Proverbial show of hands here, how many of you start your editor’s style sheet before you start editing your book? Oh, you don’t know what a style sheet is? Of course you don’t, you’re a writer, not an editor.
I know that many of you do not know, and have never heard of an editor’s style sheet. That’s sad, because in writing long manuscripts such as books, this tool can be your best friend. Simply put, the style sheet helps you to track and remember decisions you made as you’ve been writing. It can also keep you out of jams such as whether you are serializing your commas at the beginning of the book and not serializing at the end. Most importantly, you can protect yourself from making grammar mistakes that may make or break you when your manuscript is in front of a literary agent who is looking for polished error-free manuscripts.
Earlier this week I began editing a novel and while putting her style sheet together I realized, “Hey, I need to talk about this.” She, like most (all) people I edit for never heard of a style sheet before. Seriously, when we’re done, it will transform her knowledge of writing and keeping things together.
This is one of those posts that if I commit a couple days to it would be 3,000 or more words. Nobody wants that, so I plan on keeping it simple. To start, below there is a screenshot of the style sheet I use the most. Look it over, copy it, do what you will, but most importantly, use it to follow along as I go over each section. I’ll see ya on the other side of the screenshot…
Welcome back, glad you found me.
Above is a style sheet. It can also be called an Editor’s Style Guide and I’m sure several other names. For our purpose I will simplify the name to style sheet.
Simple, right? It is. To start the above portion is basic information: name, book title, author name, editor name (if not you), then we get into more important stuff.
Did you know that dictionaries actually have different information in them? Some have more information, some have different definitions, and some even have different spellings – especially when you are editing Australian, British and American English. Using the same dictionary is helpful when editing. It is not as important as using the same style guide, but it is up there. When I edit, I often have the online version of whichever dictionary I am using.
You’ve probably heard of these. The two most common are the Associated Press (A.P.)and the Chicago Manual of Style. There are dozens more, but for most writers these will be in your ballpark. In regards to how you write your manuscript, these are very important.
The A.P. Stylebook is often used for newspapers, magazines, and other printed material where space matters. Of course, the A.P. has transitioned into blog posts and other online content where space isn’t a factor, but the industry is dominated by people who learned how to write using the A.P. Stylebook whether they knew it or not.
The Chicago Manual of Style is used for pretty much anything else, including your novel or non-fiction book.
So, how do you know which to use? My couple sentences above should help, but in the end it depends on who will eventually receive your document. Both have their preferences, and both have their differences. I won’t go into those as, again, I want to keep this simple. But, if you Google the differences you might be surprised.
Whichever style guide you choose for your book – Chicago Manual of Style – you should get to know it and follow the same style guide throughout your manuscript.
You know when you open a Word document and there is that annoying sequence of boxes on the top-right of your screen that you don’t know what to do with it? Well, those are style headings. You can use them to create new formatting for formatting changes in your book such as title, chapter heading, sections within a book, normal text, and so on. This not only helps save you time and keep your book organized, but will also help you navigate your book (your very long book) faster than you could by sliding your finger over the mouse reel a thousand times to get to page 200.
If you don’t know what these are, Google it. While they are not the most important things, they are very useful. In fact, I had a literary agent respond back to me in her rejection that while she was not taking my book on, she was impressed and thankful to me for using the Style Headings.
In this section of the style sheet I note the headings, what they will be used for, and sometimes I will have basic information about the formatting I am using for that heading (Normal text: 12 pt, Times New Roman, 1.5-spaced, and .5″ indents).
Global edits are edits that will follow the entirety of the book, barring spelling. I will even note things that are in the specific style-guide I am using if they are used often enough, or deviate from the style guides.
For example: no first line indents for chapter and sections. All other indents at .5″
Or, I am only using an ellipsis (…) for continuing thought.
Some writers really want to bend the rules and stave off certain grammar for their own reasons. Other times, those rules are flexible, but maybe unconventional. One good example is from a client who wanted me to capitalize aunt and uncle in their manuscript regardless of how it was used. So, the sentence, “I had an uncle named Charles,” would be written, “I had an Uncle named Charles.” The last one is wrong in every sense of editorial logic. But, that is what the writer wanted, so that is what he got – despite countless conversations of my opposition.
I also use this section to note a writer’s concerns such as: I don’t think I was always accurate when I was talking about character actions and seasons of the year. For example, a character who wore a tank-top and shorts with sunblock on their nose when it was -10 degrees in a Minnesota winter.
That type of thing happens all the time, and I’m not talking character traits. I’m talking writer error.
Similar to global edits and preferences, the are decisions that affect the totality of the manuscript and adapted to the manuscript for the sake of keeping things coherent and consistent. Often, these decisions do not follow the style guide for one reason or another, but they can enhance the reading experience.
One example may be that all punctuation is within quotes. That’s not the rule of any style guide I know of and even deviates from one English-speaking country to another, but it is done sometimes.
Okay, so in the screenshot you see a cell-chart with the alphabet broken down. Within each of those cells you would put words, names, place names, etc. and including hyphenated words. Beyond place names and people names, other words would be uncommonly written, or you may question later on in the book. For example, are you saying grey or gray? Will you say home owner or homeowner?
What you don’t see in the screenshot is that I break this up into multiple similar charts. The first is for words, the second is names, and the third is places.
Other sections to add:
Adding to this screenshot I will occasionally add other things such as:
- Short summary of each chapter
- Timeline of events
- Which chapter a character was introduced
- When an item or event of significance was first mentioned. For example, if your protagonist opened a drawer and was shocked to see a loaded gun inside, that gun better be used somewhere else in the book. Also, if your character is using an old kerosene lamp to explore a cavern for treasure, later in the novel that kerosene lamp should not have its batteries replaced. That’s something that a smart 11-year-old will catch four months after being published. #truestory The Treasure at Devil’s Hole.
The purpose of an editor’s style sheet is to help the editor edit properly without missing mistakes over the course of a very long document. For a writer they can be equally important for your story to stay consistent and error-free.
Any questions or comments on using an editor’s style sheet I would love to hear from you. Any crazy stories about an 11-year-old finding mistakes in your book I am more eager to hear from you so I don’t feel so dumb.