Why You Should Read a Book of History You Don’t Expect to Enjoy

Let me just get this out in the open: I don’t read history very often. My reading tastes, in my off-work hours, tend toward literary nonfiction, spiritual memoir, and the occasional contemporary novel. Biographies and histories of people, places, and institutions are, well, a stretch. My brain is a sieve when it comes to historical details and data, and I haven’t taken a history class for more than twenty-five years.

So when Nate Yoder’s manuscript, which would become Together in the Work of the Lord: A History of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, landed on my desk a few months ago, I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy editing it. I’m not a member of a Conservative Mennonite Conference congregation, so I knew I wouldn’t recognize many of the key characters and acronyms in the book. And I didn’t expect to identify with the concerns that the conference expressed with regard to the trajectory of the Mennonite group to which I belong: Mennonite Church USA. Other than wearing a prayer covering on Sundays as a young teen and growing up in Lancaster Conference in the 1970s, I don’t have much experience with conservative Mennonitism. So I thought I’d put on my editing cap, grit my teeth, and do my best not to yawn my way through my work.


Together in the Work of the Lord was published in July.

Except that’s not what happened. Somewhere in an early chapter of Together in the Work of the Lord, as I read about the heritage and witness of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, I found myself fascinated by what I was learning and eager to read more. Nate traces the way that the Conservative Mennonite Conference redefined the meaning of conservative from cultural nonconformity to evangelical theology, and the way that members of the conference defined themselves over and against people like me, members of more liberal Mennonite groups. As I read, I became impressed with the earnestness and good intentions of the people to whom Nate was introducing me, and I recognized many of my own concerns in their convictions. How do we pass on an authentic Mennonite faith to the next generation? What does it mean for an individual to be accountable to the church community? What goods and gifts from the past deserve to be preserved?

And at the basic level of what makes a book a good read, there are the stories. Nate Yoder tells a lot of interesting ones: conflicts between bishops and pastors about what it means to be in the world but not of it; the civil rights movement’s effects on Conservative Conference; differing ideas about spiritual warfare that shook Rosedale Bible College; and those flinty conversations about radios, TV, and women’s dress that fascinate me to no end.


Author Nathan E. Yoder working on his history of Conservative Mennonite Conference.

So while I have come to somewhat different conclusions about what it means to be faithful than many of the figures in Nate’s history, I found myself grateful for their witness. In an era of fracturing Mennonite Church USA identity, it doesn’t hurt any of us to attempt to view faith and praxis through the lens of another. That’s what Nate Yoder’s book did for me: helped me don someone else’s glasses for a time. Even if I ultimately set aside those glasses at the end of the book, I am the richer for having seen the world—and myself—through those lenses.

I’m proud that Herald Press, publisher for Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA, chose to publish this volume about our conservative sisters and brothers. This book is the 47th volume in the Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History series. It’s not just for historians or scholars or insiders to the conference who will recognize the names and acronyms; it’s for outsiders like me.

Editing Together in the Work of the Lord made me grateful for this big, diverse, argumentative, and earnest group of people I belong to: the larger family of Mennonites. We sure don’t always get along, but I’m glad that we still somehow manage to belong to each other.

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

A Primer in Publishing Geekspeak

Every industry has its shoptalk, and publishing is no exception. While I don’t think of my editorial work at Herald Press as very specialized—mostly I just help writers say what they mean—every so often I find myself sending an email full of acronyms and jargony-jargon. And I ask myself: when did my vocabulary become so full of publishing geekspeak?

Our chatter around here isn’t as specialized as, say, that of the medical profession. But we do have our codes and shorthand. Below is a list of some of the abbreviations and terms we at Herald Press and MennoMedia throw around in emails and meetings. Consider this your primer in publishing patois.

ARC. Stands for Advance Reader Copy. These used to be called galleys. They are what they sound like: pre-publication versions of a book that go out to reviewers and publications that we hope will offer advance reviews of a particular book before it is published. ARCs make it possible for reviews to come out about the time of a book’s publication rather than weeks or months later. We produce ARCs for some of our Herald Press books, and our ARCs look like final books in many ways: they have designed front covers and are bound and sized like the final version. But a footer runs across the front cover that says: “Advance Reader Copy: Not for Sale,” and the interiors may or may not have been designed, copyedited, and proofread.

