Preparing Your Writing for Publication: Which Style Guide to Use
by Trista Cornelius
Before you submit your manuscript to a literary magazine, website, or other publication, make one last edit to make sure your work meets the publication’s expectations for style. Style includes everything from punctuation and capitalization to what gets italicized and abbreviated.
Many different style guides are available, but for creative writers, these three options are the most common:
The publication’s own submission guidelines
The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago)
The Associated Press Stylebook (AP)
Option number one: the publisher’s submission guidelines
If your target publication shares its submission guidelines, those rules trump any others you know, even those which have your devotion.
The amazing people behind VoiceCatcher, for example, took the time to make decisions about grammar and explain them in a clear, accessible way so works in their publications will be consistent.
And, in case you think I’m biased, let me tell you that VoiceCatcher‘s style conflicts with both my pet-peeve preferences: VoiceCatcher‘s leaves out the comma before the conjunction in a series unless you need it for clarity. And it leaves off the -s when it creates an extra “eez” sound, as in: James’ stylebook.
Option number two: The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago)
This beautiful book has been published since 1906 and is in its 16th edition. The pages feel like silk, and the incredibly thorough (and thick) volume is organized seamlessly. It took me only seconds to find what I was looking for, quite unlike AP (more on that below).
Based on an online conversation I had with the effervescent Laura Stanfill, founder of Forest Avenue Press, Chicago is the guide to use when submitting work to literary publications — like Bellingham Review or Tin House unless they post their own guidelines as VoiceCatcher does.
As for my grammar pet peeves, Chicago does it my way and “strongly recommends” using the comma before the conjunction in a list to “prevent ambiguity,” and to include the -s, as in James’s style guide, because it cannot be read aloud without the extra “eez” sound.
Chicago also includes topics like manuscript preparation, editing, proofreading, and a section on rights, permissions, and copyright law.
You can buy an online subscription for access to ever-current information, or get the 2010 hardback edition for $65. I’m saving my pennies to buy the paper version just so I can thumb the smooth pages.
Option number three: The Associated Press Stylebook (AP)
For any publication that comes under the general category of journalism, use AP. However, this also seems to be the guide many other types of publications now use, maybe because as news publications have gained broader, global reach, AP’s style has become the most common and familiar. It seems especially common when publishing online (except for literary magazines, but that’s a generalization).
Like with Chicago, you can buy an online subscription or choose a print edition. The 2013 is AP’s latest print edition. It’s not as thorough as Chicago, and it’s specific to news writing. For example, in the A to Z guide to capitalization, abbreviation, punctuation, and other usage, entries include whether or not to abbreviate Central Intelligence Agency and the title “presiding officer,” and whether to use “Congress woman” or “U.S. Rep.”
I found the A to Z style of organization cumbersome, confusing. But, for those of you with writing styles that cross genres, like sports or food, AP includes sections discussing those in particular.
Regarding my grammar pet peeves, AP’s recommendations often conflict with mine, but they also seem to be followed by the majority.
AP uses the comma before a conjunction in a list only if its absence would cause confusion (just as VoiceCatcher prefers). Keep the extra -s in a name like James only if the next word does not also start in -s. For example:
I borrowed James’s tricycle yesterday.
I borrowed James’ style guide yesterday.
Based on my research, I think Chicago should be on your writing desk to answer all of your grammar questions. Then, when it comes to refining for publication, know that AP is being used more and more.
If you are submitting work to a newspaper or something “newsie” like salon.com, follow The Associated Press Stylebook. If you are submitting work to a literary publication like Tin House or Bellingham Review, use The Chicago Manual of Style. However, no matter where you’re submitting your work, if the publisher provides submission guidelines like VoiceCatcher does, follow those over anything else.
Trista Cornelius writes VoiceCatcher’s monthly column “Dotting Your Ts and Crossing Your Eyes” and is currently on a leave of absence from Clackamas Community College where she has been teaching writing, literature and food studies. Follow her writing, reading and eating adventures here.