Quoting Bible Passages: Some Time- (and Money-) Saving Tips

If you're a Christian nonfiction writer, chances are you quote the Bible frequently.* And that means your editor, or perhaps your proofreader, must check your quotes and verse references for accuracy. Depending on how many passages you quote and how you handle them, you'd be surprised how much time that can take. If you're an independent author, it can translate into an added cost to you. But you can significantly reduce the time involved by following these four simple, commonsense tips:

1. Use one popular Bible version as your go-to for quotes. The NIV, ESV, NASB, NLT, NKJV, and NRSV are all examples of translations commonly chosen for their accuracy and readability. When you use only a single version, you need not state it in your verse references; just make sure the Bible publisher's copyright blurb appears on your book's copyright page.

2. If you do use other translations besides your primary translation, as is often the case, then do so sparingly, and have a good reason when you do. You need not show your primary translation in citations, but when you use a secondary translation, you should say which one. For example, if you use the New Living Translation in quoting Isaiah 35:9, indicate it thus: (Isa. 35:9 NLT). Your editor can't check the accuracy of a quote unless he or she knows which version you've quoted from! Don't make your editor have to hunt. Hunting takes time. And time, as you know, is ----.

3. Avoid using archaic or "novelty" translations as your primary Bible version. These include the King James Version, The Message, and the Amplified Bible. They're fine as secondary translations, but for your default translation, your readers will appreciate one that is easily readable and a true translation, not an interpretation. You may love your venerable KJV, but remember, your first concern is to serve your readers, who will probably find "You meet him with rich blessings" (Ps. 21:3 ESV) more understandable than "Thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness."

4. When using the NIV and the Amplified Bible, make sure you know and indicate which edition you are using. Both of these Bibles were updated somewhat recently, the NIV in 2011 and the AMP in 2015, and because their previous editions remain in widespread circulation, the older and newer editions frequently get mixed together. It's therefore not enough to simply say NIV or AMP in your citations. Which NIV? Which AMP?

If you resort both to the online NIV or AMP and to your trusty old leatherbound, hardcopy edition--as a lot of writers do--then it's a cinch that you're mixing the earlier and current editions. You've got to distinguish between them, because the differences are often substantial. Your best bet is to choose one source for your quotations, whether online or print, and stick with that source. In any case, know which version of the NIV and AMP you're quoting from in any given instance, and make sure you indicate it in your citation if it isn't your primary translation. For example, if the NIV 2011 is your primary translation, then treat its predecessor, the 1984 edition, as you would a secondary translation, thus: (John 3:16 NIV 1984).

Keep these four simple pointers in mind and you'll save your editor time and headaches, yourself some silver, and your readers a bit of head scratching.


* Not to say fiction writers don't also quote the Bible, but their use of Scripture is typically far lighter than in a book on, say, biblical counseling. Novelists can nevertheless profit from this advice as readily as nonfiction writers.

Two Ways to Save Money in Editorial Costs (for Independent Authors)

As a self-publishing author, naturally you want to save money. Unless your pockets are lined with sable, you're concerned about your budget. So am I. As an editor, I want to help you keep your costs down if I can. Of course, I'll be happy to spend all the time in the world on your manuscript to do the job right—provided you compensate me. Because like you, I have bills to pay, and the maxim that time is money applies. So if you'd like to save yourself money by saving me time, here are two helpful tips.

1. Document your sources fully. When you quote from a book, magazine, or other print or online source, provide a citation with complete publishing information. If you don't, and if I have to research that information myself in order to show it properly in your endnotes, the time I spend will cost you.

What does complete information look like? Consult this resource (courtesy of The Chicago Manual of Style).

2. Avoid using quote compilations. Whether they're online or in print, collections of quotes are not dependable sources. They work great for speaking but not for writing, which requires thorough and accurate documentation. When you use trustworthy sources (e.g., you quote Twain directly from, say, Huckleberry Finn, not Goodreads), you make my job easier and cut your costs accordingly.

