Writing is just putting words on paper, isn’t it? No, not really. Just like verbal communication, how you say it is often as important as what you say. And, how you say it is more than just a word choice.
As writers and publishers, we have to put thought into how we represent ourselves and those we work with. Choices of what to capitalize, what to hyphenate, fonts, font sizes, headers, paragraph format, paragraph spacing, and many others play a role in what we do. There’s a visual aspect to pages beyond the words on them and how we present our words matters.
Fortunately, there are those who would advise us on these things. And… They’re right as much as they’re wrong. That’s one reason they keep cranking out new editions (it’s not just to sell books about how to write…). There are also genuine changes (like internet research) that force them to address topics that didn’t appear in former editions.
But… Here’s a big secret… Just because a publisher says they use the (MLA, APA, Chicago, AMA…) style guide, that doesn’t mean they actually use that style guide. Often publishers and organizations have internal style guides. And, if you’re self-publishing, running a website/blog, or even running an ad campaign, you should have one too.
Why? Because using a style guide helps you do things consistently. And customizing the style guide for your organization or purpose helps you focus that style guide to suit what you’re doing. Having a consistent style guide also allows you to set up and use the styles functions in your favorite writing software/ap. Combined, they cut down on extraneous thinky stuff and “fiddly bits” while you’re writing.
If you’ve planned out your style and set up your styles, when you want a ‘header 1’, it’s only a couple clicks away. If you’re just doing it “free hand” you have to choose the right font, adjust the font size, remember what color the font should be, set the correct spacing, and then reverse all of that for the regular text on the next line.
The choice to use styles and style guides really shows its merits in editing and revising for publication.
Your publisher might decide you should phrase things just a bit differently. Your book designer might suggest you make those headers a slightly different shade of blue. If you’ve setup and used a style guide, you’ve phrased things consistently and can do a find and replace. If not… you… have to… search… out… each… and… every… instance… and… change… them. If you’ve set up and used styles in your program, you make the changes in one place. If not? We’re… back… to… the… one… at… a… time… approach.
A style guide is a valuable part of your planning process. If you have one already, that’s great. But does it need a modification for this project? If you don’t have one, build one. it will make your life much easier further down the road.
Things can change. If you’re submitting to different publishers, you might need to shift the style for each one. If you’ve planned your style and used your tools from the beginning, that’s not too hard. If you haven’t, you’ve either got a lot of extra work to do, or you’ve just cost yourself an acceptance letter or two.
Words are important. but it’s not just about the words. It’s about communication and presenting ourselves and our projects in the right way. Creating or using the right style guide is part of that.
Use the right tool for the right job, dear reader. And, I’ll see you next post.