A Call for Excellence in Editing and Publishing

 As one who enjoys reading books, I’m sometimes frustrated by certain “bookish” things.  For example, I can’t stand it when a theological or biblical book does not have a Scripture reference in an appendix.  I’m annoyed by endnotes and I appreciate footnotes.  I’ve also quit reading the endorsements publishers use as they try to sell a book, since sometimes I seriously have doubted whether the endorsers actually read the book before they commented on it.  Those are a few minor book pet peeves I have.

Furthermore, it bothers me when publishers milk a best selling book for all its worth.  Do we really need 64 editions of a book – one for moms, one for teens, one for tweens, one for men, one for dads, one for Christmas, etc.?  Do we really need the same Study Bible available in calfskin, sheepskin, snakeskin, thinline, softcover, bling-cover, and wide margins?  (That begs the question: do we really need another study Bible at all?)

I’m also irritated by repackaged material.  I’ve noticed with some authors that once you read one or two of his/her books, every other one is just repackaged and even cut-and-pasted.  Recently, publishers have been selling older books by updating the cover, adding a new foreword, and advertising it as “newly updated and revised!”  To me, this is a foray much too far into the realm of marketing by making consumers unsatisfied with what they already have and making them think they need the latest update of this or that.

The book cover pictured above is an example of repackaged publishing.  Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible (Wheaton: Crossway 2012) is a collection of articles that gives an overview of the different parts of the Bible.  However, the articles in this book are the articles from the ESV Study Bible tweaked a bit and put into book form (without any proper introduction or presentation of contributing authors).  The problem is the only way the reader could figure this out is by noticing the fine print buried around the ISBN and publication information.  Many readers might miss this: it is repackaged material!   (I don’t have an ESV Study Bible, but if you do have one, you certainly don’t need to get the aforementioned book.)  I wish the publisher was more open about the contents of this book.

Finally, I’ve noticed that many books being published have already been written.  What I mean by that is there are many good books on marriage, parenting, preaching, and so forth, so any new ones are not really new.  Before I purchase any book, I look to see if this topic has already been covered – and usually it has.   I suppose it is good that newly written solid Christian books are getting out there, but I hope it doesn’t make people avoid what has already been written.  I realize this is a little subjective, but I usually find that older books on a certain topic are better than newer ones on the same topic.  It seems to me that, unlike modern authors, older authors weren’t tying to be hip, relevant, or cool by many various references to popular culture.  In my opinion, readers can understand a biblical teaching or principle without an illustration about IPods, the Hunger Games, or the NFL.

Though this blog post is only a whisper in a tornado, I would like to encourage Christian publishers and editors to pursue excellence in what you do.  Don’t give in to the marketing schemes so prevalent today!  Give Christian readers something better than that.  Don’t mislead us in advertising.  If a book is repackaged, just tell us clearly that’s what it is and exactly how you updated and/or revised it.  If it is a best seller, don’t treat us like idiots by trying to get us to buy the college (or whatever) version of it.  If it’s been written before, think long and hard before publishing it – is it really needed?  Please don’t stop publishing, just work hard to do it better – following biblical principles and thinking of what is best for us as readers while standing against the money-making marketing trends of our day.

Comments from other readers are, of course, always welcome. 

shane lems

11 thoughts on “A Call for Excellence in Editing and Publishing”

  1. I rarely comment on blogs. But I could not agree with you more. I loathe endnotes. Especially when the endnotes contain more than just bibliographic information but the author adds some insight or other conclusion.

    And why have publishers started having several pages of endorsements? Unless it is a library book I have already bought it. I have to agree with you that when there are pages of endorsements I question the honesty of most of the endorsers. Plus they usually don’t tell me anything I don’t already know.

    If publishers want to repackage a book please find one that has been out of print for 75 or more years. Only good solid ones please.

    Like

  2. I too must heartily agree–especially with the pet peeves you mentioned at the beginning. I’ve been working on reprinting the fascinating minutes of our church’s Young People’s Society from 1916-1918 in book(let) format, and the process has instilled in me a much deeper appreciation for what goes into a good reference book. Cross-references, scripture references, good footnotes, bibliographies…all should be composed thoughtfully and in meticulous detail. But hopefully this project, when I am done with it, will sincerely merit the description “newly updated and revised!”

    Great thoughts.

    Michael Kearney
    West Sayville URC
    Long Island, New York

    P. S. I dislike endnotes too.

    Like

  3. Disclaimer: I work at the bottom of the totem pole for a small/midsize publisher (and these views are my own, not my employers)

    Shane,

    Thanks for your insights and your call to an excellence in publishing. I couldn’t agree more than excellence is what we ought to be striving towards. I would even go so far as to say it’s biblical.

    That said, I’d love to interact with your thoughts a bit, in—what I’d consider to be—a friendly manner. Please do not hear this as an attack, but instead as a conversation between friends.

    I wonder how many of your points typify preferences rather than objective excellence.

    1) Honesty in endorsements is an excellence issue, I agree completely, and to the best of our ability the publisher I work for utilizes endorsements only by those who have actually read the book.

    2) Endnotes v footnotes: While I personally think that endnotes should never have been invented, I know a number of our readers prefer them. This seems to be a preference issue

    3) Endless Editions: I believe this is, again a preference. While some publishers print editions for their own gain, many folks really truly enjoy various editions of the same content and in fact request it. Ultimately, the publisher wouldn’t print it if there were no demand. This goes for Bibles as well. We don’t *need* (in a salvific sense) a new edition, but if it, for whatever reason, causes someone to read their Bible more, then I’d argue it’s worth a print.

