“Are you Mennonite?” the agent asked with a warm smile.
“Yes,” I said.
The agent was leading a small circle at the writers conference I attended recently. Each person in the group would get the opportunity to ask the agent a question.
Agents are curiously crucial to navigating the frightening world of mainstream publishing, even in Christian publishing. Oh, it’s possible to do it all alone and still sell a million books and get on the New York Times Bestseller list. But it’s not common. Well, it’s not even common for that to happen if you have an agent. But, agents are good people for writers to have in their lives.
“My grandfather was Amish,” he said. “When I first started as a publishing agent, someone asked me what my dream book would be.”
The agent told me his dream book would be about the Amish, and the fact that, despite their commitment to simplicity and humility, many of them are wealthy.
“But I don’t know if they would talk,” he added.
“Oh, I think they would talk to me,” I said confidently. “My husband works with Amish businessmen.”
Besides the fact that the book idea interested me in its own right, I knew that the agent worked with leading mainstream Christian publishers. A book with him would be a great opportunity to build my career as a writer. He is a Christian agent, who works with Christian publishers, and I felt like his intentions for the book idea were sound.
After we returned from California, I set about investigating the project more thoroughly. Marnell mentioned the idea to a couple of the Amish men he works with, and they thought it sounded like a great plan. Then I talked to them, and found the interviews both fascinating and inspiring. I drove to Shipshewana and twisted the arm of my friend Pam, and got introduced to another Amish man who kindly took the time to talk with me in the middle of a busy day.
But I didn’t tell any of them the title idea.
The agent’s title idea was fascinating, but it had a connotation that I was afraid the Amish would not like, something along the line of “Rich Amish”. (Since it’s not my idea, I am not sharing the title idea at this time.) Even if it was true, I wasn’t sure that they would appreciate it. But I thought we could work that out, in the end.
I actually emailed the agent about my concern for the title, and he told me not to worry about it, because titles often get changed in the end anyway, which I know very well.
“You’ve got great representation with that agent,” an author I trust informed me.
So, I asked questions and recorded conversations and twisted more arms, including that of our niece Rachel and my sister Kelsie and my friend Bri and my aunt Rachel who hooked me up with ideas for people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin. I made plans to meet the Amish Ark builder in Pennsylvania. There, I had another fascinating interview, despite the “three robins incident” I already told you about when I left my phone behind.
“People say I’m rich,” the builder said, “but they would be shocked how little money I have in my checking account. And I don’t want to share any numbers or anything like that because it could make people jealous and I hate that. I don’t want anything to do with that.”
I knew that he wouldn’t like the title. I didn’t even bring it up.
Another serious problem developed. I was expecting to change the names of each of the Amish men. But two of them said that they feel if they say something in an interview, they should be able to sign their name to it and stand behind it. This only increased my worry about the title, which, I was becoming increasingly certain, they would not stand behind.
The project began to stew in my head. Why don’t you email Marnell’s co-worker who is an Amish minister? a small suggestion came to my heart.
I almost did, but then I decided that would be a lot of work and I could probably figure it out myself. There had to be a way to solve this.
After figuring it out myself for another week or so–also known as mulling over it until I was nearly distracted–I begged God to give me direction.
I already told you what to do. Email Marnell’s co-worker.
Oh right! LOL. Or, not. Why am I SO SLOW AT LEARNING TO OBEY GOD????? I emailed the Amish minister, and immediately felt peace.
The minister suggested that surely there could be another word that would not be quite so “rank” as the one in the suggested title. I emailed the agent, and he pointed out that the book was not being written for the Amish and furthermore, a less rank word, while possible, might be just boring enough to derail the project. He told me he was willing to proceed, but if I wasn’t comfortable, he was willing to drop it too.
Well, I knew the book wasn’t being written for the Amish exactly. Interestingly, the ark builder had told me that he doesn’t read self-help books anyway because they are just another way of stating what the Bible already said.
“I’d rather read the Bible and get wisdom straight from the source,” he told me.
But even if it’s not written FOR them, can I put my name on a book that could be offensive to the people about whom it would be written? I picture someone else taking on the project, and the book becoming a wild success, making the New York Times Bestseller list, and how would I feel then, that I had turned this down?
Nope, I still wouldn’t want my name on it. The Amish men I spoke to emphasized relationships, humility, serving others and generosity. Most of all, I gathered from them a relentless determination to do what is right, regardless of the cost.
I began to realize that if I were to write the book to further my own career, going against the wishes of the people I am writing it about, I would contradict the theme of the book. If it were a wild success, I would probably feel even more like a traitor, although it sure would be fun to cut the New York Times bestseller list out of a newspaper if your name was on it. And its easy to think of ways to spend the royalty money.
But not even lots of royalty money can buy peace of mind.
P.S. The interviews I had fascinated me, and I don’t really want them to go to waste. I may even continue with interviews for a blog series or a small book. Processing that thought… Let me know if you think it sounds interesting.