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Style sheets are a mainstay of the traditional editing and publishing process. Yet many writers and authors don't know what they are or how they can be put to use. In this blog, I'll break down what types of information the style sheet records and ways that authors can use this information to support their writing endeavors.

What a style sheet is

An editorial style sheet is a record of all editorial decisions made in the editing and proofreading process. It ensures that an editor (or multiple editors/proofreaders) maintain consistency as the manuscript moves through the stages of editing. Some style sheets, especially for fiction, include a compilation of relevant story information; including, character names, descriptions, and relationships; place names and descriptions; world-building details/rules of the world; and a plot timeline.

For the purposes of this post, I am writing from the perspective of a freelance editor working directly with authors. Therefore, I create and maintain style sheets primarily for myself before handing them over to the author upon completion of editorial services. When I complete contract work with a publisher, they may or may not require me to maintain or update a style sheet. I don't usually need to create one from scratch, as there will usually be a previously created style sheet for me to add to or a more rigid style guide that I may not edit.

What a style sheet typically looks like

Every style sheet is unique to the editor who makes it. Most include similar types of information despite being organized in different ways (see the following three examples; note: these are note mine).

Categories one might find on a style sheet are:

  • Style guide or reference materials

  • Formatting specifications (page breaks, section breaks, paragraph indention, margins, spacing, headings and subheadings, font size and type, etc.)

  • A word list of misspelled or confused words gathered from the manuscript

  • Spelling preferences, noting whether the manuscript uses British or American spelling and grammar conventions

  • A list of abbreviations and acronyms

  • Capitalization rules

  • Punctuation rules

  • Hyphenation rules

  • Other grammar preferences that are more flexible (Oxford comma, use of contractions, format of dates/times, etc.)

  • Any other author-specified style preferences (use of different typography for emphasis, for instance)

How an author can use a style sheet

Once the author has received their style sheet and their edited or proofread manuscript, I recommend they read through the style sheet to see what decisions were made. Then, as they accept and reject changes to their manuscript, they can keep the style decisions in mind and make their own editorial decisions consistently and with confidence.

It may become necessary at a later date (once formatting is complete) for an author to make a final pass of the book file before publication. Keeping the style sheet handy will help them remember what decisions were made months or weeks ago so that no unnecessary changes are made at this crucial stage.

If an author is writing a series, the style guide can be used for a more efficient writing and self-editing/revision process. Your editor will thank you if you can self-correct some of the previous book's errors, saving your editor time (and yourself, money) in the long run.

Finally, the style sheet is not just a reference for the author, but it can also serve as a bridge between a previous editor and another editor or proofreader. A proofreader, for instance, who receives a style sheet from a previous editor won't need to build a style sheet from scratch and can proofread to maintain the manuscript's internal consistency, which was previously decided on by the previous editor and the author.

In conclusion

Using an editorial style sheet can help authors save time and prevent unnecessary confusion when a manuscript trades hands between an author and editor. It's an industry standard, and if your editor or proofreader doesn't normally create one, they should!

A query letter is a formal letter that a writer sends to literary agents or publishers to introduce themselves and their work with the goal of securing representation or publication of their book. Agents and publishers receive letters and unsolicited manuscripts every day, and they are masters at skimming the first line or so of a query letter to determine whether that author's book is a match for them. Writing your query letter, therefore, requires careful planning and attention to detail to capture an agent or publisher's attention.

You'll find a lot of advice on the wide web about how to write a query letter. For something as important as this, I go directly to the source and have had the opportunity to listen to numerous agents break down what they expect to see in a winning query letter.

This blog will explore step-by-step how to write a query letter that an agent or publisher falls for, hook, line, and sinker. Note: This advice is for a general query letter template. You will, of course, need to research each agent or publisher and provide exactly what they require in their submission guidelines, as well as personalize the letter to each person. Finally, there are some slightly different requirements for nonfiction authors that I won't address in this post.

Writing your letter

  1. Use correct formatting: Include the agent or publisher's contact information and your own contact information at the top of the letter.

