February 21, 2017
My wife murders clichés. But because these are unpremeditated, we should probably reduce it to manslaughter.
Once, after a meeting, she was upset that the real issues had not been addressed. "There's a pink elephant on the table," she told me emphatically.
"You mean, 'There's an elephant in the room,'" I offered helpfully.
"No," she replied, "my elephant is pink and it is definitely on the table!"
On another occasion she could tell I was about to say something that could get me in trouble. "You are treading on thin ground, Le Peau!" she warned me. Well, at least if I fell through I wouldn't be in danger of drowning.
Every writing teacher, every book on writing tells us to avoid clichés, those turns of phrase that are so familiar they have lost all color and have no punch left in them. They have become bland and ineffective. The crutch of bad writers. Such advice has even turned into a cliché itself: "Avoid clichés like the plague."
Not only are clichés boring, they can also be problematic if misused. I was reading a recent fantasy novel about an imaginary world that was basically Medieval in nature. At one point a character offers the advice, "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Really? Is it possible that the exact same proverb developed in this alternate world as ours? To combat this, Tolkien created dozens of his own such as "The wise speak only of what they know."
Writers and speakers can (and largely should) just cut clichés, but there are two ways to use them effectively. One is to give them a twist. Suppose you are writing a detective novel. Your main character might say, "This guy had been a problem to me for years. As I held the gun I thought about how good it would feel to put him out of my misery." By switching one word, his to my, we give the cliché a twist and make it fresh again, hopefully bringing a smile to the reader.
To contrast something effective in a small way with something big that is unnecessary and counterproductive, try, "Better to light a candle than burn down the whole house."
A second way to make a stale expression much less so is to extend the metaphor the cliché suggests. That's what happens in the first two sentences above. "Murdering a cliché" is not quite a cliché, but it is a somewhat tired metaphor. By extending the metaphor to include manslaughter, we give it a good shot of caffeine.
Perhaps you want to consider the advantages of being sure to get something now versus the slim chance of getting everything later. This might do the trick: "Maybe you shouldn't count your chickens before they hatch, but at least you can have some eggs for breakfast."
If you want to express your dislike for someone, try this: "I held her at arm's length, wishing my arm was longer."
I had a teacher who said, "Just because it's a cliché doesn't mean it's not true." Clichés begin as hard-won pearls of wisdom that have become hidden in shells of overuse. But if we can give a cliché a twist, perhaps it can become the best of all possible pearls.
Credits. Elephant: www.clipartpanda.com/ Eggs: Andrew Le Peau
August 23, 2016
Eric Larson achieves the drama and suspense of a political thriller in his book on the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. This is a remarkable achievement because everyone knows how it ends before they start--a German U-boat sinks the ship. How was he able to do this? When I read the acknowledgments at the end of Dead Wake, I found out. He listened to his editor.Continue reading "How Did He Make It So Suspenseful?"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:06 AM
April 26, 2016
Bobby Fischer was a World Chess Champion who stood out as an eccentric genius in a field full of eccentric geniuses. As portrayed in the movie Pawn Sacrifice, he walked out of a chess match complaining about the lighting, ransacked his own hotel rooms looking for bugging devices, thought the Russians were watching him through his TV and believed the US government was listening to him through (wait for it) his dental fillings. Though his mother was Jewish, he was vocally anti-Semitic, holding to many conspiracy theories about Jews.Continue reading "Bobby Fischer Played Tennis"
April 7, 2016
When people hand me a proposal or manuscript for a non-fiction book and ask me for a publishing opinion, we'll talk about a number of issues. But I have one chief diagnostic question. Almost anything and everything an author has to say flows from the answer to this question. It tells writers what kind of vocabulary and images to use, how long the piece should be, how to organize the material, what to leave in, what to take out, and even where to try to publish it.
