Get Ready to Chase the Amish Dream

In case you hadn’t noticed, a long line of people stands ready to tell you Amish stories. They include:

  • Producers of Amish-themed reality TV shows.
Scene from current season of Breaking Amish on TLC.

Scene from current season of Breaking Amish on TLC.

  • Tourist-venue operators.
Signs to Amish tourist sites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Signs to Amish tourist sites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

  • Writers of Amish fiction.
Beverly Lewis, one of the top-selling authors of Amish fiction.

Beverly Lewis, one of the top-selling authors of Amish fiction.

  • Writers of Amish nonfiction.
Mindy Starns Clark is author of A Pocket Guide to Amish Life.

Mindy Starns Clark, author of A Pocket Guide to Amish Life.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with non-Amish people telling Amish stories. In fact, I’ve done it myself, in a book that I wrote about Amish-themed fiction (Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels). And we at Herald Press tell Amish stories as well, through series like Ellie’s People: An Amish Family Saga by Mary Christner Borntrager, a series of young-adult Amish novels that we are re-releasing, and Return to Northkill, a series of historical Amish novels by Ervin R. Stutzman.

ellie  Rebecca(outlines).indd JacobsChoice

Those of us who have told Amish stories have a variety of motives. Herald Press produces Amish-related books because we see it as part of our mission as a Mennonite publisher. We believe that we have a responsibility to produce books that correct misconceptions and offer authentic portrayals of the Amish, a community that is close to us historically and theologically (and sometimes genealogically!). But even those of us who are motivated by goodwill and careful about our representational work can’t escape the reality that we’re telling someone else’s story and that we’re telling it from our own angle.

Isn’t it time that Amish writers have a chance to tell their own stories?

A new series from Herald Press gives Amish and other plain Anabaptist writers the chance to do just that. Plainspoken: Real-Life Stories of Amish and Mennonites, which features books on daily life and faith written by Amish and other plain Anabaptist writers, launches this coming Tuesday with Old Order Amish writer Loren Beachy’s Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor.

I am thrilled that this series is kicking off with the work of such a talented and hilarious writer. People might pick up Loren’s book because it’s written by an Amish writer, but they’ll keep reading because it is some of the best humor writing around. Loren, a beloved columnist for the Goshen News, is a schoolteacher and an auctioneer, and his chapters teem with the pranks and foibles and routines of the folks in his Old Order Amish community in northern Indiana. When I was editing Loren’s writing, I’d often read parts to my sons and husband because, well, I couldn’t not read them out loud. And if the cover makes you at all curious—why is that man chasing that buggy?—let me just say that there are actually two accounts of two different buggy chases in the book. You won’t want to miss either one.

ChasingTheAmishDream

New York Times–bestselling author Cindy Woodsmall says readers won’t want to miss any of these firsthand accounts of Amish life. “Anyone with an interest in the Amish or in humor will love this unusual rendering by a young and very spirited Amish man,” Woodsmall says. And Philip Gulley, author of the Harmony and Hope series, says this about the book: “For years I have harbored a secret desire to join the Amish. Now I can chase my Amish dream through this wonderful book by Loren Beachy. This treasure of a book has taken me into their homes, and them into my heart.” And here’s one more endorsement, this one from Lorilee Craker, bestselling author of Money Secrets of the Amish: “Loren Beachy is such a charmer! Reading through these delightful stories of life as an Amish bachelor, I felt like I was with Loren at an old-fashioned box social, a farm auction, and all the places and spaces he occupies in his plain community. Jump in the buggy with Loren Beachy and you’ll take to this book like a rabbit to a carrot patch.”

I told Lorilee this, and I can tell you: Loren is as charming in person as he is in writing. He stopped by my house in central Pennsylvania a few months ago, on the way to an auction, to hand off the final manuscript. My sons loved meeting him in person, and he did some of his “auction calling” for them. He almost had us bidding on a pair of sneakers sitting in the middle of the living room.

The Amish have been writing about their lives for a long time. In periodicals like Die Botschaft and The Budget, Amish writers across Canada and the United States connect with each other, and Amish printing presses and publishing houses bring books by Amish authors to Amish readers. But such magazines and books are read mostly by other Amish and Mennonites and rarely by the larger reading public. What is new about the Plainspoken series is that it makes Amish first-person writing accessible to readers outside Anabaptist circles.

