KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Friday, June 08, 2012

How an Editor's Style Sheet Can Help the Author

There's more to editing a manuscript than just fixing spelling, punctuation, and grammar. We copyeditors must keep track of a good many things in a manuscript to ensure that the finished book or article is consistent throughout and doesn't jar the reader by odd deviations from its intended structure, message, or voice. What are some of these? Proper spelling and capitalization of jargon, for a start. There's much more, such as chronological numbering of chapters and references, physical and personality traits of fictional characters, and how ranges of numbers are handled.

To do all of that, we create a document called a style sheet as part of the editing process. (Here are examples to download as PDFs: for a novel, for a book of literary criticism, for a medical textbook.) The style sheet then serves as a reference for anyone who deals with the manuscript later in the publishing process, including the author, the proofreader, the production editor, and the indexer.

Recently, several colleagues and I had a discussion on Facebook about an author's gratitude for my creation of a style sheet for her book. Editor and writer Patrick Inman offered an excellent explanation of the value of editors' style sheets for authors, and he has allowed me to share it here:

Authors are often too close to their material to consciously organize it. Also, for some writers at some points in the process, explicit sorting and categorizing may interfere with necessary ambiguity in thinking—ambiguity that has to be clarified in the writing but shouldn't be clarified too early in the development of a piece. When someone else provides that explicit organization in a style sheet, the suggestions it contains can be both supportive and freeing. The author can take the advice, or leave it, or, most likely, use what works and reject what doesn't.

Style sheets promote and enforce consistency. Just as important, they identify and catalog inconsistencies, and in so doing may point out where and how the editor has misunderstood the writer's intent. Clear points of misunderstanding are great signposts for authors. The editor's misapprehension shows the writer where readers may get lost. If the author believes the editor has managed to approach, read, and react to the text approximately as intended readers will, any text passages or patterns that the editor misidentifies or miscategorizes deserve close attention. The writer can figure out what he or she wants to happen at those junctures, and revise the text to make the trail clearer, or to make the puzzle more prominent, but in any case to create a more deliberate pattern that either gets to the point or creates purposeful confusion or questions in the reader's mind.

The most enjoyable and possibly headache-provoking editing gigs in the world must include continuity editing for the best mystery writers. I imagine those style sheets track what the reader knows when as part of their structure, including the misleading clues.

See the "Circuitry" section on pages 30–52 in Thomas McCormack, The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist (Paul Dry Books, 2006) for more on this. McCormack describes, with intricate examples, what he judges to be two of three essential tasks of novel editing: the acts of discovering or inferring and then communicating to the writer, first, how the text overall and at each point affects its ideal appropriate audience (the editor must have the sensibility to experience the text as those readers would), and second, how the narrative causes those effects (the editor must have developed the craft to make informed guesses as to what may be causing undesired effects).

McCormack wants us to always be aware that the point of editing is to offer clues and tools to the writer that may guide the writer in generating, revising, cutting, and structuring the work to achieve the writer's purposes. We can also help the writer decide what those purposes are by demonstrating what the current draft accomplishes or seems close to accomplishing. That may or may not be what the writer wants.


Katie at Tweed Editing said...

Those samples are beautiful! I give style sheets to the writers who hire me directly, but I've realized that the ones I make for university presses and other intermediaries don't always find their way to the authors.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Thanks, Katie.

It bugs me when I find out that a publisher hasn't provided the author with my style sheet. I view style sheets as an important part of the author–editor collaborative process.

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