I have always used style sheets. This might be because I come from an academic background where adhering to style criteria is a required component for a submission. So I found it strange to learn most fiction writers skip this helpful step.
What is a style sheet?
A style sheet is a single document where you define all the writing rules that apply to your project. The sheet must include all your grammar preferences, for example using American spelling vs British spelling, and any unique aspects of your style. A good style sheet includes anything and everything that might cause an editor to have a red pen moment or to scratch his or her head in confusion.
The items found on style sheet vary based on each book’s need, but some examples are:
– If you want to include contractions, or not.
– If numbers should be spelled out every time, or not.
– If you want to allow for misspelled (or misused) words to indicate a character ‘s lack of education, or not.
– If ellipses dots should include a space between dots, or not.
The creation of this file will help you stay consistent while you write, but it takes on its greatest role once the work is finished and you send it off for publication.
Here are three reasons every writer need a style sheet.
1. It saves money on editing:
I bet that got your attention! Who couldn’t use a new way to shave a few bucks off editing costs? Style sheets can save time, and Time = Money! The reason style sheets work is because editors read everything from the perspective of what is “correct” within their set of grammatical truths. However, sometimes while trying to make your work fit their rigorous rules, editors disrupt the prose. That means someone (you or the editor) must go back over the novel again, pulling out these changes. This extra level of work will cost you, if not in money, then in time. You might miss a critical deadline during these revisions. A good style sheet prevents this problem from happening in the first place by clearly conveying your desires to your editor.
2. It helps sell more ebooks:
If you’re a digitally published writer (and who isn’t at this point), keeping a style sheet just got a whole lot more important. Last week Amazon announced their intention of publicly red flagging ebooks that suffer from any formatting and/or writing mistakes.
The official Amazon notice was:
[important]Our shared goal is to provide the best digital reading experience for customers on Kindle. When customers contact us with quality issues in a book you published, we validate the issues and send them immediately to you to fix. Starting February 3, 2016 we will begin showing customers a warning message on the Amazon.com Kindle store detail pages of books that contain several validated quality issues. We will remove this message for a book as soon as we receive the fixed file from you and verify the corrections — typically within 2 business days. We understand that even with the best quality controls, defects sometimes make it through. That’s why we’ve limited this messaging to books with several issues. Books with more serious quality issues will continue to be suppressed from sale.[/important]
This policy means proof editing and ebook creation done by a professional ebook designer is not a luxury. It’s a necessity. Believe it or not, a good style sheet will also help your interior book designer. While coding your files, they will need to adjust the layout of your work. That creates opportunities for a good designer to catch mistakes. However, it also introduces the possibility they will inadvertently fix something you didn’t want them to fix. A style sheet creates an additional layer of coverage, and helps you get you the highest quality end product for your ebook.
3. It makes writing a series cleaner:
Between projects even within the same fictional universe, it’s not uncommon for the details to get fuzzy over time. You might not care if the first book in the series features curly quote marks and the second book has straight quote marks, but someone else will. And that person will make it sound like a grammarpocalypse in their review. A style sheet serves as a resource for these details and for invented spellings, unusual capitalization, proper names and/or italic rules. Make sure you expand your style sheet document with a record of the fonts and visual affects your cover designer and book formatter used on the first book. This will help keep any new books in the series looking visually akin to the older ones. Since every writer wants to stick around for a long time, and share new adventures from their fictional worlds, the lovely style sheet you made for book one is going to come in handy every time you create a new project in the series.
Although fantasy writers are often the neediest genre for a style sheet, in part for their large custom lexicon, every writer needs one. We all include personal writing variations. Oxford comma anyone? Perhaps you like to start sentences with “and” or to occasionally end with a preposition. Maybe you have a character that’s big on using clipped speech or sentence fragments. We often don’t think about our writing preferences, until someone else comes along and questions/fixes them. By then it may be too late to convey your wishes to the right people.
Although some editors send their clients a style sheet form, having your own document is still important. For one thing it communicates what you feel needs special attention within your work, rather than relying on your editor’s judgment. Don’t skimp on this critical part of every novel, and when you’re done creating your style sheet, add a copy to your author bugout kit for safe keeping.
If you’re looking for an example of a style sheet template, you can find a nice one over at Sue Archer’s blog.
Do you have a style sheet? Please share your experiences (good or bad) in the comments.