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Friday, May 11, 2012

How Important is the Publisher's Style Sheet?

As strange as this might sound,  it is not uncommon for some authors to complain about having to scrub their manuscripts according to a house style sheet in preparation for publication. (No, I am not joking.) These are often the same authors who also complain when an editor has spent untold hours trying to format previously inscrutable footnotes and makes mistakes doing so.

Then the phone rings: "Ted! On page 16, your editor inserted the wrong  . . . "

Submitting a manuscript that matches a house style sheet is important on many levels. First, it means that in most cases, editors will have to do less work fixing relatively simple issues like passive voice, run-on sentences, rank presentation, and so forth. The less time spent on these things means she can spend more time on developmental and substantive details.

Second, less minute detail work means there is a lower likelihood of an editor making a mistake trying to interpret or alter an author's work. Given the nature of our publications, citation format is critically important. No one knows his sources better than the author, so getting your footnotes in line with the house style sheet means makes it easier all the way around for everyone.

Imagine, for a moment, the room for error when an editor has to dig into hundreds of notes to change your "creative" citation of the Official Records . . . . OR, part I, Vol. 21, pages 232-233  . . . to match the preferred house style of OR 21, pt. 1, 232-233. Or "One O'clock" to "1:00 p.m.", etc. At first blush this might seem a small issue. I can assure you that, compounded over hundreds of pages and citations, it most certainly is not. As an author, do you really want an editor taking a spade to your work, or would you rather do it yourself to make sure it is done (and interpreted) correctly?

And those were simple examples. Cites to Internet articles, essays in anthologies, multi-volume works, and so forth, arrive here in a multitude of permutations, and many times within the same document are cited very differently. Trying to figure out the identity of the editor, the author, the volume number, etc., is simply a waste of time, money, and often leads to other problems.

Finally, another dirty little secret: an author's willingness to cooperate and help polish his own manuscript is indicative of his ability and willingness to cooperate later when a publisher decides where to dedicate precious marketing dollars.

So my advice is simple: The next time you get a style sheet, FOLLOW IT.



Anonymous said...

I am not a writer so hadnt really thought about this before, but why wouldnt an author follow a style sheet? That really makes no sense to me. Stephen

Anonymous said...

After a manuscript is read and BEFORE we even get to the 'style sheet, THE BIG QUESTION must be answered: Is this a STORY?

History without story is like a beautifully styled sportscar without an engine.


Ron Baumgarten said...

This reminds me of my days as an editor for the law review. I used to get endlessly frustrated when highly-educated and accomplished law professors couldn't take the time to follow the esteemed Bluebook citation form in their articles. I used to spend hours correcting the types of things you talk about. It sounds even worse when you have to tackle a several hundred page book!

TPS said...

Hi Ron

Thanks for posting. Academics, in my experience, have been the hardest to work with in this regard (not all, of course, but more than you would expect.) Bluebook citations brings back memories of horror--for I too am a law school graduate.