What’s With All the Bonnet Books?

Blog reader Katharine asked: What’s with all the bonnets? Why is it that the best sellers in the CBA are of the Amish/historical fiction/period romance type of book? Not every Christian reader is drawn to those type of novels, yet that seems to be the trend. Do CBA publishers drive the market toward what is safe? Are they really aware of the tastes of the post modern Christian reader? Is there hope for writers who are smart, literary, funny and refuse to wear a bonnet?

→ Let’s start with the obvious: romance books make the bestseller list because a lot of people buy them. And publishers, wanting to stay in business, provide the kinds of books that large numbers of readers buy. Still, of the CBA top 20 fiction titles each month, typically less than half are “bonnet books.”

Christian publishers don’t drive the CBA market as much as consumers do. I think there are very few editors in the Christian market who are unaware of the contemporary postmodern zeitgeist—that is, the tastes, values, and opinions of today’s society. And they DO publish books to appeal to all kinds of Christians. But no matter how many new and different books they publish, traditional romance continues to soar. In fact, there are several publishers who resisted “bonnet fiction” for a long time, believing it wasn’t high-quality enough for their house. Most have now picked up on the trend because of the potential for sales, and also because they’ve realized:

Bonnet fiction is often high quality fiction. I represent several authors who are gifted writers and amazing researchers, with tremendous knowledge of history as well as subcultures such as the Amish. Their work isn’t substandard just because it’s romance—they study writing and work hard for years to nurture their craft, just like you do.

CBA publishers consistently release “literary” fiction as well as other genres such as suspense, legal thrillers, supernatural and fantasy. The Christy Awards exist to recognize quality Christian fiction across nine different genres, but being a finalist for a Christy, or even winning one, doesn’t usually increase sales.

The retailers choose which titles to buy, promote, and give premium shelf space to. Like publishers, they put the most effort into the titles they know they have the most chance of selling. If you’re only looking at the Christian fiction section at Walmart, then yes, you’re going to see mostly bonnet fiction, because that’s what sells in Walmart. If you’re not looking beyond the CBA bestseller list, then you’re missing out on thousands of good books that are not bonnet fiction.

I’m not sure why people complain about “formulas” in bonnet fiction—after all, most genre fiction has a formula, and the cover design of genre fiction is meant to tell the reader what kind of book it is. It’s a key to marketing—the cover helps sell the book, and it must convey in a fraction of a second what kind of book it is, to quickly draw in its intended reader.

Romance readers have always been reliable book buyers (both within CBA and in the general market). While many of us sit around and moan that the bestsellers aren’t “quality” enough for us, the romance readers don’t give a hoot. They’re quietly out there BUYING BOOKS—over and over and over again. In other words, they shut up and read.

Finally—why is “bonnet fiction” popular in the first place? If you look at the history of romance books in general, they’ve been one of the staples of the publishing industry since it began. From the “dime novels” of the late 1800s through the “Fabio” books of the 1980s and ‘90s to the more steamy books of today, romance has always sold well. But as romance novels got more racy and explicit, many romance readers became uncomfortable reading it. They still wanted romance, but they wanted it cleaner—more romantic, less sexy—like it was in the past. The Christian publishers fill this need with their bonnet books and other clean romances.

As for why “Amish” fiction itself is such a popular type of romance, think of it this way. In today’s world, it’s more difficult to write the kind of “clean” romance readers want without it feeling unrealistic; yet if you set a contemporary romance in an Amish, Mennonite or other obviously religious community in which certain moral guidelines are followed in courtship, the story can be “clean” and yet still completely realistic. So this is one of the reasons I think it’s so popular. I also think it’s a trend that is going to continue for quite some time, especially as mainstream romance continues to push the edges of eroticism.

Bottom line: You don’t have to like bonnet fiction to appreciate the important role it plays in keeping the Christian book market alive.

Does the prevalence of romance or “bonnet” fiction bother you?

P.S. After I wrote this post, I clicked on the website of Katharine, the reader who asked the question, and the first thing I saw was a positive review of a bonnet book — Jody Hedlund’s The Preacher’s Bride, which I’d already planned to use as an illustration for this post. Serendipity!

P.P.S. CBA stands for Christian Booksellers Association and is the common acronym used to denote the entire Christian publishing industry, consisting of dozens of publishers, literary agents, and large bookstore chains along with hundreds (thousands?) of authors.

