How to Launch a New Book

The day dawned crisp and bright, the author stood at the ready with pen in hand, and the books had been carefully arranged in two neat stacks.  IMG_2024

It was show time! Or at least the book-signing equivalent of show time.


I had the pleasure of attending the national launch of Jacob’s Choice, a new novel by Ervin R. Stutzman, at Gospel Book Store on Saturday, Feb. 8, in Berlin, Ohio. Eli (“Small”) and Vesta Hochstetler, owners of the store, know how to work on the advance publicity and certainly did a fine job of letting the media and their customers know about this event.


When I arrived shortly after 9 a.m., Ervin noted that he had already signed a few books for eager customers! (The signing itself was from 9 to noon.) There was a steady crowd all morning, with Ervin graciously signing books for customers and talking about family connections.


You see, Jacob’s Choice is historical fiction, based on the real-life story of his Amish ancestor Jacob Hochstetler, who lived peacefully with his Amish family at the foot of the Blue Mountains of Pennsylvania. His beliefs were severely tested one night in September 1757, after a raid on the Amish settlement near Northkill Creek left his wife, daughter, and a son dead, and their home in ashes. Jacob and two teenage sons were captured and taken to different Lenapi Indian villages, unsure of their fate. After a long, hard winter in the Lenapi village, Jacob made a harrowing escape downriver and returned home to Northkill, only to find all that he had known and loved were gone.

As I talked with Eli Hochstetler on Saturday morning, he noted several reasons why hosting this launch event at their bookstore made sense. First, Eli and Vesta are also descendants of Jacob Hochstetler and are involved in the Hochstetler reunions that happen every five years. They also hold the copyright for the Jacob Hochstetler family history books, making their store and business the go-to place for Hochstetler genealogical records. And let’s not forgot that hosting an event like this is just plain fun as well. Eli noted that their customers appreciate knowing that national launches are happening at Gospel Book Store, their locally owned and operated store. It makes customers feel connected to larger events, he said.


In addition, we at Herald Press had wondered last fall if we should create an expanded edition of the novel. We thought some customers might want to have additional historical background, maps and photographs of the area, family tree charts, and more. In discerning whether or not there would be a market for such an edition, one of the people we talked to was Vesta. She noted then that her customers would very much appreciate having this additional detail—and would pay more to have it. Vesta was right, and her hunch was borne out in sales on Saturday morning as well—with customers by far preferring the hardcover expanded edition to the novel itself in paperback form.

Thank you, Ervin, for coming to Ohio for this event and thank you, Eli and Vesta, for being such warm and gracious hosts!

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Amy Gingerich, editorial director


The First-Ever Herald Press First Lines Quiz

I had just sat down to work on this blog post when the telephone rang.  “Tomorrow schools will be operating on a two-hour delay,” the school district superintendent’s cheerful recorded voice intoned. He had called the night before, telling me that school was cancelled for that day. Did I mention that tonight we’re under a winter storm warning, with forecasters predicting that tomorrow morning’s commute will be “severely impacted”? While I’m not a fan of verbed nouns, I got the forecasters’ drift.

Just another January in socked-in central Pennsylvania. Between delays and cancellations, it’s enough to drive a parent to distraction. The upside of all of this is that we’ve been reading a lot around my house: books like The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis for all of us, and Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber for me. Both of these books have memorable first lines.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

And Pastrix: “S–t,” I thought to myself, “I’m going to be late for New Testament class.”

These first lines got me thinking about the first lines of Herald Press books. So in the interest of sanity and fun distraction for stir-crazy, snowbound folks like me–and anyone else, no matter where you live–I decided to scrap my plans for a regular blog post and create a little quiz. Here’s how it works: fill out the form below with your best guess as to which first lines from a Herald Press book matches which titles. Submit the form by noon on Monday, February 10, and be entered into a drawing to receive a free Herald Press book. Two winners will be notified and will receive the Herald Press book of their choice that appears on one of the drop-down menus in the quiz (if it’s not out of print). And it doesn’t even matter how well you do on the quiz itself; just submitting the form enters you in the drawing. Check back here on Wednesday, February 12 to find out the right answers. Oh, and going to your bookshelf or using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature isn’t allowed.

So refrain from cheating and have fun! Check back here on Wednesday, February 12 to find out how you did. Meanwhile, I’ll be opening random books on my shelf to taste delectable first lines–and waiting for our nightly phone call from the superintendent.

ValerieWeaverZercher Valerie Weaver-Zercher, managing editor, Herald Press

P.S.: As always, you can find all Herald Press titles for sale here. And in addition to filling out the form, you can think about this: what’s your favorite opening line from a book? Write it in a comment below.