Here is one example of how ARCs function: the ARC of Reconcile by John Paul Lederach, which will be released August 11, went out to reviewers on May 1. Publishers Weekly received our ARC and offered this lovely review.


BISAC code. This stands for Book Industry Systems Advisory Committee code. (I had to look that one up.) Every book we publish gets its own BISAC code (a number), and subject heading (a string of words). The Book Industry Study Group, the leading book trade association, offers this list of categories that publishers use to organize books according to topical content. Booksellers then use these codes to shelve books (in bricks and mortar stores) or to organize for searchability (on Internet sites). Picking the right BISAC code to categorize a particular book means asking ourselves as editors and marketers, “Where and how would readers search for a book like this?”

So if you want to try out your skills at BISAC coding, before reading on, try this: imagine that you’re me and that you need to assign a BISAC code to Ellie, Book 1 of the Ellie’s People series by Mary Christner Borntrager. Herald Press is re-releasing this series, which sold more than half a million copies before going out of print. The first book in the series, Ellie, releases August 15, 2014.

1. First, read about Ellie here.

2. Now go to this website, which contains a list of all the BISAC codes and subject headings.

3. Choose the BISAC code that best categorizes this book for booksellers. Wait to scroll down until you’ve chosen the code, since my choice will be revealed right after this book cover.


While many books have several possible BISAC codes that would fit, this one was pretty straightforward. Did you choose JUV033010 for JUVENILE FICTION / Religious / Christian / General? We did.

CIP data. While we’re talking numbers: CIP data means Cataloging-in-Publication data, and we need it for every single book we publish. The U.S. Library of Congress and Library and Archives Canada supply this data for us, and sometimes it takes a little time . . . as in, months. So when I send a manuscript to a copyeditor, I send it to Dorothy Hartman, our administrative assistant, who submits the application for CIP data and expertly manages all the related communication and details. I always breathe a sigh of relief when Dorothy sends me the email with the CIP data, which I then pass on to our designers to drop onto the copyright page.

For example: Together in the Work of the Lord by Nathan E. Yoder, a history of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, officially releases on July 14. Our production schedule shows that Dorothy submitted the CIP application form on January 23. When you get your copy, look at the top of the copyright page and you’ll see a string of letters and numbers and specs that likely won’t make much sense. But now you know what it is. You know, in case anyone ever asks.


OBC. Stands for Outside Back Cover. We as editors and marketers and designers spend more time than you might guess on the back covers of our books. I’m talking a lot of time. How can we tell you as readers what this book is about? How can we make you want to pick it up and read it? What words and concepts best disclose the rich content that this book contains?

Of course, with many of us ordering books online, we don’t see the back cover of books before we buy them. But the OBC copy often appears as or is adapted to the book description, as on this website for our forthcoming book The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening by Donald Clymer and Sharon Clymer Landis. The Spacious Heart releases September 1, but you can read this book’s great OBC copy, written by my coworker Melodie Davis and tweaked by our marketers, on the “Description” tab.

Spacious Heart

Orphans and widows. These aren’t acronyms, but they’re terms that befuddle. These orphans and widows aren’t the children without parents and the women with deceased husbands whom James, in James 1:27, enjoins his readers to “care for . . . in their distress.” (Otherwise, my directions to our designers to “fix this orphan” or “eliminate this widow” would be disturbing indeed.) In publishing, orphans and widows are dangling lines at the top or bottom of a column in designed text. Orphans and widows create white space on a page and often make it less attractive to readers’ eyes even if we don’t know it. Our designers have all sorts of tools in their back pockets for fixing them.

There you have it: a short introduction to publishing lingo. Before you become a full-blown publishing geek, you’ll have to learn a few more, such as ISBNs and MSS and JPEGs and P&Ls and TOCs and PDFs and PI sheets.

Beyond learning some of the shorthand of our industry, however, I hope you’ve caught the careful attention that we give to each book that we publish. The making of a book requires tending to hundreds of details and processes and acronyms. We at MennoMedia are honored to take care of these so that you can pay attention to what matters: the actual words and images of our books, curricula, and periodicals. These, we pray, will further your faith in Christ and commitment to the community of believers and all of God’s children.