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Why is Christian Historical Fiction So Popular? on April 17, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    […] agent Rachelle Gardner (my rep, btw!) put it best in her post, What’s With All the Bonnet Books. Rachelle writes, If you look at the history of romance books in general, they’ve been one of […]

  2. Aubrey on November 18, 2011 at 4:59 AM

    I have recently started a site, the information you offer on this site has helped me greatly. Thanks for all of your time & work. “There can be no real freedom without the freedom to fail.” by Erich Fromm.

  3. Cecelia Dowdy on January 15, 2011 at 1:10 PM

    >I am a Christian romance author and a Christian fiction book reviewer. About two years ago, I performed a survey, wondering about the appeal of Amish fiction. I interviewed several Amish fiction authors. My blog post about Amish fiction STILL gets hits regularly since it's a hot topic within the Christian fiction market. I invite all to read my post – it's from March 2009 and the subject matter touches upon Rachelle's blog post:

  4. Marcia on January 13, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    >What both Jen and Dee said.

  5. Phoebe on January 12, 2011 at 10:05 PM

    >OMG. That Fabio book was the first romance I ever bought! I was probably 11. And it must have been one of the worst bodice rippers I ever read, too. And I've read a ton of them. – Ok, back to your post. I don't usually read Christian romance fiction, but the reason there are so many bonnet books out there–well, someone's got to be buying them, right? I'd like to see a bonnet book about an Amish girl who falls in love with a vampire. Now *that* would be awesome! 😀

  6. Robin on January 12, 2011 at 1:35 PM

    >I am still *DYING* for you to write a post about what is a viable platform, especially in regards to the CBA.

    Dying, Rachelle. You don't want that on your conscious, do you? 😉

  7. KJ Bain on January 12, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    >The reason bonnet books are popular is the same reason vampire books are. People keep reading them.

  8. Dee Bright on January 12, 2011 at 1:38 AM

    >I'm not a fan of Christian romance in any form, but my reasons may make me an exception.

    Early in my life I found romantic fantasy helped me avoid unpleasant realities. And it made me feel the way I wanted to feel. Unfortunately, that coping behavior carried over into my adult life and led to serious mistakes.

    I have since learned that anything we use to fill the holes in hurts in our lives–apart from God–provides only temporary satisfaction and actually intensifies our needs.

    When I hear how this genre is exploding, I can't help but wonder if for some of my Christian sisters it has moved from simply being entertaining and engaging reading to being an unhealthy substitute for a need only God can fulfill–to feel deeply loved, cherished, and valued.

    Just a thought…

  9. Jen - Devourer of Books on January 11, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    >I know a lot of Christians who read little to no Christian fiction – myself among them – because of the prevalence of bonnet fiction and the cheesy covers that Amy mentioned. Perhaps this is what sells best in the traditional CBA marketplace, but I think Christian fiction is done a disservice by focusing so much on this genre, because so many of the rest of us are thoroughly uninterested in it and it seems sometimes like this is all that Christian fiction is. Hence, I and others almost never bother to even look into it (except when I am persuaded by Amy), and those are some serious book dollars that will never even be in the CBA marketplace because of the bonnet books.

  10. Jessica Nelson on January 11, 2011 at 10:48 PM

    >Timothy, you do sound very busy.
    I understand your point, I just felt your characterization of who a romance reader is off.
    While I don't agree that people are venting their frustrations and just buying what's available, I definitely get that the ones who buy the most drive the market.
    Hope you have a nice night!

    Thanks for the post, Rachelle and the room for us to share our opinions. 🙂

  11. Timothy Fish on January 11, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    >“In today’s world, it’s more difficult to write the kind of “clean” romance readers want without it feeling unrealistic; yet if you set a contemporary romance in an Amish, Mennonite or other obviously religious community in which certain moral guidelines are followed in courtship, the story can be “clean” and yet still completely realistic.”

    I find this statement particularly disturbing. It implies that we aren’t capable of writing clean stories and keeping it realistic if they are set in today’s world. All of my novels so far are set in the current world and they are realistic without being filthy. They aren’t romance novels, but they deal with the subject of love and they don’t shy away from anything. How to Become a Bible Character dealt with teens having sex. For the Love of a Devil is the story of Hosea set in a modern setting and you all know what that is about. Mother Not Wanted isn’t a romance either, but it has the classic romantic triangle in it. They are all clean. They are all realistic. They are all set in modern day America.

  12. June G on January 11, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    >I haven't read any "bonnet" books yet, but I'm intrigued by the covers and the premise of these stories.