    4)To your comment, “I’ve noticed that many books being published have already been written.” This is true to a certain extent, and Solomon agrees, “Of making many books there is no end” (Eccl 12:12). That said, one must keep in mind the different contexts that different books on the same subject can reach. A theological dissertation on the biblical view of marriage might not lend itself to a reading by a new believer, but an accessible practical guide might be just what they need. Technically 2 books on the same topic, but practically two very different books. Context is helpful for thinking about repackaged content as well. While I’m sure that books are repackaging in part to increase sales for a book, it could also be to change the format to meet a new need. For example, In the case of the book you mentioned above, I’ll bet it’s a lot easier to carry a paperback book in a backpack than an entire ESV Study Bible.

    Like I said above, I agree with a lot of your thoughts, but when it comes down to preference issues, I think a lot less of these “Marketing schemes” are “money-making tactics” than you might originally think. This is the cool thing about capitalism—it reflects our values back at us. The demand is what drives what companies make. If we, as consumers buy dumb products, I’m inclined to think the responsibility is more on us than the producer. But instead, if we request excellent products, then the producers will be forced to meet that demand. In light of this, I suggest that our collective effort should be informing fellow readers of what is truly excellent in the realm of publishing.

    These are just some of my thoughts. I’d love to hear your pushback on this though.

    Thanks for your engaging post.

    -Ted

    Like

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Ted, thanks also for the gentle tone – I really appreciate it! What I write below is also written with an attempt at kindness.

    I will, at the outset, concede that around 1/2 of my observations were subjective (as I did note in the post). However, after talking to people for many years about books, I know many share the same pet peeves.

    A good portion of my comments weren’t necessarily subjective. For example, the book I mentioned above – Crossway was not clear that it was simply repackaged material. Also, I have read different books by the same author where entire paragraphs were copied and pasted from another book by the same author without mentioning the fact. One more thing, it simply is not clear and honest marketing to reprint an old book by giving it a new name or cover without telling the buyer that this book is 98% the same as the one published 15 years ago. Some of my notes weren’t subjective! Although I do concede that there aren’t clear “commandments” in marketing principles, publishers should be clear and straightforward about the books they publish.

    One other thing I was thinking about is that sometimes the “supply and demand” principle works backwards. Sometimes what companies make/produce creates consumer demand. Think about the promise of whiter teeth, faster phones, and so forth – the popular fads/trends. I didn’t want Reebok Pump basketball shoes in middle school because I needed them, but because Rebook created a demand for them (to increase sales and publicity). Book publishers didn’t publish 15 niche-aimed versions of the same book 150 years ago because consumerism didn’t reign as much then as it does now. Basically, I hope Christian publishing companies don’t create demand by utilizing the schemes of Madison Ave. When there are literally 20 versions of one single book, I can’t help but think that’s what’s going on.

    Also, when it comes to a book having been written already, I wasn’t talking about a scholarly version and a “layperson” version. I was saying that there are “layperson” type books that have been published years ago. For example, I know of around 8 decent Christian marriage books. Do we need more right now here in the U.S.?

    Thanks again for the dialogue. I’ll let others chime in if they want; and I’m not overly dogmatic on these things, by the way…just observations, discussions, and challenges to think about! And I’m glad for a good discussion with a brother. No hard feelings or anything! And keep working hard at what you do, pursuing excellence. One food for thought question: does the discussion of church marketing overlap into the area of Christian book marketing? If so, how?

    Speaking of books, check out these for some fascinating views on consumerism and marketing and how it affects Christians: “Being Consumed” by Cavanaugh, “Following Christ in a Consumer Society” by Kavanaugh, “Generation Me” by Twenge, “How to Watch TV News” by Postman, and “Dining with the Devil” by Guinness. I don’t agree with every aspect of these books, but they help the Christian notice and fight consumerism.

    shane lems

    Like

    1. Shane,

      Right on man. Thanks for the great response. I’m thankful my tone came across correctly and that you responded in kind!

      From your response it sounds like we largely agree that honesty and integrity in content and marketing ought to win out over merely “what sells,” and that equipping the church with biblical resources should be the basis for what the publisher publishes. (The idea of copying and pasting paragraphs is entirely frustrating to me as well)

      So perhaps a million and a half marriage books aren’t the best thing ever, or what is *needed.* That said, sometimes a new perspective can be helpful—even if the new perspective is only given so that another publisher can have a book in the marriage book market.

      Interesting food for thought for sure. On one hand Christian publishers should treat marketing like a church in that they are there to equip it, but on the other hand most (with the exclusion of Crossway) are for-profit businesses that not only need to keep the lights on, but also turn a profit.

      Lastly, thanks for the book suggestions, one additional one I’ve found helpful on this topic is “Brand Jesus” by Tyler Wigg Stevenson.

      Blessings brother, thanks for your ministry!

      -Ted

      Like

      1. Thanks much, Ted, for the thoughtful words and gentle spirit. I just ordered that book you mentioned, so in a week or two look for a mention of it here. And stop by again with more helpful comments.
        shane

        Like

  5. Shane, You sound like Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes.

    I’ve had the thoughts you express for years.

    P.S. Do they really have Bibles in snakeskin? That doesn’t sound right.

    Like

    1. Dante – hilarious – I was just being a tad cynical about the snakeskin Bible…I didn’t think of the connotations. Thanks for making me chuckle. And I hope the Andy Rooney comment was some sort of a complement…! shane

      Like

      1. Yes, that WAS a compliment. Actually, it was better than Andy Rooney as I share your sentiments. But I guess we shouldn’t know who Andy Rooney was as he was on Sunday nights.

        Like

Comments are closed.