Sentence Fragments: Speaking Up for the Verbless Sentence

Reading through my recent post about word usage, I discovered—I know this will shock you—a rather lengthy sentence fragment. Gracious! Did I write such a thing? Me? Yes indeed. Right there, shamelessly and in broad daylight, I committed a fragment. I wrote it that way because I liked it that way. The fragment in question followed easily from the preceding sentence, and I liked its effect. So I fragged. If I had it to do all over, I would frag again. Not only so, but I will frag in the future with a conscience unclouded by the strictures of grammar. And to those pedants who take a dim view of my fragging, I have this to say: Phooey. Masters of the Fragment Sentence fragments have their uses. Note that word uses. Unquestionably, fragments (also known as crots or verbless sentences) often get misused.¹ When they arise inadvertently, as happens with inexpert writers, the results can be bewildering or just plain awkward. Yet many seasoned writers have incorporated sentence fragments as part of their voice. Dickens did. Hemingway did, and so did Thomas Wolfe, and so does Maya Angelou, all with brilliant effect. Take, for example, this excerpt from Wolfe's short story "The Face of the War":
Again, the speed, haste, violence, savage humor and the instant decisiveness of war:—A sweltering noon on one of the great munition piers at Newport News where now the boy is working as material checker. Inside the great shed of the pier, a silent, suffocating heat of one hundred ten degrees, a grimy, mote-filled air, pollenated with the golden dust of oats which feed through a gigantic chute into the pier in an unending river, and which are sacked and piled in tremendous barricades all up and down the length of that enormous shed. Elsewhere upon the pier, the towering geometries of war munitions: the white hard cleanliness of crated woods containing food and shot provender of every sort—canned goods, meat, beans, dried fruits, and small arms ammunitions—the enormous victualling of life and death fed ceaselessly into the insatiate and receiving maw of distant war.²
You see a primary verb in any of that? There isn't one. Wolfe was going for effect, not convention, and effect is what he got, blunt, sensory, powerful, even brutal. Crot Rot and How to Avoid It Effect is the whole point of using sentence fragments. But not all effects are the same, and not all are desirable. Fragments can, for instance, imbue a few crisp words with extra significance, and that is a fine thing when applied conservatively, but it is off-putting when overdone or used to impart drama when drama isn't called for.

Josh and Ashley contemplated the candy selection. Butterfinger bars. Baby Ruths. Atomic Fireballs. Red licorice sticks. And more. Lots more. All so tasty. So toothsome. So exquisitely yummy—and yummy was good.

Very good.

Shall I continue? You'd prefer not, wouldn't you. The staccato of so many fragments piled one on top of another rapidly grows annoying, particularly since the context doesn't warrant such an approach. That last, isolated fragment in particular smacks of overblown significance. I mean, we are describing a candy display here, not a crime scene strewn with clues. All grammatical concerns aside, the result is just plain awful. There's a word I use a lot in my posts on writing: judicious. It means that in every aspect of writing—from word choices, to matters of style, to keeping or breaking rules of grammar, and more—a writer should be keenly aware of and intentional about what he or she writes. Judiciousness is often the fulcrum between masterful writing, as in the Thomas Wolfe excerpt above, and mere slovenliness. This is certainly true of sentence fragments, or crots, or verbless sentences, or whatever you wish to call them. Great writers through the centuries have used them deliberately to achieve a calculated impact, while poor writers have committed them unthinkingly, oblivious to the conventions of grammar and the guidance of good taste. Provided that the style of writing we're doing allows for fragments, there is no reason why you and I shouldn't use them. Complete sentences are the default; that's just common sense. But with that as a given, why shouldn't we—and why wouldn't we—take a lesson from the masters and apply it to our own writing? Judiciously, of course. _______________ 1. For an excellent post on the use of sentence fragments, including links to related articles, see Richard Nordquist, "In Defense of Fragments, Crots, and Verbless Sentences," About.com, http://grammar.about.com/od/rhetoricstyle/a/In-Defense-Of-Fragments-Crots-And-Verbless-Sentences.htm. 2. Thomas Wolfe, "The Face of the War," in From Death to Morning (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1935).