    I'd like to know how romance and relationships work in these communities, so I do plan to read some of these stories.

    Sexual tension is always more interesting than sexual explicitness.

  13. Rebecca Brown on January 11, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    >Hi Rachelle

    I love your blog, although I haven't commented before. This is the first time I've heard the term "bonnet fiction" – perhaps it's an American term (I'm in UK)? at any rate, I love historical fiction, particularly romance, paticularly "clean". I love the sense of another time, a different set of behavioural rules & standards, and of course the costumes!

    I'm afraid I have to take exception to Timothy's aspersions on full-time mums, though, which I find deeply offensive. I care for two very young children, my home and my husband as well as trying to find time to read and write as much as I'd like. I used to devour books when I worked in a paid job; now I have hardly any time and I am usually exhausted when I do. I do not ask you to justify how you spend your time – please do not write me and thousands of other housewives off as lazy layabouts who spend all their time reading as many books as they want. I wish. Yes I am a stay at home mum; yes I buy & read romance. The two facts are completely unrelated, there is ABSOLUTELY nothing derogatory about reading romance as your comments infer, and when I stop being on duty for annulment job 24/7 maybe I can read more.

    Thanks again, Rachelle; sorry for the rant.

  14. MT on January 11, 2011 at 3:05 PM

    >When I first started looking for Jody Hedlund's book, I found many others – bonnet books – and wondered the same as Katharine. Now that I've read The Preacher's Bride, I'm actually glad there are so many others. This is a genre I've never read until now, and I love it. I loved The Preacher's Bride and have suggested it to many. Thanks for the interesting post. Have a great day.

  15. Anonymous on January 11, 2011 at 2:54 PM

    >But some bonnet fiction is a filthy as the rest of it.

  16. Erica Vetsch on January 11, 2011 at 1:43 PM

    >Being agitated by the market share consumed by historical/Amish romance because you don't read or write it is fruitless.

    It's equivalent to railing against football being the most-watched sport in America because you prefer ping-pong.

    I don't read and write historical romances because they are popular. I read them because I like them.

    I also read other genres, but my go-to is always historical fiction.

  17. Katie Ganshert on January 11, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    >A-okay with bonnet books. Especially when the only one I've read is Jody's and it's fabulous.

    Now Fabio on the other hand. That dude is not attractive.

  18. Kaci on January 11, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    >I'm not a romance-reader/watcher, but I really can appreciate the desire/need for people to be able to read their favored genre without having to worry about junk. That's the same reason one my best friends reads so much YA fantasy – overall, it's cleaner (at least, the stuff she reads) than the adult fantasy.

    My thing is, I really don't know anyone who reads much, if any, "Amish fiction."

    It also sort of creates this "golden age" mentality, as if this is the first generation to ever have low moral standards. The big difference I see between now and then is that the current generation simply isn't offering any pretense about their immoral behavior.

    But that's just me. 0=)

  19. Valerie Norris on January 11, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    >I love historical fiction, romances and literary, especially stories set in the pioneer days. Even have 40,000 words of a story (not a romance) started, and will get back to it soon. I'm concentrating on another project right now.

  20. David A. Todd on January 11, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    >Bonnet fiction. I love it. The term, that is, not the novels, which I've never read.

    Publishers are in business to make money. Bookstores are in business to make money. Book distributors are in business to make money. If bonnet fiction sells consistently well, these three will continue to promote it and provide readers with what they want. That's how the business world works.

    This wave will crest at some point, and either another wave come to take its place, or perhaps the waters will be still for a while.

  21. agentgame on January 11, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    >Whatever the genre, there are going to be trends (vampires in YA, quest fantasies in SF/F, etc.) that simply don't appeal to some portion of the readership, and those people might then feel that what they do like is being crowded off of the shelves.

    They're not entirely wrong about that, since publishers publish (and bookstores stock) a limited number of titles, but making dismissive (or even derisive) comments about the trend in question really doesn't accomplish anything. Just vote with your dollars, and maybe explore the offerings of genres you may not have read before.

    If you're a fan of the current big trend, consider yourself fortunate and try to remember the trends that you weren't such fan of and how they made you feel when you went to the bookstore, rather than explaining to dissatisfied readers that they should like what you like.

  22. Liana Brooks on January 11, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    >I've only read one "Bonnet-Book" and all I can recall thinking is, "What do the Amish communities think?"

