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Style sheets: What are they, and do I need one?

Updated: 2 days ago

Style sheets are miniaturized versions of style guides, and yes, you need one. That doesn’t mean you need to make one yourself, though. Most professional editors that I know create style sheets for their clients, and I am no exception.


If you’re a first-time author, let’s cover the basics. You may be asking yourself, “What is a style guide?” In high school or college, you probably heard mention of MLA format. It's a style of writing geared more toward academics, not manuscripts. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is the style guide that editors refer to when they work through manuscripts. It is nearly impossible to memorize style guides cover to cover, so my physical copy of CMOS is within reach while I’m working away at my desk.

All books within reach at my desk, including CMOS

All-inclusive rules for punctuation can be found in The Chicago Manual of Style, including pages upon pages of comma usage. Ever wonder what a semicolon (;) is used for? It’s in there, too, along with rules on capitalization and when one should and should not spell out numbers. There’s also an entire section on manuscript preparation, editing, and proofreading.


The formatting of style sheets, on the other hand, varies from editor to editor. Before I began making style sheets for my clients, I searched the interwebs for templates. The style sheet I use is a compilation of a few I found online:

Style Sheet Template
.docx
Download DOCX • 248KB

It is in MS Word format, so feel free to download it and replace my logo with your own if you’re a newbie editor. If you’re an author, you can use it, too. Style sheets are great for keeping all information about your book in one place for easy reference.


 


At the top of my style sheet's first page is Book Title, Series Title (if applicable), Author, etc.

The first section on my style sheet is Language & Style:


This manuscript has been line edited with the following resources:

  • Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition

  • Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary Online

Any style preferences specified by the author or editor have been outlined in the following guide. The manuscript has been edited following American English guidelines.



Next, I list Punctuation & Grammar:


The following rules have been applied to the manuscript:

  • Serial (Oxford) comma

  • Thoughts are italicized. (No quotation marks around thoughts—only italics.)

  • Em dashes have no spaces on each side per Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition (—)

  • When a name ends in “s” and is being treated as possessive, add ’s: Yates’s (as seen on page 21)

  • Comma before and/or after the word too. For instance, on page 22, “They serve brunch, too.”


I also provide an inventory of characters, listing their features, if applicable; places; timeline; and world terms, if applicable. There is a comprehensive Spelling & Capitalization list in the form of a table, beginning with numbers. Under numbers I typically write the following bullet points:

  • 1 - 100 spelled out (one to one hundred)

  • Whole numbers one through one hundred followed by hundred, thousand, or hundred thousand are spelled out.

  • In narration, when a large number isn’t a whole number, it is represented with numerals ($5.2 million).



Listed underneath Numbers are spelling preferences in alphabetical order. If I notice that my client uses alright instead of all right in most instances, this preference gets listed in the table. The same can be said of words such as ambiance vs. ambience, moulding vs. molding, grey vs. gray, blonde vs. blond, décor vs. decor, glamour vs. glamor, and so on.


And, yes, some expletives get put on this list as well, such as shitload, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is one word.


Yep! Shitload is in the dictionary!


 


A style sheet will stay with a manuscript throughout its lifecycle, from editor to author, and from author to the next editor or the proofreader. (Your proofreader, if you elect to hire one, will definitely need the style sheet.) Consistency and continuity are key elements in the publishing world. We don’t want our target audience seeing shitload or grey on page 92 and shit load or gray on page 204.


These types of mistakes found in print scream amateur, and no author wants that.


Next time you’re in the market for a professional editor, make sure to ask if they create a style sheet for each manuscript they edit. If they don't, you may want to keep looking.

 

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