A style sheet is one of my best friends when I'm proofreading and editing for independent, self-publishing authors.
Proofreading for independent, self-publishing authors
To date, I've never received a style sheet from a self-publisher. I suspect this is for one of several reasons:
Why create a style sheet?
Professionalism: I make a promise to my independent author clients that I’ll professionalize their work to publishing industry-recognized standards. However, I can’t assume that my clients know what these are – after all, it’s not their job to know.
Some of my clients write full time but most have day jobs; many are producing their first books so the world of publishing is new to them. They need to be able to rely on the editorial professionals with whom they are working to amend their writing in a way that does no harm and that can be defended by reference to understood and industry-recognized conventions.
The bigger picture: Even if the author worked with a copyeditor before the proofreading stage, a proofreader’s style sheet shows that I am still looking at the bigger picture – making decisions based on publishing standards, or author choice, or consistency, or for ease of readability.
It's not just about finding spelling errors – it’s about providing a professional service that acknowledges that the client is publishing a book, and that their book should look professional.
Clients appreciate them: I've had positive feedback from indie authors about my style sheets.
Clients have told me that the style sheet helped them to understand why I've amended as I have; that it acted as a reminder of the decisions they can implement in future projects at the self-editing stage; and that it's a useful template for recording their own style preferences.
At-a-glance: The style sheet provides the author with an at-a-glance summary of what I've done and why I've done it. This provides clarity as well as an understanding of the proofreading or copyediting process.
Appropriate focus: A style sheet allows the author to focus on what they’re good at – the writing – and me to focus on what I’m good at – the proofreading and copyediting.
Tracking: Style sheets help me to keep track of decisions and spot any problems. I may be the first person to work on the project – proofreading for indie authors can turn into more than a prepublication check, and the boundary between copyediting and proofreading can blur.
And, even if the text appears to be in great shape (in terms of spelling, punctuation, and grammar), there may still be logic flaws that everyone else missed.
Laying things out in our own way: We all design our style sheets in ways that make sense to us – so even if I'm using a copyeditor’s as the foundation, creating my own (and embedding my colleague’s decisions into it) sharpens my senses and enables me to lay out the decisions in a way that makes the best sense to me.
Reducing queries: The style sheet shows my author why I've made certain decisions. I can validate my amendments by citing the resources I've used.
Authors won’t ask themselves, or me, why I removed the quotation marks around the name of a pub, or why I changed a set of nested single quotation marks into doubles – I've already told them.
What is a style sheet?
Those new to proofreading and copyediting, or who are considering whether it is a viable career choice, may not be familiar with what goes into a style sheet. And if you’re an author, you might not be either.
Broadly speaking, a style sheet is a record of preferences – the author’s or their publisher’s; a style manual's; or some other agency's.
In many cases, authors are happy for me to make the decisions based on my publishing knowledge and my use of recognized style manuals (e.g. New Hart's Rules and The Chicago Manual of Style).
Ultimately, style sheets aren’t about rules but rather about tracking choices for the purposes of consistency and professionalism. They enable the editorial professional to keep track of decisions about spelling, punctuation, grammar, text layout, idiom usage, and (in the case of fiction) characters’ key features.
Tracking these elements helps the proofreader to minimize inconsistency, spot flaws and attend to problems with regard to how the words in the book actually work on the page.
Looking for a template?
If you’re a proofreader, editor or writer who'd like a customizable Word template for your personal use, check out my course Editing with Style Sheets.
Louise Harnby is a line editor, copyeditor and proofreader who specializes in working with crime, mystery, suspense and thriller writers.
She is an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), a member of ACES, a Partner Member of The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), and co-hosts The Editing Podcast.
'Louise uses her expertise to hone a story until it's razor sharp, while still allowing the author’s voice to remain dominant.'
'I wholeheartedly recommend her services ... Just don’t hire her when I need her.'
J B Turner
'Sincere thanks for a beautiful and elegant piece of work. First class.'
'What makes her stand out and shine is her ability to immerse herself in your story.'
'A million thanks – your mark-up is perfect, as always.'