Author Steve Laube

A Defense of Traditional Publishing: Part Three


I need to clarify what I’m attempting to do with this series of posts. I am not digging deeper trenches and pouring the dirt over a head that is already buried in the sand. Some think I’m defending a dying industry and failing to see the changes around it. This series is merely an attempt to remind us what traditional publishers do well. Their critics are jettisoning all of traditional publishing as antiquated. But I posit that there is good to be found in the things that brought publishing to this place.

Today’s topic is Editorial – or more completely, “Content Development.”

Many critics say that the day of great editors is past. The legends are gone and instead we now have overworked editors who don’t have time to spend crafting and developing an author’s content into a masterpiece. They have become paper-pushers.

While editors are generally overworked…that is not anything new. It has been that way for a long time. While at Bethany House Publishers I managed the acquisition and editorial development of nearly fifty titles per year. But I did not work alone.

Editing is a multi-person process in the traditional publishing companies. First is the acquisitions editor who finds, defends, acquires, and negotiates the acquisition of a project (i.e. The Curator). Many times the actual content edit (also call the “line”  or “substantive” edit) is done by a different person. The content editor looks for accuracy, balance and fairness, cogency of argument, adequate treatment of the defined subject matters and issues, and also includes conformity to all aspects of the description of the work contained in the original book proposal. (That sentence is an adaptation from actual contract language defining an “Acceptable” manuscript.)

Next comes the copy editor who scours the manuscript looking for accuracy in grammar, citations, and factual content. Then it is sent to a proof reader who scours the work for fine-tuned details in punctuation and other tiny details.

These editors are amazing people. And despite the cutbacks in many major publishing houses there are still a number of truly incredible men and women who stay behind the scenes and pour their minds and hearts into the books they work on.

In the Christian industry I’ll highlight one man as an example (and he will likely be embarrassed by this!). David Kopp is an exceptional editor with Waterbrook Multnomah. He was the one who created the eight million copy bestseller The Prayer of Jabez out of a nearly unpublishable massive manuscript. He worked on the bestseller Do Hard Things by the Harris brothers. And recently he helped transform a book about missions into what is now called Radical (by David Platt) that has been on the NY Times bestseller list for 43 weeks (as of this writing).

This is the type of talented person that sits unknown in an office in a traditional publishing house… helping to create magic. I could rattle off a dozen or more names off the top of my head of similar people who make this happen every day. And that does not include the number of freelancers who are hired by publishers to take up the slack when they cannot meet the demands of the editing process in-house.

A critic might say, “But I can just hire these freelance people myself. Why do I need a traditional publisher?” That is a good point. But it misses a critical part of the process. It is illustrated by the question, “Who pays the invoice?”

Think about it for a moment. In a traditional publishing house the publisher is basically in charge. If there is a major dispute over editorial changes or input, the publisher has final say and contractual clout. Rarely is this used as a hammer, but the writer always knows it is there. In almost every case there are long discussions and a compromise is achieved.

But when the author hires the editor, who is the boss? The writer is the boss. The writer will usually defer to an editor’s comments. But what if your novel is going down a terrible path, a path to commercial destruction? I know of a case where an author was bent on writing a particular storyline and would not take anyone’s advice. His agent was unsuccessful. His writing friends and critique partners could not sway him from the path. If he were self-publishing he would have failed miserably. Instead an editor at a traditional publishing house recognized the talent and came alongside with valuable suggestions. The author, realizing that the editor had the goal of creating a great book, acceded to the advice. The book was saved, is now in print, and being sold in stores everywhere.

I also know of another case where a freelance editor took an author’s manuscript (to be self-published) and rearranged the non-fiction content from a topical presentation to a chronological presentation. (The book was the history of a specialized type of job in our court system.) The editor felt that a history should be told chronologically instead of topically. The author disagreed and made the editor put it all back the way it was in the first draft. Because the author was “paying the invoice” the author’s wishes prevailed. The book did not sell and was not adopted as a textbook, which was the goal of the author.

James Michener once said, “I’m not a good writer; I’ve been a masterful re-writer.” He has a fascinating book called James A. Michener’s Writer’s Handbook (1992). In this work are reproductions of the interaction between Michener and his editor. You can see the original text, the editorial suggestions, and the rewrite. A interesting exchange that is rarely seen.

As with the idea of “curation” I believe the editorial or content development process is a vital part of what a traditional publisher does for an author’s work.

Part One: Introduction

Part Two: Curation

Part Three: Editorial

Part Four: Design

Part Five: Infrastructure



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A Defense of Traditional Publishing: Part One



There has been a plethora of new developments in the publishing industry causing the blogosphere, writers groups, and print media to light up with opinions, reflections, and advice. Some of it has been quite brilliant, other parts, not so much.

I would like to attempt to address the positive elements of traditional (or legacy) publishing as a defense of the latest round of assault.

The source of the overall criticism can be found in the e-book revolution and the invention of print-on-demand (POD) printing. Book Publishing used to be a difficult and expensive proposition but has become a valid do-it-yourself option. Consequently anyone can publish a book, so why be beholden to the major publishers?

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Book Trailers: Vital or Wasteful?

Book trailers, if done well, can be a cool component to the marketing of your project. If done poorly or if done cheaply they do very little to impress a potential reader.

Most authors love to see their work done this way. In some ways if feels like the story has made it to the “big screen.”

But does it sell books? When was the last time you clicked and then bought because of the trailer?

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Count Your Many Phrases

We all have our pet phrases and they can inadvertently sneak their way into our manuscripts. Yesterday I came across a marvelous web site that can help you discover how often your repeat a particular phrase in your article or manuscript.

Using the Phrase Frequency Counter online, you can actually track what phrases you overuse. It is also a great way to pick out those clichés that can creep into your writing.

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New and Improved

After more than a month of work we are excited to announce the launch of our new and improved web site!

Please take a look around and tell us what you think…and if you find any bothersome glitches. Feel free to leave your comments.

Kuddos to Thomas Umstattd and his team at for their work. They bent over backwards and put up with my obsession over the most minute of details (my ears were burning, so I know they were talking about it…). I know just enough about web design and typesetting, not to be dangerous, but to be annoying.

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Hints for a Great Cover Letter

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider when approaching an agent. Remember to use these as hints…do not follow them slavishly as if a literary agent is going to spend their time critiquing your cover letter.

By the way, we make a distinction between a cover letter and a query letter. A cover letter is what goes on top of a longer proposal and sample chapters. The query letter is a stand-alone letter that goes by itself to the editor/agent without a proposal or sample chapters. We happen to prefer the cover letter along with the rest of the package. Why? Because a query only shows that you can write a letter. A proposal begins the process of showing that you know how to write a book.

Address the letter to a specific person. If sending something to The Steve Laube Agency, simply address the appropriate agent. Every proposal will cross the desk of the designated agent eventually.

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Book Tour Lesson: Listen to Publisher

Melanie Benjamin, author of Alice I Have Been, reflects on book tours, in an article for the Huffington Post.  Especially the difference between the one she put together herself several years ago and the one she is currently doing with the help of her publisher.

“I’ve also learned to listen to my publisher. When a bookstore contacts me personally about an appearance, I pass the request on to my publicist. Only once did I ignore her advice and do an event anyway.

Only the janitor showed up.”

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Someone Hacked My Website

And a “Merry Christmas” to me… (sarcasm dripping).

In the last 24 hours someone hacked my web site by utilizing a security hole in my host server. They didn’t need even my password! They were able to piggyback on these blog posts and added 853 scripts to my web site redirecting visitors to malicious sites. These little beasts are also known as Malware.

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