Why I Blame Herald Press Authors for My Poor Job Performance

As an editor, I like to stay on top of what our Herald Press authors are doing: where they’re giving talks, what publications they’re writing for, and where their books are being reviewed. I see it as part of my job.

These days, however, I’m not doing too well at it. Herald Press authors are publishing so many pieces, having their work reviewed in so many places, giving so many talks, and doing so many signings that, frankly, I can’t keep abreast of it all. So while it sounds like my fifth-grader’s justification for why he’s not responsible for some recent skirmish with his younger brother, I’m going to say it anyway: it’s not my fault!

Take the other day. I went out to get my mail and was pleased to find a copy of Bearings, a publication of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research in Minnesota. I spent a glorious week at a writing workshop at Collegeville a few years ago, and I still enjoy receiving this journal from the institute, where Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox thinkers gather for study, dialogue, and prayer.

Opening up Bearings to check out the lead article, I was pleased to find none other than a Herald Press author! The first piece is an interview with Dr. Glen E. Miller, author of the recently published Living Thoughtfully, Dying Well. This spring issue of the journal deals with aging and end-of-life issues, and Glen, who was a resident scholar at the Collegeville Institute in 2011, gives a thoughtful interview on our death-denying culture, what constitutes a good death, and how Christians might “lean forward” as death approaches. When we conceive of death as a spiritual event, Glen says, “We can begin to see death as natural rather than morbid or taboo.”

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Then a few days later, I was just as happy to learn that Guideposts’ website featured an excerpt from Rachel S. Gerber’s Ordinary Miracles, published by Herald Press in March. “The Laundry Pile Miracle” reframes the ordinary household task of folding laundry into what Kathleen Norris calls a “quotidian mystery.”

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Then, late last week, I learned that Ervin R. Stutzman’s historical novel, Jacob’s Choice, the first book in the Return to Northkill series, was mentioned in The Budget, an Amish periodical. Ever since then, Herald Press customer service has been fielding a lot of calls from Amish readers who want to buy the book.

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Those are just a few of the written pieces featuring Herald Press authors. I’ve given up trying to keep track of the indefatigable Shirley Showalter, author of Blush, and Saloma Miller Furlong, author of Bonnet Strings. Both of these women are on tour now or very soon. Saloma has upcoming events in Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana. I get tired just looking at her schedule.

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For fun, an old photo: Saloma and her husband, David, on their wedding day.

And Shirley and her husband, Stuart, are celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary, but that doesn’t mean she is slowing down. May, June, and July will find Shirley doing talks and signings in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Minnesota.

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For fun, another old photo: Shirley and her husband, Stuart, soon after they were married.

I haven’t even mentioned a fraction of what these authors are doing in terms of blogging, corresponding with readers, personally contacting booksellers, and, in some cases, holding down other jobs. And these are just some of our recent authors. Add all the Herald Press authors who wrote books several or many years ago and whose books continue to sell well and transform lives: well, do you see why I’m not keeping up with this part of my job?

I should add that, thankfully, someone at Herald Press is keeping up with our authors—as much as possible. As part of her sales support for authors and bookstores, Jerilyn Schrock in our marketing department keeps a comprehensive list of all the places our authors are traveling, and she usually has an idea of where they are writing and being reviewed as well. It’s just a small portion of what she does, but Jerilyn does a great job of keeping the rest of us at Herald Press informed on all the things our authors are doing. She tells me that she is thrilled to work with such an outstanding community of people.

I hope it’s obvious by now that I’m glad that Herald Press authors are outpacing my ability to keep up with them. I admire their commitment to using their gifts and talents for the inspiration of their readers, the upbuilding of the church, and the transformation of our culture. I am excited by the ways in which their ideas are circulating so widely, and I am grateful for their work and energy.

And what about the fact that their incredible output of writing and speaking means that my job performance suffers? So be it. If my failure to keep up with our authors comes up in my next performance review, I’ve got my answer ready.

It’s their fault!

ValerieWeaverZercher Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

You can keep up with Herald Press authors, too, on their author blogs (links above) and on the MennoMedia Facebook page. We invite you to attend their talks in your area, post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and elsewhere, and spread the word.

