Did you know that one in five Novel Marketing listeners lives outside the United States?
Many of those writers want to reach American readers, and it’s no wonder. There are more English-language book buyers in the US than in any other country. America is home to many readers with money to spend. America is the wealthiest country in the world overall and the 8th wealthiest per capita.
For some comparison, in 2022, Mississippi, the poorest state in the US, had a per capita GDP of $47,190. That same year, Japan had a per capita GDP of $45,573. Washington DC, our wealthiest “not-technically-a-state” area, had a per capita GDP of $242,853. Compare that to Luxembourg, the country with the highest per capita GDP of $142,214.
For authors living overseas, America can seem like the land of plenty, where readers living in the Seven Cities of Gold can’t wait to read your book. But when those authors bring their books to the States, they often struggle to sell them. Winston Churchill once stated that the “British and Americans are two people separated by a common language.”
Language is just the beginning. The biggest difference is cultural.
America doesn’t have just one culture. America has 11 ethno-geographic regions, each with its own culture. The differences between these cultures can be as profound as those between Aberdeen and London or British Columbia and Quebec. Knowing how Americans are different from each other culturally can help you craft more interesting and believable American characters. It is also key to crafting marketing messages that resonate with American buyers.
As you will soon learn, these cultures differ greatly. I can’t think of a single American author who has written a book with cross-cultural appeal in recent years. If American writers can’t write books with wide appeal, their European counterparts won’t be able to pull it off either.
But don’t worry! America is home to millions of readers, so you don’t need to reach them all. Americans of all stripes are very willing to read books by foreign authors. You’ll often see foreign authors, especially those from the UK, topping American bestseller lists.
Many of these “American Nations” are still as populous as the old country. The American nation of Yankeedom, for instance, has a population of 59 million people. Compare that to 67 million in the UK.
The key to writing for American readers is to know which American readers you are trying to reach.
What are the 11 American nations?
How do you know which readers will be most interested in your book?
Many Americans are only vaguely aware of the different cultures. If you live in the United States and have wondered about the difference between the Midwest and the Deep South, you will likely find this episode very interesting.
However, if you hate cultural generalizations and see every person as a unique snowflake, this episode will be very triggering. Consider yourself warned. Resist the urge to disprove a general observation by offering one exception.
We will be talking about prevailing cultures, not subcultures. Targeting a specific subculture is a savvy strategy, but we will not cover that strategy in this article. However, if you’re interested in that strategy (and you should be!), listen to our episode on How to Find Your Timothy.
American Cultural Anthropology is a comprehensive field of study, but I will just be scratching the surface. If you want to learn more, I recommend the book American Nations (Affiliate Link) by Colin Woodard and these videos by Rudyard Lynch. Anthropologists use different terms for these regions, and I will use Colin Woodard’s American Nation terms.
First, let’s talk about class.
I’ll be focusing on ethno-geographic differences rather than class differences. The differences between the classes in the US are similar to those in the UK but to a lesser degree. Most Americans don’t have much of a class identity. I suspect many Americans would struggle to explain the difference between class and wealth. I didn’t understand it until an upper-class Brit explained that someone could be both poor and from the upper class.
Class is not really a distinction in the US. Most Americans assume that class and wealth are the same and that wealth correlates to age.
The older someone is, the wealthier they tend to be, as we discussed in How to Thrive as an Author in Your Twilight Years as an Author. According to the US Federal Reserve, the median net worth of Americans over the age of 75 is a quarter of a million dollars. According to the Fed, people under 35 have a median net worth of just $12,000.
Young American workers have 12% of their earnings taken out of each paycheck to be transferred to Americans over the age of 65. The class conflict in the UK is more likely to express itself as a generational conflict in America. Millennials who can barely afford a home often resent having their money transferred to Baby Boomers, many of whom own multiple houses.
America was founded by a lot of second sons who didn’t get much inheritance from their European fathers, so the custom in most of America is for the inheritance to be shared equally between children. As a result, America doesn’t have the same kind of dynastic family wealth found in Europe. John D Rockefeller may have once been the wealthiest person in the world, but that was over a century ago. His wealth gets divided into smaller and smaller chunks with every generation. I
Topping the list of wealthiest people in America are the “New Men” like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Warren Buffett, and Larry Page.
For example, there are no American class accents like there are in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. You can’t determine a person’s class by talking to them. Depending on where you are in the country, you may be unable to determine class by observing what they wear or drive.