The question is this:Continue reading "The Key Question I Ask Authors"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:09 AM
March 10, 2016
Does a fifty-year-old book on publishing have anything to offer the radically different publishing environment today? Cass Canfield's The Publishing Experience, on his career at Harper from 1924 to 1986, is such a book. While his brief vignettes of many prominent authors are most fascinating and worthwhile quite on their own, along the way he also offers some precepts that guided his work, which still ring true decades later.Continue reading "The Publishing Experience (2)"
February 23, 2016
What will publishing be like in fifty years? Will we be reading books from our brain implants? Will people still love print books but be printing and binding them in their home or office? Will reading increase because people will have more time as they travel in self-piloted personal drones?Continue reading "The Publishing Experience (1)"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:05 AM
February 2, 2016
Tech savvy, design savvy, globally savvy, multiethnically savvy, networking savvy and professionally savvy--in my previous post that's what I said editors will need to be in the future.Continue reading "The Future of Editing 3: Flexibility"
January 20, 2016
For me, editing has always been about loving words and loving ideas. Learning and thinking will always be important. Yet in a technology-saturated world with an ever-accelerating rate of change, we don't know exactly what books and reading will be like in the future. We have a better idea, however, of who editors need to be in the future.Continue reading "The Future of Editing 2: Who Editors Need to Be"
January 12, 2016
Jim Sire, my predecessor at IVP as editorial director, loved to tell the story of a book review he had drafted. He showed it to Paul to look over before he sent it off to a journal.
Paul told him, "Here you say the book has merit but wasn't evocative enough. What you actually write, however, is, 'The book isn't suggestive enough.' That actually has a very different meaning than the one I think you intend! I doubt you mean that the book fails to contain adequate sexual innuendo."Continue reading "The Future of Editing 1: Everyone Needs an Editor"
July 29, 2015
Bill was thinking about a mid-life career switch and wondered if publishing might be the right thing for him. He knew conventional wisdom says that you should move into expanding industries. But since he likes books and ideas, editing came to mind. So we talked.Continue reading "Authors Are Like Pioneers. Editors Are Like Settlers."
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:48 AM
May 14, 2014
When I was young, a movie was based on a novel, a lecture was based on research and a joke was based on current events. But now movies are based off novels, lectures are based off research and jokes are based off current events.Continue reading "Based on Past Experience"
September 26, 2013
Charlie Hummel was president of Barrington College for ten years, director of faculty ministry for InterVarsity for another fourteen years and the author of several IVP books. While his most famous IVP title is Tyranny of the Urgent which has sold over a million copies, he also wrote several larger tomes including Fire in the Fireplace and The Galileo Connection.Continue reading "Faithful Are the Wounds"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:52 AM
August 9, 2013
With short attention spans growing shorter due to so many distractions from iPhones, social media and our own to-do lists, how do writers keep readers with them all the way to the end?Continue reading "One Way to Keep Readers Reading"
March 19, 2013
Once I was harassing (in a good-natured way, of course) an editor I knew well from another publisher about a book she had put out. It was a biography that was overwritten and frequently lapsed into a sentimentalized caricature of the main subject. How could she have let that go through? "Oh," she said, smiling. "You should have seen it before we edited it!" I knew exactly what she was talking about.
February 19, 2013
"To write is to talk to strangers."
Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd practice what they preach by starting their book Good Prose quietly, with a sentence at once disarming and muscular. Indeed, the whole book is about this one, deceptively simple, nearly passive, seven-word sentence. Its rhythm is as beguiling as its substance is vital.Continue reading "Good Prose 1: Talking to Strangers"
January 15, 2013
"Fie upon you, IVP."
I'm still shocked, fifteen years later, that John Stott uttered these words at our office gathering during an event in which we honored him in 1998 for fifty years of publishing with us. We had at that point sold over five million copies of over forty of his books, booklets and Bible study guides. Many present had said what his books had meant to them. He voiced his appreciation. Then toward the end, even with a slight tinge of humor, self-consciously overstating his sentiments, he clearly expressed that, nonetheless, he was upset with us.
