Why Self-Publishing Writers Need a Style Sheet

Professionally published books are edited with a document little known to the public: the style sheet.

A style sheet is a list of terms, rules, and preferences used for editing. This sheet helps with correctness and consistency, as grammatically correct yet inconsistent writing can distract readers.

All traditional publishers create style sheets with their authors at the beginning of the editorial process and pass it down to copyeditors and proofreaders.

But many self-publishing writers neglect the style sheet. Either they self-edit without any outside help or hire an editor who doesn’t use this industry practice.

If you’re entering self-publishing as a career, I recommend that you keep a style sheet for every book. Whether you create one during the revision process or collaborate with a hired editor, the style sheet will be an invaluable tool that will only strengthen your books, especially if you’re a series author.

What does a style sheet look like?

Publishers all have different conventions for how they construct a style sheet. What’s important is that you include notes that will help you edit the best.

With that in mind, there are common elements for a style sheet.

Basic information and reference materials

At the top of the sheet, put down your book’s title and author’s name. From there, note what style manual and dictionary you’re using.

Style manuals and dictionaries vary wildly based on country and category. However, with U.S. trade publishing, The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) is the industry standard, with Merriam-Webster being the recommended dictionary for CMOS.

If you’re a self-publisher, you can choose whichever resources you prefer, but consider the industry standard first.

If you want professional-level editing, you need to choose specific references so that all project editors follow the same rules. Otherwise, you may have editors reversing each other’s changes due to using different dictionaries!

The alpha list

The most common section is the alpha list, also called a list of terms and names. This list orders the important words and phrases in your book alphabetically and is often subdivided by starting letter.

The most common listed terms are unique words, phrases, and proper names. If a word isn’t in your designated dictionary, include it on the style sheet. Proper names should also be included, especially if they’re names of real-life people. One of the most embarrassing editing blunders you can make is misspelling a real person’s name!

Beyond that, it’s also helpful to list common, distinctive terms in your work or the words you anticipate tripping over. Many words have variant spellings, and choosing one is ideal, so you aren’t flipping between, say, disk and disc.

Frequently, term entries will include additional information like a term’s part of speech or definition for unique words. For instance, you may put the label “(n)” for “noun” after a word.

You can even include nonalphabetical sections in your alpha list. For example, many novelists keep separate sections for character names, places, timelines, and word-building concepts.

Style rules and preferences

To the anguish of many an editor, grammar and style rules can vary greatly between style guides.

For the most part, an editor will follow the rules of one specific style guide in tandem with a publisher’s house style. However, it’s useful to note the most common rules and any digressions from the reference materials.

Practically all style sheets mention whether a book uses the serial comma. Also called the Oxford comma, it’s the comma before the coordinating conjunction in a list of three or more items, such as “x, y, and z.”

The serial comma’s a sore point among editors, with CMOS abiding by it but AP Style (for U.S. newspapers) mostly leaving it out. Even with the style manual listed, style sheets note if the serial comma is in place or not. That’s for cases when the author is inconsistent or typically works under a different style, such as a journalist writing a memoir.

As with the alpha list, sections vary, but the most common ones are:

  • punctuation & hyphenation
  • capitalization
  • abbreviations and acronyms
  • numbers and dates
  • treatment of foreign words and phrases
  • craft elements (point-of-view, verb tense)
  • captions (for books with graphical elements)
  • references, citations, bibliography
  • copyright and licensing permissions

If you have any style rules you’d die on a hill for, staying involved with the style sheet will help you retain these rules, even when your editors have different preferences. Ideally, these should be

marked as “author’s preference” when it deviates from your style manual. Remember that if you’re deviating from a standard rule, ask yourself why that rule is in place. Break the rules purposely—not carelessly.

Beyond the first book

Again, a style sheet varies by the book. Include whatever will help you and your editors.

If you’re writing a series, definitely keep the style sheet and pass it on to editors of subsequent entries. The longer the series, the more opportunities for introducing mistakes, and keeping a folder of style sheets will mitigate those mistakes and even provide a template for the sequel’s style sheet.

(And if it’s helpful, you can create an entire series bible—but that’s a matter for a different post.)

If you want to go seriously into style sheets, look up examples of style sheets online or ask your author and editor friends for copies of their sheets. With practice, your editing will improve, and so will your book!

Over to you: Do YOU use style sheets? If so, what sections and rules do YOU tend to include?

Elizabeth Javor Outskirts Press

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Scrivener vs. yWriter: Which Word Processor for Authors Is Yours

Here’s the hard truth: most writing software out there isn’t made for book authors.

