Monthly Archive
My Other Social Media
Some Projects I Have Worked On (Random Order)
  • Broken-Down House
    Broken-Down House
    by Paul David Tripp
  • When Sinners Say
    When Sinners Say "I Do": Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage
    by Dave Harvey
  • Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace
    Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace
    by Gary Ricucci, Betsy Ricucci
  • Songs for the Cross Centered Life
    Songs for the Cross Centered Life
    Sovereign Grace Music
  • Upward: The Bob Kauflin Hymns Project
    Upward: The Bob Kauflin Hymns Project
    Sovereign Grace Music
  • Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know
    Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know
    by C. J. Mahaney
  • Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood (Foundations for the Family Series)
    Biblical Foundations for Manhood and Womanhood (Foundations for the Family Series)
    by Wayne Grudem
  • Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry
    Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry
    Founders Press
  • A Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships
    A Proverbs Driven Life: Timeless Wisdom for Your Words, Work, Wealth, and Relationships
    by Anthony Selvaggio
  • Get Outta My Face!
    Get Outta My Face!
    by Rick Horne
  • Valley of Vision
    Valley of Vision
    Sovereign Grace Music
  • The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
    The Cross Centered Life: Keeping the Gospel The Main Thing
    by C.J. Mahaney
  • Awesome God
    Awesome God
    Sovereign Grace Music
  • Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man
    Savior: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man
    Sovereign Grace Music
  • All We Long to See
    All We Long to See
    Sovereign Grace Music
  • Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood (Foundations of the Family)
    Pastoral Leadership for Manhood and Womanhood (Foundations of the Family)
    by Wayne Grudem, Dennis Rainey
  • Why Small Groups?
    Why Small Groups?
    Sovereign Grace Ministries
  • Preaching the Cross (Together for the Gospel)
    Preaching the Cross (Together for the Gospel)
    by Mark Dever, J. Ligon Duncan, R. Albert Mohler Jr., C. J. Mahaney
My Other Blog

The Making of...
Christ Formed in You

Pastor Brian Hedges and I have decided to take some of the editing process public. Come look over our shoulders as we finish his book.

BookTweets Program

New under the sun? Book summaries via Twitter, starting with Paul Tripp's Broken-Down House and Rick Horne's Get Outta My Face!  Follow @bdhouse and @outtamy


Click here for testimonials from...

C.J. Mahaney
Sovereign Grace Ministries

Paul Tripp
Pastoral Staff
Tenth Presbyterian Church

Rick Phillips
Board Member
Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Scott Anderson
Director of Networking & Strategic Partnerships
Desiring God

...and others


Editors must reject the Author-Reader agreement

Recognizing bumps in a manuscript is an essential part of having the editor's eye. It is very easy to get swept up in the language and implicit authority of the author and simply let him lead you. This is because readers are naturally inclined to regard authors as experts in a particular area. After all, didn't someone pay this person to put opinions between covers?

As a result, there are unspoken author-reader agreements, the most common of which goes something like this: As a reader I give you, the author, access to my brain, because I believe, implicitly or explicitly, that it will be more helpful to me to think your thoughts about a particular subject than it will be to think my own, or at least I want to use your thoughts as a place to start. (This is obviously a simple and very general comment about a complex subject, as fans of Mortimer Adler can attest.)

The editor's job is to respect the author's subject-matter expertise and insights, but to recognize that expertise is only one of several factors critical to creating a good book. An editor has to consciously set aside all author-reader agreements and try to be objective enough to recognize that, in almost every case (that I've come across, anyway), even though the author's work may be fine, or pretty good, or even perfectly satisfactory, if you are willing to think hard, be objective, and where necessary take it apart and put it back together, it can actually become far more helpful to the reader. It can become excellent.



More thoughts on using quotes

Scholarly Christian authors, well-read and well-intentioned, often feel compelled to share favorite quotes on whatever subject they are currently covering. They love and have been affected by this or that particular quote, so they just have to include it so their readers can love and be affected by it as well. This goes to the purpose of the book, article, or sermon. Is it intended to be a review of the collected wisdom on a topic? Is that quote really the best way to say what you want to say, at this point in your narrative, to this particular audience, at this point in history? Is this touchstone to the past actually needed? Don't let your humility and your admiration for other writers misdirect your efforts, allow you to take the easy and (often) less effective way out, or limit the work of the Spirit through you.