So now, if you ever get an email from me with the subject line “ARC OBC,” you’ll know what I mean.


ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

Reconcile: The Backstory

Twenty years ago, as a student at Eastern Mennonite University, I had John Paul Lederach as a professor. Like many of his students then (at EMU) and now (at the University of Notre Dame), I came to deeply admire John Paul’s work in peacebuilding and the studied combination of idealism and realism that flavors his work. The stories he told in classes—of meeting with warring factions in Central American jungles, of fleeing a country for the safety of his family, and of watching former enemies take faltering but momentous steps toward peace—fired our imaginations. I and several of my classmates dreamed of becoming mediators, preferably of the internationally renowned variety.

One assignment in John Paul’s international peacemaking class my senior year gave us some practice. We had to design a simulation of an international conflict for our classmates so that we could both understand the conflict better and try out our newly minted mediation skills. My group chose Northern Ireland, and we spent hours studying the Troubles and setting up the exercise for our class. We took over the campus center, with classrooms becoming IRA hideaways and Ulster training grounds. I don’t remember exactly how the simulation ended, but I do know that we hadn’t even convinced our faux enemies to meet together before the time ran out.

After college, I found out that real conflicts are even harder than simulated ones by working at a neighborhood mediation center. I remained convinced that conciliation was crucial in our litigious society and warring world, but I was learning to admire someone else’s vocation without assuming that it should be my own. Eventually I would also learn that you don’t have to be a professional mediator to snag a chance to transform conflict; regular life manages to offer lots of opportunities.

Five years after I graduated from college, Herald Press published John Paul’s book The Journey toward Reconciliation. That book sold well and was transformative for its many readers. As far as we can tell now, however, it was read mostly by Mennonites.


The front cover of John Paul Lederach’s 1999 Herald Press book.

Then, during this past Advent, Bill Hybels, senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, preached a sermon based largely on the book. Somehow Hybels had gotten his hands on a copy, and he drew heavily on John Paul’s retelling of the Jacob and Esau story as a paradigm for reconciliation. Hybels told his listeners that the Willow Creek elder team is listening hard for how God might be calling them to use their power and privilege to work for peace and reconciliation. (You can listen to his sermon here.)

Coming from Willow Creek, where more than twenty thousand people worship at six locations each weekend, this sermon was gratifying to us at Herald Press. It was also one of several recent signals that many evangelical Christians are searching for resources on reconciliation and peacemaking.

So we got busy. We reread The Journey toward Reconciliation and wondered together how to retool this book for a wider audience. We contacted John Paul about revising and updating it, and we tested the idea with some readers to ask what they would look for in a book about reconciliation. We asked a few other folks to read the book and tell us how it could better reach an evangelical audience, and we invited several Christian leaders in reconciliation to create resources for the back. Then we asked Bill and Lynne Hybels to write the foreword, and they responded, enthusiastically, yes. “No one’s writing about reconciliation has helped us more than John Paul Lederach’s,” they told us.

Thus, in these months between Advent and Pentecost, Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians was born. Packed with new stories from John Paul’s work in twenty-five countries around the globe, reflections on a post 9-11 world, and a section of resources created by leaders in reconciliation, Reconcile is poised to reach a wide audience of Christians yearning to find out more about Christ’s call to peacemaking.


The front cover of Reconcile, now available for preorder.

I’m pleased to announce that Reconcile is now available for preorder. Within hours of the book’s website going live, it had 35 Facebook likes. Just today I passed the designed pages of this book to our first proofreader, and it will go to the printer in a few short weeks.

Twenty years after we graduated, I and my college friends still haven’t made it into international conciliation work. Judging from our Northern Ireland simulation, that may be a good thing. But I’m honored to be a part of bringing this important new book by my former college professor to readers—readers who are, by all accounts, waiting for a book just like this.


Get an Advance Reader Copy of Reconcile free on Goodreads! If you “win,” be among the first to see the new edition of Reconcile (in advance of publication) which is being offered on Goodreads from now until midnight June 15th. Check here.

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.