    I've seen Amish ladies shopping at the libraries used-book sale when visiting my in-laws. I know they see these books. I wanted to run over and ask if she was offended that some outsider had the gall to write about her religion.

    All the study in the world doesn't make up for faith.

    I'd rather see the book based on, as mentioned above, the Puritans. Or on a modern religion that preaches chastity before marriage. There are quite a few religions were premarital sex is not acceptable/encouraged. I don't think we need to write all of modern society off as a loss when it comes to sweet romance.

  23. Janet Kay Jensen on January 11, 2011 at 12:41 PM

    >Enlightening reading. My WIP, though not technically a "bonnet" fiction, does involve a religious sect with old-fashioned values. I imagine its bookcover as a beautiful landscape . . . . . .

  24. Marja on January 11, 2011 at 12:30 PM

    >it doesn't bother me at all Rachelle, but sometimes I do wonder whether women read non fiction at all…

  25. Jody Hedlund on January 11, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    >Fun comments and discussion today over here on Rachelle's blog!

    Thanks to so many of you who have read and supported my book! Y'all are just so awesome! 🙂

    And I know there are quite a few who've picked up my book thinking they're getting Amish, only to realize it's not. But, Rachelle is correct in saying that mine falls in the general "bonnet book" category. It's based on the Puritan lifestyle, which is usually more simplistic and uncomplicated (much like the Amish). However, that doesn't mean it isn't full of danger, intrigue, and conflict–because it definitely is!

    And Marla, I'll have to talk to my editors about a Fabio cover for my next book! I really like that idea! 😉

  26. Yvonne Osborne on January 11, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    >Yes, the cover of a book tells us a great deal, and that's why I would never pick up a "bonnet" book. Frankly, I was done with that in jr. high, and in mho, Heidi was a better representation of "clean" for the young reader. Why do adult woman want clean?

  27. Timothy Fish on January 11, 2011 at 12:08 PM

    >Maria Taviano,

    This particular comment is during my lunch break. Other than that, I tack on whatever time I spent doing non-work related stuff at the end of the day so that the time I charge to the company is accurate. I also type fast. If I took more time, I’m sure my comments would be shorter.

  28. Rosemary Gemmell on January 11, 2011 at 11:43 AM

    >I wasn't really familiar with the term 'bonnet books' but I do understand the concept of historical fiction portraying the 'feel' of a period. If I want to read a Regency or Victorian novel, I expect the cover to depict the fashion of the time.

    Interesting discussion about why historical fiction is often so popular. I chose to write a Regency first as I wasn't comfortable with some of the more erotic fiction these days, although I went with a publisher who accepted 'sweeter' romance (they have a separate erotic line).

    I don't write 'Christian' fiction but I guess my beliefs probably have an impact on everything I write, whether historical or contemporary (and I like both).

  29. Kathleen@so much to say, so little time on January 11, 2011 at 11:35 AM


    Your last point @ Christian vs. "realistic" characters–this is a real struggle of mine, because I can't justify writing a story or characters who don't live up to the ideals of my faith–but OTOH, there are things you can say in real life that simply don't work on the written page; they come off self-righteous and/or preachy. This is the hardest part for me in writing fiction. My crit partners don't understand why my characters aren't jumping into bed. Reality is that people these days only abstain from sex for a particular reason–usually religious. But if you write people who don't have sex b/c they're religious, you end up turning off everyone EXCEPT those who already believe. But I really want my fiction to present the secular world with a better ideal of living; I can't afford to alienate people. It's a real struggle, and quite a balancing act.

  30. Marla Taviano on January 11, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    >Hey, Timothy. Curious here. When exactly do you find the time to compose big, long comments to post on Rachelle's blog? On company time perhaps? 😉

    Stay-at-home soccer mom/author

  31. Marcia on January 11, 2011 at 11:20 AM

    >As for why “Amish” fiction itself is such a popular type of romance, think of it this way. In today’s world, it’s more difficult to write the kind of “clean” romance readers want without it feeling unrealistic; yet if you set a contemporary romance in an Amish, Mennonite or other obviously religious community in which certain moral guidelines are followed in courtship, the story can be “clean” and yet still completely realistic.

    This. It's also why there's so much historical, romance or not. Sadly, a biblically literate society is more believable if set in the past.

  32. Jill on January 11, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    >oops, sorry Timothy, didn't see your comment to Jessica.

