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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Yvonne Perry and Carolyn Howard-Johnson Chat about Style Choices and Edits for Books

Recently Yvonne Perry, owner of WritersintheSky Creative Services, and I chatted about editing, everything from em-dashes to why what works on the Web doesn't work for you book's manuscript. Yvonne offers you the free podcast of that conversation on her blog: Below you will find Yvonne's introduction and talking points but we were talking editor to editor, so you'll find lots more than this in the podcast. You'll find other free podcasts on writing on her blog, too.

Welcome to Conversation with Editors with Yvonne Perry and Carolyn Howard-Johnson.
I’m Yvonne Perry, the owner of Writers in the Sky Creative Writing Services.
Carolyn is an editor and author of The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward To Avoid Humiliation And Ensure Success (How to Do It Frugally).

This audio is for anyone who needs a little help with editing. We’ll take about an hour and discuss some of the more common mistakes we see writers make and tell you how to correct them.

Our answers are based on Manual of Style (CMOS) published by the University of Chicago Press. It is one of the most respected and trustworthy guidelines for literary works. Carolyn and I both use it. I will pose a question and have Carolyn comment on each one.

Titles and headers

A very common error in many of the books I edit or proofread occurs in the title, headers, and subheaders. The Chicago Manual of Style 7.127 states: In regular title capitalization, also known as headline style, the first and last words and all nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinating conjunctions (if, because, as, that, etc.) are capitalized. Articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor), and prepositions, regardless of length, are lowercase unless they are the first or last word of the title or subtitle.


A book is not "entitled" ( a word meaning deserving, allowed, permitted); it is "titled" (meaning to have a title, label, or name).


The titles of books, record albums, movies, TV shows, and screenplays should be in italic type. Do not use “quotation” marks. Do not underline these titles unless you are formatting them for a bibliography. However, article titles and poem and song titles do go inside quotation marks.

Using all caps

Unless a word is an acronym, it should not be in ALL CAPS. Use italics for emphasis.

Is this okay?

OK should be spelled out: okay.

Number Number

ISBN is the acronym for International Standard Book Number. To write “ISBN number” is the same as stating International Standard Book Number number. It is redundant to use the word “number” or the pound symbol (#) after ISBN.

Use of percent symbol

Percent symbols (%) should be spelled out “percent” unless used in a chart or table. Numbers followed by a percent should be in numeric form. Example: 91 percent. However, if a percentage is the first word of a sentence in a literary work, it should be spelled out. Example: Ninety‐one percent of the students passed the test.

Spaces between sentences

Use one space (not two) after a period, question mark, colon, or semi‐colon. This is quite the opposite of what we were taught in typing class way back when! It can be a hard habit to break.

Serial Commas or killers?

CMOS 5.57 states, “In a series listing three or more items, the elements are separated by a comma.” For example: The dog, cat, hippo, and cow jumped over the moon.

Writing for Decades

When writing years, do not use an apostrophe. Example: 1960s, not 1960’s unless you want the possessive form of the word. If abbreviated: ’60s is correct; 60’s is incorrect. Notice that the apostrophe [ ’ ] is used as a placeholder for missing the numbers, and not a single close quote mark [ ‘ ] which faces the opposite direction. Strunk & White will disagree.


Speaking of years, hyphens and numerals are used when you write “the 16‐year‐ old boy.” No hyphen is needed, and the number is spelled out when you write “the boy is sixteen years old.”

Internet and Web site

Internet is a proper noun and the first letter should be capitalized. The debate on whether or not Web should be capitalized is still ongoing. CMOS says it should be written in proper case. It is another name for World Wide Web, which is a proper noun. RE: Web site. When a word is used a lot, its spelling becomes commonly accepted even if it is incorrect. The most common spelling and use of this word is website. However, according to CMOS, it is two words: Web site. As long as you are consistent throughout your book or document, I doubt most people will question either spelling.

Style Sheets

This is not new information. It is a reminder because I know you will save yourself tons of time if you keep a style sheet as you write. Any time you make a choice between two possibilities, both of which are right (like web site or website), make a note and alphabetize it. You'll also end up with a much more professional book to say nothing of ending up with a manuscript that is easier for your editor to tweak.

Oh, yes! Be sure to give you editor the style sheet. It will help her, too. Always a good idea, especially if you're paying her by the hour. Ha!

To Dash or not to Dash

The em dash [—] is defined as one em (letter “m”) in width. The double hyphen will convert to an em dash—if you type two dashes (hyphens) ‐‐ and do not put a space before or after. Or, you may create an em dash in Windows‐based programs by pressing and holding Caps Lock and Alt while typing 0151 on your number key pad. Similar to a parenthetical phrase, the em dash sets apart clauses in a sentence. In other words, if you would normally put something in parenthesis, it could lend itself to em dashes.

The en dash [–] is one en (letter “n”) in width: half the width of an em dash. The en dash is used to indicate a closed range, or a connection between two things of almost any kind: numbers, people, places, etc. For example: June–July 2008. Create an en dash in Windows‐based programs by pressing and holding Caps Lock and Alt while typing 0150 on your number key pad. There should be no space before or after an en dash.

Away a way
a way: noun
away: adverb

That that that

Overusing “that” is another area where writers tend to go overboard. If a sentence makes sense without using the word “that, ” by all means, leave it out.

Writing Dialog

When writing dialog, all punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. When a word or phrase is used to set apart text in scare quotes, the first example below is correct; the second is incorrect: Every day we hear that the price of gas has hit an “all time high.” Every day we hear that the price of gas has hit an “all time high”.