What had we done? Published heresy? Wandered far from our publishing mission? Perhaps we had altered some of his writing without his consent? Insulted the Queen? No, none of these.Continue reading "John Stott's Peace Offering"
August 29, 2012
When I was new to the editing game, just a green, wide-eyed youth, my already grizzled boss, Jim Sire, told me, "When editing something, you can almost always improve it by throwing away the first three paragraphs." It's a bit of wisdom I've carried with me and applied many times for over thirty-five years.Continue reading "Wisdom from a Grizzled Editor"
June 19, 2012
At the end of last month Postmedia Network, Canada’s largest newspaper publisher, announced layoffs that targeted copyeditors. The next day, Canada’s National Post published a crossword puzzle that was completely filled in.Continue reading "Don't Tick Off Your Copyeditor"
June 7, 2012
February 28, 2012
I call them preacher stories--those tales that pass from church to church, book to book, blog to blog. Sometimes corny, sometimes profound, they can inspire, accuse, challenge, amuse, surprise or inform.
I recently came across the same story three times, and it made me wonder.Continue reading "Pastor Beware (and Writer Too)"
October 27, 2011
One of Hungary's great gifts to the United States was Joseph Pulitzer, founder of the Columbia School of Journalism and the Pulitzer Prize. On October 29 we mark the 100th anniversary of his death.Continue reading "The Pulitzer Legacy"
March 1, 2011
Many writers and editors identify themselves as introverts. Consequently they often become intimidated, in some cases petrified, by the "social" requirements of writing and editing. They think they have limited resources available to them to compete in the often extroverted world of publishing. They absolve themselves from the responsibilities of championing their projects or interacting with readers. They think (or act like) personality is destiny.Continue reading "Is Personality Destiny?"
February 15, 2011
It’s always a delicate matter—this business of editors giving advice to writers. These things must be handled with great diplomacy so as not to ruffle the authorial ego. I give you an example to emulate.Continue reading "Giving Advice to Writers"
January 25, 2011
How do you keep a reader reading? Inquiring writers and editors of nonfiction want to know. There are many ways to do so. No one single formula should always be employed, but one that many writers and editors use effectively is to provide takeaway.
What’s takeaway?Continue reading "Giving Them Takeaway"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 7:56 AM
August 11, 2010
June 1, 2010
Everybody does it. Besides that, it's not wrong. In fact, sometimes it can be a beautiful thing. No, I'm not talking about that! I'm talking about ending sentences with a preposition.Continue reading "That's Unheard Of!"
April 28, 2010
“Always make an outline before you start writing.” Isn’t that what your fifth grade teacher told you? Well, I’m sorry to break this to you, but Miss Whitebread was wrong. In my continuing series of Stupid Things You Were Taught in School (see here and here), let me deconstruct this bad boy.Continue reading "Miss Whitebread Was Wrong"
April 16, 2009
I'd better write this blog very carefully, omitting all needless words.
Today we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the release of The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, affectionally shorthanded by its disciples as Strunk & White. In an age of chronic blogging, constant Facebook updating and compulsive Twittering, we need fewer words more than ever. No doubt Strunk and White have saved us from millions.Continue reading "Strunk and White at 50"
January 14, 2009
A woman in Indianapolis wanted to interview me. Well, it wasn't actually even as grand as that. She wanted her kids to interview me.
She had a project for her children to interview people in different lines of work to see how they got there. What were their interests when they were the age of her kids? What steps got them from there into a line of work that really fit who they were?Continue reading "A Bold, Exciting Career"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:36 AM
January 11, 2009
What do publishers really have to offer authors? Can't someone self-publish easily through Lulu or XLibris? Can't they sell their books on Amazon.com? Retail stores are in decline, so who needs publishers to get their books on the shelves?
1. help a book focus a conversation about important topics
Shirky was amazed to hear publishers talk about abandoning these functions in favor of finding authors who already have a "platform." If an author can already market directly to a group of potential readers, why does he or she need a publisher?
The answer, Shirky thinks, is by publishers making sure they matter to and are trusted by readers. As every publisher knows, however, readers almost never know--much less trust or distrust--publishers. Who publishes Toni Morrison or Thomas Friedman? Readers don't know. The only people likely to know are publishers themselves.