Here in Texas, I know multi-millionaires who drive 30-year-old broken-down trucks, wear ratty jeans, and talk with a regional Texas accent. On the East Coast, people are more likely to dress their class, but on the West Coast, people like Mark Zuckerburg, the 8th wealthiest person in America, are famous for wearing jeans and hoodies.
City vs. Rural
Another cultural difference I won’t be focusing on is the difference between urban and rural populations. Differences between country folk and city folk are similar throughout the English-speaking world. Generally, cities are more progressive, and rural areas are more conservative. Books that are popular in the cities are usually less popular in small towns and vice versa.
I will also mention the politics of these “American Nations.” Politics won’t be the focus, but you will understand American politics better. However, if you want to avoid anything political, bail out now!
The US has almost no Republican cities and almost no Democrat rural counties. For example, cities in “red states” are blue, and rural counties in “blue states” are red.
Tidewater and the Deep South
Image Source: The Mapstack.
Let’s start with a little historical background. After the Royalists lost the English Civil War in 1651, many fled to the New World, specifically the lands around Virginia and Maryland. For the next century, the second sons of English nobility followed the Royalists into Tidewater and the Deep South, where they could live the Feudal Lord life they were otherwise disinherited from. The heraldic symbol for a second son is the crescent, which is still displayed on the state flag of South Carolina.
While distinct culturally, Tidewater is often joined at the hip with the Deep South. To explore their differences, read American Nations (Affiliate Link) by Colin Woodard.
The Deep South is south of Tidewater and stretches from Atlanta in the East to Houston in the West. On a US map, the Deep South is at the bottom right.
The Deep South started as an extension of the Caribbean slave plantation economy. After America ended the slave trade in 1808, the Deep South started buying slaves from domestic sources. The result was that most slaves were “sold down the river” to slave lords in the Deep South. In some places in the Deep South, enslaved Africans made up as much as 75% of the population.
Even after slavery ended after the American Civil War, the Deep South was steeped in racism for generations. But, starting in the 1950s, the Deep South began to repent of its racism. The civil rights movement was primarily a religious movement led by religious figures like the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and religious southerners, which started the process of repentance.
While the Deep South had the deepest racism to repent of, it has also taken greater strides toward equality than the rest of the country has. That is not to say the Deep South is free of racism, but from where I sit, as someone who is not from the Deep South, racism is worse in the rest of the country today than it is in the Deep South today.
For example, the race riots of 1992, 2001, and 2014 were not in cities in the Deep South. Neither were the recent 2020 race riots. Neither Atlanta nor Houston were burning. Instead, the riots were most prominent in Minneapolis-Saint Paul in Yankeedom and Left Coast cities like Portland and Seattle. Of the 40 people who died in the George Floyd protests, none were in Deep South cities. That insurrection was so intense that the Seattle government lost control of its capitol hill for over a week. Rioters formed a breakaway country called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone or CHAZ.
Seattle is in the top left corner of the United States map, which is as far away as you can get from the Deep South at the bottom right of the map.
Americans who have never visited the Deep South might refer to it as the capital of American racism. However, racial conflict is mostly found in other parts of the country. I suspect that’s because the Deep South is the most religious region in America.
Many people in the Deep South identify with their religion more ardently than they identify with their race. First and foremost, Christians of different ethnicities are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. That might be difficult to understand for someone from the Left Coast, who views all of life as racial systems of oppression.
Let’s Pause and Talk About Religion
America is a fairly religious place. People in New Hampshire, the American state with the lowest church attendance, are still more likely to attend religious services than people from the UK. Only 22% of Granite Staters say they attend church weekly, and 50% say they never attend religious services.
In Deep South Alabama, only 16% of people from Alabama say they never attend religious services.
While not all Americans are religious, Americans are more likely to be religious than the rest of the English-speaking world, especially those in the Deep South. Be careful not to offend anyone’s religious beliefs in your writing unless you mean to exclude them as potential readers. Also, realize that America has many religions. Whether it’s Catholics in El Norte, Evangelicals in Alabama, Mormons in Utah, or Muslims in Michigan, America is religiously diverse.
How to Write for American Readers in Tidewater & The Deep South
Authors and publishers are least interested in Tidewater and the Deep South readers, so few books are written for them. They are also far less likely to go to the movies than average Americans. Those facts combined make the Deep South the most lucrative region to target.
How do you write for readers in the Deep South?
