I Try To Leave Out the Parts that People Skip

Elmore Leonard? Marty Asher? Leonore Fleischer? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The funniest and most cogent writing advice I have ever heard was delivered by the best-selling author Elmore Leonard. According to folklore, an aspiring novelist implored Leonard to reveal the secret of his success, and he replied with something like this:

I leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence known to QI appeared in 1985 within the trade magazine “Publishers Weekly”. Columnist Leonore Fleischer relayed an anecdote from Marty Asher, editor-in-chief of the Quality Paperback Book Club. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Marty said, “Do you want to hear the best quote about publishing that I’ve heard in 20 years?” We whipped out our Ticonderoga #2. “It was uttered by Elmore Leonard (author of Glitz) at the Book-of-the-Month Club luncheon. We were all raving to him about his books, how quickly they move and how good the dialogue is, and Leonard said quietly, out of the comer of his mouth, ‘Yeah, I try to leave out the parts that people skip.'” We’re gonna paste that on the wall over our Selectric.

Many years later in 2001 Leonard penned an essay of writing advice for “The New York Times”, and he included a similar remark. See the citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The 1986 book “Literary Agents: How To Get & Work with the Right One for You” by Michael Larsen included two quotations as epigraphs to the twelfth chapter: 2

To write simply is as difficult as to be good.
—Somerset Maugham

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
—Elmore Leonard

In 1988 a book reviewer for the Associated Press attributed a shortened version of the quotation to Leonard: 3

When asked about the popularity of his crime novels, crack writer Elmore Leonard is reported to have replied, “I leave out the parts that people skip.”

Also in 1988 the reference “Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations” included the expression and listed a 1986 book for support: 4

ELMORE LEONARD
I leave out the parts that people skip.
When asked about popularity of his detective novels, quoted by William Zinsser A Family of Readers Book-of-the-Month Club 86

In 2001 Elmore Leonard published an essay for writers titled “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle” in “The New York Times”. The tenth of his numbered points expressed his love of brevity: 5

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle . . .

Leonard also stated the following:

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

In conclusion, Elmore Leonard did make this remark. The instance in 1985 was the earliest, and its plausibility was supported by Leonard’s 2001 statement. Nevertheless, the precise 1985 phrasing was based on the memory and veracity of Marty Asher. The instance in 2001 was written directly by Leonard.

Image Notes: Picture of a laptop computer from Felix_Broennimann at Pixabay. Elmore Leonard at the 70th Annual Peabody Awards Luncheon; source: Flickr: Peabodys_CM_0382; author: Peabody Awards; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

(Great thanks to anonymous neophyte scribbler whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1985 March 8, Publishers Weekly: The Journal of the Book Industry, Volume 227, Number 10, Talk of the Trade by Leonore Fleischer, Quote Page 81, Publisher R. R. Bowker Company (now PWxyz). (Verified with microfilm)
  2. 1986, Literary Agents: How To Get & Work with the Right One for You by Michael Larsen, (Epigraph of Chapter 12: Writers Do It Every Day: Develop Your Craft), Quote Page 111, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1988 November 13, The Odessa American, Thriller suffers from overload of verbiage by Phil Thomas, Associated Press (Book review of “Blue Belle” By Andrew Vachss) Quote Page 23A, Column 2, Odessa, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  4. 1988, Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations, Compiled by James B. Simpson, Topic: Literature, Quote Page 310, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. (Verified on paper)
  5. 2001 July 16, New York Times, Series: Writers On Writing, Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle by Elmore Leonard, Start Page E1, Quote Page E2, Column 3, New York. (ProQuest)