  33. Jill on January 11, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    >To Timothy: Bonnet romances/romances are an escape for women I know who are so busy they hardly have time to breathe. Many of them read their books while brushing their teeth at night! It doesn't matter whether they're homeschooling or sending their children to school or soccer practice. They grab a few moments here and there to read in between working jobs, running households, running household businesses, and doing everything for their children. It's no wonder romances are popular because they take overworked women outside their own worlds.

    And all that being said, I rarely read pure romances, though books in general are an escape from my own busy life.

  34. Linda Jackson on January 11, 2011 at 11:15 AM

    >…I never heard the phrase "Bonnet Books" before today…I don't read romance…yet I just ordered The Preacher's Bride from Amazon yesterday…why?

    …I've been reading Jody's blog, and I am impressed with her knowledge of the writing business…therefore, I want to read her book, hopefully it will introduce me to a different type of reading as I currently only read MG and YA novels…

    I never gave the cover a second thought.

  35. Timothy Fish on January 11, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    >Jessica Nelson,
    Well, this “typical non-romance reading man” comes home after work and pays the bills before he does anything else. Then he pulls something out of the freeze and throws it in the oven. While he’s waiting on that, he checks his e-mail, Facebook and the evening news so that he knows what is going on in the world, all the while trying to convince himself that he should clean house and throw the clothes in the washer. After supper and the dishes are put away, if this “typical non-romance reading man” does watch television, it is probably while he is doing something else, such as writing a blog post or working on a book or working on the church’s website. And perhaps he could use part of that time to read, but his mind is usually so drained from what he did at work that his eyes won’t focus on the words and he prefers to do something that doesn’t require such focused attention to understand.

    The point is still the same. Those of us who spend our days doing things that require focused attention on words and letters are not going to be willing to purchase stacks and stacks of books like romance readers do. We simply can’t get our minds focused to the point that we can read them in our free time on a regular basis. So while we would like to have some sort of influence on what books are available, our buying habits make us insignificant in comparison. Because publishers have little interest in providing books for the “typical non-romance reading man” or the typical something else that buys few book, I believe people begin to vent their frustration toward bonnet books or whatever other books are on the shelves instead of books like what they would like to read.

  36. Heather on January 11, 2011 at 10:43 AM

    >Can I be nitpicky here? One of the reasons I don't like bonnet fiction/Christian romance is because of the formula. Sci-fi, supernatural thrillers, fantasy, and other speculative fiction genres are my favorites because they're known to break formulas, not set them.

    But, even if I liked formulas, I don't think I'd read pure Christian romance. I just don't think it's a healthy thing to read so much unrealistic romance. Now, romantic suspense is one genre that I enjoy…for the suspense. ;0)

  37. Sarah Forgrave on January 11, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    >Very informative, Rachelle! I haven't seen such a thorough explanation on this topic, so thank you for expounding on it.

    As a bonnet fiction writer, I have to admit my cheeks get a little pink when I tell someone what I write. People seem to either be for it or against it, and the ones who are against it often have the approach you mentioned, that it's lesser fiction. It just means I have to continue to hone my craft, and then maybe I'll prove some of those naysayers wrong. 🙂

  38. Jaime on January 11, 2011 at 10:23 AM

    >Well, I'm an ignoramous … I meant to say "Beverly Lewis" and not Lauraine Snelling, who to the best of my knowledge doesn't write Amish 😉 – but I love her just the same. Sheesh! *Jaime crawls under desk blushing*

  39. Jaime on January 11, 2011 at 10:19 AM

    >BRING ON THE BONNETS, Baby! Especially Jody's bonnet-book. LOVE IT – even though it's not Amish at all 😉
    Lauraine Snelling was my first experience with bonnet-books and I loved it enough to even finagle a visit to have dinner with some local Amish.
    I think formulas are fantastic in novels. It sets expectations for readers and give writers a skeletal frame to work from.

    Did I say I love Jody?? 🙂

  40. Nicole on January 11, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    >"Does the prevalence of romance or 'bonnet' fiction bother you?"

    Yes and no. I don't read them because I don't like historicals, and I'm amazed that no one seems to object to the inclusive theology, but that's another topic. Such obvious trends tend to water down the effectiveness of impact, but whatever sells . . .

    I object to the number of them because they represent a particular audience to the exclusion of a greater audience which the CBA industry seems ill-equipped to market to. Those niche novel genres have a buying audience, but very generally speaking, a lot of them don't know anything about what's available to them in CBA. Walking into a Christian bookstore, they'd never find those books which appeal to them and it's a rare thing when the clerks can help them with specifics in fiction. (I know because I've worked in Christian bookstores and have been a customer in them for years.)

