IVP - Behind the Books - Editing Archives

June 18, 2009

Radio Interview about Editing

Our author Father Albert Haase guest-hosted Morning Air on Relevant Radio yesterday morning. Part of his morning schedule was to interview his editor. Me.

You can hear Father Albert and I talking about the work of a Christian book editor at www.RelevantRadio.com. Here’s a link.

Posted by Cindy Bunch at 10:29 AM

September 9, 2008

National Punctuation Day

Make your plans now. September 24 is National Punctuation Day. One of our freelancers, Tabitha Plueddeman, kindly alerted us to the web link. The website is loaded with of information about how to celebrate, including a photo and recipe for a meatloaf formed in the shape of a question mark.

In honor of the approaching day, I pose the question: what is your punctuation pet peeve?

I think for me the overuse of scatter quotes for emphasis rates highest. Apparently, I am not the only one who feels this way as there is a very amusing blog entirely devoted to the topic. The blogger collects images such as the one below demonstrating unusual and contradictory quotation use. (Note also the singular "good tire" for sale.)

photo of tires-for-sale signs

I was once a member of a church (well, actually, it was Baptist, so I'm probably still on the roles) where the secretary had a high affinity for the use of quotes, demonstrated in little signs she penned and posted around the church:

Don't let this "door" close.
Please "clean" the counter when you are finished.
Buy your "luncheon tickets" in the office.

What do the quotes mean in this sort of usage? In my first months at the church I was honestly confused. Was it not a real door? Was she mocking the potential cleaner of the counter, suggesting that this version of "clean" would still be lacking? And what kind of tickets were being offered? Was this some kind of code language for a gambling event?

Eventually, unsure of what sort of church this really was, I had to ask someone else. The answer I received was that the scatter quotes in this usage are equivalent to underlining or italic. That made sense to me. But, you see, bad punctuation almost severed me from a church community. So in honor of National Punctuation Day we honor the importance of well-placed quotation marks.

Posted by Cindy Bunch at 12:57 PM

July 16, 2008

I'm Not the Only Idiot Around Here

Bill Kerschbaum, a longtime friend of InterVarsity Press, directed my attention to the clip below. Its primary emphasis is on video editing, but it makes cynical claims about print editing as well. Worth a laugh.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:14 AM

July 7, 2008

Never Not an Editor

Last week I took a road trip to central Illinois. I had e-mailed myself some essays to edit when I arrived, and I had thrown two manuscripts (totaling in excess of six hundred pages, thank you very much) into the back seat for a cursory review. How ambitious of me. I didn't touch the essays till Sunday, and I still haven't tackled the enormous manuscripts.

Before you write me off as a slacker, let me make the argument that I was still, in a manner of speaking, acting as an editor. I had gone to central Illinois with no formal responsibilities to represent my publishing house--I was actually going to speak at a music festival on themes related to my new book--but while I was there I met one of our authors and reconnected with another. I had breakfast with a presenter and discussed how his lecture series might translate into a book. I chatted with another presenter and opened the door for him to send us proposals. I traded phone calls with an author about the status and schedule of his manuscript. I directed a new friend toward some of our books that might address some of the ideas he's been thinking about. I connected with a person on some innovative ways of gaining our authors a broader audience. I did damage control with a woman who had received a faulty book (it was the manufacturing, not the editing). And I was outed as an acquisitions editor at a workshop. And me without my business cards.

I got home and was chided by my wife for missing a spelling error on an important document. I proofread a congregation-wide letter for my pastor, and discussed with a woman in my congregation how to structure an article she's writing. I brainstormed some ideas for Christian education at our church, which included using some of our books as curriculum or supplemental reading.

It seems an editor's work is never done. At least this editor's work is never done; just ask my boss.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 10:37 AM | Comments (2) are closed

May 15, 2008

I Can Make This Work

It's annual performance review time here at InterVarsity Press, which reminds me to make a quick pitch for our sister blog Andy Unedited. There you'll find a limitless supply of profound insights by my esteemed boss, Andy Le Peau, conveyed with inimicable wit; you can almost picture his rugged good looks as you read his brilliant prose.

