because accents sell

hey, good for you can be pretty

Overheard at a writing conference I attended:

Writer: “Well, my hero is kind of brash, mega-hot, of course, and . . .”

Editor: “Wait. Can you make him Scottish and immortal? Because that would sell.”

It’s no secret to anyone who has even fleetingly seen a book cover the past few years what sells. If it features a vampire, werewolf, zombie, or possibly angel, it sells.

And in romance circles, it’s true that if the guy is from Scotland, he’s automatically attractive. Well, that one makes sense. I mean, the accent and all. I totally am on board with that preference.

The advent of web 2.0 and the declining budgets of businesses have meant new marketing for just about everyone, those of us in creative and service fields especially. Basically, it’s up to us to sell ourselves. So it makes sense to go after what we know sells.

This isn’t true solely for writers. It’s been conventional wisdom in that other big thing I do—church–for some time. Find out what people want and tailor what we do to meet them where they are. And it makes sense—to a point.

Yet I’m uncomfortable with the whole thing. On one level, yes, agreed. We have to know our audience. We have to determine what they want and need. We should try to fill those needs or we have no real purpose doing what we do. Certainly no rationale for saying we care. Paul said that we should “be all things to all people to reach some.”

But part of me holds back. Part of me whispers, “What about what people need?” Part of me wonders whether serving people and giving them what they want is really synonymous or a semantic game of marketing to the biggest audience.

I’m not sure.

I just completed a grocery shopping trip. I filled the entire cart with produce, pretty much. Organic produce. Pricey stuff, that. I would have liked to fill it with garlic bread and key lime ice cream and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Really, really liked to. But I didn’t. I didn’t because I know that a diet of those things would result in me being tired, overweight (OK, more overweight), and icky all over. My productivity level would tank.

It’s what I want—and the stores know it. That’s why there was an entire aisle of only ice cream. But the part of me that knows what I really long-term-goal want—a healthy body that functions for all the things God has for it to do? That part avoids the things before my eyes meant to engage me at the level of “want.” I hunger for need. 

But what I want has so much more curb appeal than what I need. .

Who is offering the broccoli while we run after the mac and cheese?

Who is hawking salmon when I’m lured by fish and chips?

Who is waving carrot sticks at me when the 3 Musketeers are turning my head?

Who is speaking the things we may not want to hear, and how are they dong it in an environment where selling a popular self is the only way to get a platform? If no one is, then we will have an entire church of spiritually obese, sluggish, non-disciples. Spiritual obesity is not a pretty sight.

What if we just need a plate of unattractive, unbuttered-up, peas and carrots?

Does a mysterious immortal guy with a scottish accent sell in the marketplace? Yes.

But what if what we really need is an average-looking mortal guy from Pittsburgh who just does the right thing?

Honestly, I think he’s easier to live with in the long run anyway.

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