We all know that interest in all things Amish is rampant right now, and Loren knows it too. I think he’s a little ambivalent. Given his faith’s emphasis on humility, he’s not comfortable being in the limelight, and we at Herald Press are respecting his wishes in a variety of ways: no author photo, of course, and marketing plans tailored to the parameters of what he can offer as an Amish author. But Loren still has hopes for his first book and its potential to reach readers. He tells me that his three wishes for readers of this book are: “that they will be inspired by how joyful the Christian life can be; that they will realize how absurdly normal the Amish are; and that they will relate to how much we can enjoy a good joke.”

Chasing the Amish Dream launches on Tuesday. Keep your eyes open for the next two books in the Plainspoken series. In Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to Old Order, which will release in February 2015, Old Order Amish writer Marlene C. Miller tells her rare story of growing up non-Amish and joining the Amish as an adult. Then in May 2015, Hutterite writer Linda Maendel will invite readers into her experiences as a lifelong Hutterite living in a colony on the plains of Manitoba in Hutterite Diaries: Life in My Prairie Community.

So you can tune in to the latest season of Breaking Amish, if you’d like, or visit the Amish-themed tourist attraction nearest you. Then again, you could pick up a copy of Loren’s book and listen to an Amish writer tell his own story for a change.

You can order Chasing the Amish Dream for $9.75 U.S. until the end of the day on Monday, October 20. 

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

How to Design a Book Cover in 3 Easy Steps – Part 2 by Merrill Miller

Last time I discussed the first two of three steps for designing a book cover, “Problem” and “Process.” Now we’ll get the final stage.

PRESENT: In which the designer presents cover mock-ups to the committee and prays the best direction will result

The best way to kill a brilliantly creative idea is to show it to a committee.”—said every designer ever.

Although some ideas are not killed quite as dead as others, some truly creative solutions have been strangled by committees, focus groups, authors, brothers-in-law, and other experts. But, lest I sound too harsh or whiney, most of the time this critique process serves to strengthen and refine in positive ways.

I decided to present four ideas: an Amish man riding bike (because that’s how the author got around), an Amish man standing at the Grand Canyon, a softball game, and an Amish man chasing his buggy. I sketched out these ideas, one of which I fleshed out in color to present a style of illustration as a possibility. For the softball cover I found a photo which I thought fit the character of Wisecrack Wanda from the book.

AmishForLife_4optionsI really felt that the image of the man chasing his buggy fit the humorous nature of the author’s writing best and was the most likely to grab people’s attention. I stated this in our meeting and after short deliberation it was agreed that this image was the most promising. The decision was also made that the cover image should be photographic, not illustrated. This meant finding photos that could be composited or take a photo on location with a model and a buggy. It was also voiced that the typography I had chosen might not appeal to a popular market. This imagery also spurred the change of title from Amish for Life to Chasing the Amish Dream—much more interesting and fitting.

I returned with this information to the Creative Action Center (see the diagram here, the same I shared last time).3EasySteps72dpi I searched for photos that could work together. At this point I was still making mock-ups and didn’t need a final image yet. I presented two cover ideas based on the Chasing theme.

Additional work was still needed on typography. My fellow designer, Reuben Graham, developed an outstanding logo for the Plainspoken series and it made most the sense to use the same font for the cover type as well.

PlainSpoken_logowSub

The author sent us some of his own clothes and a straw hat to use for the photo shoot. I then began carefully looking for the perfect model. Mostly, they had to fit in the clothes and be willing to act like they were running as fast as they could. Also, we needed to compose the model in such a way to obscure his face, since most Amish groups do not appreciate having their photo taken. No, we didn’t hire a highly paid model. I leaned on a willing fellow staffer here at MennoMedia. Now you know.

We got some great options from the shoot and I combined them with a background scene and a buggy. I presented the third round of mock-ups to the committee. The overall imagery was well received but when shared with the author, we discovered that the buggy was an Ohio buggy, not an Indiana buggy.

So we contacted a photographer in Elkhart County and asked her to take a few photos of Indiana buggies from a certain vantage point that would fit into our composition. She pitched a strike and the fourth round cover presentation was a homerun.