Realize that the Deep South is most hated by Yankeedom and the Left Coast, who see it as a racist backwater. Over the last couple of decades, there has been a concerted effort to villainize Southern accents in American media. Once you can recognize a Southern accent, many American movies will be spoiled since, in the end, the “helpful Southerner” often turns out to be the villain.
Southern accent characters are typically portrayed in media as either evil or stupid.
People from the Deep South often complain about “the media.” Southerners hate being portrayed as racist, evil, and stupid. When Florida’s governor declared war on Disney, his support went up. Most foreigners see Disney as a family-friendly company. But in the Deep South, Disney is “The Media,” which they see as having waged a war against their culture for decades.
As an author, you are at risk of being seen as “the media” in the eyes of Southern readers. So, my first tip for reaching Deep South readers is not to make them the villains. It’s cliche, and they are so done with being the villains.
On the other hand, Yankeedom and Left Coast readers love reading about Deep South villains because it makes them feel virtuous. So, know who you are writing for. It’s hard to write for both audiences.
Readers in Tidewater and the Deep South want authors to write for them, and authors like Larry Correia, who targets Southerners, have seen incredible success. Interestingly, Larry is not from the Deep South. He is a Mormon from the Far West, but he sets most of his Monster Hunter International books in Deep South Alabama, and most of his characters are Southern. If you respect their culture, they will read your books. If you wage a culture war against them, they will ignore you.
Respect for Honor, Tradition, and Social Structures
Readers in the Deep South value courtesy, honor, and respect for authority. Respect for authority is relatively unique in the South. It’s the one place in America that still has vestiges of European-style aristocracy. As you head west toward Greater Appalachia, the rugged individualists resist authority. As you travel North into the Midlands and Yankeedom, you’ll find that people are more egalitarian.
Courtesy, manners, and hospitality are important in the Deep South. Hosts have certain societal obligations, as do guests.
The Deep South also takes its taboos seriously.
Be Careful with Adult Language
Many Deep South readers find offensive language to be…offensive. Some view the constant stream of impolite language as a war against their polite culture. If you want Deep South readers to like a fictional character, don’t allow that character to cuss, and certainly not in front of a lady or a child.
When you do write characters who swear, remember that many people in the Deep South believe God exists. They believe Jesus is alive, and when you use “Jesus Christ” as a swear word, they are deeply offended. Even one expletive is enough for some Southern readers to avoid your book.
That’s not to say that Southerners never cuss, but there are rules about when and where it is appropriate. It is taboo to cuss in front of the other sex or in front of children. A Deep South man might cuss while hunting with the guys or on the golf course, but he wouldn’t cuss in front of his wife or his kids.
By population, Greater Appalachia is tied as one of the largest ethnographic regions in the US. It is also one of the least well-known. While foreigners are often wrong about the Deep South, they’ve rarely even heard of Greater Appalachia. Some outsiders lump Greater Appalachia with the Deep South, which is a big mistake.
Greater Appalachia stretches from West Virginia through the Great Smoky Mountains and down into the Texas Hill Country. My ancestry from my dad’s side comes from Greater Appalachia, and Austin is in Greater Appalachia.
Residents of this region value individual sovereignty and personal honor. We distrust authority, collective action, and interdependence. We don’t want to join your club, and the harder you try to make us, the more we will dig our feet in.
While the Deep South was settled by Norman Aristocrats, the people of Greater Appalachia came from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland and the Scottish Lowlands. Our ancestors were Scotch-Irish warriors, raiders, and brigands. William Wallace may have more statues in Greater Appalachia than in Scotland.
In the 1860s, the Celtic Appalachians couldn’t decide who they hated more, the moral crusading Saxons from Yankeedom or the aristocratic Normans of the Deep South. So, they split the difference. Greater Appalachia was the only ethno-geographic nation to fight on both sides of the American Civil War. Not knowing which side to root for was no reason for a Celt not to fight a war.
America has one of the biggest militaries in the world, and it can maintain its numbers without a draft or mandatory conscription largely because Greater Appalachians are willing to volunteer for war. I know dozens of Appalachians who have, at their own expense, geared and trained themselves to defend their families and neighbors. When Appalachians hear that the government will provide guns and ammo, they race to sign up!
For example, when President James K. Polk asked Tennesseans for 2,600 volunteers to fight in the Mexican-American war, 30,000 answered the call. Tennessee has been known as The Volunteer State ever since. The meme of the war-mongering American comes from this region.
