Friday, June 11, 2010

Use of a style guide

If you’re writing a non-fiction book, the discipline of your subject may dictate a style guide for formatting, such as APA, MLA, or Chicago. If you’re writing fiction, then it’s best to make some decisions about formatting issues either as you write or on your first big revision. If you have developed a style guide, you can give it to the editor you hire. It will save her time and your money.

Some style issues to consider:

1. Current publishing standards are using one space between sentences and one space after colons. If you prefer two, make a note.

2. The use of a comma before “and” in a series is controversial. Many editors and publishers have rules about this, but prepublication it is best to be consistent (i.e., use it always or never). Include your preference for always or never on your style guide.

3. Most publishers prefer an indented paragraph with no extra space between paragraphs.

4. Use standard 1-inch margins, 12-point type, and a standard font, such as Times New Roman, Courier, or Helvetica.

5. Use colons and semi-colons very sparingly in fiction and never in dialog. Use liberally and correctly in non-fiction.

6. Be sure periods and commas go inside quotation marks.

7. Decide on a consistent use of comma before introductory phrases and clauses (those that appear before the main subject and verb in a sentence). Standard usage is a comma after any introductory clause and after phrases of four words or more. After he left, she went straight to bed. About noon on Friday, the answer came.

8. Use exclamation marks sparingly and never use more than one at a time.

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