Where was I? Oh yes. The annual performance review at IVP is generally not so much a smackdown of bad behavior as it is a consideration of where we--employee and supervisor and, in a larger sense, publishing house--go from here. I suppose our Formatio authors would approve; they likely would recommend even a daily examen as a way to stay conscious of where you're headed personally and vocationally. Maybe that's overextending the significance of an annual job review, but such is Christian publishing.

A few years ago, in conjunction with my annual review, I was sent through a self-evaluation process in which I reflected on accomplishments from various eras in my life, with an eye toward my boss figuring out what in the world to do with me. Not to brag, but I had a pretty distinguished year in the first grade, writing a new school song that vastly improved on the jingoistic nonsense we had been subjected to at assemblies for two semesters. While my proposed anthem was ultimately overlooked by the school administration, I very much enjoyed reflecting on the experience of writing it, editing it and presenting it to my friends and fellow students.

Where was I again? Oh yes. My very patient guide through this self-evaluation crunched the numbers of my various bragging rites and discerned that I have a knack for "extracting potential." I thought that was a funny phrase, to be honest, but it became the organizing idea for the remainder of my self-evaluation and a framework for organizing my work from that point on.

As it happens, potential extractors can have a relatively fruitful career as editors. Even the most underdeveloped, ethereal book idea excites the imagination of a potential extractor: "I can," he whispers to himself, "make this work." Likewise, even the most highly refined draft of a manuscript has room for improvement--at least according to the potential-extracting machinations of the editor. Any idea is worth thinking about, then thinking about some more, than rethinking once it's been set into type or dispensed with a rejection slip.

Ah, there's the weakness of the potential-extracting editor: it's hard--real hard--to let go, to say "No" with conviction to the poorly conceived idea on the one hand; and on the other, to celebrate the accomplishment of a recently published book without mourning the potential as yet unextracted.

My wife used to meet regularly with a mentor who occasionally would grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eye and say, with defiance, in an outdoor voice: "You are a leader! Lead!!!" I always thought that was funny, endearing even, but now at least once every year around annual performance review time, I imagine myself in the office of my disarmingly attractive boss, staring him in the eye as he grips my shoulders with his vicelike hands and nearly shouts, in that commanding voice of his, "You are a potential extractor! Extract!!!"

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:07 AM | Comments (2) are closed

April 16, 2008

Is This Heaven? No, It's the Internet

Writer and former editor Michael Kinsley has thrown down the gauntlet at Time magazine.

Editors are selfless, editors believe. They labor in anonymity and take their satisfaction vicariously. The writer gets all the glory. He gets the big bucks. He gets invited to the parties, the openings, the symposia, while the editors toil at their desks turning the writer's random jottings and pretentious stylistic quirks into something resembling English prose. But that's O.K. Editors don't mind. They say, "Have a lovely time at that writers' conference, and we'll have the rewrite done when you get back." ("And your laundry too, you unappreciative b*****d," they mumble under their breath.)**

That's about the kindest he gets in his representation of the editors guild. You can read the whole diatribe here. Fortunately he's focused his ire on the editors of periodical publishing; book editors like yours truly get a pass, but only for the nanosecond it takes for the average reader to extrapolate from one form of publication to another. I feel a bit like Hillary Clinton to Michael Kinsley's Barack Obama. The ultimate indignity he saves for his closing paragraph:
On the Internet, they don't have editors. Or they don't have many. Writers rule, and a thought can go straight from your head onto the Net. That used to sound hellish. Now it sounds like heaven.

I'll keep silent and wait patiently for our authors to leap to our defense. Anyone? Anyone?

**Modesty added for your protection by your friends at Behind the Books.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:26 PM | Comments (4) are closed

January 17, 2008

The Sweet Spot

Maybe it's professional immaturity or personal failing, but when I get too close to something I'm working on, I go a little crazy. I made many a high school student anxious and even scared when I was planning high-school led church services and worship events back in the day. Somewhere along the way I discerned that it would be better for everyone if I kept to myself during any such production process, and so now I spend most of my time in an office by myself.

I spend that time, however, poring over the same manuscripts for nine months to a year, and so most days I'm still going a little crazy--or as I've lovingly labeled it, "going editorial."

