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One Way I Definitely Won’t Be Making The New York Times Bestseller List

“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.

28 Responses to One Way I Definitely Won’t Be Making The New York Times Bestseller List

  1. Jenny April 6, 2019 at 6:06 pm #

    Yes, it sounds very interesting! I fully support your heart to respect the people snout whom you write!

    • Katrina April 6, 2019 at 6:27 pm #

      Thanks Jenny!

      • Beth April 19, 2019 at 2:38 pm #

        I would buy a book along the line of “Secrets of Success from Successful Amish Businessmen”. What advice would they have for us? Something the Amish themselves would read and endorce. I really like the one that said he doesnt read many how- to books, except the best one… The Bible. I think it’s fascinating how Amish (and Mennonites) with only an 8th grade education can be so successful. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, some which may be good common sense, thriftyness, God fearing (applying Godly principles), strong work ethic, and strong community support (among themselves) among others. Somewhere I read ( and i don’t remember were so I cant verify this) that 90% of new Amish businesses are successful, compared to about half of general society. If that’s the case, they definitely have things to teach us! It will be interesting to see what you come up with. 🙂

        • Katrina April 19, 2019 at 2:40 pm #

          Thanks for your encouragement Beth! It is an interesting topic. 😀

  2. Krista Burkholder April 6, 2019 at 7:34 pm #

    It definitely sounds like an interesting subject to research. But the nature of it… Sounds challenging. I defiantly understand your concerns about respecting the Amish people and their values. God give you wisdom as you continue!

    • Katrina April 6, 2019 at 8:22 pm #

      Thanks Krista! It is interesting. And challenging!

      • Matt April 7, 2019 at 12:35 am #

        Kinda what the movie industry did with the amish lifestyle… make some money and seriously misrepresent the real values.
        You might have better luck interviewing your ex amish friends..

        • Katrina April 7, 2019 at 6:44 am #

          Hmmm! Good point. Although it has been interesting to hear the business advice, etc, from the Amish perspective.

        • Beth April 19, 2019 at 5:45 pm #

          I would buy a book along the line of “Secrets of Success from Successful Amish Businessmen”. What advice would they have for us? Something the Amish themselves would read and endorce. I really like the one that said he doesnt read many how- to books, except the best one… The Bible. I think it’s fascinating how Amish (and Mennonites) with only an 8th grade education can be so successful. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things, some which may be good common sense, thriftyness, God fearing (applying Godly principles), strong work ethic, and strong community support (among themselves), integrity, quality products, fair prices among others. Somewhere I read ( and i don’t remember were so I cant verify this) that 90% of new Amish businesses are successful, compared to about half of general society. If that’s the case, they definitely have things to teach us! It would also be interesting to talk about what they do with their money. They have no insurance of any kind. If I have it right, if there are medical needs, the deacon goes around and collects money from each family- a percentage based on their income. Most Amish have their own private christian schools that need to be funded, besides paying tax to support public schools. (Which a lot don’t use) CAM and other relief organizations get a lot of support from the Amish. Of course, their is still plenty of wealthyI Amish that have houses in Sarosota and go on vacations, etc. It will be interesting to see what you come up with. 🙂

  3. Jackie April 6, 2019 at 9:07 pm #

    This is a wonderful idea!

    • Katrina April 6, 2019 at 9:18 pm #

      Thanks for the encouragement! I’m not sure what I will do yet so I appreciate feedback.

  4. Sheila April 6, 2019 at 9:15 pm #

    Interesting indeed, Katrina. I feel you made a good decision.
    A good work ethic and honesty are essential to our faith as Anabaptists. Also essential is a Godly way of handling our financial “blessings”…even if we don’t fit in the “wealthy” category as describes here…we have a big job in handling our resouces in a trustworthy way since, after all, it is given to us in trust. Hmmm, as always you give good food for thought

    • Katrina April 6, 2019 at 9:17 pm #

      Thanks for the confirmation! I appreciate your thoughts.

