Getting the Most Out of Your Copyeditor: The Style Sheet- Part One

Copyright 2006 American Book Publishing

A style sheet’s purpose is to give the copyeditor information on unique features of a book’s manuscript.

On the surface, the book may be well edited, but still requires a style sheet. Many Publishers uses a standard form, with the categories Abbreviations; Numbers and Dates; Punctuation; and Capitalization, Hyphenation, Spelling, and Italics; for its style sheet.

When there is no style sheet, however, if the issue is small and the Chicago Manual of Style rules clear, I can usually resolve the issue myself. When the issue is as large as an unorthodox and potentially confusing way of treating dialogue, however, I need input before I can alter it.

Copyeditors want to give editors and authors what they want. I’m always happy when an editor tells me I did a great job and helped a lot.

But an editor who doesn’t send a style sheet often ends up feeling irritated that the copyeditor must then ask many questions as to what his or her instructions are or worse, makes changes that are out of line with the editor’s and author’s wishes. Again, a great amount of time is wasted, both on the part of the copyeditor who did unnecessary work, and on the part of the editor, who must then restore the manuscript to its pre-copyedited condition.

What, then, belongs on the style sheet?

Here is a rule of thumb: Anything that makes the manuscript unique belongs on the style sheet.

It follows that, since every manuscript is unique, every manuscript should have a style sheet. Furthermore, the author’s or editor’s style preferences should be explained wherever they differ from those outlined in the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition and I have yet to see a manuscript that followed CMS to the letter in every detail, since CMS contains general rules, and (I’m going to say it again!) every manuscript is unique. Furthermore, from time to time, every editor is bound to run into an issue which he or she does not know how to treat.

Copyeditors are experts in grammar and CMS style, and are a great resource for answering such questions or at least at cobbling together a recommendation for truly novel problems. Why, then, do editors not send style sheets? I suspect that the main reason is that they really have no idea what sort of information they should include in one. Here, then, are some suggestions and examples as to what to include:

Abbreviations In the case of the books of the Bible, what system of abbreviations does the manuscript use? CMS lists two styles, but the author may prefer a style that does not appear in CMS, in which case, the editor should provide a copy of it for the copyeditor. Are books outside the standard Protestant canon used, such as writings from the Apocrypha or Book of Mormon? What version of the Bible (e.g., Syr. Syriac, LXX Septuagint, AV Authorized King James Version) is being used?

A book written primarily for a Catholic audience should use the version and abbreviations those readers would be most comfortable with. A book for Bible scholars would likewise need to use the abbreviations most familiar to the readers. The editor can ask the author these questions and then choose the appropriate abbreviations and alert the copyeditor.

The editor of a nonfiction manuscript should give the copyeditor a heads-up concerning obscure or specialized abbreviations and their instructions, such as kHz (kilohertz, with a capital H) or BP (before the present, capitalized, with no periods).

Sample style sheet comments:

“Author prefers to use KJV rather than AV to abbreviate the Authorized King James Version.”

“Each chapter in this book discusses one chemical element. For brevity, the author generally uses IUPAC abbreviations in the text, rather than spelling them out, e.g., Pd is preferred over palladium and Cf is preferred over californium. Oxygen and hydrogen always appear as O2 and H2.”

“The author uses etc. a lot, and I wasn’t sure how professional it looked. What would you suggest?”

Numbers and Dates

* When are numbers are treated differently than outlined in CMS? For example, does the author prefer that numbers from one to one hundred are written in numerals rather than spelled out?

* How are amounts in foreign currencies written? Spelled out or in numerals? Does the author prefer to say, for example, “three hundred Canadian dollars,” “C$300,” or “Can$300”?

Sample style sheet comments:

“All numbers should be rounded off to the nearest hundredth (e.g., 267.34). Mark numbers that are incorrectly rounded with a comment, but please do not change them.”

“The author prefers to put the day first in dates; she uses 31 October 2004 (no comma) rather than October 31, 2004 .”

This concludes part one of this article. Be sure to read part two as it will include examples and an important conclusion.