I recently finished line editing a novel for a writer friend of mine. It was so exciting to work on her story in a professional capacity. And it gave me a reason to do something that was long overdue: buy the latest Chicago Manual of Style.
I almost said “splurge.” It’s an expensive book–$65 new. But it’s very important for book authors and editors. Style guides help us be consistent with how we use language, and the Chicago guide is the publishing industry standard.
I’m from the other side of the tracks, though. The AP Style side. That’s the standard in newspapers, and it’s governed by the Associated Press. Although both guides focus on clarity and consistency, AP encourages concision. After all, newspapers and magazines only have so much space. It saves a lot of characters to use numerals, as AP requests for 10 and up (and all ages), instead of spelling out the numbers, as Chicago encourages in most instances.
When I was managing editor of a weekly newspaper, there were a few things about AP Style that I didn’t like. Using “teen-ager” was one of them. That has since been updated to “teenager.” Which means I have to update my novel, BODY COPY. This is an in-the-moment train of thought from my protagonist, Megan, as she begins her first deadline at a new job:
“Gary turns his back on me even though I want to ask whether he’s going to do an intro piece on me, what time my pages go to press and how many articles he’d like me to have for the Schools page, and whether he wants us to go by the book on teen-dash-ager or if we can slip a little and do teenager, because that’s what Betsy allowed, since it’s part of 21st century lexicon and really shouldn’t be hyphenated, no matter what the Associated Press Style Guide has been saying for the last few decades. ”
I love this 2009 column by Joe Grimm about some AP updates, including the teen change. I was also glad to hear that “backyard” is now always one word; before, depending on usage, it was sometimes “back yard,” and that was one of the rules I always had to check when copy editing on deadline.
Despite being new to Chicago, I’ve done so much newspaper editing that I knew the most important thing: what to look up. I’m still figuring out how the information is organized, as the guide is more than a thousand pages. One of the most surprising things is Chicago’s decision to encourage the Oxford comma, which I’ve been taught to avoid in school and through my newspaper work.
Now that I’ve learned some Chicago guidelines and will keep studying them, I’m considering overhauling this blog’s style, which is primarily AP–the most notable exception being my decision to run most book titles in all caps. I might even learn to love the Oxford comma.
In the next few months, I’ll occasionally post about these two style guides and rules that are particularly interesting. I’ve added another category over in my sidebar for these posts–In Style. Do you have any style or grammar questions? Please leave them in the comments and I’ll work on addressing them in future posts.