By Carol Hinz
Editorial Director, Millbrook Press
Earlier this month on the BookEnds, LLC blog, Jessica talked about style sheets. I’d like to talk a little more about style sheets as they relate to nonfiction.
Here at Lerner, text editors put together style sheets for our copy editor/proofreader to refer to. Indexers also refer to the style sheet to ensure that the index matches spellings and terminology in the rest of the book. Here is part of a style sheet for a book about Muhammad Ali:
What belongs on a style sheet? In short, proper nouns of all kinds, words with tricky or unusual spellings, terms specific to the subject of a book, hyphenated words (including adjectives that are hyphenated before a noun), and anything the author or editor has handled in a way that is contrary to The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition or Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.
Why bother with a style sheet? Copy editors, proofreaders, and indexers are very smart, but they probably don’t know know how to spell every single name or term in existence. And speaking of Muhammad Ali, he spelled his name as I typed it, but in a different book about a different person with that first name, it might be spelled Mohammad. Putting together the style sheet also helps with fact-checking to make sure names and terms are correct—and consistent—throughout the book.
Not all style sheets look the same. To contrast with the Muhammad Ali example above, here’s part of a style sheet for a book about plate tectonics:
This one still has a lot of proper nouns, but there are fewer names of people and more place names—which is what you’d expect, given the topic.
I should note that copy editors aren’t slaves to the style sheet. We editors do, on occasion, make typos on the style sheet. (The horror!) Fortunately for us, copy editors do some double-checking of their own to save us from all kinds of embarrassing errors. They also point out if something is consistently spelled one way in the book and another way on the style sheet.
We don’t typically spend time discussing style sheets with anyone outside the company—I suspect most people don’t even know that they exist—but they’re one of many tools editors use to help get a book ready for publication.