Putting a bonnet on it

Author Shelley Bates writes Amish romance under the pen name Adina Senft. What unique skills does writing Amish romance require? Who reads Amish romance, and why do they read it? Bates answers.


Who reads Amish romance?

It’s its own juggernaut. The readers are not the Amish; the readers are the Evangelical, middle-class midwestern women, for the most part. And it’s a huge demographic and it’s a hungry demographic. They want more, more, more. In fact there was a byword among the publishers that if you “put a bonnet on it,” it’ll sell. I don’t know if that’s so true anymore because there was a study released recently, a couple of years ago, maybe three to five Amish releases in a year. This past, I think it was 2012, it was like a hockey stick—86 new Amish releases in one year. So you can see a lot of the authors are turning to that to see if they can replicate that success.

But it’s a strange market because you need credentials. So you live in an Amish community like one author, or your grandfather was Mennonite like another author. Or you grew up Amish and you left the church like a couple of authors. Myself I grew up Plain so that’s kind of my credential, and now I have an Amish reader so that’s a big deal. I think there’s only three of us that can actually say that. The credential, the accuracy really, really matters to the reader. And then they like the romance, but it’s like a vacation of the mind into this pastoral environment. It’s kind of the old pastoral impulse to go to the country to find refreshing and to get closer to God. That is what Amish fiction is all about.

Away from technology. So here’s my steampunk technology on one side and my lack of technology on the other. But it’s an interesting market because of the reasons why the readers come to it. They come for refreshing and peace and safety, so if your fiction doesn’t provide that, at least by the end, by the happy ending, you’re going to have upset readers [. . .]

[. . .] You can’t get into the Amish community. You have to know someone who knows someone. So two weeks ago I was at a conference in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. It was called “Amish Technology in the Modern World” […]

[. . .] There was a woman there who has an Amish friend because she lives near Bird-in-Hand in Lancaster County and she said, “Oh, I should introduce you to my friend if you need a reader, she loves to read, she reads everything. So let’s see if she would be interested in reading behind you as you write your manuscript.” I was like, “Oh, please let this happen!”

So she took me out to the farm, this young mother of six. We were sitting at the kitchen table and I had a contract all prepared and she looked at it and she looked at me and she said, “Don’t you think that the best basis for a relationship is trust, not a piece of paper?” I’m like, “I totally agree with you” and moved it off to the side because that’s what I would have preferred. So, she agreed to read and I just sent her the first package a couple of days ago, so we’ll see if it comes back bleeding with red marks. I’ll see what percentage of my research has been correct.

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