Most digital writers use one of the default word processing programs, like Microsoft Word, Pages from Apple, or Google Docs. Many users find one of the default programs to be enough.

However, even these powerful tools show their cracks once your file hits a specific size. Many writers can testify to the headaches of a document becoming sluggish as its page count expands into the hundreds. Then you’re faced with either bearing the slowness or splitting the manuscript file into chapters or sections, which becomes a pain when rewriting.

It also can be unwieldy to restructure a book, moving paragraphs and sections throughout the document. You may even have some notes separate from the document you need to switch between.

Fortunately for Word, Pages, and Docs users, these programs are continually improving. But if you find any pain with the typical word processors, I have some recommendations.

A world of word processors exists specifically programmed and designed for writers, with tools that can help you plan, write, and even publish a manuscript. I’ll start with the #1 player of the bunch, Scrivener, and then touch upon one of its many counterparts, yWriter.

Scrivener: The Processor of Processors

You might’ve heard of Scrivener. Available on Windows, macOS, and even iOS, Scrivener 3 is the most popular of its lot. It boasts a sleek interface, a rich suite of features, and a long list of users who are bestselling authors.

Scrivener incorporates several features that make it useful for book writing. For instance, Scrivener fashions itself as a digital “ring binder,” in that a document is divided into folders and subfiles. So, for example, you can give a chapter its own folder, then have scenes within that chapter as individual files that you can drag and drop to reorder or even move between sections. This results in a faster program and less text to worry about.

Perhaps more iconic to Scrivener is its digital corkboard. On this corkboard, you can create virtual index cards, order them, color code them, and type blurbs on the cards. They are similar to the tried-and-true method of using index cards on a corkboard to outline a book.

If the corkboard doesn’t suit your style, opt for Scrivener’s outliner, which displays the folder and files in a drag-and-drop interface.

Much more can be written on Scrivener, whether it’s the templates, word count goals, full-screen display, exporter . . . the point is, Scrivener has almost all the tools that you may need to write a full-length book.

Now, one of Scrivener’s double-edged swords is its pricing. At $49 each, the one-time license purchases of Windows and macOS quickly save money compared to a Scrivener subscription. There’s also a 30-day free trial and an educational discount.

However, a license only covers one type of operating system (the macOS-Windows bundle is $80), and the iOS app must be bought separately. Also, any pricing looks daunting compared to the free pricing of Google Docs.

Scrivener’s robustness also lends to a steep learning curve that can intimidate less tech-savvy writers. The software also has some hitches when backing up files and syncing them between devices.

While Scrivener may be the most popular of the bunch, there are competitors that you may end up preferring.

yWriter

Created by self-published novelist Simon Haynes, yWriter stands out as a word processor by an author for an author, especially an aspiring self-published author.

First is yWriter’s price: it’s free. You can pay to register your copy, but registration comes with no additional features and primarily serves as a donation.

yWriter features a similar core experience to Scrivener. You can organize a book into chapters, which act like folders within a project document. Within those chapters are scenes. You can click-and-drag scenes between chapters and reorder every item based on the order.

When editing a scene, the window has tabs for adding notes on the scene, from tags for keeping track of which characters are in which scenes to a worksheet of the goal-conflict-outcome model of scene structure. The word count updates regularly and even tracks your typing speed. For extra motivation, you can set a word count goal.

One of the downsides is apparent upon first look: yWriter’s interface still appears as if it’s from 10 years ago. Click-and-drag isn’t as elegant as Scrivener and can occasionally be glitchy. It also lacks many of Scrivener’s features, such as fancier formatting, advanced spellchecking, and a search feature.

If you’re an Apple user, you won’t have as smooth an experience as yWriter macOS is still in beta, but there is an iOS app for only $5.

However, yWriter remains in active development, driven by donations. It strikes a medium between the insufficiency of most word processors and the bells-and-whistles of Scrivener.

Which One Should I Choose?

Both yWriter and Scrivener have advantages that the others don’t have.

Scrivener is best if you want the most features, are a Mac user, and want a modern, slick experience. yWriter is better if you want a free program and a simpler, more minimalist setup.

And finally, the more generalist word processors still have their uses. For example, Scrivener and yWriter have zero support for simultaneous collaborative updating, while Google Docs and Microsoft Word have top-line collaboration tools. Trade-offs exist for every software.

With Scrivener and yWriter, a library of other apps exists that you can choose from to improve your writing setup. Just remember: writing tools are no substitute for the actual act of writing.

So, pick what sounds most suitable and write your book. No matter what processor you use, I bet it will turn out great!

