If you’ve ever had a book line edited or copy edited, your editor may have returned the manuscript to you along with an extra file: a style sheet. But what is a style sheet, and why do you need one?
A style sheet is a guide to the grammar, spelling, text, character, and writing choices in your book. It keeps track of what decisions were made and why, allowing you to keep those decisions consistent from chapter to chapter and book to book (if you’re working on a series). Essentially, it’s the gold standard or set of rules that dictate your book’s small style details.
Why Create a Style Sheet?
But you may be wondering why you need a style sheet. Can’t you keep track of everything without it? Why keep track of anything at all? Here are some reasons why you might want to consider having one for your current or next project.
Organization: A style sheet is a one-stop, at-a-glance digest of the details of your manuscript. Want to know the correct spellings of characters and places? Or if a minor character has green eyes or blue eyes? Or if your preferred spelling is “okay” or “OK”? Or whether you capitalize “Arcane Mage” or not? All of that can be stored in the style sheet for you and the other professionals who work on your manuscript.
Internal Consistency: A style sheet can help you keep consistency from scene to scene, chapter to chapter, and book to book. Since it keeps track of all the little details, it’s easy to make sure a character’s name, spelling of a word, or location of a place stay the same every time they are mentioned.
Consistency Between Editing Professionals: A style sheet can help professionals on your team—like editors, proofreaders, and layout designers—on the same page about your manuscript. They’ll be able to check the style sheet and add to it, allowing the document to evolve and improve as it goes through each stage of the process.
Professionalism: A style sheet is commonly used in the traditional publishing industry, and a lot of editors and proofreaders might expect one from you or create it if you don’t have one already.
Reducing Queries: A style sheet can cut down on some of the back-and-forth you might have with professionals like editors or proofreaders, as they can simply check the style sheet before reaching out with a question. This can cut down on frustrations and communication lag, and it can reduce the number of changes you might not agree with or end up accepting when you get a document back from an editor. Defining certain style and grammar standards up front makes for a smoother process all around.
What Gets Tracked on a Style Sheet?
You might be thinking, “But Angela, don’t you just use Merriam-Webster and the Chicago Manual of Style as guides? Don’t they already tell you what to do?” Well, yes and no. Yes, I do use those standard and accepted resources as a basis for editing. But no, they don’t always tell you what to do. They often give you multiple options or leeway for making the style work for your particular writing. Additionally, some authors may want to go against the standard recommendations for certain elements of grammar or style, in which case, that needs to be recorded so that everyone involved in the project remembers why it was chosen.
When standard resources don’t cover a choice or when an alternative choice was made, we record that on the style sheet. Here’s a list of things you’ll commonly find on a style sheet:
The published resources used to edit the novel
Styling for textual formatting such as internal thoughts, text messaging, or signage within the novel
Character name spellings, descriptions, and key details
Place name spellings, descriptions, and key details
In-universe time or date references
Fictional world-building details
Alternative spellings or made-up words
Can I Create My Own Novel’s Style Sheet?
Of course! Authors often find style sheets incredibly helpful for keeping track of details, especially if they don’t otherwise make use of a “world bible” for their work. As an author, you can feel free to give your line editor or copy editor your own style sheet, and that can guide how they edit your novel. Additionally, if you have multiple editors or proofreaders in your publishing pipeline, they should all receive the accurate and updated style sheet when you send them the project, that way everyone is on the same page about decisions.