Growing Where You’ve Never Gone Before

Blog by Jerilyn Schrock

“A man’s mind stretched to a new idea
never regains its original dimensions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

I like to stretch. It feels good to stretch after a workout and while doing yoga or Pilates and sometimes for a bit in the afternoon in my office. (I’m glad I have a door that I can shut.) Every few days I notice that I can stretch just a little . . . bit . . . more. And that’s good.

Since joining the marketing side of the MennoMedia team a year ago, I’ve been stretched in many directions at once. The first six months involved extensive travel to places I’m sorry to admit I had never been before: Lancaster, Elkhart, Goshen, to name a few, plus Kitchener-Waterloo a month prior. I grew up Mennonite in Harrisonburg but now since visiting what I affectionately dubbed ”MennoMeccas,” I feel more approved somehow. Travel can be both exciting and challenging, and meeting some of our great customers and supporters in person while following authors on book tour was a great experience. Stretch.

ShirleyAndJerilyn[Shirley Showalter, left, with Jerilyn Schrock.]

I’ve worked with wonderful authors: Shirley Showalter, Logan Mehl-Laituri, Saloma Miller-Furlong, Ervin Stutzman, Rachel Gerber, Dr. Glen Miller.

ForGodandCountry[Jerilyn took this photo at the Notre Dame Campus bookstore of Andre Gingerich Stoner, Mennonite Church USA Director of Interchurch Relations, chatting with Herald Press Author Logan Mehl-Laituri at the launch of For God and Country (in that order).]

ForGodAndCountry

The list goes on and happily will continue to grow. I didn’t know any of the authors before starting to work with them. Each author has shown me a better way of communicating and relating and has taken me to a higher level both personally and professionally. And of course, marketing their books invites reading their books. All insightful. All challenging and changing. Stretch.

I’m excited to not only work with great authors but great staff at MennoMedia as well. The level of hard work and creativity is incredible, and I also appreciate the high level of integrity. I’m constantly encouraged by example to eat healthier (many eat locally and intentionally), live healthier (many walk/work out daily and/or ride their bikes all over God’s creation), be more active in church (many are in positions of leadership), and laugh whole-heartedly (the puns and dry humor can bring on some serious tears). How does one take staff members from multiple states across two countries, all with different histories, experiences, thought processes, and personality types and gel them into a common team that not only doesn’t resemble a complete mess but works together with synergy, energy, and good will? God. Stretch.

IMG_8721I’ve been told that who you become in five years is directly related to what you read and with whom you associate. I know I’m blessed to be here and read these books and partner with these people. I’m also excited to work with and meet many of you! I’m pleased with the growth I’ve seen in both myself and in MennoMedia this past year and look forward to where we’ll be in five years. I can tell that every day we’re being stretched just a little . . . bit . . . more. And that’s good.

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How have you stretched in the last year? How would you like to see Herald Press stretch?

Jerilyn Schrock
Sales and Marketing Manager
Herald Press

[In above photo, Jerilyn is 5th from right, pictured with many of the Harrisonburg office staff for MennoMedia/Herald Press. Blush author Shirley Showalter, a Harrisonburg resident, is 2nd from right.]

 

 

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.”

Living Thoughtfully

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.”

OrdinaryMiracles

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.

JacobsChoice

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.

WeddingOutdoors2

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.

newlywed-frolic

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.

Authors Don’t Just Write. They Listen.

I have been privileged to attend several Herald Press author functions in the last week. Each event has reminded me of the compelling conversations that occur between authors and readers.

We often think of the relationship between authors and readers as a one-way street: the author “speaks” through the book, and the reader “listens.” End of story. But the conversations between authors and readers that I’ve watched recently remind me that authors listen to their readers, and listen deeply. They listen to their readers’ hurts, and longings, and the things that bring them joy. Good authors know their readers, and they care what their readers experience in the pages of their books. They use what they learn from readers as they write subsequent books. Most authors also know that they don’t own the communication that happens in the reading process. They know that readers “talk back” to writers in a variety of ways: sometimes in their own heads, and sometimes—like at book launches and book signings—in person.

I wasn’t able to attend the successful launch of Jacob’s Choice at Gospel Bookstore in Berlin, Ohio, in early February (see editorial director Amy Gingerich’s post about that event and author Ervin Stutzman’s post about writing the book). Hundreds of people attended the three-hour event, and although that meant a long line sometimes formed, Ervin took the time to listen to what each of his readers wanted to say. Ervin has also recently done book talks in Virginia and Florida.