Over to you: What word processor do YOU use to write YOUR books? What are YOUR favorite features from YOUR preferred program? What do YOU wish would be better?

Elizabeth Javor Outskirts Press

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

What to Expect When Hiring a Copyeditor

If you only get to choose one collaborator to hire for your self-published book, I recommend that you get a copy editor.

A paradox of editing your work is that you won’t be as effective as an outside perspective with fresh eyes. Even if you are a trained editor (and most authors aren’t!), you’ll skip over many of your errors because you’re too familiar with your writing.

You can hire editors at different levels, but I’ll focus on the copy editor: an editor who handles everything from typos and grammar errors to the structure and organization of the manuscript.

The task can be daunting if you have never hired a copyeditor. After all, you’re subjecting your beloved book to scrutiny. Moreover, it can be painful to look over all those editorial changes. If you don’t know what to expect, you may even take it personally and take it out on the editor.

Since professional copyediting is integral to a professionally published book, I’m here to give you some tips on approaching the copyediting process and handling it with grace. If you approach it with the right mind-set, you may become your editor’s dream client, and your book will come out better.

  1. Know what scope you’re looking for

Different copyeditors have different levels of scope and expertise.

For instance, one editor may provide mechanical editing, which concerns spelling, grammar, and style. A mechanical edit will often leave the nature of your story or chapters alone but may home in on a specific compound word’s hyphenation, for example.

Mechanical editing often overlaps with line editing, but some editors carry out line edits as a distinctive service, paying extra attention to word choice, word flow, concision, and the organization of sentences and paragraphs.

As you go higher in level, you’ll encounter substantive editing, which concerns the craft of words on the section and chapter level. Then there’s developmental editing, which focuses on the big picture of a book. The most extensive developmental editing may involve adding, deleting, and rearranging entire chapters.

As I’ve hinted, the boundaries between each editing level can get fuzzy, with two editors defining the same service differently. So that you don’t end up surprised at what you pay for, take time to understand the type of services that each copyeditor provides and ask questions for clarification.

  1. Be prepared to pay accordingly

As you shop around for copyeditors, you may find that the best charge a lot. Even cheaper editors may charge hundreds of dollars for a book-length manuscript.

Here’s the thing: if you want to sell books, you must invest money. Traditionally published authors don’t have to pay their in-house editors because the publishers are the ones investing. (Even so, some trad authors hire an editor to brush up a manuscript before submission.) If you’re self-publishing, you’re footing the bill in exchange for the benefits of self-publishing.

Thus, don’t skimp on your editing budget. A well-paid editor will be able to spend more time and care improving your manuscript, and you may even need to pay more money to cover unexpected costs, such as your line editor alerting you to high-level issues with your story.

If you don’t have a large budget, go with the editing level you can afford. If you’re friends with prospective editors, you may even be able to negotiate, such as bartering some of your writing services for your freelance editor’s business.

  1. Receive editing suggestions with humility

When you receive your manuscript back, you may want to sit down. Depending on the editing level, you may have many correction marks and comments on your manuscript. An editor may even leave a query questioning the existence of an entire scene or chapter.

Don’t take it personally. If an editor is a true professional, any corrections or suggestions are made to be improvements for your manuscript, not as an attack against you as a person. Published authors have survived the editing process, so you will too!

Take a moment to understand why an editor might’ve made a particular comment. More times than not, the editor has a point, and you should take that advice.

  1. . . . but know when to stand your ground

At the same time, you don’t have to accept every single edit. You shouldn’t reject everything, but you do get the last say as the self-publisher.

Also, editors are human too. A commonly accepted line of thought is that an editor has a 5 percent margin of error; that’s about five missed errors for every ninety-five corrections.

Recognize when a copyeditor makes a wrong correction or misses an obvious error, and bring it up when discussing the edits.

Side note: That 5 percent margin is why most publishing houses hire multiple editors for a project, often including a proofreader for the remaining errors. You may want to look into proofreading services too.

Beyond the first edit

If you’re fortunate, you may have a great experience with your copyeditor, and you’ll become a regular collaborator.

A writer-editor relationship can be wonderful. As you give an editor more manuscripts, that editor learns more about your style and how to better reach your book’s ideal version. A repeat editor is also helpful if you write a series, as having the same person working on subsequent installments will increase consistency and continuity.

A copyeditor is worth it if you want to make self-publishing a career. I hope you find the editor to stay with you your entire career.

Over to you: What’s YOUR experience with working with copyeditors? What advice do YOU have for other authors for editorial collaboration?

