The other day one of our editors, Dave Zimmerman, came to me with a proposal from a prospective author for a book. It was on prayer, mission, evangelism, the history of global Christianity, the future of Christianity, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of God and justice.
I looked at Dave and said, “First-Book Syndrome.” He grimly nodded in agreement.
What is First-Book Syndrome?
It’s something we see all the time at InterVarsity Press, and something other publishers see too. People who haven’t written a book before often have dozens of ideas swirling in their heads that are all somehow connected . They think they have to put all this stuff in one book, either because they cannot conceive of writing a second or third book, or because they are unable to separate any of the ideas from one another since they are so tightly interlinked.
The problem is that a book about everything is a book about nothing. Look at any nonfiction bestseller list. The books are on very specific topics—a biography of a famous person, a specific health plan, a plan to become wealthy, an analysis of current politics, and on it goes.
Dave’s and my author friend needed to find one topic among his dozen, figure out what was unique about that topic that hadn’t been said before, and zero in on that. It’s not enough to say that the unique thing is how the author puts these dozen topics together into a cohesive package—unless it is indeed one idea that links them. Then maybe the book can be about that one idea–maybe.
Life is complex. And I’m not saying we should oversimplify things. I’m just trying to echo what is attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr: “I wouldn´t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.”