Favorite Recipes from Simply in Season: We Want to Hear from You

Guest post by Avery Peters, project manager for revised Simply in Season.

It’s fitting that the cookbook Simply in Season starts with spring. It is the time of new beginnings, and the growing season starts afresh. It’s also the perfect time to reflect on your favorite recipes and anticipate another year of cooking with the seasons, and we want to hear all about it from you.

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We’re excited to announce that there will be a revised edition of Simply in Season coming out next spring (2015). This will be the second revised edition in the World Community Cookbook series; the new edition of Extending the Table will be out this spring (preorder until April 30 for the prepub discount of about $5 each). This entire cookbook series is published by Herald Press and commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee.

But we need your help to tell us about your favorite recipes; we’ll make sure that the most favorite are in the revised edition, along with new photographs throughout the cookbook. Fill out this survey to let us know your favorites (by May 1, please).

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These are two of my staple recipes from Simply in Season. The Apple Lentil Salad was one of the first recipes I made and brought to a church potluck. I took home an empty bowl.

Simply in Season was my first cookbook when I moved out for university, so I know it well. This cookbook has taught me so much. The guide to the vegetables and fruits and their handling and preparation has been invaluable to me as I have grown my cooking skills and my gardening knowledge. When something at the market inspires me, I know that I will be able to go home and find a simple, straightforward recipe that will showcase the uniqueness of each vegetable or fruit.

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I had to take a photo of this gnarly celeriac. I had no idea what to do with the root, but the guide from Simply in Season helped me out!

The recipes inspire me and keep me coming back to the same recipes over and over. It’s still the first cookbook that I turn to, even as my cookbook collection is growing. For many recipes I don’t even need to follow the ingredients or amounts anymore. Sometimes I just open it to the page for the familiarity of it, for the comfort of previous splatters or to add to them. I’ve grown more confident with the recipes, and many times I experiment or add new ingredients depending on what’s in my fridge.

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I mostly make the Chicken or Tofu Stirfry with tofu. It is another staple in my home that I change up depending on what I get from the farmers’ market.

But it’s more than the recipes that keep me coming back. It’s the philosophy and the care that the authors, Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert, put into the shaping of the cookbook. It set the tone for my lifestyle and how I cook. It got me in touch with what is growing and when.

There is so much pleasure in waiting for a new season to begin and the fruits and vegetables that come with it. And there is just as much pleasure that comes from laboring to preserve it in delicious meals or for the winter.

I’m sure you have your favorite recipes that you go to again and again with excitement for each new season. I know I can’t wait to make my first or maybe my only batch of “Spring Celebration Soup” when the asparagus is out and the first bulbs of garlic arrive.

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One summer, I couldn’t resist the first strawberries, so I bought a whole flat and made Strawberry Bread and Chilled Strawberry Soup.

I’m eager to hear what you have to say so we can take your favorites and showcase them in the new edition of Simply in Season. There will be a whole new layout with helpful color photos and stories. It’s a celebration of our favorite splattered recipes and a cookbook that so many of us hold dear: a celebration of a cookbook that shapes more than what we eat and helps us live out our faith in our kitchens.

For all those who fill out the survey, you will receive a special 30 percent discount code on the revised edition that will be coming out in Spring 2015. Please fill out this survey out by MAY 1, 2014. You will also be entered into a drawing to win one of three gifts related to seasonal foods.

DSC_3575_0 Avery Peters is project manager for the revised edition of Simply in Season. She currently lives in Toronto and attends Toronto United Mennonite Church (fondly known as TUMC). She is sad to be leaving Toronto but looking forward to moving this summer to the town of Wolfville, in the heart of Nova Scotia’s agricultural region and along the Bay of Fundy. She is a freelance editor and writer specializing in cookbooks and nonfiction.  

Herald Press: Just Keepin’ It Real

The first time I read the phrase “just keepin’ it real” on a friend’s blog a few years ago, I didn’t know what it meant. I honestly had to use context clues. So no, I’m no maven of pop-culture phraseology. But I eventually figured out that my friend was telling her readers that she was committed to honesty and authenticity rather than presenting herself as fake-y happy or as if she and her household, about whom she was writing, have it all together.

