#Editor: Manuscript Style Sheet Template

Jeri Walker
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Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
Jeri Walker
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A manuscript style sheet can prove invaluable for keeping track of important details, and especially so for a series. As an author, the style sheet you create can range from formal to informal. The key is finding a system that works for you. Passing one along to your editor is always appreciated, but not always practical for busy authors. In any case, I would like to share the system I’ve come up with for creating manuscript style sheets when I line or copy edit a book.

 

This post has been edited to acknowledge that I based my style sheet on editor Rachel Daven Skinner’s manuscript style sheet. The evolution of my Excel style sheet was also informed by examples given by Beth Hill and Rachelle Gardner. I particularly liked how Ms. Skinner includes memorable quotes from the manuscript for the author to use for promotional purposes. Regardless of already existing examples, a lot of trial and error (and time!) went into devising my Excel style sheet.

 

I found Excel to be more practical due to easier navigation between tabs as well as the ability to sort information in various ways. The form I’ve been using to create my manuscript style sheets utilizes seven categories, though not all books will warrant use of a miscellaneous category. When keeping Mathias’s German accent consistent in Stealing Time by KJ Waters, the miscellaneous category came in quite handy.

 

The screen shots here are from T. B. Markinson’s upcoming novel The Miracle Girl. If the images are a bit small for your taste, each can be clicked on to open in a new window. From there, hit Ctrl + to zoom in one each one. A link to download the manuscript style sheet template is included at the end of this post.

 

Manuscript Style Sheet Sample 01

 

Each category is fairly self-explanatory, and it’s important to remember this isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor and can be adjusted to better fit fiction versus nonfiction, etc.. In any event, the following types of details will generally be included in each category.

 

Timeline: This amounts to a chapter-by-chapter timeline that includes the day/date, brief chapter summary of main events, and chapter number or title, as well as any additional comments.

 

People: Valuable information related to the character such as eye color, height, hair color, etc. It’s not uncommon for an author to end up spelling a character’s name three different ways or changing their eye color partway through the book. List any nicknames, unique habits, important descriptions, or background information.

 

Places: Details on the layout for buildings, neighborhoods, towns, distances, etc.

 

Manuscript Style Sheet Sample 02

 

Quotes: In this age of social sharing and nonstop marketing, this category is a quick way to find great lines from a manuscript and put them before the eyes of potential readers.

 

Words: Even if I only verify a word once in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary for proper spelling (kung fu as opposed to kung foo), preferred use (T-shirt), hyphenation (nitty-gritty), being rendered as one word versus two (pantsuit) I will include it on the style sheet in order to show an intentional decision has been made. Other times, it’s necessary to verify the proper capitalization, spacing, and spelling on external websites (Xbox or M&M’s).

 

CMOS: This gets into the fine points of proper depending on the style guide being used. A traditional publisher will already have various guidelines in place (that may differ from the accepted norm). Nine times out of ten, the indie authors I work with tell me to follow all guidelines when it comes to spelling out numerals, the use of serial commas, and italics vs. quote marks for proper emphasis. I always encourage the writers I work with to state certain preferences. Rules after all were meant to be broken, but only if done with purposeful intention and not out of ignorance!

 

Manuscript Style Sheet Sample 03

 

My style sheet contains brief summaries of various usage rules that come into play during the course of editing most manuscripts. I also include resource links to helpful sources so the author can further explore more examples and explanations if interested. I also pepper the first quarter or so of each manuscript with more margin comments to inform and explain various rules. An editor, like any good teacher, won’t just fix a mistake, but show the reason for the correction.

 

Feel free to download the Style Sheet Template I’ve created in Exel and revise it to suit your purposes. In return, it would be lovely if you could share this post.

 

 

How do you keep track of pertinent details when working on large writing projects? Have you ever created a style sheet or received one from an editor?

 

 

Permission must be granted by Jeri Walker to use the images in this post.

Author: Jeri Walker

Need help writing that book blurb, bio, or newsletter? Give your book the attention it deserves. Book your copy edit, manuscript critique, or proofread today. Make every word count.

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49 Comments

  1. Dear Jeri!… This is such a valuable tool… I couldn’t avoid thinking of Chomsky´s transformational grammar as I read your post… So thorough and exhaustive… I like the fact that you even take it further by adding brief summaries of various editing rules and their respective resources. … I will download the manuscript style sheet, for sure…. I could {even } use it to improve my English!…Thanks for sharing!… All the best to you! Aquileana ★

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    • Aqui, creating the style sheet in its current form really was quite exhausting, but it has paid off. When I first started editing, I found myself continually forwarding the same links and bits of advice to writers. Little by little, I’ve been able to collect all of those sources in one place.

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  2. Jeri,

    each time I read your posts, I can’t help thinking,

    “SHE should be paid BIG bucks for this!’