  5. Sandra Miller April 6, 2019 at 10:08 pm #

    How do you define “rich?” The title may be ok but you could define it as the Amish men you spoke to who “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.” Is this not what real riches is? Perhaps you could think outside the box and write about it. Think about it…suspect it could complicate it but be challenging.

    • Katrina April 6, 2019 at 10:14 pm #

      Thanks Sandra! I agree, those are great sentiments. I did try to go that direction more, but it wasn’t exactly what the agent was looking for. So if I do the project on my own, I can focus more on those qualities.

  6. Gina April 6, 2019 at 10:17 pm #

    You have more of a book potential now than when you started, imo. I like to learn how a person has changed or adjusted their goals because of the influence of others. And the story you share here shows that. You’ve whetted my appetite to learn more!

    • Katrina April 6, 2019 at 10:18 pm #

      Thanks Gina! I thought about incorporating that into the story. I appreciate your feedback!

  7. Mary April 7, 2019 at 12:50 am #

    I am very interested in learning what you heard from the Amish business men. I enjoyed what you shared. I am certain they are generous in giving. I am working overseas because of their generous donations. Also appreciated you pointing out they walk straight or honestly no matter the cost. This is a trait that makes the Anabaptist people stand apart. A trait we can’t afford to compromise on.
    Again thanks for doing the interviews and walking uprightly even if that means not making the NYT best seller list!
    Looking forward to more insights. – Mary

    • Katrina April 7, 2019 at 6:45 am #

      Thanks for the encouragement! And I’m glad you are enabled to work due to their generosity.

  8. victoria April 7, 2019 at 12:56 pm #

    Adding to what Sandra Miller said. Not knowing exactly what the book idea involves perhaps a title like:” The Amish: Rich in so Many Ways” might encompass material riches with spiritual and lifestyle riches that the Amish life provides.

    • Katrina April 7, 2019 at 1:54 pm #

      Thanks Victoria! I really appreciate the input and I like your thoughts. They will help me process my next move. 😊

    • Deborah Yoder April 7, 2019 at 10:15 pm #

      My thoughts exactly!

  9. Beth April 7, 2019 at 1:16 pm #

    I think it sounds super interesting! To know what these Amish men thought about their own wealth and the responsibility of it…..

    Another thing, so much is written about the Amish and mostly from an outsiders perspective. It is often incorrect in some ways. I think you have the potential to write it from their perspective. What they truly feel about it.

    If you thought they would not approve the title it’s probably because it didnt reflect what they felt to be true. I would guess anyway.

    If you write it. I’ll be buying it. 😊

    • Katrina April 7, 2019 at 1:55 pm #

      Thanks for the vote of confidence, Beth! And I like your comments about perspective too.

  10. Christine in Maine April 7, 2019 at 2:25 pm #

    If you feel that the title could be offensive, I would offer the agent another option–something acceptable to the Amish, yet still salable. If he balks, perhaps he has money as his main motivation. I would pray about this; perhaps God is using the situation to steer you away from the wrong agent. I say this, of course, having no idea. I know, though, that He can steer us through issues like this one. Surely there are godly agents out there who would gladly accommodate your desire to use an appropriate title. (Sure wish I knew what the title is so that I could respond more fittingly, but I understand why this should be kept confidential.) Anyway, trust God to make His way known to you.

    • Katrina April 7, 2019 at 2:49 pm #

      Christine, feel free to email me at Katrina@500-words.com, and I’ll tell you more. I do think the agent is wanting to serve the Lord, but at the same time he thought the other titles we discussed are probably too weak. We went back and forth for a bit and finally it seemed to be an impasse. I appreciate your interest and encouragement!

  11. Glendon April 7, 2019 at 9:43 pm #

    I would recommend talking to Gary Miller from Utah about it. I took his Kingdom Centered Business class and I know he would have some perspective to offer on this.

    • Katrina April 7, 2019 at 9:47 pm #

      Thanks for the idea! I’ve seen his literature and I’m sure he would be a great resource.

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