  41. Rachelle on January 11, 2011 at 10:03 AM

    >Amy at 12:27 am: Jody Hedlund's book is about the Puritans and therefore the image on the cover isn't misleading, it's actually pretty historically accurate.

    By "bonnet books" most people mean specifically Amish fiction, but I was also addressing historical romance and other books that have the same "feel" and purpose as the Amish books do. A lot of historical romances (like Jody's) feature a woman on the cover wearing some kind of bonnet. And if not a bonnet, then at least a beautiful 18th or 19th century dress. It's part of the "formula" so that the book can find its audience easily.

  42. Tiffany on January 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM

    >I love some bonnet fiction. I've been a fan of Beverly Lewis since "The Shunning" and I've read all of her books since. I love her style of writing, her realistic characters, and I love the pull of a simpler life. Her books, like so many books I enjoy reading, are an escape for me. When my life is crazy and hectic and stressful, escaping to a world where bare feet are the norm is relaxing to me. I imagine that is part of the reason why so many other readers enjoy bonnet fiction. Not only is it clean, but it's a nice break from our "real world".

    That said, I'm quite picky about the bonnet fiction I'll read. I've read some pretty atrocious books and I won't touch that author again with a ten foot pole. Just because I enjoy some books about the Amish doesn't mean I'll read just *anything*. 😉

    Also, as a side note, it's always bothered me when writers make the comment they don't write Christian fiction because they want realistic characters. Um, Christians are real people, too! It is just as challenging to create and write a well rounded and realistic NON-Christian character as it is to write a Christian one. The people in my stories don't need to curse like a sailor and have sex with anyone who walks by just to be "realistic." Yes, I know that's a hyperbole, but you understand my meaning.

  43. Beth on January 11, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    >I think the Amish life seems mysterious because most people don't know much about it, so it has an appeal on that level. Perhaps that is why there is such a draw to those books. Publishers try to print what sells. If they sell, then bonnet books will continue to be.

  44. MJR on January 11, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    >I don't read romance or CBA books, but I can see the appeal of these books. I'm fascinated by the Amish…I'd love to read a bonnet book that wasn't a romance–just mainstream historical fiction…

  45. Susan on January 11, 2011 at 9:35 AM

    >You offer a great explanation that is easy to understand.

    In many cases people gravitate towards book covers that grab their interest. It may be because they have a familiar look that the reader automatically feels comfortable.

    Here's another strong example. I love romantic novels or movies that are based on high standards.

    I love Pride and Prejudice. I must have watched that movie 20 times. I also adore Sense and Sensibility and Little Women.

    These novels and movies portray a time when moral standards were high and there was a great deal of respect in the process of courting and marriage.

    I gravitate towards covers that display this time period for these reasons.

    I'm sure the bonnet covers do the same for many.

  46. josie on January 11, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    >I don't know if she counts as bonnet fiction but I love julie Klassan books. They always are very hard hitting books that will make you think. Readers should check out The Lady of Milkweed Manor and then pick up the Girls who went Away for some good cultural comparison study.

  47. clindsay on January 11, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    >Also, try to remember that most of the bonnet books and Amish romances & mysteries that you're seeing aren't being published by Christian publishers but by mainstream ones. Penguin publishes a LOT of Amish stuff. It's a growing trend and our editors are always looking for new stuff for this market.

    Just a clarification.



  48. Marla Taviano on January 11, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    >I've read bonnet books in the past, and while they're not really on my to-read list now, Jody's book IS, because I think she's an amazing writer.

    I think any whining I did about bonnet books would just be sour grapes.

    And Jody, I think your next book should have Fabio on the cover just to switch things up.

  49. Janet Oberholtzer on January 11, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    >I grew up strict traditional Mennonite, which is almost Amish and went to school with almost all Amish in a one-room schoolhouse. I have left the boxes of my childhood, but I still live near Lancaster, PA where a large population of Amish live.
    I've found that many people that aren't familiar with the Amish are fascinated with them and view them as so different from you and I that the idea of Amish Romance intrigues them … maybe they didn't realize that Amish have the similar feelings of love/romance/etc as the rest of us do.
    Personally, I don't read them … not into any romance genres, plus when you are close to the Amish, they aren't as fascinating. And though I haven't read them, so I don't know if my assumptions are correct, but I've always assumed I would find too many inaccuracies in the books.