Going editorial means reaching the breaking point where you've deleted one too many obviously errant commas, you've read one too many times the same sentence that you've pleaded with an author to change, you've sent the same contract or cover design or manuscript proposal through the same gauntlet of approval one too many times. The cyclical nature of business can get downright Sisyphean:

read the proposal
acquire the proposal
read the chapters
recommend revisions
read the whole manuscript
recommend revisions
read the revised manuscript
remind the author of the recommended revisions that were overlooked
read the second revision
read the copyeditor's remarks
advocate for the copyeditor to the author
review the author's responses to the copyeditor
commisserate with the author about the copyeditor's shortcomings
review the page proofs
review the author's reaction to the page proofs
review the proofreader's review of the page proofs
review the corrected page proofs
review the printer's preliminary work
review the final product
receive the critical reviews and the gleeful reader notifications of spelling or grammatical errors
rinse
repeat

But every now and then--and it probably happens at least once with every project--you hit that sweet spot. After a brief reprieve from the steady exposure to a manuscript (maybe the author's been revising it, maybe the proofreader's been proofing it, maybe the printer's been printing it), you see the thing again, and you notice one of those things that first endeared you to it, one of those insights or turns of phrases that made you however many months ago say "I simply must spend a good chunk of the next nine months to a year of my life watching this thing become a book."

That's the sweet spot, and in moments such as this I find myself at peace, and everybody in the office finds me a bit more tolerable.

I hit the sweet spot just this morning, in fact. I was flipping through a manuscript before approving it for the printer and turned the page to an idea that I can't wait to share with the leadership at my church. This book--this book that's been a burr in my brain for months now--has the potential to change things in all kinds of churches for the better. And that's enough to compel me to keep pushing.

So here's to the sweet spot. May your tribe increase. And don't bother asking what book I'm talking about; it might as well be any of them, really.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:06 AM | Comments (2) are closed

December 4, 2007

The Nettlesome Problem of Quotation Marks

Chris Farley turned the excessive use of quotation marks into an iconic moment of cultural insight with his "Bennet Brower commentary" on Saturday Night Live. The TV show Friends went after the air quotes conundrum as well. But for as consistent and prophetic a running commentary that a specialist in grammar and punctuation can be expected to provide, visit The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. You'll laugh, you'll "cry," you'll be plagued with self-doubt. Have "fun"!

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:27 AM | Comments (1) are closed

December 3, 2007

Ode to Editing

Lisa Rieck has posted an "Ode to Editing" at our sister blog Strangely Dim--part of the Fortnight of Odes(tm). Here's a taste:

Sum folks may claim (I wont name names)
that editing need, we don't

Click here to read the whole post, or here to survey the entire fortnight. Who ever said that editing isn't wildly amusing?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:22 AM

November 29, 2007

Good English Versus Good Titling

We're rereleasing a book by the late great Paul Little, previously published by one of our distinguished rivals in the industry. Know Who You Believe was first released posthumously, under a different title, with the help of the author's widow, Marie Little. Marie has regularly updated her husband's writing, revealing along the way her own giftedness as a communicator and an apologist for Christianity. All told, the book has carried three titles, finally landing and resting on Know Who You Believe so that it sits comfortably alongside Paul's other books Know Why You Believe and Know What You Believe. How to Give Away Your Faith doesn't fit the pattern, but it's a clever title nonetheless.

I single out Know Who You Believe because of a publisher's note we inherited from our distinguished rival, which I didn't notice till today as I completed the book's copyright page.

Writers and publishers are often coached to "write as people speak" in order to best communicate with today's readers. Thus we have deliberately titled this book Know Who You Believe instead of using the grammatically correct--but awkward--Whom. Our apologies to purists everywhere.

I'm apparently not a purist, because the fact that the Who in the title technically should be Whom didn't occur to me till I read this publisher's note. That reflects badly on my editorial skills, I'm afraid, but I remain unapologetic, because I feel strongly that writers should write, and publishers should publish, like they talk. (Or should that be "as they talk"?) Except, of course, when they shouldn't.

The more august a book's subject matter and the more formal the writer's style are, the less appropriate an informal approach to titling becomes. But a little cheekiness in grammar--for example, in our IVP Books tagline "Think Deep. Live Smart"--generally doesn't hurt anybody. I'm reminded of a joke my uncle Pete once told me, which always elicits a chuckle:

A young southern gentleman of great intellect was on the campus of an Ivy League university for the first time, and was running late for an appointment with the registrar. He stopped a passing student on the quad and asked, "Pardon me, but could ya'll tell me where the registrar's office is at?"

