What the Hell Is a Style Guide?
Our entire editorial team had the exact same experience with style guides before entering the publishing industry: we used style guides to format citations for papers in college, and nothing more. If you’re like us, then perhaps you, too, had no idea that a style guide was intended for anything else.
In fact, style guides are massive, complex, and crucially important -- and we barely ever use them for citations anymore (lookin’ at you, nonfiction!). A style guide is a rulebook for writing that outlines grammar prescriptions and recommendations that can also give advice for troubleshooting unusual issues.
Listen to our accompanying podcast episode!
Style guides are used to ensure that every publication coming from the same place uses the same grammar system. For example, essentially all fiction books that are published in American English these days are edited using the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), which the University of Chicago Press has been publishing since 1906. (Students sometimes use Chicago/Turabian, which is a streamlined version of CMS for academics.)
You may recognize some of the hallmarks of CMS, like a preference for the Oxford (or serial) comma. As editors, we rely on CMS to tell us where commas go (spoiler alert: it’s complicated!) and how to format ellipses. . . . It also tells us what order parts of the book go in. For example, CMS prefers that the dedication page of a book goes in the front, while the acknowledgments page should go in the back. CMS also defers all spelling questions to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary in particular!
Some other style guides may be familiar to you, like the Modern Language Association (MLA) style guide or the AP (Associated Press) style guide. Many companies and other organizations also develop their own style guides. These corporate style guides can come in handy when a company like Medium, for example, utilizes hundreds of writers from all around the world but still wants all those articles to be grammatically consistent.
That’s the key word here: consistent. The entire purpose of style guides is to ensure that a book’s grammar is consistent throughout; that an author’s books are consistent from one to the next; that a publisher’s book list is edited to a consistent standard; that books across the country are grammatically consistent so readers have an easier time hopping from one to the next. Having a codified system that any editor can turn to, via print style guide or online, is how we achieve this glorious consistency.
All this is to say: Your editor is not making up their grammatical recommendations. If you have a really nice editor (say, any editor at Wildling Press), they may take the time to explain some of their corrections to you using CMS as their guide. However, just like any other industry, these rules are complex and layered, stacking on top of each other to create a full spectrum of meaning and clarity. It’s not always easy for an editor to explain why they’ve made a certain correction. But more often than not, there is a grammatical rule (or several!) from CMS behind their correction.
Studying the CMS is a great step to take to become a better writer. We once had someone tell us, “I’m not familiar with CMS, but I could read it in a day or two.” Well, they certainly missed the point! Reading the style guide from cover to cover might not do you much good -- unless you have a really excellent memory for that sort of thing. Instead, try evaluating the choices you are making when writing, and then asking yourself, “Why am I making this choice? Is this the right choice?” Before you slap that comma there, try looking it up! Does a comma actually belong there? (As we mentioned, commas are really objectively unreasonably complicated.)
Here’s the good news: if working with a style guide is hard for you, you can rely on your editor to show you the way. Just be sure to remember that their corrections come from a good place: the Chicago Manual of Style!
by Christina Kann
How Do I Book? Introductions
Hi, Wildlings! We're stoked to announce that our very first episode of the How Do I Book? podcast is out now! Please check out the podcast below, or simply read through our episode transcript. (Our blogs that accompany our podcast episodes will only occasionally be transcripts; usually, they'll be proper blog posts.)
How Do I Book? Hey, you wild thing. Welcome to How Do I Book? by Wildling press. We like to chat about book writing, book publishing, book marketing, and, of course, book reading. We're trying to help new, inexperienced authors develop their craft, widen the perspectives and learn to get a little wild every once in a while.
Christina Kann 00:43
I'm Christina Kann, communications director for Wildling Press. I'm joined today by my coworker, Grace.
Grace Ball 00:50
Hey, I'm Grace Ball. I am Wildling's operations manager, as well as keeper of tabs and windows at Wildling.
Christina Kann 01:00
Oh, you said your cute title! I forgot to say mine. I'll say mine real quick. I'm an Oxford comma enthusiast.
Grace Ball 01:05
And I'm joined by my lovely colleague, Mary-Peyton.
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:11
Hi, I'm Mary-Peyton Crook. I'm the public relations director at Wildling and cultivator of stories, and I'm joined today by my friend, Michael.
