When 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 Anabaptist 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.
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.
How do you think Amish fiction has changed in recent years, and why do you think it’s got such staying power?
Valerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of trade books at Herald Press. Her book about Amish-themed fiction, Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.
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