IVP - Andy Unedited - The First-Book Syndrome

July 2, 2007

The First-Book Syndrome

The other day one of our editors, Dave Zimmerman, came to me with a proposal from a prospective author for a book. It was on prayer, mission, evangelism, the history of global Christianity, the future of Christianity, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God and justice.

I looked at Dave and said, “First-Book Syndrome.” He grimly nodded in agreement.

What is First-Book Syndrome?

It’s something we see all the time at InterVarsity Press, and something other publishers see too. People who haven’t written a book before often have dozens of ideas swirling in their heads that are all somehow connected . They think they have to put all this stuff in one book, either because they cannot conceive of writing a second or third book, or because they are unable to separate any of the ideas from one another since they are so tightly interlinked.

The problem is that a book about everything is a book about nothing. Look at any nonfiction bestseller list. The books are on very specific topics—a biography of a famous person, a specific health plan, a plan to become wealthy, an analysis of current politics, and on it goes.

Dave’s and my author friend needed to find one topic among his dozen, figure out what was unique about that topic that hadn’t been said before, and zero in on that. It’s not enough to say that the unique thing is how the author puts these dozen topics together into a cohesive package—unless it is indeed one idea that links them. Then maybe the book can be about that one idea--maybe.

Life is complex. And I’m not saying we should oversimplify things. I’m just trying to echo what is attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr: "I wouldn´t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity."

Posted by Andy Le Peau at July 2, 2007 9:55 AM Bookmark and Share


So... end of story... did Dave go back to the potential author and explain and ask him to focus? And why did Dave come in the first place? Was there something in there that seemed like it had possibilities?

Comment by: L.L. Barkat at July 2, 2007 2:59 PM

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book cover"Some publishers tell you what to believe. Other publishers tell you what you already believe. But InterVarsity Press helps you believe," says J. I. Packer. Andy Le Peau and Linda Doll describe how this came to be a hallmark of InterVarsity Press in Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength, an anecdotal history spanning the sixty years from the founding of IVP in 1947 to the present day.