  2. Begin with a salutation: Know the name of agent, and address them directly with "Dear ___" or even "Hi ___" First Paragraph

  3. Start with the information that they immediately need to know: In one sentence, include the title, word count, category, and genre. You may also need to know the target audience and comparative titles; for example: A Wizard of Earthsea is a 56,000 word young adult high fantasy novel for lovers of classic adventures and coming-of-age stories. Make sure comparative titles are books in your genre and category published within the last three years. Second Paragraph

  4. Hook their attention: Before launching into a brief synopsis of the book, don't forget the hook. The hook is a sentence that piques the reader's interest and compels them to keep reading. It may be necessary to change the hook depending on who you are writing to.

  5. Provide a brief synopsis: And I mean brief—no more than 7-10 lines, if possible. The synopsis should tell the reader who the main character is, what problem they are having, and how the problem is solved (yes, you must tell the ending of the book!). Final Paragraph

  6. Talk about yourself in relation to the agent or publisher: Assuming you're not in danger of running over one page (a one page query letter is more likely to be read), then you might conclude the letter with information about yourself—what inspired you to write the book; whether you've published before; your relationship to the book; and most important, your enthusiasm for the agent or publisher and their work and why you feel they're a good fit for your book.

  7. End with a closing salutation and gratitude: It never goes amiss to include a simple "thank you for your time" before you sign off.

And that's all there is to it!

A few more resources

Need a second set of eyes on your letter? Let's talk! I offer a packaged service that includes a review of your letter followed by two rounds of proofreading.

Not sure where to get started on finding agents? I recommend Manuscript Wish List, QueryTracker, and Publishers Marketplace.

by Morgan L. Busse

Published November 6, 2018

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers

Genre: High fantasy, epic fantasy, young adult

This is my first book review on this blog. I decided to expand some of my blog posting to include book reviews because 1) I want to read more in the genres I edit and share what I'm reading, and 2) I think it can be helpful for authors/writers to see what others are saying about books in their genre.

So let's dive into the first book of the Ravenwood Saga!

Set in a meticulously crafted world, Mark of the Raven introduces readers to ancient houses whose families possess varying gifts (healing, wisdom, manipulating water, etc.) that they use to provide for and protect their people. The protagonist, Lady Selene, a daughter of House Ravenwood, experiences her gifting in the first chapter, giving her the abilities of a dreamwalker. As Selene is initiated by her mother into her gift and its uses, she is torn between loyalty for her family and the secrets of her gift that she begins to uncover.

The first half of the book primarily introduces the reader to Selene and explores her identity as not just a daughter but an heir of House Ravenwood and an heir of the gift of that house. She discovers the terrible power of her gift (the ability to walk in and manipulate dreams) and wrestles with the moral implications of her dreamwalking and her own inner demons.

Light and dark are consistent motifs throughout the book, and nowhere does Selene experience this light more than in the character of Lord Damien Maris, whose arrival, along with the leaders of the other houses for a tribunal, brings the pacing and suspense to a tipping point. Through the weaving of light and dark, Selene explores who she is in light of her family's gift and her mother's expectations.

Busse spends quite a bit of time building Selene's intricate world, and it isn't until the latter half of the novel, and really the final few chapters, that Selene is faced with a choice that will forever alter her destiny. While I'd been on the fence about reading the next book in the saga, the final few chapters, including the cliffhanger ending, were enough to convince me to read the next installment.

This is a solidly YA book—no cursing, graphic violence, or sex—and expertly edited and published. There are some fight scenes and intense dream sequences that should be well-handled by the target age group. I did find some of the time spent in Selene's thoughts and some of the repetitive language (it's written that Selene feels like she has bile in her throat a lot!) to be a bit irksome but not enough to take away from the reading experience too badly.

Fans of court intrigue, strong female protagonists, sword fights, marriage of convenience, classic good vs. evil, and magic will enjoy this book. It's a great introduction to the series, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

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