Inside the Mind of the Book Editor

What Editors DoIf you have written an academic book or hope to write one soon, you need to read Rachel Toor‘s interview at The Chronicle of Higher Education with Mary Laur and Peter Ginna, the editors of What Editors Do: The Art, Craft, and Business of Book Editing.

Here is a taste:

What are some of the main commonalities that emerged between the different types of publishing that might be of use to academic authors?

Peter: I make the argument in the book that editing has fundamental similarities across categories of publishing. There are real differences between, say, trade and scholarly presses, but for editors at both, the single most important question is: Should I acquire this book? And related to that: Who is the audience for it? And do I know how I can get that audience excited about it? We often need to think about an audience bigger than the one that’s on the author’s mind. That is, the author may be more worried about a tenure committee than about the New York Review of Books.

Editors also ask themselves, What is working with this author going to be like? Do I want to spend a year (or several) bringing this person’s work into print? At one place I worked, some authors were known as “LITS” — “Life is too short.” Most authors are a pleasure to deal with, but either way it’s an intimate relationship. You want the author to be a partner in the publishing process, so how you get along with them is important. Finally, whatever kind of book you’re publishing, editing the text comes down to reading it with loving care and trying to make it the best version of itself it can be.

I have worked with some great editors over the years, including Bob Lockhart, Jana Riess, Cynthia Read, Charles Van Hof, Lisa Ann Cockrel, and David Bratt.  They have all been great. When my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction was picked as one of the three finalists for the George Washington Book Prize, Jana came with us to Mount Vernon for the big awards ceremony!

Read Toor’s entire interview here.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #114

It was a slow process, but I have now responded to all the queries from the Oxford University Press copy-editor. This mostly required having to return to my notes and check the book’s footnotes to make sure that they are accurate.  Working on the copy-edits is not the most exciting part of writing a book, but it necessary.  The next time I will see a draft of The Bible Cause it will be in the form page-proofs.  

Stay tuned.  And while you wait for my next update why not head over to your favorite online or brick and mortar bookstore and pre-order a copy!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #112

I am still working through the copy-edits for The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society (now available for pre-order at an online bookstore near you!  I was pleased to see that the endorsements/blurbs were recently added to the B&N and Amazon pages).

As part of any book that it publishes, Oxford University Press requires a 100-150 word abstract for every chapter.  Since the Bible Cause is twenty-seven chapters long (plus and Introduction and Epilogue) it took me all morning to make sure that these abstracts met the required number of words. When I originally submitted the manuscript in June I did not take this assignment seriously.  As a result, most of my abstracts were well under the 100-word requirement.  My copy-editor was not fooled and asked me to add words to every abstract. 
In addition, Oxford requires five “keywords” for each chapter.  I think this has something to do with the e-book version.
My responses to the copy-edits are due today, but I have asked for a two-day extension.  Stay tuned!

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #107

Things are moving along very well with The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society. Oxford University Press accepted my effort to reduce the manuscript from 203,000 words to 162,000 words.  They now tell me that readers will not need a magnifying glass to read the book.

The book will be close to 400 pages in length with twenty-four images that will be included in a glossy insert.  If all goes well, it will appear in March 2016.

The copy-editors are now working on the book.  When they are finished, I will have two to three weeks to respond to their edits and make any other changes.  Right now I am in a state of limbo, waiting for the edits to arrive in my mailbox.

Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #106

Cutting 50,000 words from a 203,000 word manuscript is not easy.  No author wants to leave roughly twenty-five percent of his or her book on the cutting room floor.  But this is what I have been doing over the course of the last two weeks. It is all my fault.  I delivered a manuscript to Oxford University Press that was way too long. My editor required cuts and I made them. Surprisingly enough, I think “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society” will now be better book.  I am, however, going to miss some of the stories that did not make the final draft.  Maybe at some point I will post them here at the blog.

More later…

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #105

This pic is too small for the book

In my last post in this series I mentioned that I had submitted the manuscript of “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society” to Oxford University Press.  I also mentioned the anxiety that comes with such a submission.  You can read all about it here.

Several things have happened since I submitted the book last month.

1.  My editor really likes what she has read so far.  This is good.

2.  I need to cut 50,000 words.  Some advice to new authors:  When your book contract says the manuscript needs to be 140,000 words long do not submit a manuscript that is 190,000 words long.  I should know better than this.  I have one week left to cut these words. At the moment I have 34,000 words left to cut.  (By the way, my book Why Study History? was 55,000 words).

The manuscript I submitted has an Introduction, 27 chapters, and an Afterword.  At this point I have managed to be rather surgical with my cuts.  They have all come by reducing each chapter from about 7500 words to 5500–6000 words.  I also combined Chapter 9 (on late 19th century immigration) and chapter 10 (on the late 19th century Bible work in the West).

3.  Six images are too small to use.  Unfortunately, these are some of my favorite images from the ABS collection.  I now need to replace them with other images.  The book will have 30 images total.

4.  Oxford assures me that they will have no problem meeting the May 1, 2016 publication date.

5.  At the moment the President of the American Bible Society and the in-house bicentennial historian are reading the manuscript.  While they have no control over the content, I am eager to get their impressions.

