What It Is (posts below left; rate sheet, client list, other stuff below right)

My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor, indexer, and proofreader. This blog is my website.

You'll find my rate sheet and client list here, as well as musings on the life of a freelancer; editing, proofreading, and indexing concerns and issues; my ongoing battles with books and production; and the occasional personal revelation.

Feel free to contact me directly with additional questions: landondemand@gmail.com.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

style sheets: lord, deliver me

I received a call today from Book Packager A working with Book Packager B, who had sent me a job for copyediting and indexing. Book Packager A ended up farming out the proofreading work to another individual. No problem there.

A asks me if I had developed a style sheet for the book that the proofreader could use. I responded that I follow Chicago 15 and Merriam Webster's 11th Collegiate.

In some cases, copyeditors and/or in-house editors will develop a style sheet for a particular book. A publisher may develop a style manual for the press, or a magazine will do the same. The style sheet indicates decisions made by the editor to indicate particular word usages employed in the editing of that particular book. The purpose is to ensure editorial consistency.

My opinion, shared by many who actually labor in the fields, is that style sheets are often as worthless as, as they say, tits on a bishop (well, maybe in these days and times, such a reference no longer holds true, for many reasons).

Style sheets serve no purpose if all they do is echo other accepted reference works, such as Chicago 15 or MW 11. There is no reason for me to keep a list of word treatments that one can find spelled correctly in a dictionary.

Another thing: when I'm proofreading a book and I receive a style sheet, as often as not, the copyeditor has not followed through on the decisions that he or she (or per) has made, which simply leads to confusion.

After telling Book Packager A in three or four different ways that, indeed, there was no style sheet and explaining why, I began to feel that the call was a waste of my time. I grew less apologetic as each minute passed.

Somewhat exasperated, my caller tried another tack: "What about the medical and scientific terms? Certainly you kept a list of those?"



"I checked the terms that needed checking and ensured they were correct and treated them consistently through the manuscript. That's all I can say. I don't generally keep style sheets for all the reasons I have mentioned."

A lazy person's style sheet, and actually quite a functional one--especially for proper names, foreign words, and words that might be particular to a specific field--can be presented in the form of a custom dictionary created from a spell check. One rather enlightened publisher I work for requires that I submit a custom dictionary with any electronically copyedited manuscript. Custom dictionaries are wonderful for uncovering inconsistencies in spellings.

And style manuals from publishers are also typically losing propositions. As a friend said today, they are often created by a staff editor who feels that "We need a style manual," so everyone puts a lot of effort into it, only to have it slowly grow dated, not followed by working editors, or not supported over the years.

Probably the best style manual to which I have access from a publisher is that of Westminster John Knox, because it's comprehensive, and the in-house editors enforce it.

And a great style manual if you're interested in the Bible or classical works is the Society of Biblical Literature's, which I originally did not care for, but it's grown on me over the years.

But style sheets for individual books that merely duplicate available sources? Unnecessary. Not worth the time. And often not helpful at all.

My two cents.


moi said...

I have a style sheet for my writers. Once I realized that it had the potential to grow itself like a fungus in a petri dish, there was nothing I could do but sit down and have a good cry.

proofreading & editing said...

It was simply a matter of courtesy the style sheet was asked.
An author has the prerogative to choose which one he wants for his book.