Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Style Sheet

Nathan Bransford recently did a post on the importance of a series bible for authors and it kicked me into gear to do a post I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. A post on the importance of a style sheet.

As Nathan explains, a series bible is helpful for the author to keep track of characters, phrases, worlds, and whatever else you might have in your series that carries through from book to book. A style sheet is similar, but meant as a resource not just for the author but for your editors as well.

Any published author has probably seen the style sheet that comes back from the copyeditor with your copyedited manuscript. It’s the sheet the copyeditor prepares as she’s editing to make sure she maintains the style of your book and series. For example, if you’ve decided, in your world, that Maribelle is actually spelled Mariebell, that will be on the style sheet. If your world capitalizes "werewolf," that will be on the style sheet. But why wait for the copyeditor to put together your style sheet? Why not do it yourself?

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve fielded phone calls from authors dismayed with the changes a copyeditor has made. Changes that were technically correct (according to the Chicago Manual of Style), but not necessarily in line with what the author was trying to convey.

Let me make it clear. A style sheet is different from a series bible. A style sheet does not include the nitty-gritty details of your world or your characters. It’s for editing purposes. A style sheet should include spellings of names or stylistic changes you’ve made to the spelling of other common words. For example, if you’ve decided that "Prom" is capitalized throughout your book, that would be something you would include on the style sheet. "Prom" is not technically a proper noun.

When your manuscript is finished and your style sheet is finalized, submit them together to your editor. I can’t guarantee the copyeditor won’t try to change some of your style to fit what Chicago has to say, but it will very possibly save you a lot of stetting in the future.