Julie here, and given that I am an "edgy" romance writer in the CBA, I bet I'm the very last person you expected to introduce an Amish superstar author like Cindy Woodsmall. Talk about the “Odd Couple”!
Well, the truth is Amish fiction fascinates me ... and, apparently, tons of other people as well given the fact that usually about eighteen of the top twenty books on the CBA Bestseller List are generally Amish. Let’s face it, it doesn’t take a mental giant to figure out that Amish is “hot.” So when my editor discreetly leaned across the table at ICRS to politely ask if I thought I could write Amish, I knew something was up. My response? “Uh, I don’t know—is there such a thing as “Edgy Amish”??
Well, the answer is no, and my new good friend, Cindy Woodsmall (one of the frequent names on that elusive CBA Bestseller List, I might add), is here today to tell you and me just why Amish fiction is setting the CBA Bestseller List aflame. Please welcome New York Times best-selling author and a real sweetheart—Cindy Woodsmall:
Hello to all authors and readers of Seekerville! I’m Cindy Woodsmall, and I’ve written a series of novels set in Amish country. They’ve been selling extremely well, and I’m now working on book three in my second Amish series. I’ve also published a novella and am working on my first Amish nonfiction.
Julie Lessman thought it might be interesting if I shared some of my Amish writing experiences with you, and I’m honored to do that.
Books with Amish settings and characters are currently very popular, and as one of the first inspirational authors in that subgenre, I have a few pieces to the puzzle of why they’re so popular. I think the answers to that question can help us understand part of what makes a novel in any genre draw in readers.
Why Amish Is “Hot”
The Amish lifestyle seems simple, serene, and plain, and many people want to know the real story behind the idealistic image. Amish men are raised to view having a wife and family as the highest honor accomplished on this earth…yet many have the same desires as the barhopping womanizer. The women aren’t expected to juggle careers along with parenting and homemaking. Yet Amish women today are gently challenging the traditional roles. These are common struggles we can all identify with.
A good Amish novel has characters with the pent-up passions of the Victorian age who are facing the issues of our contemporary society, while constantly fighting not to enter the modern age. That’s a new twist to romance, which many readers find fascinating.
The Amish subgenre has some similarities to science fiction’s time-travel stories. People from another century find themselves plunked in the middle of a computerized age. Now what do they do and how do they interact with those around them?
But this isn’t fantasy. People of faith are playing out these issues in our own country, and the results are both freeing and heartbreaking. The written and unwritten rules of the Amish are difficult to keep, yet breaking any of them breaks the hearts of the family. That angst has the power to make a fascinating story.
Why I Write Amish
While growing up in Maryland, I had a best friend who was an Amish-Mennonite. The moment I stepped inside her house, I could sense that there were a lot of differences between her home and mine. Neither of our parents liked the relationship, and we spent years navigating around their disapproval. As an adult, I connected with an Old Order Amish woman through a mutual acquaintance. We became friends, and I stayed in her home for a few days. Our relationship provided the research I needed to make my stories accurate. It also sparked lots of ideas for plots and characters.
But writing Amish stories presented unique challenges. When the men and women all dress the same, wear their hair the same, and have the same background, the author has to find unique ways to express the hero’s and heroine’s distinct personalities. In an average non-Amish romance, the heroine has the freedom to pursue her dreams and career goals. Since individuality is not the norm in an Amish book, I had to dig deeper to find attractions and conflicts that would be satisfying to readers.
Writing the stories wasn’t my only challenge. Getting to a place where an editor wanted to publish my novel wasn’t easy either.
My Publishing Journey
I began writing the Amish story of my heart in 1999. I went to my first writers’ conference in 2002. I had a lot to learn, so I began reading books on writing, attending conferences, and working with a writing mentor, Kathy Ide. Two years later I felt as if I was ready to turn in the first chapter to a few editors.
I received wonderful feedback on my writing, even a potential offer to put me under contract if I’d write anything except Amish fiction. At the time only Beverly Lewis was writing Amish stories in trade fiction, and editors weren’t sure the market would hold strong for a second Amish author. Besides, they didn’t like the idea of a new writer following in the footsteps of such an established author.
My books were quite different from anything on the market, including Beverly Lewis’s books, but that didn’t make enough difference to the editor who wanted to put me under contract.
I spent a few restless weeks deciding whether to follow the editor’s advice or stick to my Amish stories. It was a rough choice. It didn’t make sense for an unpublished writer to turn down the opportunity for a contract with a big publishing house. But after weeks of sleeplessness, I knew I had to continue with the story I’d written.
With that decision made, I made another—to pitch my story to every editor at every conference possible. Unfortunately, with one exception, the editors I spoke with were not interested in testing the market to see if it could support a second author writing Amish fiction.
In the spring of 2005, I showed my first chapter to yet another acquisitions editor at a writers’ conference. He skimmed the first page, passed it back to me, and said, “I’ve seen this same character thousands of times. We’re not interested.”
At that conference, another editor read the same page and felt my writing and story were strong enough to sell regardless of its setting. She agreed to take it to committee, hoping her publishing house would feel as strongly about the story as she did. To my amazed delight, they offered me a contract for a three-book series.
Just a few months after I landed that publisher (WaterBrook Multnomah—a division of Random House), Wanda Brunstetter’s first Amish book hit the trade fiction market. It made the best-sellers list. If the market was full with just one Amish writer, surely it was doubly full with two. But my books were already under contract, so we kept moving toward my release date of September 2006.
The page that one acquisitions editor disdained so much became, almost verbatim, part of a book that sold out within two weeks of hitting the market. That novel became an ECPA finalist along with stories by Angela Hunt, Charles Martin, and Karen Kingsbury. It was a Books-A-Million FaithPoint book club choice and won a Reviewer’s Choice Award. Four years later it’s still selling well. And that character the editor didn’t like was the heroine in all three books of my debut series, Sisters of the Quilt. She made it to the number thirteen spot on the New York Times best-sellers list.
By the time the 2007 writers’ conferences rolled around, editors and agents were asking aspiring and established authors to write books about the Amish.
More to Follow
On the heels of the success of my Sisters of the Quilt series, I wrote an Amish novella called The Sound of Sleigh Bells. I am currently working on the last book of my second set of Amish novels, the Ada’s House series.
In addition, my special Amish friend and I are writing a heartwarming nonfiction book together. It’s filled with short essays of true events from our lives. That book, Plain Wisdom, is under contract with WaterBrook, along with several more novels.
If you want to succeed in this crazy world of book publishing, learn the craft of writing well. Work with people who can help you improve your skills. Network with folks in the publishing industry. Keep pursuing the passion God has placed in you, even in the face of rejection and discouragement.
And listen carefully to acquisitions editors. They truly do know a lot. But always trust that whisper inside your heart even more.
If you’d like a chance to win an autographed copy of my debut three-book series or any three of my books of your choice (even ones that aren’t in print yet), just leave a comment below. There will be FIVE BOOK GIVEAWAYS and an AMISH keepsake giveaway. If you choose a book that isn’t in print yet, I’ll send it to you as soon as its available.
Also there is a special contest taking place on my blog which includes a chance to win an Amish-made wall hanging. Cindy Woodsmall's website
Thank you Julie for inviting me to Seekerville!
Cindy Woodsmall is a New York Times best-selling author whose connection with the Amish community has been featured on ABC Nightline and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal at the following links:
Wall Street Journal