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Ervin R. Stutzman signs copies of his book at the Gospel Bookstore in Berlin, Ohio, in February.

Then last week I got to watch authors and readers interact at two events. On Tuesday Shirley Hershey Showalter and Saloma Miller Furlong spoke about their lives and their books to a crowd of more than two hundred people at the Mount Joy Mennonite Church in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. Hosted by the Milanof-Schock Public Library, Shirley and Saloma’s presentation, entitled “Coverings: Amish and Mennonite Stories,” focused on their stories of wearing—and eventually ceasing to wear—prayer coverings. Shirley tells her story of growing up Plain in Lancaster County in her book Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, and Saloma writes about growing up Amish and leaving as a young adult in her book Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds.

The night before, Shirley had spoken to another audience of two hundred people at an event sponsored by the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Shirley that evening, and I spoke with some people who attended the program on Tuesday night who had attended on Monday night as well.

It is true: an important part of what Ervin and Shirley and Saloma do when they speak to audiences and autograph books is, well, talk. They stand up front and describe their writing process, and their personal histories, and their faith, and they answer questions from the audience.

Herald Press 077

Saloma Miller Furlong and Shirley Hershey Showalter share their stories at a library-sponsored event in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania.

But here’s the thing: our authors don’t just talk. They listen. They attend to the type of questions that their readers are asking, notice what they’re curious about, and observe topics that readers bring up again and again. They listen carefully to readers, and they store away what they learn as they ponder what book they might want to write next.

In fact, one of the best parts of lurking around Saloma and Shirley’s book-signing on Tuesday night was watching them listen to their readers. People who attended the event and came through the line to have their books signed were eager to tell Saloma and Shirley not only how much they enjoyed their books but also to relate to them stories from their own lives. One woman reminded Shirley of a letter she had sent to her recounting experiences from her own youth that she saw reflected in Shirley’s book.

Herald Press 084

A reader talks with Shirley after the library event.

And I watched as Shirley and Saloma listened—intently—to their readers, thus giving readers the same gift of attention that their readers offer to them.

Herald Press 081

Saloma listens to a reader during a book-signing.

“Herald Press is more than just a publisher for authors,” Saloma told me after the event. “We actually become part of a community. I am honored and grateful to be part of that.” I like that idea: that Herald Press is creating a type of community, for both our authors and our readers. It means that we take our readers seriously, and listen to them carefully. We know that as publishers and authors, we’re only one part of the reading event.

The idea that regular human authors are good listeners reminds me that the Author of our faith is, too. The Word-became-flesh doesn’t just talk at us and expect us to listen—although God has done that throughout history and continues to do so. But one of the amazing truths of our faith is that God does more than create things. The Author also listens to us.

ValerieWeaverZercher

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

Looking for a way to listen to—or talk with—our authors? Check out Saloma’s speaking schedule.

Here are some upcoming events for Shirley.
Kansas City, Kansas:

  • “Why Your Own Life Story Matters and Five Tips for How to Tell It,” South Branch of Kansas City (Kansas) Public Library, Friday, March 7, 3 p.m.
  • Blush will also be available for sale at Mennonite Health Assembly meeting March 6-8 in Kansas City at the Marriott downtown hotel; Shirley Showalter will be available from 5-6 p.m. at a book table at the conference on March 7.

Newton, Kansas:

  • “Finding Gold in Our Attics and Basements: How to Find, Use and Share the Artifacts that Prompt Our Stories,” book talk and signing, Kauffman Museum, North Newton, organized by Rachel Pannabecker, director of the museum, Sunday, March 9, 3:30 p.m.
  • Chapel at Bethel College, Newton, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now: Five Tips for Making the Most of Your College Investment,” Monday, March 10, 11 a.m., organized through Nathan Bartel.
  • Faith and Life Bookstore, book signing, Monday, March 10, 3-5 p.m.
  • “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Memoir,” Schowalter Villa, Monday, March 10, 7 p.m., open to the community

Ervin will be appearing at the following events:

  • Faith and Life Bookstore, Newton, KS on March 19, 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.
  • Center Amish Mennonite Church in Hutchinson, KS on March 20, 7:00 p.m.
  • Kidron-Bethel Village, North Newton, KS on March 21, 8:00 p.m.