Michael Hardison 01:20
Hey, everyone. I'm Michael Hardison. I'm the creative director and comic sans annihilator for Wildling Press.
Christina Kann 01:27
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:28
Christina Kann 01:29
So here we are. This is our podcast. It's the first episode of our podcast. How Do I Book? Welcome, everyone. Congrats. We did it. Here we are.
Grace Ball 01:39
I'm so happy to be here.
Christina Kann 01:40
Honestly, me too. And I'm excited to explore the question: How do I book? Because let me tell you, we've all been working in the industry for a long time, and--spoiler alert--the answer is not yet clear. So let's start with you, Mary-Peyton. Will you tell us a little bit about your experience with reading, writing, and editing? Maybe even take it from the top, from when you were a wee babe.
Mary-Peyton Crook 02:05
Oh, well, that's definitely where the reading started. So that's great. I've definitely been a lifelong reader. Love books. Really fell in love with them probably elementary school, actually before middle school, but I love the middle grade genre. It's always magical to me. And I've always loved writing too. I remember writing when the teacher would assign stories we had to write, like one or two pages, I would just get way too into it and draw illustrations for them and everything. And then I just continued. I majored in English in college and creative writing. I've been trying to edit and be involved in books ever since. I've been an editor and project manager for a small publishing company for the last three years.
Christina Kann 02:51
Cool! Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing. That is so awesome. We're really glad to have your history of creative storytelling on our team.
Mary-Peyton Crook 03:00
Christina Kann 03:01
Michael, what about you? When did you start loving books and design, and what has your path look like?
Michael Hardison 03:10
My first story I ever wrote was actually in third grade, and it was about a turtle named Rainbow finding a family. And my family does not let me live that down to this day. If my dad's sees a turtle, he calls it Rainbow. But I really got into reading when I was around middle school, when they would reward you with pizza for as many books as you could read, because I was very food-driven. I would have to say that, for me, I kind of took a different path, where I got into design a little later, post-college, actually. And I started with just designing very small items for people and found that I really wanted to combine my love of design with books and reading. So I went into editorial design, where I worked in a magazine, a small publication, for a few years. And then for the past five years, I have been with a small press doing book design.
Christina Kann 04:03
Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. It's so cool that you're able to marry your two big passions in life. I think that's kind of what we all are doing, pursuing our passions. You know, my passion for extreme attention to detail and persnickety-ness, as well as my love for books, really helps me with my editing. Grace, how about you? When did your love for books start, and how did you get here?
Grace Ball 04:28
Yeah, I mean, classic. Tale as old as time. I started reading really avidly in elementary school, and I got really into a couple of different series, which I think sparked my tenacity for reading, I guess. I ended up majoring in English literature in college and, of course, got the question, "What kind of teacher are you going to be?" "What subject are you going to teach?"
Christina Kann 05:03
Grace Ball 05:03
Yeah. And you know, I have all of the love and all of the respect in the world for teachers, truly. But I just knew that wasn't the path that I wanted to take. I had always been kind of interested in publishing. I think anyone who reads, like, tons and tons of books -- the natural thought is How did this come together? How did this happen? I didn't know anyone in the publishing industry, so I was like, "You know what? I'm just gonna figure it out, take a stab at it myself." So I started working for a small press in the Richmond area about six years ago. And I'm so excited to be at Wildling now and see where this journey takes each and every one of us.
Christina Kann 05:50
Yours is a tale as old as time, because you wondered, "What do I do with my life?" and then accepted an unpaid internship.
Christina Kann 05:57
Isn't that what everyone does?
Christina Kann 06:01
Exactly, exactly. Yes.
Mary-Peyton Crook 06:02
Grace Ball 06:03
How about you, Christina? How'd you get here?