Elizabeth Javor Outskirts Press

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Reposting Original Book Review: The Winds of Malibu: An Unexplainable Memoir by Jeff Lucas

The Winds of Malibu: An Unexplainable Memoir by Jeff Lucas

All he wanted was another 1920s Hollywood Utopia!

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION

The Winds of Malibu is the true story of a boy whose father (a computer engineer with a grudge against Hollywood) has held on to a house in the movie colony of Malibu, California, after a bitter divorce. At the age of eleven, Lucas is fiercely bitten by the Acting Bug and does anything to act. A war between him and his controlling father regarding his Hollywood aspirations ensues amid crippling anxiety attacks. The story of an outrageous upbringing, where friends are preferable to parents, and Lucas relies on his diary to guide him. Lucas’s peers at school will become Hollywood’s top actors in the coming decade. The ultra-quirky, stormy, funny account of an extraordinary boy’s struggle to hang onto his dream.

REVIEW

It is perhaps unavoidably funny that I must now, as a reviewer, attempt to explain The Winds of Malibu: An Unexplainable Memoir to you. However, this is precisely the kind of humor author Jeff Lucas would find amusing himself. After all, what is a memoir but a sustained attempt to translate personal experience into a form that others understand? The book’s subtitle leaves its first hints of dark and sideways humor, the kind of humor that may take you into the trash heaps of Malibu and shadowy memories of childhood fears but also sees the virtue of getting bit in the buttocks by a neighbor’s dog.

I must admit I didn’t grow up in Malibu during the 1970s. Still, Lucas does a great job summoning the place for me, especially its ragtag bands of roving, undersupervised, and extremely hormonal children who found their best entertainment came from shoplifting the candy aisle at Trances Market and one-upmanship in sowing their earliest wild oats. This is not the Malibu of today, or at least not entirely, with horseback riding the unwashed hills still a typical family outing. Upon returning to this Malibu after several years away, Lucas must figure out exactly who he wants to be.

“What kind of juvenile delinquent are you?”

“A different kind, I suppose.”

Meanwhile, the conflict with his father is built up from the barest hints of foreshadowing (“My dad never had a true, trusted friend in his life. I hiked along and swigged water out of a shared thermos and thought about that.”) until the tension in their relationship reaches a fever pitch (“It was beautiful not to see my father’s face.”). All the while, Lucas lays out his days at school in Malibu, growing up and performing on the school stage alongside Emilio Estévez and others. (Ironically, I had just watched Estévez’s movie The Public shortly before picking up this book. Sometimes, the universe lines things up like that.) Lucas manages to sketch the many joys, impossibilities, and trials of youth by including selections from his diaries and other ephemera. The alternation between these sections and more traditional prose forces the reader to slow down and engage with each moment as it takes place on the page.

Although I grew up worlds away from Jeff Lucas, The Winds of Malibu: An Unexplainable Memoir did a fantastic job of acquainting me with the time and place. There’s an artfulness to the simplicity of his sentences and to the dialogue that reflects, in many ways, how young people see the world: deceptively simple on the surface but roiling with emotion and nuance underneath. But far and away, the book’s most compelling part was the

through-line of Lucas’s struggles with anxiety. His world was full of constant change despite his story of repeatedly returning to his father’s house in Malibu, and his mental health struggles make perfect sense in that context—although not the kind of sense that makes anxiety any easier to live through. His struggles feel very real and also very much a part of the larger architecture of this memoir, which chronicles not just a time and place and the boy who grew up within it, but also the sense of something lost that can never quite be found.

A quick reader’s advisory note: This book does deal with a good amount of “adult content,” which makes sense given the time and place (1970s Malibu and Hollywood), so be aware of that.

IN SUMMARY

A deeply personal and yet humorous account of one boy’s coming of age in Malibu, The Winds of Malibu: An Unexplainable Memoir is rich with juicy tidbits about Hollywood’s new elite. The story gathers further interest as it explores the conflict between father and son as the author battles to join his schoolmates’ names on the big screen.

WHERE TO BUY?

Learn more about The Winds of Malibu: An Unexplainable Memoir on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

Reposting Original Book Review: A Sense of Urgency by Patrick McLean (Fiction)

A Sense of Urgency
by Patrick McLean

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*

Baseball franchise moves can break your heart.

Mark Weber, President & CEO of the St. Louis Cardinals, thought he had landed his dream job. Little did he know it would turn into a nightmare shortly after management changes at the parent company Rheinhold Brewing Company.

Christina Rheinhold, newly installed President & CEO of the company that bears her name, is anxious to keep the small brewery afloat. What better way than to shed nonbeer assets? Especially if you don’t even care about the team, purchased by her father when In-Bev acquired Anheuser-Busch, and they were also in an off-loading situation. Christina [is] well aware of the 125-year-plus tradition of the team in St. Louis, but it [is] very tempting to sell the team to out-of-town parties for top dollar.