More later…

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #104

ABS Bible for the visually impaired

After a few short extensions and some late nights, my manuscript “The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society” has finally been sent to Oxford University Press and the process of transforming the manuscript into a book is underway.

Submitting a book manuscript requires a lot more than simply hitting the “send” button.   Here is what Oxford requires:

  • The manuscript, of course.  It needs to be formatted in 12 point font and double spaced. Each chapter needs to be sent as a separate file. This includes the table of contents, the acknowledgments, the dedication page., the bibliography, etc…
  • An “Author’s Questionnaire.”  This is a very important document because it helps the publisher promote the book.  Oxford’s questionnaire has close to forty questions. If you are thorough, filling this thing out could take several hours or maybe even a full day.  This is the point when the author writes the material that will appear on the cover jacket.  In addition, shorter statements (50 or so words) need to be written for catalog copy and the website.  For me, one of the fun parts of the questionnaire is picking potential blurbers and suggested places where the book should be reviewed and advertised.   
  • A “Manuscript Submission Form.”  On this form the author answers questions about the production process.  Will you be creating the index yourself or do you want to pay the publisher to do it? Do you want a “light” copy-edit or something more extensive?  Have you secured permission to publish all of the images and pictures that will appear in the book? Fortunately, all of my images come from the archives of the American Bible Society and I was granted free permission to use them. 
  • The”Oxford Scholarship Online Key Word and Abstract Form”.  This thing is a beast.  It requires 3-5 sentences abstracts for every chapter in the book and 3-10 key words for each chapter.  The “Bible Cause,” as it now stands, has twenty-eight chapters. Enough said.
The submission of a book like this also comes with some anxiety.  Oxford offered me a book contract based on the first two chapters.  They have not seen anything since then.  After spending so much time on a book project you start to lose perspective. Is this thing really any good?  Is my editor going to like it?  Is he/she going to send it back with orders to conduct a complete overhaul? How painful will the copy-editing process be? 
In my case the number of words in the manuscript that I submitted is much greater than the contracted word-count. How will the editor respond to this? Authors think that such extra words are absolutely necessary to tell the story that they want to tell.  Will the editor agree?
On the other hand, it is nice to be done–at least for now.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #84

Caruth Hall on the campus of Southern Methodist University

Want to get some context for this post? Click here

This morning I returned to Chapter One and Chapter Two. Actually, I condensed the chapters into a 40-minute public lecture that I will giving tomorrow night at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.  In the process, I realized that there is a lot of information in Chapter One that is repeated in Chapter Two. This made it easier to condense the two chapters into one lecture, but such repetition does not bode well for a book manuscript.  Preparing this lecture has allowed me to streamline some of my prose and avoid unnecessary repetition.  

This morning reminded me how important it is to take on speaking engagements or conference presentations when working on a book manuscript.  Even if the audience does not offer helpful suggestions for improving the project, the opportunity to think about the best way to communicate your material to audiences of all kinds is an invaluable exercise.  I find that it often helps my writing more than it does my public speaking.

See you in Dallas.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #81

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The draft of Chapter Four of the ABS project is complete.  I just sent a copy off to Amherst where Katie Garland, research assistant extraordinaire, will give it a good edit.  I am pleased with how the chapter turned out.  I think it tells a compelling story about the ABS’s attempt to supply every American family with a copy of the Bible.

Originally Chapter Five was going to focus on anti-Catholicism, but I have decided to move this material to Chapter Six and use Chapter Five to place the ABS in the larger context of the so-called “Benevolent Empire” of the early nineteenth century.  Much of the work of the ABS in this period intersects with similar efforts to Christianize the nation emanating from the American Sunday School Union, the American Tract Society, the American Temperance Society, and the revivals associated with the Second Great Awakening.  Women will be featured prominently in this chapter.  So will those who opposed inter-denominational benevolent efforts.  It should be a fun chapter to write.  Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #80

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I spent about two and a half hours this morning editing and rewriting Chapter Four: “A Bible for Every American Family.”  Much of my time was spent trying to instill some drama into the chapter and build a sense of anticipation in my readers as I chronicled the ABS attempt to supply a Bible to every American family over the course of the two years.  Did they meet this goal? Read the book when it appears and find out.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #45

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I spent about two hours this weekend on the ABS project.  The writing and editing process continues. 

I did not reach my goal to have the first two chapters complete so that I could send them off with a book proposal by the end of last week.  This week I am technically “on vacation,” but I still hope to get some writing done. Stay tuned.

On Writing the History of the American Bible Society–Update #44

Want to get some context for this post? Click here.

I had about three hours in the afternoon on Friday to do some work on the ABS project and I think I made the most of it.  I managed to make some considerable headway on the editing and polishing of chapters one and two.  These chapters are starting to look good, but the process or editing is time consuming.  I compare it to the process of sanding a piece of wood by hand.  You must go over it, and over it, and over it again until the wood is smooth.

Last night I spent about an hour at a local Princeton watering hole with Thomas Kidd and he gave me some good advice on the difference between publishing with trade presses and publishing with academic presses, especially as it relates to the process of peer review.  More on that later.