ChasingTheAmishDream

There you have it—cover design in three easy steps.

It should also be emphasized that not all cover designs follow the same path. In fact, I would venture to say that no two cover processes are exactly the same. For example, I like to compare the paths of The Naked Anabaptist and Under Construction.

NA_UC_covers

Under Construction took very little time to determine a direction/image. The actual photo search and assembling those photos in PhotoShop took days. While it is a complex image, it was fun to build.

The Naked Anabaptist didn’t take long once we found the right image. The process of finding the one right image took days of searching and multiple rounds of rejections. While this is a simple image it was sometimes an arduous process—but the end result is just as rewarding.

Yes, just like breaking rocks or teaching kids, the end result is almost always rewarding.

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You can purchase Chasing the Amish Dream on pre-publication discount for just $9.75 (25% off) until October 21, 2014.

—Merrill Miller, senior graphic designer

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How to Design a Book Cover in 3 (Or More) Easy Steps – by Merrill Miller

Merrill Miller is senior graphic designer at MennoMedia/Herald Press

Actually, any kind of design solution is rarely reached in three steps—the ease of which depends on your point of view. If your normal workday consists of breaking rocks with a pick-axe—or trying to teach apathetic, defiant, hyper, high, and hungry kids the Pythagorean Theorem—then, yes, these steps might be viewed as easy. And, like students who fail geometry and have to repeat the class, sometimes (read “usually”) one or more of the steps below will need to be repeated.

But for the sake of this article I will reduce the procedure to three steps: Problem, Process, and Present.

PROBLEM: In which the book is presented to the designers and brainstorming ensues

The initial cover stages begin early in the life of a book so that the marketers can begin promoting it. Once the author contract is signed, even before the manuscript may be in its final form, sometimes even before a title or subtitle is finalized, we meet to brainstorm ideas. This group includes editorial, design, and marketing.

The editorial staff presents the PI sheet (which doesn’t stand for Private Investigator. It stands for Product Information. Kind of a let-down, eh?). This document lists pertinent information about the book, an author bio, a brief description, and marketing information.

It also includes book covers of competitive and comparative works that have been already published.This is somewhat of a conundrum to peruse: do we try to fit into this sample of published work or do we try to stand out from it? I suppose the short answer is that we want fit in while standing out. Easy.

For this blog post (2 parts) we will follow the process of one of our new books, Chasing the Amish Dream. This book is the first in our Plainspoken series written by Amish or Old Order Mennonite authors. The author of Chasing, Loren Beachy, is a school teacher and an auctioneer. His book is a collection of humorous columns he writes for the Goshen (Ind.) News called “The Plain Side.”

As the “problem” is presented we begin brainstorming ideas. At this point, the name of the book was Amish for Life, not Chasing the Amish Dream. We come up with words, ideas, associations, and images that represent the book and the author. Words such as: Amish, teacher, auctioneer, humor, and images of buggies and horses, etc. are thrown into the hopper. Sometimes the ideas get narrowed down and sometimes the designer is left with a mish-mash with no real direction.

PROCESS: In which the designer endeavors to narrow the focus to one idea

During this step the process may be repeated multiple times and may, or may not, go something like the diagram here:3EasySteps72dpi

The designer will take the words, ideas, and images offered during the initial meeting and work (read “play”) with them: joining opposites, looking for synonyms, doodling, writing more words, sketching, taking long walks or naps (while mulling, of course). As a last resort the designer may read some of the manuscript to glean inspiration.

No, actually, reading parts, if not all, of the manuscript is one of the first things the designer will do. Fortunately, we had several of the columns that were published in the Goshen News which I was able to read. In the case of the book formerly known as Amish for Life, these offered a wealth of imagery. There were stories about church, stories from the classroom, stories of softball games, biking, auctions and traveling to auctions. There were stories of train trips across country, stories of pranks, stories of people doing unwise things—like run beside their buggy in order to wake up.

Oh, how to narrow it down?

To be continued next time, on September 10, 2014.

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What are some standout covers (general) that you have seen you really like? What do you like about them? 

(And no fair peeking in our store to see how the final book cover came out for Chasing the Amish Dream. Of course if you want to spoil the drama … peek away.)

—Merrill Miller, senior graphic designer

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