Can Mark, with the help of natural and even supernatural support, save the team for the city and its fans?

REVIEW

Baseball! So many different aspects of my life seem to tell me I should brush up on my (nearly nonexistent) knowledge of the sport. I spent my middle and high school years abroad in a country where baseball doesn’t exist, which probably explains why I know so little about the sport—including its history and its significance to Americans today. There are some similarities across sports: baseball and cricket, for example, are both considered “gentlemen’s sports” in that competition coexists with camaraderie, and umpires are as important as the players, their calls are of the utmost importance, and sassing an umpire is as gross a misdemeanor as exists. In many other ways, though, baseball and the culture that has formed around it is utterly unique. In A Sense of Urgency, Patrick McLean captures much of the detail and texture of daily life with baseball and infuses his book with the spirit of the same.

Like the sport itself, A Sense of Urgency is a dialogue-driven read. Thumb your way through the book, and you’re liable to land on a series of pages where most of the text printed on that page is spoken aloud by one character or another. McLean is somewhat unusual in this—in writing, I mean. My personal addiction when writing is to scenic description (sometimes, I think it’s all I know how to write), which was fairly common among the writers I became acquainted with back in college. There are also plenty of authors addicted to what you might call the Infodump, or worldbuilding, without much action in some genres. In moderation, both worldbuilding and scenic description can be useful. Still, as most of you can probably attest, something needs to happen in a book to keep the momentum going and readers engaged. Too much summary description of the action as it unfolds can come off as distant. (“He ran, then he stopped. He ate a sandwich. Then he moved to Alaska to learn how to muster sled dogs.”) It’s almost as if some writers (me included) can completely forget about the power of dialogue—but not Patrick McLean.

One of the benefits of a dialogue-driven book is that it doesn’t come off as teasing or deliberately disingenuous to withhold certain information until the critical moments in which those details are essential. A third-person omnipresent narrator, however, knows everything the character knows and can therefore be something of a tease in books that depend on the timing of those details for plot momentum and reader interest. (For example, if an author knows that it was Lady Scarlett in the dining room with the candlestick but asks me to consider the butler and Colonel Mustard as primary suspects, I start to wonder what else the narrator is hiding from me. And then I start skimming ahead. Because sometimes, I’m a very impatient reader! Whoops.) With dialogue, though, an author is fully justified in only conveying what the characters know or are willing to share at the moment since their voices are the only (or at least the dominant) voices on the page. This comes in very handy in A Sense of Urgency.

Dialogue also conveys personality and regionality like no other text can. Speech patterns, dialect, and idioms tell people who we are when we speak, more than our clothes and résumés since we can put on costumes and brag as much as we like. However, how we communicate and talk to each other will always reveal who we are underneath the affectations and behavioral habits we acquire.

When it comes to plot, there’s not much I can tell you about A Sense of Urgency that’s not already in the description without spoiling key details. Still, as the omnipresent narrator of this review, I’m going to tease you with hints at what you’ll discover when you crack open a copy for yourself. McLean’s command of the details is exquisite. (Who wears loafers without socks??! Who are these people? My mother would be mortified if she were caught out of doors without socks in her sneakers. I, meanwhile, wear sandals until the snow is thicker than the soles of my sandals. Then I switch to boots. I do not loaf. You’ll have to read on to discover why this is important in the book.)

The little things aren’t always little in this book. But that could also be a hint of misdirection; a Colonel Mustard moment of mine, if you will. (See? Don’t you hate it when a narrator tortures you? McLean doesn’t do this thanks to his dialogue-driven approach.) The Cardinals are more than just a team. Security is called to escort people out . . . and there are several moments where things get “a little dicey,” to steal an expression from the book. There’s plenty of drama to go around. But I won’t embarrass myself by trying to replicate McLean’s command of how baseball works and will simply state, instead, that this is a book focused on the game and what the game makes possible in the lives of those involved in it.

If you like baseball, or even if you know nothing about baseball but enjoy seeing just desserts dished out by knowledgeable and passionate characters, this is a book to add to your reading list.

IN SUMMARY

While the world keeps reminding me that Americans play baseball and not cricket, A Sense of Urgency pairs the sport with storytelling bound to appeal to fans and newcomers alike. And yes, Patrick McLean really does convey . . . a sense of urgency . . . in this compelling slice of life narrative.

WHERE TO BUY?

Learn more about Patrick McLean’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.

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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.