A few years ago, the US Army shifted its marketing to target Yankee and Left Coast values. The result has been a massive drop in enlistment. So far, the Army has failed to boost coastal recruitment to compensate for losses in Greater Appalachia.
The United States Marine Corps, which keeps honor and duty as its central recruiting tenant, has had no trouble hitting its recruitment goals. Honor appeals to the Appalachians, and duty appeals to the Deep South.
The ultimate symbol of Appalachian self-reliance is the firearm. In Greater Appalachia, you’ll often see a gun-shaped sign in a store that says, “We don’t call 911. We call 357.” It’s the epitome of Appalachian self-sufficiency.
Consider this real invitation for an event hosted by a church in Greater Appalachia:
Saturday morning, we will have our Fall Pancake & Pow Pow event. Activities include breakfast, devotional, breaking down and cleaning guns, spending time on the target range, and shooting clays. Firearm experts will be present to help with gun cleaning, instructions, and supervision on the range.
I imagine this mixing of gun culture and religion might be offensive to Americans from other regions, especially considering this is an all-ages event. But in Greater Appalachia, this is our culture.
To appeal to the readers of Greater Appalachia in your writing, you have to get the guns right. If there’s a gun in your book, some of your readers in Greater Appalachia will have fired that exact gun. They may even own it. If you get the details of the gun wrong, readers will know.
To get the guns right, go to a gun range, rent a gun, and fire it. That experience will dramatically increase your accuracy, fluency, and awareness. If you live overseas, it may not be easy to fire the gun yourself, but you can use sensitivity readers to help you with the details.
Greater Appalachians are descended from Celts who were persecuted for hundreds of years in the British Isles. They believe that life is unfair and that there is little anyone can do to change that.
Because of the high value of individual sovereignty among Appalachians, collective bargaining rarely resonates. Instead, they say, “We are not ‘in this together.’ I am a sovereign individual, and I don’t want no union taking my money and telling me what I can and cannot do.”
Even union-friendly car companies like Volkswagen have failed to get unions off the ground in places like Tennessee partly because they use Yankeedom language like “fairness and equality.” Those values don’t appeal to workers who don’t think those things exist.
If I were a union organizer in Tennessee, I wouldn’t talk about getting a fair deal from management. I would talk about how the deal from management was a dishonorable disgrace that mocked the sacrifice of hard-working and honest workers.
Because of the strong aversion to labor unions in Greater Appalachia, American manufacturing has slowly moved from unionized Yankeedom to non-unionized Greater Appalachia. Brand new car factories are being built in places like Texas and Tennessee, while Michigan and Upstate New York are becoming a rust belt filled with abandoned factories.
While the poorest places in the US are still in Greater Appalachian, the region is not nearly the backwater it once was.
If you are writing a military-themed book, concentrate your marketing efforts in Greater Appalachia.
Honor the Spirit of Independence and Self-Sufficiency
Narratives celebrating themes of independence, self-reliance, and resilience will likely resonate with Greater Appalachia readers. Give your fictional characters challenges that require them to rely on their own skills, wits, or inner strength. Let a character pull himself up by his own bootstraps.
Stories could also explore the tensions between the independent spirit and the encroachment of external authorities or modern societal demands.
For example, a character from Greater Appalachia may hear of a mass shooting and go and buy another gun to protect his family from a shooter. In contrast, a character from Yankeedom might call for everyone to collectively give up their guns so there could be no more mass shootings.
The gun debate is so intractable because it cuts at core cultural values. Yankees who want to take collective action are unwilling to kill the Appalachians to take away their guns. Appalachians who value self-reliance and independence will only give up their guns when they’re pried from their cold, dead hands.
While the issue of gun control is a useful example to illustrate cultural differences between regions, I would avoid making gun control the topic of your novel. Americans have their minds made up on the topic, and they dislike Europeans chiming in on domestic politics. As Europeans tell Americans how to live, the Americans start donning Three-Cornered Hats.
El Norte (The Border with Mexico)
The oldest of the ethno-geographic nations is also often misunderstood. El Norte consists of Southern Texas, most of New Mexico, southern Arizona, and southern California. Its biggest cities are San Antonio, El Paso, and San Diego.
El Norte is Hispanic and Catholic. While many people in El Norte trace their ancestry to Mexico, they are not truly Mexican in a meaningful sense because there is a vast desert between Mexico City and El Norte. Before railroads were invented, there was little contact between the Mexican heartland and its periphery. Caravans from Mexico City to its far-flung northern frontier would only pass between them every few years.