  50. Kathleen@so much to say on January 11, 2011 at 8:21 AM

    >Like Theresa, I've hesitated to pursue the Christian route because I want to present a Christian world view to a mainstream audience. I think that's something that's so desperately needed–a counterbalance to the messages of sexualism in the culture. Also because I don't really write people who talk about God; they're more St. Francis kind of evangelizers (you know: preach always, when necessary, use words). But I'm having a lot of trouble placing my clean romance, and it makes me wonder if I need to explore the Christian market. Rachelle, you say: "They still wanted romance, but they wanted it cleaner—more romantic, less sexy—like it was in the past. The Christian publishers fill this need with their bonnet books and other clean romances."

    When you say "other clean romances," I read that as books that don't necessarily have a strong "Christian" component. Am I reading that right, or wrong? Because I would REALLY like someone to give me some examples of those. I'd really like to read some! I can't find them on the shelves at the library! Can anyone help?

  51. Julie Jarnagin on January 11, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    >I’m thankful for anything that brings more readers to Christian fiction. I write contemporary Christian romance. When something within the Christian fiction industry is successful, like bonnet fiction, it’s good for all of us. It leads to more people reading and talking about Christian fiction.

  52. Debby Mayne on January 11, 2011 at 8:14 AM

    >I didn't think I'd like the "bonnet books," until I read a few written by different authors who are friends of mine. I bought their books to show support, and because I'm not one to waste money, I actually read them. As with any fiction I read, some struck a chord while others didn't. A good "bonnet book" author can create a good story while staying with the conventions of the genre, as any good romance author can.

    If you haven't tried a bonnet book yet, pick one up by Barbara Cameron, Kathleen Fuller, Shelley Shepard Gray, or Kim Vogel Sawyer. Better yet, read at least one book by each of these authors, and you'll discover a variety of stories and styles.

    As a writer, my reading time is limited, so I'm very careful and guard that precious time. Several of the bonnet books have kept me riveted enough to make me want to get my own writing done for the day so I can get back to their stories.

    Publishers offer bonnet books because so many readers love them. Most of them are wonderful stories written by talented authors who do a ton of research to create a fictional story set in the confines of a very simple world. At the end of a long day, I can walk away from my computer with Internet, turn off my HDTV, and mute my cell phone before picking up a book that transports me to a completely different place.

  53. Wendy Paine Miller on January 11, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    >You make a great point with your bottom line.

    ~ Wendy

  54. Catherine West on January 11, 2011 at 7:08 AM

    >I have to admit, the closest I've come to reading a bonnet book is Colleen Coble's Anathema. Which probably doesn't count. I have been frustrated in the past by the huge market for these kinds of because because it seemed to me that it was leaving little room for other types of fiction written by new authors. I like to think I've matured somewhat since those days. I am not sure I'll ever be curious enough to read Amish fiction, but I respect it's position within CBA and I know that those books are written by some of the best authors out there. And my hope is that there will be room in CBA for all types of fiction. I'm glad you posted this, I think it sheds a different light on things. Bottom line, publishers will buy manuscripts they know they can sell.

  55. Kristy Bryan on January 11, 2011 at 7:07 AM

    >I haven't read any "bonnet" fiction though I'm a voracious reader of other genres (mostly contemporary romance and romance suspense). I appreciated the explanation about the genre's popularity, and the explanation made complete sense. Thanks for today's post.

  56. Jessica Nelson on January 11, 2011 at 6:54 AM

    >Timothy, ahem, you might want to reread your comment…
    "some of us aren't the typical romance reader who has time to read one book after another while the husband is away at work, while we're waiting on the kids at soccer practice or while we're homeschooling our kids. Our time is more limited,"

    That made me laugh because you're WAY off. Motherhood has actually lessened how much I read in BIG ways. And there is NO typical romance reader, btw. We come in all shapes, sizes, careers and IQs.
    It's not that we have more time than you (though you might like to think so). I spend my lunch break reading. I think most romance readers come home from work or spend our nights reading instead of watching TV, or whatever the "typical, non-romance reading" man does. 🙂

    As for Bonnet books, I do tend to be bored by Amish books, but not because I'm looking for more edge or anything. I LOVED Jody's book, but as one commenter pointed out, it isn't an Amish book.

  57. Timothy Fish on January 11, 2011 at 6:29 AM

    >I don't buy them.

