I have written a little, and would like to write more. Dave DeWit is Senior Editor at Crossway and has spent nearly three decades in the Christian publishing industry, mostly with Moody Publishers. I met Dave on a recent trip to Chicago, and after hearing some of his experience and perspective in person, I wanted to hear more of his insight on specific questions related to Christian publishing. The desire to write for publication is a delicate desire, often incubating in the recesses of the soul but unsure how to make a wise and godly entrance into the light of day. I hope this dialogue with a seasoned veteran can help both readers and writers.
- How did you get into the publishing world?
- What are the most common misconceptions about authoring a book?
- What are the most common weaknesses of less-experienced authors?
- How would you recommend becoming a better writer?
- What’s the most underestimated aspect of being an author?
- What part(s) of the publishing process do authors tend to undervalue?
- What are your main criteria for making editorial suggestions?
- How is the book industry changing with the rise of digital books and resources? What has stayed the same?
- What are your top three living-author books and your top three dead-author books?
- What do you love most about the ministry of publishing?
- What bothers you most about the publishing industry?
- What advice would you give to a would-be evangelical author?
- What makes a prospective book desirable from the publisher’s perspective?
- Who have been some of your favorite authors to work with over the years, and why?
- Why do you believe in books?
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1. How did you get into the publishing world?
It has been a lengthy path, beginning with our time as staff members of Campus Crusade for Christ serving at the ministry headquarters. I’ve also worked at Gospel Light Publications and at Moody Publishers prior to coming to Crossway Books. My responsibilities have included production scheduling, print buying, business/operations management, as well as editorial and acquisitions functions. The product line includes promotional materials, curriculum, books, and Bibles.
2. What are the most common misconceptions about authoring a book?
One of the most important things is to define the specific audience your book will target. Perhaps “everyone should read it,” but who precisely do you have in mind as you write? It is also critical to understand that your editor is your ally and partner, not an adversary. A good editor will sharpen your idea and your message, allowing you to communicate with greater clarity. Another common misconception is that the manuscript should be finished before interacting with a publisher. Receiving a tight proposal is preferable to receiving a final manuscript.
3. What are the most common weaknesses of less experienced authors?
They are not necessarily weaknesses, but two things come to mind. One is gaining an awareness of the publishing process — how an idea becomes a book. Expectations regarding the process, unit sales potential, etc., should be discussed by authors and their publisher. This prevents misunderstandings and disappointments. It’s also necessary to identify similar or competitive books and how yours would be distinct.
4. How would you recommend becoming a better writer?
Two simple suggestions — read good writing and seek out a mentor relationship. You should know someone who will provide honest objective feedback for how to improve your work.
5. What’s the most underestimated aspect of being an author?
Oftentimes it is the recognition of the need to do the hard work of rewriting in the early stages of manuscript development.
6. What part(s) of the publishing process do authors tend to undervalue?
The necessity of editing and the need for you to be available to participate in the promotion of your book when it is released.
7. What are your main criteria for making editorial suggestions?
One of the primary challenges for the author and editor is to sharpen and clarify the text for maximum understanding. Cutting and trimming is often necessary. Shorter is generally better if we are going to capture and keep the attention of the reader. I often think that it’s easier to convince someone to trade their money for our book than to trade their time for it.
8. How is the book industry changing with the rise of digital books and resources? What has stayed the same?
It has meant an explosion of available choices for readers. There are hundreds of thousands of new books published each year. One result is that far fewer books are now declared out of print. A book can remain available as a digital version, eliminating the need to maintain an expensive inventory level of a printed edition.
9. What are your top three living author books and your top three dead author books?
I will qualify my response here to say that my choices are not necessarily the best books I have read. However, each of them has made a significant impact on my heart during my growth as a disciple over the last few decades. First I would mention The Trivialization of God by Donald McCullough, The Pressure’s Off by Larry Crabb, and A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald. Older books that have deeply instructed me are The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, The Making of a Man of God by Alan Redpath, and The Mortification of Sin by John Owen. Of course I also have to reference The Valley of Vision, a wonderful devotional collection of Puritan prayers.
10. What do you love most about the ministry of publishing?
The rich opportunity to provide God-honoring resources to the church today. I enjoy helping authors shape a message which God has given them so that the body may be edified. I love to borrow Paul’s language in Ephesians and invest my energies to “equip the body to declare the manifold wisdom of God.”
11. What bothers you the most about the publishing industry?
We run the risk of becoming unbalanced. Ministry goals can become secondary to the demands of financial goals.
12. What advice would you give to a would-be evangelical author?
Start by working to write articles for possible publication. Learn the craft of writing.
13. What makes a prospective book desirable from the publisher’s perspective?
First, a clear connection to biblical truth. Second, the message is targeted to a specific niche audience and is distinct from other books on the topic. Third, does the author have an existing “platform” which we can utilize to launch and connect the book to its intended audience?
14. Who have been some of your favorite authors to work with over the years and why?
It’s hard to create a short list but I’ll limit it to five and list them alphabetically. Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Kevin DeYoung, Lee Eclov, Brian Fikkert, Owen Strachan. Each of them has critical things to say to the church today.
15. Why do you believe in books?
Simply put, God has used them to change me as I mature in my walk with Him. He has taught me and discipled me through things I have read. I am challenged, convicted, encouraged, and strengthened through the words of gifted and godly messengers.
Thank you, Dave, for your decades of service to the church! You have helped our beloved authors shape their messages which have shaped our lives.