Writing Numbers

Numbers less than ten should always be spelled out. Some style guides will disagree about higher numbers. Chicago advocates that all numbers under 100 should be spelled out. If in question, always consult a style guide. Be consistent and use the same style guide throughout the document or manuscript.

In this next part of our conversation, Carolyn and I will give answers to the questions sent in by the readers of our blogs where the announcement for this event was posted.

Questions from our Readers

MOLLI NICKELL: I'd be interested in opinions on how and when traditional publishers will be including digital publishing in their plans, and, how will they promote this low-cost method of making books available in the electronic format.

MOLLI: Also (and yes, this is a second question), I feel writers will want to know more about how traditional publishing houses are opening their own self-publishing divisions, utilizing their editors and designers, but bringing the author aboard to share in some of the pre-publication work?
Heather Summerhayes Cariou , author of Sixtyfive Roses: A Sister's Memoir left a new comment on your post "Opportunity to Get Your Title Mentioned on Podcast...":

I went over my manuscript with a fine tooth comb, then had an English teacher friend check it for grammar, punctuation and typos, then my agent and publisher/Editor went through it, then my copy editor, then I did one more sweep and there were STILL a handful of errors that one reviewer found it necessary to point out. What can be done to avoid this with my next book?

This is especially for Heather, but it may help others as well. I ghostwrote a book for a client last year. After writing it, I edited it twice: once to reduce the 700-page count, and again to get the gremlins out. Then, I had my mom proofread it. The author and another editor proofread it. The author's publicist proofread it. The publisher proofread it, and everyone who gave endorsements proofread it. You would think that the book would be error free, right? Nope. A typo reared its head in the final PDF today! Fortunately, we still have time to fix it before it goes to print, but I wouldn't be surprised if another boo-boo doesn't manifest after we get a copy of the printed book in hand.

Like Carolyn says in her book, The Frugal Editor, even professionals make mistakes, and I've seen typos in textbooks produced by the most reputable companies. Most readers won't notice a tiny error, and those who do, may not mention it. It's the big, ugly errors (like dialog punctuated incorrectly) that are repeated over and over in a book that really throw it out of the running as an enjoyable read. I see that a lot with POD and self-published books.

An anonymous guest on Carolyn’s blog wants to know if we will touch on securing an agent.

Getting a good agent and/or publisher is very important. One of the big reasons writers must learn to edit well is to secure a publisher or to secure a well-connected agent who will secure a publisher for her! Even if an author prefers to self-publish or use a POD service, doing a great job of producing one's own book goes a long way toward generating sales. A poorly written book is not one that people are going to promote by word-of-mouth to their friends. A reader may not even finish reading the book—let alone recommend that someone else read it. For that very reason, Writers in the Sky podcast has criterion that a book must meet before we have the author on our show.
Barbara Techel, author of Frankie, the Walk 'N Roll Dog, is in the process of writing her second children's book. Her first children's book had a critique group helping with the editing until Barbara felt her manuscript was "good enough" to give to an editor. She no longer has a critique group to run her manuscript by. The book is about half complete now.
Barbara’s question: Is there a good point to bring on an editor? Should I bring one on now for advice or wait till I have the manuscript completed? Or, should I work with an editor during the entire process?

Yvonne’s answer: The more the author can do beforehand, the less it will cost to get the book edited. Therefore, I suggest an author get her book as ready as she can before approaching an editor.

I’m not sure about all editors, but the editors on my teams are all able to help an author with her book at any stage of the manuscript process. We offer different levels of editing depending upon what the book needs when it comes to us. If an author is on a budget and can’t afford the level of editing the book truly needs, we may give suggestions for improvement and have the author do more work before bringing the manuscript back to us. I recently had an author re-write his script into third person rather than first person . It probably took him ten or more hours to do this, but it saved him at least $500, and the book is much improved as he employed the tips I gave him for writing dialog.

Writers in the Sky offers developmental, medium, and light editing as well as proofreading of the final manuscript. These services are described in detail at, but here are the basics:
Developmental or Substantial Editing is used when an author needs a writing coach to guide her work to the next level. We not only mark errors in the text, we offer specific suggestions for improvement as we assist the author with making changes to strengthen her writing and develop her story to its best potential. A developmental editor may help with all elements of the book including front and back matter, and making sure the text adheres to Chicago Manual of Style guidelines. Additionally, we may instruct the writer on working with styles, and formatting text, margins, headers, footers, and placing graphics or end notes. Since this is all part of the writing process, a fully developed book will still need to be copy edited and proofread before going to a publisher.
Medium Copyediting includes having our editor go through the manuscript and complete the needed changes to include:
• Correcting mechanical, grammar, and usage errors.
• Correcting spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
• Check for proper alignment and spacing of text.
• Consistently format dates, headlines, numbers, and alphabetized, bulleted, and numbered lists.
• Note any biased language or stereotyping. Note awkward transitions, redundancies, and hyperbole (the author may fix this or we can rewrite sections for her if needed).

In a Light Copy Edit, we will mark or note the same things as outlined in the medium copy edit; however, the author is responsible for making all changes.

Book Evaluation $250

One of our editors will read your book or manuscript (up to 70,000 words) and give a written assessment of its commercial potential. A kind but honest opinion of the author's strengths and weaknesses will be given along with tips for improving the overall quality of writing. The evaluation includes an assessment of the manuscript's publishing condition and what it would take to get it ready to submit to an agent or publisher.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.

1 comment:

Karen and Robyn - Writing for Children said...

This is a great and informative post. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

I recently purchased the CMOS.

Karen Cioffi

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