Is Amish fiction here to stay? Projections for 2016

ValerieAndThrillofChasteBookWhen my book about Amish fiction, Thrill of the Chaste, came out in the beginning of 2013, lots of people asked me, “Is Amish fiction here to stay?” Those in-the-know added, “Or will it go the way of Christian chick lit?” That is: to the grave? (In 2005, an article in the New York Post suggested that Christian chick lit was “one of the biggest growth industries in American publishing.” Within a year the subgenre had “lost all momentum,” according to literary agent Steve Laube.)

Here at the tail end of 2015, few people are asking this question. We don’t have to. Like the Amish themselves, whose numbers are rising thanks to large families and retention of their youth, Amish fiction remains a growing industry. Amish-fiction authors can barely keep up with the voracious reading appetites of their fans. A few years ago, the Book Industry Study Group, which offers subject categories for publishers and booksellers, had no separate code for Amish novels. In a real rite of passage, Amish fiction now has keys to its own wheels: FICTION / Amish & Mennonite.

Readers are expecting more from Amish fiction than they used to, maybe even more than they did twelve months ago. Gone is any illusion that an Amish-fiction author can take a few trips to Lancaster County or Shipshewana and then write an Amish novel.

Readers want Amish novels that are accurate and that they can trust for authentic portrayals. A friend of mine slams down any Amish novel that contains even a smidgen of information she knows to be false.

But perhaps the biggest area of growth in Amish fiction is not even Amish fiction. It’s Amish non-fiction. Even as the research bar for novelists gets higher, many readers are turning to Amish books written by Amish authors to get a real insider’s perspective on the culture and faith. The Plainspoken series from Herald Press, the Mennonite publisher where I work, offers readers first-person books by Amish and other plain CalledToBeAmish_frontcoverAnabaptist writers about their daily lives. For example, Marlene Miller’s Called to Be Amish, which narrates the rare journey of one woman from English to Amish, “gives details about Amish life that you may not find in any other book on the market,” says Anne Beiler, of Auntie Anne’s Inc. The newest installment of the Plainspoken series by young Amish mother Marianne Jantzi, Simple Pleasures, releases in March. Jantzi writes about homemaking, gardening, working in their family shoe store, and living out her faith in her Amish community in Canada. SimplePleasures

Other publishers are bringing out Amish non-fiction as well. From Sherry Gore’s The Plain Choice to Lena Yoder’s My Life as An Amish Wife, the field has burgeoned during 2015. And in a related book, Terri Roberts, the mother of the Nickel Mines Amish schoolhouse shooter, tells her agonizing story in Forgiven.

So whether they picked up Amish fiction or Amish non-fiction, readers in 2015 kept coming back for more. Editors and researchers like me have our theories about why Amish literature is proving to be so enduring, and I outline several of those in Thrill of the Chaste. But readers like you are in the best position to say why you pick up one type of book and not another.

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How do you think Amish fiction has changed in recent years, and why do you think it’s got such staying power?

Check out any of our Plainspoken series or books specifically about Amish, Mennonite, or Hutterite life, here.

Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books and author of Thrill of the Chaste. This post appeared originally in the Amish Wisdom newsletter which you can sign up for here.

Polly and Andy, two more books in Ellie’s People series, released

September 3, 2015
News release

Herald Press republishes Polly and Andy stories for young readers
Books 5 and 6 of Mary Christner Borntrager’s Ellie’s People series to be released

HARRISONBURG, Va., and KITCHENER, Ontario—Mary Christner Borntrager was cherished by her family for sitting down to tell stories or read to children and grandchildren. Late in her life, she turned that gift into a legacy of published books for her family and youthful readers of all ages.

Polly, about a family moving from their Amish community to Texas, and Andy, about an Amish boy who faces adolescent angst and teasing, are the newest novels in this series released by Herald Press in September and October.

The Ellie’s People series chronicles the family and friends of the protagonist of book 1, Ellie Maust, across several generations. While fictional, the series focuses on real issues young people face within the context of an Amish life. Borntrager grew up in an Old Order Amish home, and she based her stories on the people and places of her childhood. Books from the series have sold more than half a million copies.

PollyIn book 5, Polly Miller doesn’t want to move to Texas. No other Amish families live in Lone Prairie, and Polly loves her family and friends in Ohio. But her father’s mind is made up. As Polly settles into her new life, she gains a non-Amish friend, Rose Ann, who shares her dresses and makeup with Polly. She also earns the attention of a young hired hand named Tom, who takes her to a rodeo and tells her how pretty she is.

Andy Maust, the protagonist of book 6, likes to writeAndy.indd poems. He’s not good at running or wrestling or any of the other activities that Amish boys enjoy. The other boys tease him mercilessly, and then Andy’s dog disappears in a mysterious way. As “drifters” roam the country on trains looking for work and a hot meal, Andy begins to imagine running away from his troubles.

The books are written for readers 10 years and up. The language has been updated for today’s reader, and the books have new covers.

Borntrager’s novels have been praised for their accurate descriptions of Amish life. Borntrager’s daughter Kathryn Keim writes in an upcoming article for the popular AmishWisdom blog about her mother’s books, “Her goal was to give the world books that were true to life about people who are often misunderstood,” Keim writes. “I think she accomplished that.”

Polly and Andy are available for $9.99 USD/$­­­ 11.49 CAD each from MennoMedia at 800-245-7894 or www.MennoMedia.org, as well as at bookstores.

MennoMedia staff

High resolution photo available upon request.
For more information
Melodie Davis
News manager
MennoMedia
540-574-4874
MelodieD@MennoMedia.org