I was growing up, we only had a TV in the house half the time, and we weren’t watching what everybody else was watching. We were reading books and listening to Adventures in Odyssey.
Tricia: It’s not even a gaming culture. I have ten children, and we don’t have a gaming system in our house. Our kids have tablets with some games they can play, but we don’t have a gaming system. We only have one television.
My kids spend a lot more time listening to me read out loud than they do on phones, tablets, or television.
Thomas: Again, there is a wide variety of homeschooling families, so this isn’t true for all homeschoolers. However, if you’re able to capture the most conservative part of the market, you end up getting the rest of the market for free.
Tricia: The culture is also different from state to state. Homeschoolers from Ohio and Tennessee dress differently. When I’m in Nashville, Tennessee, I see homeschoolers with tattoos and piercings. But even those homeschool parents are looking for conservative books. They still want to know, “Is this OK for my child to read?”
Thomas: You can make a good living writing for this audience. I know an author here in Austin who wrote General Y.A. books. He ended up writing a whole series of books specifically for the homeschool market. It was very savvy marketing and positioning. He wrote book after book and published them through a traditional publisher.
Even for nonfiction, most of these principles still apply. Nonfiction sells primarily to the homeschool parent, but the kids may read it too if it’s the right kind of educational nonfiction.
How can my books be used in a homeschool curriculum?
Thomas: The golden chalice of writing for the homeschool market is getting your book listed as a required, or recommended book in a homeschool curriculum.
Since you’ve dabbled in writing curriculum, Tricia, how can authors create a curriculum from their books? How can they make their books curriculum friendly? What’s the strategy there?
Tricia: We are preparing to launch a curriculum for my book, Prayers that Changed History (Affiliate Link). The book features 25 people in history who prayed. Each chapter includes a section on a scientific development that happened during that period. It also has a section about literature at the time. For example, if we’re talking about how Helen Keller prayed, we’ll talk about when Braille was invented.
You can take one little subject, expand on it, and call it a unit study.
I’m also creating a curriculum for my World War II novels. We talk about where the bombers were built and what the maps looked like then versus now. Anything you write about in a novel can be pulled out for a unit study.
You can also do smaller things for holidays. For example, on Veterans Day, I always talk about my World War II novels. I will explain what rationing was like in World War II, and then I have a printable of recipes they would have made from their rations. Of course, on the printable page, I include information about my book.
Homeschool moms search Pinterest for St. Patrick’s Day activities or Fourth of July activities. They’re always looking for those types of things.
Homeschoolers are still reading informative and practical blogs. Consider how you could expand on a topic in your book. Whether it’s related to science or writing, you could provide journal prompts or crafts for them to do at homeschool. Parents love that.
If you’re at a conference, you can package those pieces together and sell them. If they’re on your website, parents will find your site and print them.
Parents love anything that helps them make teaching fun. Homeschool parents aren’t teaching to a test. We’re teaching our kids to love learning. Most of us aren’t filling out worksheets or doing fill-in-the-blank activities. We are applying our learning to life. If you can do that with your books, you can really draw that market.
Thomas: It’s kind of like creating small group resources for a discussion group, but it’s tailored to a homeschool mom doing a unit study around your book.
Tricia: You could create a prayer journal or a writing journal. If you provide something they can print immediately and use during that day, they will love you forever.
Thomas: Authors must get to know other vendors at the conference, especially vendors publishing their own curriculum. Make sure to bring enough books to give away so that everyone who has decision-making power over a curriculum leaves the conference with a free copy of your book. It’s like a lottery ticket, but if a curriculum picks your book as required or recommended reading, that could mean tens of thousands of sales every year.
Tricia: Vendors support each other. Even online, we might come together and do a giveaway. I did an Instagram giveaway with three other homeschoolers, and we had a lot of people who wanted to find out more about our books. We also share each other’s books through our newsletters.
One place homeschool parents gather is at Top Picks Homeschool Curriculum Fair. Authors can pay to be a vendor on that site. The last time I looked, 13,000 homeschool families are signed up there, and you can share about your books.
I do giveaways, and it’s very inexpensive. It’s about $150 per month for me to be a vendor. I get certain slots to run giveaways, and I make a lot of sales through my online store when I share the story behind my book or when I run a giveaway.
If I give away one free book, I might get 25 orders from that one post on that curriculum site. Start looking around. There are tons of online groups, but they don’t want you to be pushy. They want you to be helpful and informative. They want advice instead of a sales push.
Thomas: And that’s not unique to homeschoolers. Everyone on the internet hates a pushy, hard-sell. That doesn’t work anywhere.
Start connecting with the homeschool market by searching Google for “homeschool book fair in [your city].” Local book fairs are easy to attend. You don’t need to buy a booth. Just get a ticket, sit in on the sessions, and talk to people, especially if this is a foreign world for you.
If you have just been blown away by discovering this world exists, you should know this isn’t a small group of people. There are millions homeschool students, maybe more after COVID.
What else would you recommend for authors who want to know this market better?
Tricia: Start listening to homeschool podcasts. There are a ton of them. Some cover homeschooling others talk about curriculum. The Read-Aloud Revival is a great podcast if you like to read out loud. Every time she interviews an author or talks about their book, that author’s Amazon numbers will go crazy. They’ll be the bestseller in that category because suddenly tens of thousands of listeners buy it.
Many of these podcasts have advertising opportunities. You can buy a 30-second ad on their podcast. You have to know what to say to reach them, but podcasts and YouTube channels are already connecting with a homeschool audience. If a host promotes you or interviews you, the listeners will trust that host and buy your book.
Thomas: I have two other podcast episodes about the homeschool market on my other podcast. In a Christian Authors Guide to the Homeschool Market, I explain the difference between secular homeschoolers, academic homeschoolers, fundamentalist homeschoolers, and hippie homeschoolers. These are all different groups of homeschoolers.
The second episode is What Authors Must Know About Homeschoolers before Trying to Sell Them Books, and it’s a good introduction to the market.
Tell us about your collection of homeschool resources.
Homeschoolers are always looking for additional information, so look at my freebies and see how I’m offering them. That will give you some ideas and examples so you can create resources to go with your books.
We can also connect on my podcast, Walk it Out.
Thomas: Most authors believe the only way to become a USA Today bestseller is to go through the mainstream market. There is a path to the USA Today bestseller list that runs through the homeschool market. Homeschool money spends just as well as anybody else’s.
You may have a bias against homeschoolers, but you don’t have to have a bias against a homeschooler’s money.
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