The Importance of What You Don’t Publish

Sometimes what a publisher doesn’t publish is just as important as what it does publish.

For the last twenty years, InterVarsity Press has undertaken a deliberate program of building its line of Christian and biblical reference works into one of the premier programs in the industry. We have received international recognition for the *[Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels](* and others in our [Bible Dictionary series](

Over the years we gave long thought to what was needed to complete our program. I clearly remember one conversation I had with our reference book editor, [Dan Reid](, back in the early nineties as the line of reference works was just getting up steam. “If we are to be seen as a major player,” Dan said, “one of the obvious things we need to do is publish a critical commentary series.” This would send a clear signal about our seriousness as a publisher in this arena.

At the same time we knew that there were already several such series in progress, including two good series from other evangelical publishers. As we discussed it, we thought, why put the massive effort required behind such a project when excellent resources already existed? While it made sense from a strategic publishing viewpoint, we just didn’t have the heart to largely duplicate what was already being produced. So with some regret, but not much, we said no to what was strategically obvious but questionable from a stewardship perspective.

When Tom Oden contacted IVP in 1995 at the suggestion of Christopher Hall about the [Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture](, we immediately saw its originality and the breadth of impact the project could have not only on the scholarly community but on the church as a whole. I said to Dan Reid, “This is why we said no to the critical commentary series—so we would have the resources available to devote to this much more important project.”

The results were overwhelming. We sold three to four times more copies than we projected. The series played a major role in reviving interest in the early church among evangelicals and others, and has proven to be a valuable resource to thousands of pastors.

But if we had played the [imitation game]( or simply followed conventional wisdom, we might have missed out. Saying yes to the good can crowd out the great.

When it comes to publishing strategy, don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. To thine own publishing self be true.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.