Shirky's three functions are good and valuable for publishers to focus on. But I don't see how looking for authors with platform negates them. The reality is that substantial decline in retail bookstore sales minimizes a traditional channel for publishers. In a bygone era retailers (who might have known publishers) also handsold books to customers. Retailers used to be the fulcrum between publishers and customers, and that fulcrum has shifted to the author. And as I've said here before, authors without platform rarely do well.
What do publishers offer, then, with self-publishers offering so much and retailers offering less? Years or decades of experience in knowing how people read, how ideas are absorbed, how story and content flow most effectively, powerfully and beautifully. (In short, editors.)
What do publishers offer? Years or decades of experience in knowing what books people buy, how they hear of them, where they buy them, how they buy them, why they buy them and how much they'll pay for them. (In short, marketers.)
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about the contributions of professional book designers, print buyers, rights managers and others. (In short, more.)
Is the publishing world changing? You bet. Do publishers always know best how to deal with that? Not at all. If authors want to publish without editorial or marketing expertise, they can. Many do; some succeed, many don't. But if authors want such help, they can find it at a publishing house.
December 23, 2008
I interviewed for an opening in the editorial department at InterVarsity Press over thirty years ago. My prospective boss, Jim Sire, was sick and couldn't make it to work that day. So I interviewed instead with the publisher, Jim Nyquist, and Linda Doll, who was the only other employee in the editorial department at that time (and part-time at that). I don't remember much about the interviews except that I had a general sense that they went pretty well.Continue reading "Why I Almost Didn't Get Hired"
November 25, 2008
One of our long-term veteran editors, Linda Doll (and my coauthor of Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength.), used to tell interns and employees alike in the editorial department that if you wanted to be a writer you came to the wrong place. A book editor's job is to edit. If you want to write, fine--do that on your own time. But don't expect to have your cravings, yearnings, desires and dreams for writing fulfilled at the office. A harsh dose of reality? Perhaps. But reality nonetheless.Continue reading "Should Book Editors Be Writers?"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:19 AM
May 15, 2008
There is a misconception abroad that white folk have no ethnic culture. We are, well, plain vanilla folk who lack the distinctive zest and pizazz of other groups. Not so. Here is a fun eye-opener squashing that myth which folks in publishing will no doubt especially enjoy.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:27 AM
May 7, 2008
"Design, production, and manufacturing, in many publishing houses, are not considered as glamorous as editorial or sales, and may be looked upon a secondary. They should be viewed as quite the reverse," says publishing guru Tom Woll (p. 161). Why? Well, how many times have design and production saved editorial's and marketing’s behind when an author was late or a book needed to come out early? How many times has great jacket design made customers give a second look at something new? And how much money has been saved by shrewd print buyers?
Woll rightly points out, however, that it is unwise and unfair for others always to rely on production to bear the burden of fixing problems. When it comes to scheduling, one guideline we’ve implemented with some success is this: Do not schedule a book for publication until the revised manuscript is in hand.
That could sound draconian, but it works. Why? Authors may not always meet their deadlines because they are not employees of the publisher. So editors, as peers, have a limited set of tools they can use in working with authors to stay on schedule. But authors always want to know, "When will my book come out?" (Not so subtle subtext: "the sooner the better.")
Typically the answer would be, “In nine to twelve months.” By saying it can be scheduled only when the final draft is in hand puts responsibility (and motivation) properly in the author’s hands.
Exceptions? Certainly. A big upcoming event for which the book must be available. A big-name author whose bestseller is wanted by marketing (and probably finance) for this fiscal year. But those should be exceptions, not the rule.
That’s just one idea for trying to deal with the scheduling dragon. Any other good ideas out there?
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:45 AM
April 30, 2008
One colleague said I seemed to be pretty negative about coauthoring when I wrote about that here recently. Since I have coauthored five books myself, I suppose one could suppose a certain autobiographical slant to my comments. That has not been the case. I coauthored three Bible study guides with my wife, another with my wife and a friend, and Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength. with my former coworker at IVP, Linda Doll. Each was a very enjoyable experience with minimal problems.Continue reading "The Joys of Coauthoring"
April 23, 2008
It’s a myth that coauthoring is easier than single authoring.