Instructions from ruling countries such as Spain, France, and Mexico had to cross the desert, and by the time those instructions reached El Norte, they were viewed as mere suggestions. The result was fierce independence for the people of El Norte.
It was a difficult life, though. While Spain’s army might take a year to reach El Norte, the three most feared Indian tribes in North America, Navajo, Comanche, and Apache, might be just over the hill.
When Santa Anna took power in Mexico and suspended the constitution, Texas was not the only region to declare independence from Mexico. Santa Anna had to put down revolts in California, New Mexico, and Nuevo Leon.
Cowboy Culture arose out of El Norte. Ten-gallon hats are adapted from sombreros. Words like rodeo, lasso, lariat, chaps, bronco, and ranch all originate from Spanish words like “ranchero,” “lazo,” and “chaparreras.”
Even today, if you see a man in Texas wearing muddy boots and a cowboy hat, there is a good chance he is a Tejano. The meme of the American Cowboy comes from El Norte. While Cowboy Culture started in El Norte, it has extended north into the Far West.
Community and Familial Bonds
With their isolation from the Mexican heartland and proximity to danger, the Nortenos survived as families working together.
A novel about a rebellious teenager may not resonate here as it would on the Left Coast. In El Norte, family is your bastion to survive a dangerous world. They would say, “We are in this together,” like the Yankees, but the “we” means family, not the community.
Their culture is independent but not individualistic.
Familial relationships and community connections often play a significant role in Hispanic culture. Stories focusing on family dynamics, community solidarity, or intergenerational relationships might resonate strongly.
A Foot in Two Worlds
El Norte is a borderland between two powerful cultural nations. The people of El Norte are often bilingual and bicultural. You see the cultures mix even in their cuisine. Texmex is spicy Mexican food covered in German cheese. Chile Con Queso is essentially Mexican fondu.
El Norte culture extends to both sides of the border and blends American and Mexican cultures. The national border cuts right through one of its biggest cities. The only thing keeping El Paso and Juarez from being a single city is an international border. The combined metro has a population of 3.4 million people. Compare that with Chicago, which has a city population of 2.7 million.
Stories that explore themes of dual identity, migration, and cultural exchange could resonate here.
While many Nortenos are bilingual, some are stronger in one language than the other. Some Nortenos cannot speak to their grandmothers because they don’t know enough Spanish. Others struggle to read English and prefer Spanish.
To reach these readers, consider offering a Spanish-language version of your book for those readers who prefer to read Spanish.
Don’t Insult Their Religion
The Catholic church was the greatest defender of the indigenous people of Latin America from the predations of the conquistadors. Franciscan friars often placed themselves between the conquistador’s whip and the indigenous man’s back.
Spanish and later Mexican political leadership got so frustrated with the Catholic church that they initiated intense persecutions from time to time. In 1926, more than 4,000 Catholic priests were either killed or exiled. Still, the Nortenos did not forsake their religion.
They are committed to their religion, and they won’t find the anti-religious tone of a novel appealing.
A Norteno friend of mine told me that when he does the sign of the cross, he also crosses his fingers to remember the time when it was illegal in Mexico to show a crucifix. After crossing himself, he would kiss his fingers to remember the Catholic priests who died in the persecution.
If you want to appeal to these readers, do not insult the Catholic Church, Jesus, the saints, or the Blessed Virgin Mary. A condescending, anti-religious tone is a big turn-off for these readers.
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson bought the Louisiana Purchase, which held the geopolitically most important city in North America: New Orleans. Whoever controls New Orleans controls the connection between the navigable Mississippi River and the ocean.
However, New Orleans was already populated by French speakers, many of whom were from Canada. These French Cajuns kept their culture, their laws, their religion, and, to a lesser degree, their language.
While the rest of the United States runs on English Common Law, which goes back to the misty past of England when King Author and his knights were running around, Louisiana runs on a version of the Napoleonic Code derived from Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century codification of Roman law. That law dates back to the Twelve Tables and the Oracle in Delphi in the misty past of Roman History.
Louisiana has hectares rather than acres, perishes rather than counties, and innumerable other differences.
The land is also different in that much of it is marshy swampland filled with alligators and an oppressive population of mosquitoes. Marshes, bogs, and swamps have always intrigued readers because they are not fully land or water.
The French love their language. Given the strong French cultural heritage, incorporating French language elements, references to Franco-American history, and expressions of cultural pride can engage readers. Even if the book is written in English, using French phrases or regional dialects, especially in dialogue, can add authenticity.