The student harumphed, and with great condescension replied, "Sir, at this school we don't end our sentences with a preposition."

The young southern gentleman quickly responded, "Well, all right then. Let me try again. Could ya'll tell me where the registrar's office is at, ya big jerk?"

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 10:32 AM

October 19, 2007

Vanity Publishing: Extreme Makeover Edition

Vanity publishing. It even sounds a bit sleazy, doesn't it? Paying a "publisher" to print and distribute your work has always had negative connotations in publishing. If a legitimate firm won't produce your book, there must be something wrong with it. Right? Either it is commercially unviable or editorially substandard. It means someone is doing it just to satisfy their vanity.

No more. Vanity publishing has had an extreme makeover.

Continue reading "Vanity Publishing: Extreme Makeover Edition"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:47 AM | Comments (4) are closed

August 1, 2007

Typo of the Day

Sometimes they just jump out at you:

I lay down my fife for the sheep.

At first I wondered, Do sheep not enjoy fife music? But then I noted the attribution given to Jesus, as recorded in John 10:15, and I realized that fife should read life. I attribute this typo not to the author or the editor (Whew!) but to the scanner, which interpreted the l in life as an f.

That happens a fot; a smudge on the page causes a scanner no end of confusion. Other fetters--even numbers and speciaf characters, get affected as weff; a capitaf I is read as a 1, the 1 is read as a fower-case l, and the l is read as an f. You'd think a scanner woufd efiminate error, but the editor can't rest on his or her faurefs; we need to keep our eyes constantly peefed for the inevitabfe sfip.

I guess this time we just got lucky.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:08 AM | Comments (3) are closed

July 30, 2007

What Kind of Editor Would You Be?

An ode to the editor has been posted at Salon. As you might imagine, those of us in the biz gravitate toward such praise like dogs to their own vomit. The author of the ode, former editor Gary Kamiya, lays out a nice articulation of the craft we've each aspired to. There's also good information for the to-be-edited: editorial ethics and editorial etiquette are each discussed. But what I like best about the ode are all the things I'm compared to:

Editors are craftsmen, ghosts, psychiatrists, bullies, sparring partners, experts, enablers, ignoramuses, translators, writers, goalies, friends, foremen, wimps, ditch diggers, mind readers, coaches, bomb throwers, muses and spittoons--sometimes all while working on the same piece.

There you have it: the paradox of editing. I am a bully/wimp/sparring partner. I am a bomb thrower and a spittoon. I practice husbandry and midwifery. As one writer told the author, "[Being edited] was great--better than sex!"

You can decide that for yourselves, all you married writers out there, but in the meantime, I think Behind the Books has its first Internet Quiz! It just needs to be written. So tell me: If you were an editor, what kind of editor would you be? Why do you say that?


__craftsman __ghost __psychiatrist __bully

__sparring partner __expert __enabler __ignoramus

__translator __writer __goalie __friend

__foreman __wimp __ditch digger __mind reader

__coach __bomb thrower __muse __spittoon

__other (please specify):

Check all that apply and explain your answer.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:39 AM | Comments (2) are closed

July 18, 2007

Running from Room to Room

On Monday I was talking with Brenda Salter-McNeil about her revision process. She has been walking through this process at the same time as a close friend who is trying to finish her own book. Brenda pictured herself in one bed laboring to birth her book at the same time her friend is laboring across the room. Brenda's friend, Ruth Haley Barton, is another of our authors, so I came into the story as the midwife running from bed to bed.

I've been pondering this picture since we chatted. Indeed the editor is like a midwife. And it's an honor to have a part in the birth. But the thing is that I've got a whole hospital full of writers in various states. I'm running to the unit where an author is having open heart surgery done on his book, while his neighbor has a stint put in. I'm checking back to the maternity room where the book is birthed but not named! (The titling process can be lengthy.) And then there are the authors still in their homes, offices or writing cabins, not ready to come to the hospital where I await them.

No wonder I'm tired at the end of the day!

Posted by Cindy Bunch at 10:07 AM | Comments (1) are closed

Get Email Updates

You'll get an email whenever a new entry is posted to Behind the Books

Subscribe to Feeds

Got a Book Idea?

Please follow our submissions guidelines. We cannot respond to book proposals or inquiries within the context of this blog.