by Sue A. Fairchild

As part of my editing business, I do content and line editing, but also proofreading and interior design. I have a keen eye for small errors and inconsistencies that others may miss—it’s probably my graphic design background and my obsessive-compulsive nature. Frequently, I think, “How did someone miss this?” Because I’ve found egregious errors in a multitude of manuscripts lately, I began to think that a style guide of my own might be beneficial. Publishers usually have style guides that help with consistencies, but self-published authors often do not have a guide to follow and make the same mistakes over and over again due to the lack of consistent rules for their own writing.

As I began to compile my style guide, I realized my main issues revolve around consistency. When completing your manuscript, or editing one for another author, be sure to be consistent in the choices you make.

Here are a few things I’d include in my style guide:

  • Ellipses usage. It is common practice among most publishers now to use a space before and after a set of ellipses—a rule from The Chicago Manual of Style. Therefore, a sentence would look like this: “But I said to … no, wait … what do you mean?” Also, see rule 13.50 in CMOS which talks about nonbreaking spaces between the dots. Now, I will often be lenient with this rule for an Indie author as long as they maintain a consistent way of using the ellipses throughout the manuscript. Some prefer to not have the space before the ellipses but do use one after. Like this: “But I said to… no, wait… what do you mean?” That is fine by me (although not with CMOS.) if the author maintains this style throughout the manuscript. Also, ellipses many publishers (and I) prefer that the ellipses end the sentence. No other punctuation is necessary. Example: “Don’t you think …?” is incorrect. Consider removing the question mark. “Don’t you think …” The question is still implied and needs no question mark.
  • Hyphenated words. I have been noticing a lot of hyphenated words in manuscripts lately. It seems that, perhaps, there is a resurgence of this practice—but not for the good. Alas, when using the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I found that many of the words are no longer hyphenated. As an editor, we must keep up to current standards in this regard. If you’re unsure if a word should be hyphenated or not—look it up! It’s that simple.
    Here are a few words that should no longer be hyphenated:
    username, upkeep, lineup, backup (as a noun), meltdown (as a noun), horseplay, supersized, handprints
    Here are a few words that should still be hyphenated:
    fund-raiser, Wi-Fi, T-shirt (notice the capital T), sold-out, life-size
  • Limit the use of both ellipses and hyphens or em dashes. An abundance of any of these can slow down your manuscript. These devices are often looked at by the reader as a pause or stopping point. Keep your story moving forward by being stingy with this type of punctuation.
  • Check your indents! I find way too many manuscripts that have messed up indents. If you’re publishing for an e-book (another hyphenated word), use a .25 indent for your paragraphs. Do not use tabs for indenting paragraphs. In Word, go to icon in format paragraph that allows line spacing (while here, you can indicate 2.0 line spacing too), click on line spacing options, click on special (first line) and ensure the default is 0.25. Do not have a line space follow or precede your paragraphs.
  • Underlines. Don’t use them. Ever.

This is only five of my biggest inconsistency pet peeves. I haven’t even dealt with the use of asterisks, the proper style for book titles and songs (they are different), and the use of periods (use only one, I implore you!)

However, this will give you and your authors a start. I often ask my authors to fix these errors before I start their editing. It saves me from aggravation and them from spending too much money for simple fixes. If we all work together, we can create consistency across every manuscript! Happy editing!

Sue started out as a devotion writer, but now also claims the titles of editor, proofreader, webmistress, and blogger. She has written and self-published three books as well as helped a variety of authors get their manuscripts into readers’ hands. Sue loves working with clients who are working toward the greater good of sharing God’s message in this world. Email to discuss a free sample edit. Check out her website for testimonials: