How to create an editorial style sheet for your manuscript

How to create an editorial style sheet for your manuscript

For a new author or an author who has been writing books for a while, you could have come across the challenge of keeping straight details throughout the book. These details ensure that consistency is maintained in the piece of writing. For example, if the villain has green eyes on page 1, he/she should not have brown eyes on page 41. If your book capitalises the words “Great Leader” in the first half, it should not be in lowercase in the second half. The question that remains here is this then, how do you keep track of these things without having to rely on your memory?

The answer to this is…an Editorial Style Sheet. An Editorial Style Sheet is what editors do when they line-edit or copyedit your book. The editors’ responsibility is to ensure that everything is as consistent and correct as possible throughout your book. As an editor edits, he/she writes down details. These details include; names of people, places, businesses and all proper nouns; unusual spellings; and all style rules that apply to your manuscript.

A style sheet does not need to be formal or super detailed, it can be as simple as you want it to be. In its simplicity, you can then be able to write or revise it and define plus keep track of the elements that are important to you.

The following elements are usually created by editors as they create style sheets:

  1. A list of important rules. These rules will be followed throughout the manuscript. You should note which dictionary and style guide you are using. What should be taken note of is consistency and maintaining a pleasant reading experience. This section addresses things like whether or not the serial comma is used; under what circumstances kinship or pet names (“papa” or “baby”) are capitalised or lowercased; whether inner thoughts are set in italics or roman types; rules for whether to spell out numbers or use numerals; rules on the indentation of speakers’ thoughts and other countless issues that come up in editing.
  2. Another element is the book’s setting. This is if it is a novel. The book’s setting entails the time frame and location on the map.
  3. A list of all the places and street names to ensure consistency in spelling and capitalisation. For instance, is it Toys “R” Us or Toys R Us? Is it Quick Mart or Quickmart?
  4. Have a list of all the people in the book including the correct spellings of their names. Whether it is fiction or non-fiction, you would be amazed how often a writer spells the same name in three different ways throughout a book… “Frederick”, “Fredrick” or “Frederic”. If personal details about the person are included, you may want to note those also, such as age, relationship to another person (i.e. “wife of John”), hair colour, eye colour, height and any other available information.
  5. Include a long list of words whose spellings could be easily challenged or mistaken. Words such as “blonde” and “blond” are examples of words that are typically confused and whose rules of usage have evolved over the years. A nicely edited manuscript requires a rule so the word is spelt consistently, i.e. blonde for female and blond for male; or blonde for noun and blond for an adjective. Sometimes a word is only used once but is included in the style sheet to show that an intentional decision has been made to go with a certain spelling or to show that the spelling has been verified through an external source.

For a self-publisher, keeping a style sheet is important as it helps you to communicate your choices to the editor you will hire. However, it is also a good idea to have one in traditional publishing as it helps maintain consistency. This way, the publisher will see the intentional style decisions you have made and that they should not be changed.