    I think part of the frustration we see concerning this is that some of us aren't the typical romance reader who has time to read one book after another while the husband is away at work, while we're waiting on the kids at soccer practice or while we're homeschooling our kids. Our time is more limited, so we buy fewer books. What we would like to see is that that one book we buy to their ten fits our tastes so that we can get into it and read it, but we have trouble finding the books we want to read because our buying power is insignificant compared to that of the bonnet book buyer.

  58. Katharine@10minutewriter.com on January 11, 2011 at 4:53 AM

    >Thanks for the thorough answer, Rachelle. And the link to my blog. Serendipity? Whoa! ; )

    It's easy to be myopic about stuff like this, when my only perspective is, sadly, the Wal*Mart section.

    I'm with you, Theresa.

    As for the next big trend, I'm thinkin' that a genre with all beanies on the cover could change the world. I'll keep reading this blog for a good perspective on that too. : )

  59. T. Anne on January 11, 2011 at 2:14 AM

    >It doesn't bother me. I've enjoyed my fair share, and have become fascinated by the Amish in the process. However I realize not all books with a bonnet on the cover indulge in the Amish lifestyle, and when I see a book with that kind of cover I assume it will be a nice clean read. It's the 'bat signal' for a good G read. 😉

    LOVED, The Preacher's Bride. Jody, you are amazing!

  60. Theresa Munroe on January 11, 2011 at 1:35 AM

    >Interesting discussion and timely for me. I am a Christian, post-modern, and struggling a little with how I live out my faith as well as struggling with how I present Christianity om my novels. I've read bonnet books and became bored with the predictable formulas. In my work-in-progress, I want to portray my characters as people who are struggling to overcome their pasts and live for God in an environment openly hostile to it. I hope–and pray–to achieve a balance that won't be preachy, won't be any more offensive than an R rated movie-and will tell a good and believable story. I thought of going the full Christian route, and maybe I'm wrong here, but only Christians read Christian books and I want to shoot for a wider audience. Good luck to me, huh?

  61. Angie on January 11, 2011 at 1:28 AM

    >I admit, I was the ignorant bookstore patron who thought, "Geez, Christian romance is all about the Amish" and being a big European historical romance kind of gal, I became a little discouraged. It is good to understand the market for bonnet books a little better, and realize why they are so popular. As a writer, I looked at the popularity of bonnet books as an opportunity to write something new and different but with the same "clean, romantic" guidelines. They have actually been an odd sort of inspiration for me!:)

  62. Melissa K Norris on January 11, 2011 at 12:56 AM

    >I like bonnet books. I also enjoy Brandilyn Collins and James L. Rubart.
    I think the reason I like the Amish books, is it makes me ponder all the materialism in my own life. I always feel closer to God when I'm out planting my vegetable garden and tending it during the spring and summer. Maybe that's what draws others.
    But no matter what genre a book is, if it isn't well written, I'm not reading. 🙂

  63. Neurotic Workaholic on January 11, 2011 at 12:49 AM

    >I haven't actually read any of the bonnet books, but I often thumb through them when I browse in bookstores. I think they're interesting becaue I know little about the Amish community. So reading those books gives "outsiders" a glimpse into what life (and love) is like for them.

  64. Transparent Mama on January 11, 2011 at 12:28 AM

    >Bonnets don't bother me. I ordered Jody's book tonight. I love your point about the setting and how it makes it possible to have a pure relationship seem authentic and real.

    I am Christian, but feel more comfortable writing for the mainstream because I want authentic characters. Still, with my beliefs, it is impossible not to have God working behind the scenes in the plot.

  65. Amy on January 11, 2011 at 12:27 AM

    >I get it and got this same lecture when I suggested to a publisher they were completely shutting out a huge potential market by making such cheesy covers. And they are. It's sort of a vicious cycle.

    In regards to bonnet books, I like some of them, but I suspect there are may also be some disturbing underlying reasons for their appeal and I'm concerned about things like how white they are–no diversity.

    Lastly, I ADORE Jody Hedlund's book, but it's not an Amish book and the cover is kind of misleading.

  66. Sarah on January 11, 2011 at 12:19 AM

    >Interesting entry. I especially like your point about expressing your opinion through your financial decisions. That's why I refuse to see lazy, badly made films – because I know that giving money to those projects will only assure that more of them flood the market. Our power is most effectively expressed through our purchases. When it comes down to it, we are the market.