What every editor knows and few authors know is the myth of coauthoring. The myth stated simply is: Coauthoring is better, easier, quicker and less work than single authoring a book. The myth is false on almost all counts. Yet it persists. Why?Continue reading "The Myths of Coauthoring"
March 24, 2008
Copyright is one of the more difficult and complicated concepts to wrap your mind around. That’s largely because it has to do with an intangible object—intellectual property. Over the years I’ve tried a variety of ways to explain it to authors and others. Here’s one of the best I’ve used.
Copyright is like real estate. If you own a piece of property, there are two things you can do with it to get some dinero. First, you can sell the property. Second, you can rent it.
If you sell the property, you are relinquishing all rights to the property in exchange for some greenbacks. The new owner may build a skyscraper on the land and make a gazillion samoleans (or lose same). In either case, it has nothing to do with you. You are not helped or harmed because you have no legal interest in the land anymore.
If you rent the property, you agree to allow someone to use the land for a certain amount of time for certain purposes in exchange for an agreed amount of shekels. But since you have transfered certain rights to the renter, you can’t just do anything with the property you choose. You can’t rent it out to someone else at the same time figuring you can get twice the rent. You can’t tear down the building on the property. At the same time you still have certain obligations. Likely you have to keep the building in good repair. In any case you still own the land.
With copyright you can also sell or rent. A work for hire is like selling your land. You transfer full, irrevocable ownership of and rights to the work you've created to someone else for some dead presidents. The new owner may make a mint or may crash and burn. You aren’t helped or hurt by this because you no longer have any rights in it.
Work for hire agreements are often used with employees (who get their salary in exchange for the intellectual property they create on the job). Freelancers often sign a work for hire agreement to do some work that is part of a larger work or collection.
You can also rent your copyright. You transfer certain rights for a certain period of time. But again, after having signed such a “rental” agreement, you can’t do anything you like with it. In many book contracts, all rights are transferred from the creator to the “renter” (or publisher). Now the publisher can exploit the work in a variety of ways and is obligated to compensate you, the creator, as agreed. You are limited in what you can do on your own with the work by the terms of the publishing agreement you have signed.
Now the work itself may be copyrighted in your name (indicating that you are the owner), but because of your (rental) publishing agreement, what happens to your work is now in the hands of another until the agreement comes to an end. That could happen when the work goes out of print or when some other event happens as defined in the agreement, such as the publisher failing to fulfill certain terms of the agreement.
So real estate and copyright. The analogy works for me. What about you?
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 10:50 AM
October 19, 2007
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 "Extreme Makeover: Vanity Publishing Edition"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 8:59 AM
July 2, 2007
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?Continue reading "The First-Book Syndrome"
June 18, 2007
In another blog I promised to wrestle the serial comma into abject submission. Watch and be amazed.
Many writers and grammarians and punctuationists have traditionally preferred adding a comma before the word and in a list. So, for example, they would write, “I had bananas, blueberries, and strawberries on my corn flakes this morning.” (This, of course, is not to be confused with the cereal comma.)
At InterVarsity Press, we have a general policy of not using a serial comma. Many are horrified, disgusted, shocked, dismayed, repulsed and find themselves on antidepressants as a result of this. Why have we done so?Continue reading "The Serial Comma and the Plagues of Egypt"
May 15, 2007
Forget everything you learned about English in grade school. None of it is true.
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 12:17 PM
May 7, 2007
April 25, 2007
The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman is quite a good book about the rapid change in world economics. No longer are the US and the West at the top of the hill looking down on everyone else. The world is flattening and the advantages of the West are rapidly eroding. To put it another way, everyone has an increasingly equal opportunity to succeed due to a variety of very significant technological, systems and political changes. He explains the changes by example and description.Continue reading "The World Is Flat"
Posted by Andy Le Peau at 9:07 AM