    Where do I leave the tip?

    xxx

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    • Kim, you leave tips all the time… just not monetary ones. Every time you say thank you for a tweet and sign it xx always makes me smile. As for the big bucks, lets just say I’m at least striving to be competitive while still offering affordable rates. With posts like this, I know I’m making my case for the value I can add to any editing project.

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  3. Hi Jeri,

    Thank you for another informative post. You are so good at sharing valuable info! I like your choice of stepping into unknown domains and give a unique experience to your readers.
    I am still trying to understand how to switch from Word to Excel.
    I agree..”Rules after all were meant to be broken, but only if done with purposeful intention and not out of ignorance!”
    Thanks for sharing.

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    • Balroop, it can take some getting used to using Excel for what typically would be a word processing related task, but it’s so handy because of the ability to organize information into cells and tabs and then sort through the information in various ways.

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  4. This is fabulous, Jeri! I’ve downloaded and am now going to send this page to someone I know who’s struggling with this stuff.

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    • Glynis, glad to hear you’ve downloaded the style sheet template. Please share away 🙂

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  5. What a great post Jeri – as an author Ive never considered using a style sheet. But having read your post I can see how I might use it in some form or another. Scrivener can handle some of these issues, but certainly not all of them. Having a handy reference spreadsheet is a brilliant way of doing it. Thanks so much ft the download. Much appreciated:-)

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    • A.K., for the author Scrivener offers so many planning tools for the author. I’m starting to take advantage of more and more of them, but as an editor I still prefer to work with Word and Excel for client work since Scrivener is such specialized software that really does entail a huge though ultimately rewarding learning curve. The data manipulation affording by spreadsheets really can’t be beat, though I readily admit to being far from an Excel expert.

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  6. What a fantastic tool Jeri! Thanks for your generosity in sharing this!!!! I have done something similar, although not as throough, in Word. But this is much more effective and easier to manage. Thank YOU!!

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    • Jacquie, I’m glad you feel the style sheet I’ve come up with looks easier to manage. It took quite a few drafts to get to this point, but I really do think this version is a keeper and one I can add to and develop more over the years.

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  7. Jeri, this is an excellent resource. Thank you for sharing. I refer to the Chicago Manual of Style quite frequently, but it is so easy to lose consistency in areas where you can choose one format vs another. I love the idea of tracking possible quotes. And the timeline is great – I have tried various ways to track that. Seeing things laid on like that really helps point out issues in the sequence or timing of events.

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    • Donna, exactly! I got frustrated when I found myself looking up the same ten or so guidelines in the CMOS over and over again to verify. That’s when I started to collect the most important points and put them on the style sheet spreadsheet that I came up with. I added the memorable quote section not too long ago, but saw another editor who was doing that and thought it would be great to start doing the same as well.

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  8. This is interesting to see Jeri. My editing experience has mostly been in news-related fields so I’ve usually worked with short-form non-fiction and not had to work out many of these details.

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  9. You have such an in depth knowledge of the whole writing process. I am in the middle of writing my first book (not fiction) and realise I have so much to learn.

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    • Phoenicia, there is always more to learn about writing books. Hence the horror and appeal of the process 😉

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  10. Wow! What a great tool. I can imagine how helpful it would be. My memory isn’t getting better either; it could be really important. Thanks for sharing it and I did share too.

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    • Beth, style sheets are such great aides for writers and editors alike. It’s such a great way to convey a ton of information in a concise and navigable form.

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  11. Jeri, thank you so much for sharing this. I’m writing a series (currently working on book two), and this style sheet will be extremely useful for keeping tabs on everything. At the moment I have character profiles, timelines, etc on Word documents, and with this I can bring them together under the one banner, so to speak. I appreciate you sharing your hard work with an indie author trying his hardest to fight through the tsunami out there! Again, thank you!

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    • Liam, best of luck on your series and it’s great to hear you will be able to use my Excel style sheet to organize all of your details in a more efficient manner. I do love efficiency 😉

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  12. This is pure awesome-sauce (I intentionally chose to hyphenate that). Thank you for sharing, and now I will!

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  13. Hi Jeri, This is awesome! Can’t tell you how much I love this tool. What a great post. I have a hard time keeping track of what I wrote from one page to the next as far as being consistent, this will keep me on track. Cool!

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    • Susan, in some ways the recipe spreadsheet system we developed helps us keep tabs on type of recipe, but perhaps it’s time we put one together for your stories as you get ready to release you second collection? Our system is always one in progress and a bit different from what a full-length manuscript would entail, but still worth exploring.

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  14. Fantastic ideas and example, Jeri. Thanks for sharing it. Very cool. Right now, I use yellow note cards for charcters, settings, timelines but as you can imagine it gets pretty confusing. 🙂 I love this idea for fiction writing and as a reference as we go along writing. Of course, as an editor yours is much more in depth.