Christina Kann 06:06
Well, I first wrote a book when I was about five years old. I dictated what I could remember of the movie Disney's "Pocahontas" to my mother so she could write it down for me, and I illustrated it. Since then, I have gone to college, taken some critical theory classes, and learned why Disney's "Pocahontas" is maybe not what I should be focusing my attention on. I majored in English and linguistics, so I'm really big into language use, sociolinguistics, how language and culture are connected. Hand in hand with that is using language intentionally, which is I think one of my biggest strengths as an editor -- just really trying to get authors to understand why they're using the language they're using, and how they can do so more intentionally. I too have worked for a small press. I've done a lot of freelance editing, done some like marketing copywriting for some startups, and I write novels myself. I will be sure to update everyone if that ever amounts to anything. I tend to write sci-fi/fantasy, and I read a lot of sci-fi/fantasy too. But I think we all love reading. We've been friends -- editor friends and bookish friends -- for a long time. We trade books amongst the friend group, so I think we all know what we have in common, what we don't. Sometimes it's like, "This isn't your genre. And yet! May I recommend trying this book on for size?" It's such an intimate thing to be able to share books with friends. There's some friends with whom I simply don't do it because I know I don't like your taste in books, and you won't like mine. But I think part of what makes us such a great team together is that we're able to read the same books and talk through them together to figure out why they are so effective, or in some cases ineffective.
Grace Ball 07:58
Yeah, that's actually one of our favorite things to do: just talk about books, and what's working with them, and what maybe isn't working so well. And so -- wow, now we're gonna get to do it in a professional setting. How awesome is that for us?
Christina Kann 08:13
Yeah, absolutely. That's the bulk of what an editor does, when they're developing a book, is try to figure out what's working, what's not working, and work with the author to strengthen it to be a really incredible book, In front of every so-so first draft is a really excellent final product, but it takes a team of people to get there. We're so excited to be that team! This podcast, How Do I Book? The name says it all! We're going to be exploring every facet of book publishing, book writing, book selling, and book appreciating, because we don't want to leave out people who just like to read, because that's us! This all started because we just like to read. But first, we'd love to tell you a little bit more about our small press. It's brand new; it's a little baby. We're just starting it out now, and we're so freaking excited. Wildling Press! Mary-Peyton, do you want to tell the listeners a little bit about Wildling, how it came to be, and what our mission is?
Mary-Peyton Crook 09:20
Sure! All four of us have worked in book publishing for a while. We got the chance to really see what we enjoyed about the publishing industry, and what we really didn't like about some parts of the publishing industry, or at least what we saw of it. So Wildling is our years of experience coming together to create something that we think is really the right way to do things. Our point is to really do right by our authors and really do right by our readers. Our mission is to amplify marginalized voices that don't often get a lot of space at all in the publishing industry. I feel like that's been a topic that's been brought up a lot in the past few years, but it really still hasn't improved. I think we all feel like the only way for it to improve is for publishers to make that their main focus. So that is our main focus, to amplify those marginalized voices, to really choose books that tell the kinds of stories that all different kinds of people would write, and to see some different kinds of main characters that we don't often see.
Christina Kann 10:25
Yeah, absolutely. Mary-Peyton, I think you actually wrote the line for our company that we use in our marketing, "We want stories that take root in our hearts." What lies behind that is empathy. We want to be able to read these stories from people in all walks of life, so that we can sort of practice empathy through these stories. That, when it comes down to it, at least in my opinion, is what reading is really about.
Mary-Peyton Crook 10:50
Yeah, and I think something that's missing from a lot of publishers is that idea that publishers can have a lot to learn from their authors, just like authors can have a lot to learn from their editors and their publishers. We don't know everything about the publishing industry, we don't know everything about story or even close to it. So you know, really looking for authors who have a new story to tell, a different side of things, and really listening to authors and ideas that we haven't seen yet.
Christina Kann 11:19
Mary-Peyton, if there are people listening, who consider themselves to be a writer from a marginalized group, or they have a really important story to tell, what can they do? How can they connect with us?
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:29
They can go to our website, that's the best way to do it. You can check out our mission statement there, check out about us, and submit your manuscript. We've tried to make it as easy as possible so people can submit that way without too much trouble. Obviously, if you have any issues, contact us at email@example.com.
Christina Kann 11:53
Thank you so much, Mary-Peyton. I cannot wait to start seeing these submissions roll in, because that is truly one of my favorite parts of working in the publishing industry: just getting to read all the submissions. So much hard work that these authors have put into their stories. And there's just so many different stories out there that there's never a dull moment when you're reviewing those manuscript submissions. And as a reminder to everyone, we do accept unsolicited manuscripts. What that means is you don't need a literary agent to send your manuscript to us; you can just send it through the website, and we'll check it out. Thank you so much for that summary, Mary-Peyton. Grace, would you mind telling people a little bit about our Emerging Authors Program? Something that I personally am so excited about.