Of the 11 American Nations, New France is one of the smallest, consisting of only 1-4 million Americans. Not all of Louisiana is in New France. Northern Louisiana is in the Deep South. New France culture is larger and more dominant in Quebec, Canada.
New France is a relatively small but very interesting enclave. If you want to add flavor to your American characters, look into drawing from the Cajun region of Louisiana. It will force you to learn about some of America’s more syncretic cultures and can help you create an interesting character.
Southern Florida is another cultural enclave derived from Caribbean and Hawaiian cultures. Hawaii is a cultural enclave of greater Polynesian culture, but Colin Woodard skipped Hawaiian culture altogether. If you want to learn more about it by exploring cultural fairytales and ghost stories, check out the podcast Legends from the Pacific.
While the United States is the third most populous country in the world, a large part of the land is still relatively empty. New York City’s population is greater than that of the entire Mountain Time zone.
The Far West is mostly empty for two reasons:
- There is not enough rainfall to make farming profitable in most of the region.
- The US Federal Government owns most of the land.
In Nevada, the federal government owns 80% of the land. Since people can’t own the land, they have no incentive to improve it. By comparison, the federal government owns 2% of the land in Texas. Texans have a financial incentive to improve their land since they own it. You’ll often see cornfields with oil derricks, wind turbines, and smart irrigation in Texas.
The remaining 20% of Nevada’s privately held land is owned by massive (and sometimes foreign) corporations.
While a Texan can go weeks without thinking about or interacting with the federal government, people in the Far West have to deal with the federal government all the time.
For example, Nevada ranchers don’t own the land their cows graze. Such an arrangement leads to conflicts such as the one that almost sparked a shooting war about ten years ago when armed ranchers faced off with federal agents. If a single person had demonstrated poor trigger discipline, hundreds of Americans would have died, and it could have ignited a full civil war.
The conflict was resolved peacefully, but it is no surprise the Far West deeply distrusts the federal government and large corporations.
Cowboy Culture with a Secular Twist
The Far West is filled with wilderness people. For example, some Far West states don’t have a single major city. The largest city in Wyoming has a population of only 65,000 people. That is less than my suburb of Austin!
The Far West has a unique checkerboard religious pattern. It includes Utah, the most religious state in the union, where Mormonism is the most common religion. Far West also includes some of the least religious states, such as Montana and Nevada.
Far West is the home of a secular liberalism Americans call Libertarianism. Think of Libertarianism as European-style liberalism with less socialism and more guns. Europeans need to understand that “liberal” has an entirely different meaning in the US than it does in the UK. American liberalism and European liberalism are about as similar as football and futbol.
For example, Colorado, the most populous Far West state, was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. Even though marijuana was illegal at the national level, Colorado ignored the federal law.
Of the 11 American nations, the Far West has the lowest rates of terminally online people. Cell service and a decent internet connection can be hard to find. Small towns are a popular refuge for visiting celebrities because many of the residents don’t recognize the celebrities, and the ones who do don’t care much about them.
Think of the Far West as the New Zealand of America. It is hard to walk through the vast, beautiful emptiness of the region without imagining elves living in the forests and dwarves digging in the mountains.
Few places on earth have the kind of untouched natural beauty the Far West features. However, Far West readers also realize that nature is trying to kill them. In North Dakota, winter temperatures can drop to 30 below zero. One year, North Dakota saw -60°F, which is 9°F above the average temperature in Antarctica.
Novels that explore man-against-nature plots, themes of exploration, wonder, and solitude might resonate with these readers. The dichotomy of nature’s beauty and deadly danger could be a fun theme to explore. Such themes are common in the fantasy genre, and it’s no wonder that Far West is the capital of American fantasy and sci-fi. Brandon Sanderson, Orson Scott Card, Larry Correa, Christopher Paolini, and Dan Wells are all from Far West states.
The Left Coast region stretches from the far western edge of Northern California through Oregon up to Washington. It’s a narrow strip of land that hugs the coast and is vastly different from its Far West neighbor.
Snoqualmie Pass is a portal between a world of the innovative progressives in Seattle and rugged individualists in Spokane.
Originally colonized by settlers from Yankeedom, the Left Coast shares a lot of Yankeedom’s cultural and social values. While the Left Coast is less religious, they share many of Yankeedom’s collectivistic attitudes and moral crusading. Since they share so many cultural similarities, Yankees and Left Coasters often refer to the rest of the country as “Fly Over Country.”
