Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

Some grammar and punctuation issues are set in stone. A grammatically incorrect sentence will be corrected by an editor. A comma will be included before a conjunction when the conjunction separates two independent clauses.

Then there are issues that an editor might allow as style: A short prepositional phrase without a comma following it, a sentence that starts with a conjunction, em-dashes to emphasize a parenthetical clause. You get the picture.

There are still issues with grammar and punctuation that fall within a publisher’s style guide. What exactly is a publisher’s style guide? It’s a playbook for editors. Some publishers do provide them to their authors so that they can edit their manuscripts accordingly. A few items included in a style guide are:

OK versus Okay: In everyday writing, I refuse to use “OK.” I’m a curmudgeon in that regard. Pelican, however, uses the more fashionable and text-worthy OK. For that reason, when I edit, I have to do a find and replace because I will skip right over “okay” without even seeing the need to change. I want to point out that neither is wrong.

Commas: Some publishers want strict comma usage followed (with some leeway for style); other publishers prefer to eliminate commas if necessary (example: a comma before a short prepositional phrase).

Blonde/blond: This gets very confusing. You see blond is the color, but blond also denotes a male with blond hair. Blonde refers to a woman with blond hair. Publishers may ask that the correct usage be followed, which would mean when you are referring to a female with blond hair, you add the “e.” When referring to a male, you leave off the “e,” but when you are referring to the color of the hair (male or female), you use “blond.” Still, some publishers prefer using “blond” for any mention.

Semicolons: Pelican is very semicolon friendly, as long as they are used correctly and sparingly. Other publishers tell you that there is no room in fiction for semicolons, and I completely disagree. Semicolons are beautiful marks of punctuation—when used correctly.

Pronouns Used for God: Most Christian publishers require that authors capitalize pronouns for God. This sets Him apart and, in my mind at least, gives God the respect He deserves. Others prefer not to capitalize the pronouns.

Capitalization of Heaven and Hell: Seems like you would capitalize these as they are proper names for locations. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) ndicates that in their general term they are “dwelling places, ideal states, places of divine punishment and thus they are lowercase." However, the CMoS does state that they are “often capitalized in a purely religious context.” Christian publishers would most likely look at these places in a “purely religious context,” but the styles do differ. Some capitalize Heaven and not hell. Others capitalize both, and still some capitalize neither.

American English versus Non-American English: Yes, there is a different. Most noticeable it is in the use of “s” and “z.” Example: realize versus realise. That usually doesn’t present a problem unless you’re an American publisher publishing a novel written by a non-American English author or if the publisher contracts with an American English author writing a book which takes place in a non-American English country and the author wishes to maintain authenticity. However, there are those words like toward/towards/backward/backwards/forward/forwards. The “s” is generally added in non-American English. The American English form is to eliminate the “s.” Some publishers want to retain the American English form, but since the non-American English form has slipped into American English, most publishers simply ask that whatever the usage, consistency is maintained. For that reason, as an editor of a publisher who allows both forms, I tend to keep to the American English form unless I am editing for a non-American English author or a book set in a non-American English country.

Other Style Issues: the form of plurals (example: Jesus’ versus Jesus’s), scene break symbols, chapter breaks versus page breaks, etc., are all matters of style, and a publisher’s style guide is helpful when deciding these issues.

When self-editing, it is always best to follow The Chicago Manual of Style (current 16th edition). Editors are aware when their house prefers an in-house style, and these matters are usually changed by the editor in the editing process. However, returning authors can always assist their editor by requesting a style guide and utilizing it, especially if their work has been contracted by that house.

Happy editing.


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