Grace Ball 12:38
Yeah, I am also incredibly excited about this program. Basically, we want to be able to help those authors who are super-new first-time authors, perhaps previously self-published, get a better idea of the publishing industry and the production process in general. So our Emerging Authors will receive detailed guidance throughout the production period. We will be holding their hands and really educating them throughout about each step of the process so they come away with a real education of the publishing industry and how it works and how a book becomes a book.
Christina Kann 13:21
Thank you so much for that summary. I'm so excited because one of my favorite parts about working for an independent press is the opportunity to work with so many new authors and kind of show them the way. So if people are interested in that and they want to apply to our Emerging Authors Program, how can they do that?
Grace Ball 13:38
Authors can head, again, to our website. That's where everything lives, so just head there no matter what. Once you're there, you should see a button for our Emerging Authors Program, and you can learn a little bit more about the program there and fill out a form to apply to see if you might be a good fit.
Christina Kann 14:01
I am so excited to start developing a little community of writers to all support each other. I'm so looking forward to that. And last but not least, our publishing company is kind of split into three facets: the traditional publishing, the Emerging Authors, and then last but not least, we do a la carte services as well as package self-publishing. Michael, do you mind just telling us a little bit about our a la carte services and self-publishing?
Michael Hardison 14:28
Yeah, absolutely. With our complete self-publishing package, this is where we'll edit, design, and print your book to meet industry standards and to match your vision. As a self-publishing author, you get to maintain complete creative control over the book's production. We'll just walk you through the different steps for it. That package includes from copy editing to design and beyond. You can learn more about that by visiting our website and just clicking on the literary services tab and it's about two down from there. We also offer website design podcast services, audiobook production, marketing support, and marketing graphic design, which you can learn more about by visiting our website.
Christina Kann 15:06
Thank you so much for that, Michael. Our self publishing services -- like editing and design and stuff -- you can also get those a la carte. We're pretty much down to do anything that involves words or similar for anyone. So definitely hit us up by visiting our website. I guess it's become a little bit of a broken record. Check out our website! Maybe I'm tooting my own horn since I built it myself. We're not accepting critique for the website at this time.
Grace Ball 15:34
We'll be taking no questions. No, just kidding. Ask us questions.
Christina Kann 15:38
Last but not least, a little look into the future for what this podcast has to hold. It's called How Do I Book? You know, you clicked on it! In this podcast, we're going to talk about all the bookish things: book writing, book publishing, book marketing, book reading. We are so excited. So here's just a little sneak peek of some of the episodes and subjects to come. We're going to talk about fairy tale and myth retellings. We're going to talk about hashtags. We're going to talk about style guides. We're going to talk about book clubs. We're going to talk about reading diversely. We're going to talk about writing sex. We're going to talk about technicalities, like what is a book distributor, what is a printer, what is a publisher? We're going to talk about author events and how you can promote yourself. We're going to talk about different word processors and their pros and cons. We're going to talk about writing basics, like what is the three-act structure? And we're also going to talk about some nerdy stuff, like Lord of the Rings, probably, at some point, you know.
Grace Ball 16:40
You can't avoid it. That's the thing.
Christina Kann 16:43
You can't avoid it. So basically, everyone, just get ready to get down to business, because over the next couple of months and beyond, we're going to start asking each other and exploring the question: How do I book? Are we excited?
Christina Kann 16:59
Thank you so much for joining me, friends. And that's how you book
This episode was edited by me, Christina Kann. Logo designed by Michael Hardison. Theme music produced by Jason Hilton.
Today marks the release of the trailer for How Do I Book? On the podcast, the staff of Wildling Press will be chatting about book writing, book publishing, book marketing, and of course, book reading. We’re trying to help new and experienced authors develop their craft, widen their perspectives, and learn to get a little wild every once in a while.
In some of our episodes, we'll interview authors and other industry experts to get their advice and perspectives about writing and publishing. We'll talk a lot about the craft of writing and delve into some nuances of grammar from an editor's perspective. We'll also just be chatting about bookish subjects and themes that any booklover will enjoy!
The trailer and all future episodes can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and more! Visit our Buzzsprout page for a complete list of where How Do I Book? is distributed.
We're eager to hear from listeners and connect with other booklovers, so if you have thoughts about the show or an idea for an episode, don't hesitate to reach out!
How Do I Book?
We'll try to find the answer to that question in our blog.