For a typical Left Coaster, private virtue is not enough. They must also be seen as virtuous by those around them. For example, its common to see yard signs extolling a household’s beliefs. You might see a sign that says, “In this house, we believe science is real, that love is love, and that no human is illegal.” They want the brands they buy and wear to extol their virtues and for their food to be sustainable and environmentally friendly.
From a marketing perspective, one effective way to reach Left Coast readers is to give them a vehicle that allows them to feel morally superior to others.
The Left Coast values openness to new ideas, innovation, progress, and the environment. It is arguably the wealthiest ethno-geographic region per capita, but it’s also home to some of the most intense income inequality. Many of the Left Coast poor live in slums and tent cities. Some wealthy Left Coasters refer to their homeless neighbors as zombies.
Of the 11 American nations, Left Coasters are the most terminally online and the most “with it” on current cultural trends. If you want to write for these readers, make sure your social media profile supports the cause of the day.
The Left Coast is the most well-served by the current media landscape. They fund or make most music, movies, and TV shows, and they make them mostly for themselves. They are the most likely to go to the movies, and while they have a lot of money to spend on books, they are happy with the authors they already read.
Realize that as an author, you face a lot of competition if you’re writing for the Left Coast.
New Netherland (New York City and Newark, NJ)
The East Coast of the United States was settled primarily by British Islanders. New York City, however, was initially established by Dutch Traders and was originally called New Amsterdam. New York City is different in such fundamental ways that it’s the only city in America with a culture distinct enough to qualify as its own ethno-geographic nation.
While other American cities have strong cultures, they tend to encapsulate the regional culture. For example, Las Angeles is southern California culture amplified. Not so with New York. It has an entirely different culture from upstate New York, which is part of the ethno-geographic region known as “Yankeedom.”
New Netherland is centered in New York City and extends into New Jersey and the immediate metro area. Geographically, it’s the smallest of the American Nations, and the one Europeans are most likely to tour when visiting the US. While it’s square acreage is small, its population density is great. Some 17-20 million people in New Netherland. Compare that with Australia’s population of 23 million.
Historically, New Netherland was known as a materialistic and tolerant culture. They don’t really care about your religion, morality, or race. The only color New Netherland cares about is that sweet, sweet green.
New York City is the financial capital of the country. The New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, and most American banks are located in New York City. The culture is organized around making money. The trope of the greedy American was born in NYC.
As you travel north from New York into Yankeedom, the values shift from money to social justice. The values shift to honor if you travel south into Tidewater or the Deep South.
That said, Yankeedom culture seems to be sifting into New York culture. New Netherland rejected its native son Donald Trump, who represented New York’s money-money-money culture. In the last decade, New York City publishers stopped publishing books by authors with whom they disagreed politically, even if those books would have sold well. Decisions like those would have blown the minds of New Yorkers from the 1980s or 1880s who were all about making money.
Yankeedom (New England & Midwest)
Traveling north from New York City, we enter what Woodard calls Yankeedom. Yankeedom includes New England states like Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont as well as Midwestern states like Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota.
New England was settled by Puritans, a group of religious radicals by today’s standards. They were industrious and inventive, and they had a ton of babies. For several generations, a Puritan woman bore an average of ten children.
New Englanders then pushed eastward to Minnesota, which is the ethno-geographic nation my mother came from.
The Puritan Yankees were on a religious quest to make the world a better place. They believed God would judge a region for the behavior of the individuals, so it was everyone’s duty to mind each other’s business to ensure divine blessing.
While most Yankees have since turned away from Puritanism, they have not stopped their moral crusading. The seeds of the modern social justice movement were planted centuries ago. While most Yankees no longer believe in divine retribution, their collective zeal in fighting climate change makes more sense once you understand where they came from. It is not enough for the Yankees to cut their own carbon emissions. They need to make sure you cut your carbon footprint as well. If we don’t, we will all have bad weather.
Over time, the Puritans lost their religious fanaticism and, eventually, their religion. People from Yankeedom are the least likely of all Americans to attend church. That said, Americans are still pretty religious compared to Europe.
How do you write for readers in Yankeedom & New Netherlands?
Education & Innovation
Yankeedom emphasizes education. For example, 30% of Massachusetts residents have an advanced college degree, the highest rate in the 50 states. Many of America’s famous inventors, like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and George Westinghouse, came from this region.
