Thursday, March 5, 2015

"What's Your Style Platform or Style Guide?"

Night Writer's Cottage, Ashland, VA_copyright (c) 2014
The photo above holds memories of a very special week of reading and talking with a new writer, my husband, who is finishing his first book. We now use much that I learned--and he heard talked about over supper--for years as a book publisher and founder of Opine Publishing. Opine's presence exists now through our seven books published and online presence at Author Support and My News and Views blog, and social networking, including one and another Twitter account and Facebook.  

You're a writer that may have been writing for a long time. You may be a prolific writer of published articles. Today I'm thinking about facts I only learned due to working with a publisher for the first edition of my first book, Not All Roads Lead Home by Jane Bullard (pen name). When Opine published the expanded, second edition, the work was much easier for Opine's other editor, Carri, who used style platforms and showed me so I could teach myself more. 

Be assured that avoiding tedious details, unless someone else is hired to do it, can run a writer outside the margins (sorry, had to say it) for a long time...or not, depending on willingness to learn. I have found that whoever does the nitty-gritty, when I know the details and "how to's" of what they're doing, I'm able to fill in, help, or co-evaluate the accuracy of the work.

My purpose here is to introduce important manuscript prep facts that I advise any writer that asks me.
Because I hate reading articles with labels and acronyms I haven't a clue about, I'll try to make this clearer, at least, than mud. So if you do not know yet what is a Style Platform (SP) or a Style Guide (SG), I'm here to help.

And why should knowing about SPs/SGs be important to you?

First and for one thing, this knowledge can save you Time and Pulling-out-of-hair so that you may work more efficiently and keep whatever hair you have left. If someone else transcribes or types your work, then they should know.

Equally important, using this knowledge can help your work gain order and uniformity that editors expect, and so do some book agents.

Finally, it can become your style platform, but it began as their style platform, a specific editor's or publishing house's document/manuscript requirements before publication. These "rules" can become habitual for the writer to use, once the details are used often enough.

For example, each magazine will likely have a specific style guide to be used not only for publishing articles and features but also for considering submitted works by freelancers. It's good to research these guides, if available. Otherwise, in a query email or letter, you can let the editor know of your willingness to follow their in-house Style Guides if you could have a copy of what they entail.

Book publishers have style platform/guide preferences from the get-go, and it helps to try to anticipate those. 

For example, a manuscript should always be saved digitally, with the style platform built into the document. The hard copy should clearly show, at first glance, double spacing (definitely), Times New Roman font-font size 12 (most likely), and 250 words per page (often). Margins should be standard and, I prefer, aligned to the left. I also prefer hanging first lines of paragraphs, set at 0.5. Those are my preferred text format options.

Other options exist for headers, footers (page numbers, e.g.), and for in-text headings, regarding style designations and applications. Learn how to use these with your document software quickly. I recently upgraded my MS Word software and feel like I'm learning so much new stuff, but it has to be done...again, for the same reasons!

All style platform options should be available in your document program, under tabs for Home or Format, or other.

Select the font and its size and apply it to each document or chapter, using the "Apply" option. For paragraphs, try (in MS Word) "Format" and select the alignment (left), first-line option (hanging), line spacing (double). Most editors flinch over any bold, italic, or underline in the text, including headings. Some do not want headings, either.

Microsoft Word software is what I am most familiar with, having left the Corel software, which I thought was better for editing. Corel got swamped, in a way, by Microsoft's Word (MSWord) popularity.

Whatever writing or word software you use, you can query editors to see if yours would be okay to use for what you'll send to them, once they accept your article query. If editors open your digital files, they will not likely want to do file conversions (converting a document from Corel's WordPerfect to MSWord, for example), so try to find out and convert your document in advance, if needed. 

Again, editors that read piles of queries and book proposals (the proposal should include style details mentioned above) usually welcome the author mentioning, upon query, a readiness to use the publisher's in-house style, if a guide will be provided.  

I am not a guide writer, so for MS Word here is a recommended style platform resource for you to try if none of this is familiar to you as a writer. I know it was posted a few years ago, but I think it is still very useful. I had to teach myself what he shares in graphics, and so I recommend it to save you the time and hair-pulling-out!

All of us have to go through phases like this as writers, so it's a good thing to get started on this one if you haven't already. I checked a few "how to" articles online, and, as I said, this one looked best to me, given what I've learned on my own. I think it is the easiest, but you might find another, so search away! If you use this one, scroll down for the helpful screen graphics, especially the style boxes and how to name and modify styles.

If this sounds really strange to you now, soon it can be one of the first things you think about to do with any document that will present your ideas and whatever else you will share or create through books or articles.

Copyright (c) 2015 Jean P. Purcell