Two Lifetimes in One: Inside and Outside my Amish Community

Guest blog post by Saloma Miller Furlong, author of Bonnet Strings and Why I Left the AmishSalomabyPoppies

Saloma growing up in eastern Ohio.

I often feel like I have lived two lifetimes in one — inside and outside my Amish community in Ohio. I have written two books about the experience of feeling torn between these two worlds. My new book, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds releases today, February 3 by Herald Press. I feel that Providence led me to Herald Press, and it is so fitting that an Anabaptist publisher is publishing my story. I love working with the capable and committed community there and I thank them with my whole heart for all they have done to shepherd this book into publication.BonnetStrings

Bonnet Strings is a sequel to my first book that was released in 2011 titled Why I Left the Amish.

I left because of situations that would surely have crushed my spirit, had I not. When I left the second time, my life took a different course from my upbringing and has led to where I am today. I am infinitely grateful for my life.

WeddingOutdoors2David and Saloma on their wedding day.

I was able to marry the love of my life. We raised two sons who are now grown and on their own. I had the opportunity to acquire a Smith College education, which included studying abroad in Hamburg, Germany and an internship with Donald Kraybill. I am on the Amish Descendant Scholarship Fund Committee to help others who have left the Amish acquire an education. And I am doing what feels like my life work — telling my story of what it’s like to have lived in two vastly different cultures. It is a unique story, but it is also a universal one because everyone knows what it’s like to feel torn between their need for belonging and their desire for freedom. This I have learned from people I’ve met along the way who relate to my story in ways I could never have imagined.

My story has also garnered the attention of the makers of two PBS documentaries “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned.” “The Amish” aired on American Experience on January 28 and “The Amish Shunned” premieres February 4. (“The Amish” was first aired on American Experience in February 2012).

So I am walking the path I feel I was meant to walk — side by side with David in this journey we call life. I don’t regret the life-changing decision to leave the Amish, and yet there are aspects of my Amish life that I had to sacrifice to have my freedom.

It’s the sense of community I miss the most. I felt this most keenly when I returned to the horse and buggy world for my father’s funeral, twenty-four years after I had left the final time. I saw how the community came in and took care of everything. They moved the furniture around in the house to make room for church benches that would be filled with people in the ongoing wake until the burial. The women cooked food for the people who were traveling to the funeral from out of state. The neighbors took in people from Wisconsin, New York, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Everyone knew their place, and everyone did their part. It was something to behold, how a community of people can pull together in times of need.

Four hundred people attended my father’s funeral. The most poignant moment happened at the end of the service. The pallbearers moved Datt’s body outside the shed in his coffin and opened it up. People from the back filed past the coffin first, and then gathered in the courtyard — the men on one side, the women on the other. The half-circle in the courtyard got bigger as more people gathered there. Finally only Mem and us children and our spouses remained. We gathered around Datt’s coffin to say our last good-byes. Everything became completely still — not a baby cried and not a bird sang. What we believed or what we were wearing didn’t seem to matter in that pregnant, quiet moment. It was as if this community of people who had been there when I was growing up, supported us in our grief, even though I hadn’t seen many of them for twenty-four years. The tears I shed were for the finality of the last good-bye and knowing I would never see Datt or hear his voice again. But the tears were also for what I had lost when I left this community of people who carried the traditions and deep, abiding faith of our ancestors down through the generations. I had broken this cycle when I left. It was a loss no less profound than losing my father.

When I think about the time when my life on this earth is at an end, I realize that I will not have what my parents had. They had a community of people who knew each other since birth and came together to support each other in their grief. They had the Plain funeral service. And they had the burial rites. Six men lowered the casket and then a wooden lid, and finally began filling the grave with earth at the same time that other community members sang the farewell chant in German — a chant that had been sung by our ancestors for more than three centuries. It seemed to me the song was the chariot that carried their souls off to heaven as their bodies were being tucked into their final resting places. It was a simple, profound, and beautiful end of a life.

I am not sorry that I took the path in my life that I felt was right for me. But this came with a price. We make choices in life and sometimes one choice precludes another. My story is about grieving for what was lost when I left the Amish, while at the same time living the life I’ve chosen with purpose, joy, and a heart full of gratitude for God’s gifts of love, grace and mercy.


Do you see any connections to the
difficult choices you have made? 

Saloma’s book is being published today, February 3; be sure to watch the premiere of the PBS broadcast, The Amish: Shunned on February 4. Purchase Bonnet Strings here or at your local bookstore.

Also, you can visit Saloma’s website here, and her ongoing blog “About Amish, here.
For much more information on Amish and Mennonites,