The meme of the tinkering American inventor comes from this region. To compete for these readers, you must become a top-notch writer. Yankees don’t suffer fools or bad writers. The New York Times editorial board excludes books that aren’t well-written or don’t align with Yankee values. Such subjective parameters were the cause of a famous court case in the 1980s.
Yankeedom values community and the common good over individualism. America’s branding internationally plays big on individualism, and that is true here in Texas. However, it’s not true in Yankeedom. While the wealthy in the Deep South hired private tutors, the wealthy in Yankeedom created the first free public schools. Most of America’s oldest and most famous Universities are in Yankeedom.
Yankees mind each other’s business because “we are all in this together.” This attitude causes conflict with people from other American nations who value individualism. The individualists want the collectivists to “mind their own business,” which makes the conflict run deep. In some parts of the country, the word “Yankee” is always preceded by an expletive. Keep this in mind as you craft conflict between American characters.
Social Welfare Themes
Yankees value fairness and equality. Stories that feature community efforts, social welfare, or characters who sacrifice for the common good should resonate with readers in Yankeedom. Themes of social justice, communal well-being, progressive politics, and fairness could also be compelling.
The Midlands (Pennsylvania to Kansas)
Stretching from Philadelphia in the East to Kansas City in the West, the midlands were settled initially by Quakers, a non-violent religious sect, and Germans who wanted to be left alone. Quintessential moderates, the Quakers (unlike the Puritans) were not on a moral crusade and were not into social hierarchies like the Deep South. They wanted their good works to speak for themselves.
The Amish and Mennonites are primarily based in the Midlands. These groups tend to keep to themselves and have become the focus of an entire genre of fiction.
Violent stories that might appeal to readers in Greater Appalachia are less likely to appeal to readers in the Midlands. Some Midlanders would sooner die than take up arms to harm another human. The meme of the conscientious objector comes from the midlands.
The quintessential Midlander is Benjamin Franklin, a diplomat who valued thrift, hard work, and personal virtue.
If America were a family of siblings, the Deep South and Yankeedom would be the high-drama siblings squabbling to convince the other siblings to join their side. The Midlands would be the quiet, overlooked middle child who works hard, follows the rules, and wants nothing to do with the drama. When asked to intervene, Midlanders, like Franklin, can see the issue from both sides and often have frustratingly (at least for the other nations) nuanced views.
Midlander culture values humility, kindness, simplicity, and tolerance. Political party affiliation is not a big part of their identity. They don’t want to read authors they see as obnoxious jerks. Getting into political fights online may turn these readers off, even if they agree with your political arguments.
Midland has been the swing region in American politics. American presidential candidates spend a disproportionate amount of time in Midland states like Iowa, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
How to Write for American Readers in the Midlands
Instead of focusing on larger-than-life characters, consider highlighting the heroism in everyday acts that showcase the resilience and determination of regular people. The classic Midland hero is Johnny Appleseed, who traveled through the midlands planting apple trees, sharing his religion, and encouraging people to avoid extravagance and embrace simple living.
If I were to explain Midland culture with an object, it would be an Amish-made chair. Entirely devoid of ornamentation, it’s a simple, functional, well-made wooden chair built to last for lifetimes.
An old Shaker folk song captures Midland culture:
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.Simple Gifts by Joseph Brackett
When people talk about America’s heartland, they often refer to the Midlands, the one region with no rival regions. From the Left Coast to the Deep South to Yankeedom, no one hates the Midlands. It’s our heartland. It’s the honest simplicity we long for and yet struggle to achieve amidst all our political drama.
Remember Culture Changes
No culture is frozen, and American culture changes more than most.
For example, while New Englanders used to burn witches, they now host an annual pagan festival to celebrate witchcraft. With the fall of Puritanism came a fascination with darkness. Edgar Allan Poe, Steven King, and H. P. Lovecraft, the most influential American horror authors, are all from New England.
Social media is having a profound effect on American Culture. As Americans spend more time online and less time interacting with their neighbors, regional differences are diminishing somewhat, and ideological differences are being emphasized.
If keeping track of all these cultures feels overwhelming, choose one reader to be your Timothy and write to thrill that reader. By focusing on the one, you will get readers from his culture included for free.
What do you think about my summary of these ethno-geographic regional cultures? Am I off base? Do you have an example you want to share? Let us know what you think at AuthorMedia.social. It’s the best place to discuss episodes of Novel Marketing, and it’s a social network specifically for authors.
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