Imagine if most Christian authors down through church history had taken that approach. What if, instead of striving to express themselves — to write — they continually quoted their predecessors, over time effectively quasi-canonizing the impressive but ultimately human insights and culturally bound expressions of those who had gone before? How well would that have served the church? Where would it have left us? Far less inspired, far less theologically attuned, and with far less ability to understand or speak to the present culture.

I know an extremely gifted and effective preacher who, at a particular point in his ministry, was so impressed by a dozen or so of the most perceptive and insightful writers, preachers, and theologians of the past that for a while his sermons consisted almost entirely of quotes from them. Despite appeals from his friends, his rationale for maintaining this approach had some merit: He could not have said it better himself. That was probably true, but only in a limited sense — not at all necessarily as it applied to the particular circumstances of the particular audience he was seeking to reach.

Once again, what is the purpose of the book, or the article, or the message? What is the most effective way to accomplish that purpose? These are always important questions to answer, and often surprisingly difficult ones. At a more granular level, is this particular quote, regardless of its objective merits, the very best thing to put right here, on this page, right now?


Should I use lots of quotes from other authors? 

As a general rule, I would only quote others 1) when your claim is liable to be met with skepticism by readers so an outside authority is needed to lend credence, or 2) when the quote itself creates a particularly compelling or masterful underscore or paraphrase of your point.

For a popular readership, quotes that are neither striking nor necessary create friction in the reading experience with no real value-added. Better to say the same basic thing (if you're not essentially plagiarizing) in your own words, thus maintaining a single style for the reader who is not used to switching between multiple styles. For scholars and bibliophiles, a mix of styles can be delectable, like spices in cooking or different sections in an orchestra, but for many popular readers it is seen as increasing the work involved and decreasing the entertainment value.  After all, as a rule fast food doesn't have complex flavor, and pop songs specialize in having a single groove. So while you don't want bland, you do want to emphasize your style and maintain a certain degree of consistency.


It's All About Precision & Clarity

Editing, for me, has always been driven by a passion for precision and clarity. Certainly language can be wonderfully vague and evocative, but (putting deconstructionism and critical theory aside, where they probably belong) it is also our best hope for a broad means of communicating clearly and precisely, on topics where that sort of thing matters, to the broadest possible audience. For this reason I love the field of information design. Strunk and White, Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think, Edward Tufte's Envisioning Information, really good signage, a great headline, effective ad copy, a nice brochure, a solid blog post, a great installation guide, an amazing magazine redesign, and even the small-business process checklists championed by Michael Gerber, all have a great deal in common. Their focus is precision, clarity, and effectiveness in communication: the transfer of information to bring about as predictable a result as possible. The goal is no different when I help an author refine a manuscript, and the same basic techniques apply.

At the moment, most of my freelance income is from book editing. But I have done a fair amount of copywriting, speechwriting, and periodical and package design, as well as some advertising, procedure manuals, information architecture, and the like. I hope to be doing more of each of these in the future. I could easily be wrong but, speaking in general terms, I suspect the core skill set is about the same for all of them. Certainly there are refinements that apply to each specialty, but in none of these endeavors will you be successful unless you can put yourself in the place of the reader and ask, "How can this product communicate as clearly and succintly as possible, on the first read, toward a desired result?" But that skill seems rare. At a minimum, it is rarely exercised well. It's unusual to possess it, it's difficult to hone it, and it's almost never easy to use it.

I am aware, of course, that language is a pure abstraction. In fact, to a limited extent, I would agree with the deconstructionists;  as a salaried editor I would frequently offer this maxim when we faced our daily challenges: "There is nothing more difficult than unambiguous human communication." How much more amazing, then, that it can become so effective?


Being in That Number

Our two youngest kids, ages 9 and 12, sing in a local community choir where they learn a lot of wonderful old songs that otherwise they might not be exposed to. One day we were all going somewhere in the car when they when they launched into When the Saints Go Marching In. At one point it started to die down so I tried to reinvigorate it by singing "Oh when the Day of Judgment comes...I want to be there in that number..."

They had no idea what I was singing and tried to tell me this was not part of the song. Do you realize what happens when you remove that verse? Suddenly an explicit limitation becomes an implied universality. The song becomes a celebration of everyone being "in that number." The excluded verse is politically incorrect because it implies, accurately, that before God not everyone is equal.

I remember even as a kid how that verse seemed to tie the package together. It was clearly central to the entire point of the song. There will be a number. Some will be in it. Others won't. That is the point of the song, and the truth and the tragedy of the fall.