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    • Lisa, note cards are a great idea, but that must be quick the stack of cards to keep track of. I’ve moved most of my lists and brainstorming to online storage and have fallen in love with OneNote, but still will use scratch paper for my roughest lists and ideas.

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  15. OMG Jeri this is amazing! I am so impressed with the process and I can easily see how I can adapt this for the non-fiction that I write. Thanks so much for sharing the template – I downloaded it and can hardly wait to give it a try!

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    • Marquita, that’s great that you have seen possibilities for adapting the template for non-fiction. If you know anyone else who might find it useful, I hope you’ll forward it along to them as well.

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  16. Thanks for sharing this document. I downloaded it. I’ve been using a Word document that has the plot, characters, and chapter synopsis. If I put anything important in the synopsis, such as description, age, I underline or bold it. My current manuscript is a crime mystery series, so I need to track as much information as possible.

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    • Denise, let me know how using the template goes for you and if there are any tweaks you would recommend. An entire mystery series? I’m impressed 😉

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  17. I’ll admit, the first think I thought when I read CMOS was Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, or that battery that powers the memory chip in computers. Heh.

    I’m not sure I fully understand manuscript style sheets (as my brain is wired to think CSS, cascading style sheets, or how you style a webpage). Is it just so the editor knows that I did something on purpose and doesn’t try to correct it?

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    • Loni, when an author starts a style sheet and passes it on to an editor, it can be an extremely useful tool in communicating their preferences to the editor and to also pass along character summaries and the like. On the other hand, when an editor either adds to or creates a style sheet to pass back to the writer along with the fully edited manuscript it provides a detailed account of the types of changes made that can be assessed much faster than the entire manuscript. In cases where multiple people work on getting a book ready, the style sheet might change hands many times. It could even be given to cover artists and other people who will be assisting with a book.

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  18. I’d never heard of a manuscript style sheet, but I definitely see how valuable it can be. Even in my little blog entries, I will catch myself, let’s say, putting a hyphen in a word the first time, and leaving it as 2 words the second, etc. I could see how you could get really lost in a book or a series. My husband is working on the first issue of his comic book. When proofing his artist’s work, he noticed that a character was wearing a half t-shirt in some of the pictures, and a full t-shirt in others. He spent some time working with continuity in the film business so he is pretty good at catching these types of things, but it is still difficult. Thank you for the great lesson.

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    • Erica, interesting example you’ve given regarding your husband’s experience in catching continuity mistakes. In a way, using a style sheet reinforces the habits of mind needed to catch all those tiny little types of details.

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  19. As usual, a genius practical resource for writing. I’ve never even considered half the items you include on the template, but I can see how they’d be invaluable when creating a character, or for marketing purposes. I use Canadian Press style for most of my writing – covers spelling, caps, all kinds of different terms. But you’re right, Chicago Manual of Style is the king of them all! Thanks for this, I know I’ll use it : ))

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    • Krystyna, why thank you 😉 I shall see if I can come up with another “genius practical resource for writing” again in the near future.

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  20. Share indeed Jeri! This is invaluable. I know I’ll have to modify it for non-fiction and that’s fine. It’s incredibly useful. You’re amazing.

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  21. I had never really thought about a tool for managing the style and consistency of a book but as usual you have brought something to the table for which I am grateful.

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    • Tim, glad as always to have given you some food for thought 😉 Your writer’s wheels are always turning and I know you’ll put together a full-length travel memoir one of these days.

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  22. I am in the process of writing my sequel to my novel. I really need something like this. I have so many characters, and things going on, it is starting to get confusing. I spend most of my time looking back trying to find out if I had used that name for a character before, and what time of year my current writing is happening. Thanks for sharing.

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    • William, I have nothing but admiration for writers who work on series. A style sheet most definitely comes in handy in such cases. My own writing tends to focus on humanity on a small-scale humanity, but there’s still plenty to keep track of.

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  23. Remember that Guinness beer commercial from a few years back? A manuscript style sheet? Brilliant! And here I was thinking I’d bribe my sister to compile just such a list. I am currently trudging through the last chapters of my second novel (of a trilogy, no less). Keeping the details straight is a major chore and time-suck. I can’t even begin to calculate the hours I’ve spent tracking down if my character’s kitchen has granite or marble countertops, long-forgotten minor characters’ names, or what type of Scotch my hero drinks, etc. I’ve downloaded it and it will replace the spiral notebook full of chicken-scratch used for such purposes. Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my unorganized heart I thank you.

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    • Julie, thanks so much for leaving such a great comment. It totally boosts my outlook when people let me know they find various downloads and examples helpful.

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  24. This is just a note to inform readers I’ve added links to the style sheet post above to give credit to a few sources which enabled me to create my version in Excel. If you prefer working in Word, consider checking out Rachel Daven Skinner’s template as well. Have a great day and carry on!

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