Interview: Andy Le Peau on Being a Longtime Editor of InterVarsity Press

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Writing is not easy. It is hard work even for a book blogger like me. I don’t have to list it down here all the things a blogger do for just one article. Good thing there lots of resources out there help writer’s like. Write Better by Andrew Le Peau is a solid one for bloggers and authors. So this blog reached out to Andy to tell us about being an editor, working for IV Press and his new book, Write Better.

Hi Andy!  Please tell us what is an editor and the work he does?

In book publishing, there are typically three kinds of editors. Acquisition editors are responsible to sign contracts between authors and the publishing house. They will meet with authors and agents, review proposals, read manuscripts, and sample chapters, all with the purpose of finding the best books that fit their program best.

Development editors work with authors in fleshing out the main ideas and structure of a book after it is contracted. Once it is drafted, they will work with the author in revising. This will involve input from the editor as well as from other readers both inside and outside of the publishing house.

Copyeditors work with the final, revised manuscript—checking facts and spelling, fixing punctuation and grammar, smoothing out awkward sentences, conforming the manuscript to house style, asking final questions of the author regarding details and problems.

Sometimes two of these roles may be combined—such as the acquisition editor also acting as a development editor, or the development editor also doing copyediting. Only in very small publishers would one person take on all three roles. And even then it can be rare.

Wow! As an editor of IVP for decades, what are your day to day work?

Over my forty years at IVP I did all three kinds of editing—acquisitions, development, and copyediting. Just not all at once. On top of that I was editorial director, so I had a lot of leadership and managerial responsibilities.

In the office, editors read and respond to loads of email—from existing authors who have questions about a published book or a new book; from prospective authors; from folks in sales and marketing; from their publishing colleagues; from agents. Obviously time is spent reading proposals and sample chapters for new books. Then there are meetings to attend—publishing meetings, marketing meetings, scheduling meetings, titling meetings, strategy meetings and more! Forms need to be filled out, copy needs to be written for back covers or catalogs, and much coffee needs to be consumed. And we haven’t even talked about travel to meetings with agents and authors.

Do editors ever get around to reading any manuscripts? It can actually be a challenge to do so in the office. As a result many editors will take these home or to a coffee shop to read in relative peace and quiet.

Have you edited a book that you didn’t like?

I have always liked the books I contracted. But I have sometimes been disappointed the book wasn’t stronger when it was finished. Even after working with the author to have the book revised, a book may be publishable but weak. On very rare occasions a contract may be cancelled (as provided in the terms of the contract itself) when the author fails to produce a publishable manuscript.

If I have a book for you to edit, how much of my book will be recognizable to be mine and what you the editor might have added? Will I get a totally different book after the editing?

A little background first. Editors do not want authors come to them with a full draft. Rather (for nonfiction at least) they want a proposal that may include a couple draft chapters. That is so the editor can help shape the book before it is written. If an editor sees potential in the proposal, he or she may then negotiate with you ahead of time the best structure, length, level, and audience for the book. If you agree together on the changes, then a contract would be offered. This process helps minimize the likelihood of the scenario you mention where complete rewriting and reorganizing is needed. But it doesn’t eliminate it completely.

When the draft is complete, it will likely still need revision, sometimes substantially. But the author is asked to do that. If the author is unable to do so adequately, then the publisher may hire someone to do the job, and the result could look quite different. Editors and authors both hope it won’t come to that, and usually it doesn’t.

Now that clear things up. So then how do authors build a good relationship with an editor?

First, by knowing that editors are advocates for authors to readers, and advocates for readers to authors. When good editors come to authors with suggestions and ideas, they aren’t trying to shape books into their own image (or shouldn’t be). Rather they want the author’s ideas to be as clear and compelling as possible for readers. If there are problems in a manuscript that can confuse or bore readers, editors want those fixed so that readers can have the most benefit from the best the author has to offer.

To have a good relationship, authors then should come with an attitude of open listening. As I say in an online appendix to my book Write Better, “Remember that while you may have published one or two or even six books, an editor will have published dozens or hundreds of books. Take advantage of that hard-earned wisdom. Yet an editor is also looking for a partner. . . . Editors want authors to bring something substantive to the table. Ultimately an author-editor relationship should also be a collaboration of equals.”

If someone wants to be an editor, what’s that one piece of advice would you give?

I’ll give two.

OK.

First, read widely and be interested in everything.

Second, be willing to take any job—any job—at a magazine, website, or book publisher just to get your foot in the door. Once you are on the inside (working in sales or marketing or accounting or the warehouse) you have a much better chance of knowing when there is an editorial opening. The people doing the hiring also know you already. If you’ve shown yourself to be hard working, personable, curious, and enthusiastic about the mission, your application should be taken seriously.

For more on this topic, you can read what my mentor, James Sire, had to say on the topic here.

What was the most memorable book that you edited?

Thirty years ago, I was working with a missionary named Thom Hopler who had great insight on how to understand different cultures and see the way culture affected the events in the Bible. But he had one of the worst cases of writer’s block I had ever come across. Nothing was being written and after a year I essentially gave up. Then, shockingly, he died of a heart attack in his late thirties.

After that his widow and friends asked me to take his research notes and the transcriptions of his talks to see if a book could be constructed. I worked for months trying to piece the book together into a coherent whole. Ultimately it was published as A World of Difference: Following Christ Beyond Your Cultural Walls. (A revised edition was published later as Reaching the World Next Door.) The book was way ahead of the church in its understanding of our multicultural world. I felt very privileged to be part of it.

You wrote a book, Write Better and I’m halfway through it. It’s a great and practical book. So tell us what’s it all about and your main goal in writing it?

Writing is hard work. I wanted to make the job a bit easier for writers while helping them do it better. I’ve loved words, reading, and writing almost my whole life, and want to share some of what I’ve learned with others.

Write Better offers concrete strategies that authors can employ to reach their intended readers more effectively. From opening lines to becoming more creative to hearing a call to write—my aim is to give writers the tools they need to have a lasting impact on readers.

How’s the process of writing, Write Better. What sets it apart from other books about writing say Stephen King’s book?

Most books on writing fall into one of two categories. Either they are memoirs of famous writers with a few writing tips sprinkled here and there, or they were detailed guides to punctuation, grammar, word usage, and so forth. While both sorts of books can be helpful, I tried to follow a middle path of providing principles—concrete enough to put into practice but general enough to be broadly applicable.

In addition to covering the craft and art of writing in parts one and two, in part three I consider the spirituality of writing, something rarely considered. This does not concern the spiritual content of our writing but rather how the act of writing and publishing affect our life in God.

Kindly invite our readers to get you book and visit you blog.

If your readers want to keep up with my thoughts on the world of books and my thoughts on writing, publishing, leadership, scholarship, editing, history, biblical studies, and life—that can be found at AndyUnedited.com/. I’d be glad for folks to subscribe so they can get email notices whenever I post something new.

Thank you Andy for that very insightful interview. Get his new book, Write Better at InterVarsity  Press or Amazon.

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