What would you say if, right now, I could tell you how to save probably a few hundred quid off your editing fees?
Not bad eh?
And it’s dead easy.
And you’d look ultra professional.
And it would help YOU.
And your editor would love you for it.
Now it may sound really nerdy, but if you’re prepared to put in an hour or two it really will save you money.
It’s called …
An editorial style guide.
Ok, ok, I know. Style guide, blah, blah. Spell things the same, blah, blah.
But seriously … aren’t a couple of hours of your time worth it?
If I have to sort it out for you, I AM going to charge you. You know this. And I’m not cheap.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily take your cash, but I would rather earn my money by doing my job and not being a human spell checker.
That’s not what editors do.
Well it is, but only because we have to sort it all out before we get down to the actual editing … and I KNOW there will be some folk out there who disagree with me … but I’m a nice person, I want to save you cash so you can spend it on your business, or your book, or someone else’s book, or your favourite beer or wine or gin.
If you’re interested in saving yourself some hard-earned cash read on – I’m going to show you what to do. If you don’t want to save your cash email me and we can talk about your project anyway.
Right, the nitty gritty …
Get the writing implement of choice and jot down a few things. Keep it simple, this isn’t a mighty tome, it’s intended to set out the basics to give you something to build on.
Who are you?
Yes really, you need to know who you are to be able to communicate effectively with your audience.
Are you a company, a group of authors coming together to write a book or a paper, or are you an author who wants to get your story out there?
If you’re a company do you have set logos that need to be used?
If you’re a group is there already a set of rules you need to adhere to?
It’s good to get an overview of the readership and your intentions.
Who are you writing for? Is it a general readership, or industry professionals or somewhere in between? Your writing will need to reflect this – too general for a professional readership and they might not take you seriously – too professional for a general readership and you may lose them along the way.
What is your tone of voice? Are you going for formal or informal? Do you want to be seen as an educator or one of the gang?
Now you have the two global questions answered it’s time to get down to it. This is the meat of your guide, it won’t take long but it means that everyone works together to write the same way. If you’re on your own, it means you won’t forget what you’re doing. Your style guide should be a simple document that you can easily refer to, and that you can add to if needed.
If you want a guide for reference Butcher’s Copy-editing or the Chicago Manual of Style is worth buying, but a simple, well thought-out style guide is really what you need, so unless you’re going to need to write a lot of style guides they probably aren’t worth forking out for.
Back to the writing … use these headings to create consistency in your writing. Make your decisions and write them under each heading:
British English or American English (or another language)?
Which dictionary will you use? Dictionaries vary in their treatment of spelling, so it’s best to pick one and stick with it. Good examples are Oxford dictionaries or Collins for British spelling and Merriam Webster for the US.
Will you use -ise or –ize spellings? (e.g. standardise or standardize)
Will you co-operate or cooperate?
Are you being focused or focussed?
Also it’s good to note if you’re going to be informal or if you are going to formal
Are you going to have full stops, or not. And if you use full stops are you going to have spaces? For example – BBC, B.B.C or B. B. C.
There are some words where hyphenation is a style choice. If you know you’re going to be up against some of these it’s wise to note down how you want to treat them all under this heading – then when you come across them you know what to do. Add to the list as you go along.
Then there are the ones that you always get wrong or have to look up – add them too. It’ll save you time, seriously!
As with hyphenation, caps can be a minefield. Note down how you want them treated (and how they are supposed to be treated) so you can refer back to your style choices.
In the UK we usually use single quotation marks, with double quotation marks if they fall within a quote, e.g. ‘When he said “I don’t like Marvel films” I knew right then I had to leave.’
But in the US it’s convention to use double quotation marks, with single within, so: “When she said ‘Marvel films are the best’ I had to wonder what I saw in her.”
This will depend on whether you want British or American variations, but even then you have a choice:
British – 30th June 1930, 30th June 1930, 30 June 1930, 30/06/1930
American – June 30th 1930, June 30th 1930, June 30 1930, 06/30/1930
You need to keep these consistent throughout your documents. How about 1 pm, 1pm, 1 p.m. or 13:00, or 13.00?
And remember no a.m. or p.m. when you are using the 24-hour time designation – its 13:00, not 13:00 p.m.
Are you going to spell out to nine then have numerals from 10 onwards, spell to ten then 11 onwards, or ninety-nine then 100?
How about commas for large numbers? Are you going to have 1,000, or 1000.
Currency and weights/measures
Will you have spaces, no spaces or non-breaking spaces, e.g 1000 km, 1000km, 1000 km (you can’t see it, but there’s a non-breaking space there, so it’s best to spell it out!)
Will you use Hobbs’s or Hobbs’. There are ‘rules’ so it’s best to look these up before taking a hard stance on this.
Will your dash be a spaced en rule (erm – what?) , an unspaced em rule (erm—what?) or something else, such as spaced double hyphens (erm – – what?)?
Headings and subheadings
If you’re having headings and subheadings take a decision now to avoid confusion later.
Are all words going to be capitalised (The Ultimate Guide To My Life’s Work), or only nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs (The Ultimate Guide to my Life’s Work), or are you going to go for sentence case (The ultimate guide to my life’s work)? Or are you going to have all caps (and no lowercase letters) in one heading and something different for the others?
You can mix it up any way you like, as long as each type of heading is treated the same, but noting things here will help you remain consistent.
Note here any formatting issues you want to remember, for example, do you want to set out long quotations in justified block form, in a smaller font or in italics, or in a mixture?
Do you use references or a bibliography? How about footnotes? Where do you want them to appear, at the end of the page, the chapter or at the end of the document?
If you have this figured out at the start it will make it easier later, but do think this through really carefully. Changing it later can be a pain in the posterior. Seriously.
Still don’t know why you’re doing this?
A style guide:
- creates consistency
- makes sure everyone is doing, and remembers to do, the same thing
- gives your company, group or yourself an individual voice
- makes multi-authored texts easier to write
- helps you remember what you decided to do
- helps your editor or proofreader understand where you’re coming from
So, do you think it’s worth it?
What I’ve set out above, in this quick style guide, isn’t a definitive list. Add to it. Leave things out. It’s your call.
Creating a style guide for your business, your authorial colleagues or yourself might not even take an hour – it doesn’t need to be complicated.
But it’s a powerful little thing.
Use it and it could save you cash, and your sanity.