“Fie upon you, IVP.”
I’m still shocked, fifteen years later, that John Stott uttered these words at our office gathering during an event in which we honored him in 1998 for fifty years of publishing with us. We had at that point sold over five million copies of over forty of his books, booklets and Bible study guides. Many present had said what his books had meant to them. He voiced his appreciation. Then toward the end, even with a slight tinge of humor, self-consciously overstating his sentiments, he clearly expressed that, nonetheless, he was upset with us.
What had we done? Published heresy? Wandered far from our publishing mission? Perhaps we had altered some of his writing without his consent? Insulted the Queen? No, none of these.
Rather, we had turned
down the book (OK, I had turned it down) that was closest and dearest to his heart–The Birds Our Teachers. Stott was a birder from his youth, and a serious one. Over the decades he had traveled to the four points of the globe to see, for example, penguins on South Georgia Island and the Snowy Owl of the Canadian Arctic. No book was more personal than this one. And I had cast it aside. Had this consummate diplomat, this scion of British reserve ever rebuked anyone else more sternly? If so, I would not like to be that person.
How do you tell an author that you may be doing him or her a favor by turning a book down, that another publisher might do better with it? How do you explain that four-color books are not a strength of our program and that there are others that have ready markets and an established track record with such a genre? How do you say that the decision really has nothing to do with its quality or worth? How do you deal with authorial disappointment in the near term to fend off deeper disappointment after a weak or failed publication? Obviously, we did not succeed (OK, I did not succeed) in explaining any of these things convincingly.
Nonetheless, a year later, when the book came out, I received a bound copy from Stott inscribed with his wide-nibbed pen as follows:
I promised to send you
one of these when published,
as a peace-offering, and
with my heartfelt good wishes
It was an offering of peace I gladly accepted.