While I haven’t managed to work “keepin’ it real” into any actual conversation—I’m a little old to do so without, well, seeming fake—I’m taken with the idea behind it. So much of contemporary culture feels affected or even artificial—from our sweeteners to our built environments to our breathless Facebook status updates. So much feels fake, in fact, that reality and authenticity and honesty are exceptions to the rule. And sometimes you just need to name the exceptions.

A few recent events here at work have convinced me that, even if we’re not hip enough to say it, Herald Press, MennoMedia’s trade books division, is—let me see if I can pull it off—keepin’ it real. Here are some stories.

1. We are courting a young author, who writes a very successful blog with thousands of hits a day. We’ve been in conversations with her about writing a book for us, and she is also being contacted by other publishers. We’re not surprised that other publishers are interested in her work, because it’s so well-written and because she has developed such a large platform already. What struck me, however, was what she said about why she is interested in Herald Press more than some of the other publishers trying to woo her. “[I] am still very interested in Herald Press,” this author wrote to me the other day. “The honesty and integrity appeals to me. I appreciate that.”

I don’t know exactly why our honesty and integrity stands out to this young blogger, and I don’t know what she’ll ultimately decide. But in an era in which the large Christian publishers are owned by multinational media conglomerates, I do know that Herald Press stands out. Our publishing program holds appeal to both writers and readers because of the attention we give to our authors in terms of helping them craft their narratives and build their platform.

2. Another story comes from our marketing and sales director, Ben Penner. Ben was recently meeting with a book buyer for a chain of Christian bookstores. As he began introducing our books to this buyer, the buyer responded enthusiastically, “Oh, I know all about Herald Press. I really like your books, and I know that I can trust your authors.”

I’m not sure which authors the book buyer distrusts, but it is true that authors don’t always come out with clean hands. Beyond the fairly predictable cycle of some famous writer being nabbed for plagiarism—what could be more of an antonym of “keepin’ it real” than plagiarism?—come occasional other cases of author misbehavior. A Seattle pastor apologized not long ago that the aggressive marketing campaign for his recent book manipulated sales data and inflated sales enough to launch the book, however briefly, onto the New York Times bestseller list. Many people perceive this type of marketing campaign to be unethical, and the pastor has pledged not to work with such a firm again and has committed himself to moving out of the limelight as much as possible. Still, the damage had been done.

3. The last story comes from a conversation I had with my pastor about one of our authors, Rachel S. Gerber. Rachel grew up in the congregation that I now attend, and she spoke to a crowded room of women at a spring women’s event this week. Last week I was making copies in our church office and talking to my pastor about Rachel’s upcoming event at our church. “Rachel is a great communicator,” I said.

“Yes, and she’s real too,” my pastor interjected. He paused. “I mean, some folks may be great communicators, but they’re fake. Rachel is a great communicator—but she’s real, too.”

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Rachel S. Gerber signs copies of her book, Ordinary Miracles, after an April 8 spring women’s event at Slate Hill Mennonite Church, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.

Honesty, integrity, trust, real: these are weighty words, and ones we’re proud to have associated with our publishing program. In an airbrushed era of falsified marketing strategies, “reality” TV, and social media half-truths, I’m happy to work for an organization that values the real, the authentic, and the true. It’s in keeping with our attempt to follow Christ in all the ways that he modeled real human life: by being less concerned about first impressions than about lasting relationships. It’s in keeping with our identity as children of God, who have nothing to prove, and heirs of Anabaptist faith, which emphasizes real practices of discipleship, community, and nonresistance.

So keep your eyes open during the next few months for more ways that Herald Press is continuing to value what is real, From real recipes found in real kitchens around the world, to real stories of reconciliation, to real stories of the daily life and faith of Amish and Mennonite writers, we at Herald Press are committed, in word and deed, to—all together now—“keepin’ it real.”

Maybe someday we’ll even be able to lose the quotation marks.

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Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.