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    « Want to Hit the Bestseller List? Write a Memoir | Main | The Self-Publishing Controversy »
    Tuesday
    Sep182012

    Style for Writers: You Can Look It Up!

    “Should self-publishing be hyphenated?” I asked.

    It seemed like a simple question, triggered by a desire to be consistent in the way we handle a word we use a lot here at Stories To Tell. But the discussion it provoked was rather protracted and, I think, an important illustration of something to which writers should pay more attention – consistency of style.

    We discussed what you see in common usage. Many pieces of published writing have hyphens. But what seems an equal number don’t and that number seems to be growing.

    We talked about grammar. If you use the word as a verb without a hyphen you are saying to self. That doesn’t make sense. So you should use a hyphen to self-publish to make it grammatically correct. But as an adjective, as used in self published book, would the same thing be true? Of course your grammar checker in Word says it’s not correct. But, I hope everyone knows that’s not always a guarantee of correctness.

    Finally, we did what we should have done in the first place, we checked the Chicago Manual of Style. This reference has often been referred to as the “editor’s Bible.” It’s viewed by most editors as the final arbiter of correctness and consistency of style. It covers everything from word choice to comma placement to how to create citations for research.

    It’s a tool that writers should use, but which too many don’t. Most people’s writing would benefit from an occasional look at what the rules actually are.

    Although the Chicago Manual of Style has a reputation as the most important guide for preparing and editing book manuscripts for publication, there are other important style guides. Historians and social scientists use Chicago Style, but the Modern Language Association’s MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing is widely used in the humanities, especially in writing on language and literature. Journalists, broadcasters, magazines, and public relations firms use the Associated Press Style Book and Briefing on Media Law.  No discussion of stylistic references is complete without mentioning Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style which focuses on developing an effective writing style. The Boston Globe said of it, "No book in shorter space, with fewer words, will help any writer more than this persistent little volume."

    It doesn’t matter so much which one you use, although making sure the one you choose fits the field in which you are writing is a good idea. What is important is that you have a reference you can check to make sure that what you are doing is correct and that you then are consistent in that usage.

    In addition, creating a custom style sheet for the specific book you are working on will help you make sure your finished manuscript is consistent and correct. Record correct spellings for odd spellings, words you made up, and proper names of people and places. Your editor, in particular, will appreciate your having done so because things like proper names are almost impossible to check. Having a list of correct spellings in hand makes the editor’s work much easier.

    Using the appropriate style manual and style sheet will help you make sure your book is perfect when it appears in print. It’s a goal worth any writer striving to attain.

    Incidentally, following our check on correct style we’ll be hyphenating self-publish in all of its potential forms and uses.

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