Getting to Know Your Style Guide

If you’re a new editor tasked with using The Chicago Manual of Style, you might feel some degree of trepidation. After all, the learning curve when adjusting to a new editorial style manual can be steep. Even more daunting, the most current edition of The Chicago Manual of Style weighs in at almost four pounds and is nearly 1,200 pages long! Although the sheer amount of information to learn, rules to memorize, and conventions to adopt might seem overwhelming at first, it helps to remember that no one expects you to become an expert overnight. The best way to learn about any style manual is to use it conscientiously and repeatedly, but there are a few other ways you can begin to build your skill before busting out that red pen.

One of the first ways you can become familiar with the conventions of The Chicago Manual of Style is by checking out the “Chicago Style Q&A.” Once edited by the incomparable Carol Saller and now edited by CMOS expert Russell Harper, this Q&A section is a wealth of information about common quandaries and confusions experienced by editors everywhere. The benefit of scrolling through the Q&A is that you get to see the rationale behind the rules through concrete and timely examples. You never know what questions might come up, but you can rest assured that scrolling through the Q&A will be enlightening.

Once you’ve glanced through the Q&A, you might be interested in checking out The Chicago Manual of Style‘s blog, CMOS Shop Talk. This blog covers everything from current events at the University of Chicago Press to discussions of changing editorial best practices, and reading through the posts that interest you the most is a great way to become more familiar with Chicago style. It’s also a great way to stay up to date with the latest editing-related news and to learn more about editorial best practices without actually editing anything.

At this point, you’ve probably done enough reading and are ready to test out those editorial chops. Short of actually editing a document, these CMOS Online quizzes, a.k.a. “Chicago Style Workouts,” are the best way to test your familiarity with the CMOS. With nearly fifty different quizzes for you to take with topics ranging from punctuation to grammar and style, these CMOS workouts are sure to help you learn and remember even the most obscure rules.

Expertise in a style manual is something that takes years to develop and grows slowly over time with continued use and practice. In the meantime, try out these three resources and watch your skills develop. You’ll be a CMOS expert before you know it.

Ooligan Press: Making Books, Designing Careers

I recently joined Portland State University’s graduate program in book publishing. When I applied, I was aware that the program had its own publisher called Ooligan Press, but I must confess I did not think much about it. I thought of Ooligan as an interesting adjunct to the more important academic elements of the program. I could not have been more wrong.

As I have discovered, the breadth and quality of Ooligan’s publishing work is impressive by any measure. But what is beyond impressive is what Ooligan does for its students.

I am quite a bit different from almost all the students at Ooligan. I came to the program after retiring from a long career in a different industry. I came back to school simply for the joy of learning. I wasn’t—and still am not—thinking much about a career after graduation.

My much-younger classmates at Ooligan are in a very different phase of life. They are exactly where I was thirty-five years ago: they are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives and how they want to start their careers. Ooligan gives these students a hands-on, immersive experience in the publishing process. Quite literally, it is the students who do all the work at Ooligan. They own the publishing process from beginning to end. They are entirely responsible for the success of each book’s publication.

As Ooligan students build successful books, they are also building their own careers. Students are exposed to all the steps in the publishing process, so they get a chance to discover what interests them the most and where they might best succeed in the publishing industry. For those students who wish to pursue a career in writing (as opposed to publishing), Ooligan shows them all the practical steps required to realize their creative aspirations.

Beyond obtaining this hands-on experience, students receive another priceless gift: exposure to Ooligan’s values. For Ooligan, it’s not just about the process of publishing books into the marketplace. It’s about honoring the authors and the stories those authors are seeking to tell. The project teams at Ooligan strive to find authors who would otherwise go unrecognized and stories that would otherwise be left untold. The teams then work tirelessly to ensure each story comes through the publishing process just as the author envisioned.

Through their work with Ooligan, students see that publishing can be more than merely a profitable business venture. Publishing can be the business of finding and sharing important voices for the benefit of our society and our world. These are values upon which students can build meaningful and fulfilling publishing careers, whether they choose to focus on acquisition, editing, marketing, or any other part of the publishing process.

One of my favorite books (not published by Ooligan) is Creative Calling by renowned photographer Chase Jarvis. In the book, Jarvis offers a key insight based on his long and successful career: “Creative lives and creative careers are each designed. They happen intentionally.” Ooligan Press is giving each of its students the opportunity to design a publishing career and a life of purpose that they desire and deserve. And that is beyond impressive by any measure.

Confessions of a Comma Splicer

Not every writer or author is forged with the basics of the English language. We all grow up learning the rigors of grammar, but sometimes our training falls by the wayside. We read books, we write, we talk, we listen to the patterns of normal human speech, we read more books, and we pick up bad habits along the way. I sure did.

But as it turns out, at least when it comes to book publishing, mechanics and grammar still matter. Quite a lot. If you want to sell a manuscript or become a professional copyeditor, the best way to achieve your goals is to get back to basics.

Sentence structure is one of those key basics, and one of my most common sentence-structure errors was the dreaded comma splice. At some point along the way, I picked up this nasty habit. In my writing brain, the one rushing to get all the words down on paper, it just sounded right. But what sounds correct in our heads isn’t always what reads well on the page. So I’m here to confess to my comma-splicing crimes and help everyone else who’s guilty of comma splicing learn the error of their ways before it’s too late. Just kidding—it’s never too late to learn something new or relearn something old.

A comma splice is when a comma is used to connect two independent clauses. A clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a finite verb, and an independent clause is a clause that can stand as a complete sentence. This means comma splicing is piecing together two separate sentences using only a comma. It’s not the end of the world, but it is bad grammar.

Here’s an example of a comma splice:
This is a comma splice, it can be hard to recognize if you aren’t looking for it.

Now, how does something like this get fixed? As with many writing faux pas, there are usually several solutions.

  1. Add a coordinating conjunction between the two independent clauses. Coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor, yet) join words, phrases, or clauses.
    This is a comma splice, but it can be hard to recognize if you aren’t looking for it.
  2. Add a subordinate conjunction. A subordinate conjunction (although, as, because, if, since, so, that, unless, while) typically joins dependent clauses to independent clauses but can also be used in this instance.
    This is a comma splice, although it can be hard to recognize if you aren’t looking for it.
  3. Change the comma to a semicolon. A semicolon is a punctuation mark (;) indicating a pause, typically between two independent clauses, that is much more pronounced than the pause indicated by a comma.
    This is a comma splice; it can be hard to recognize if you aren’t looking for it.
  4. Change the comma to a period. A period is a punctuation mark (.) indicating that the sentence has ended.
    This is a comma splice. It can be hard to recognize if you aren’t looking for it.

In the heat of writing, and especially in the rush to meet a deadline, it can still be challenging to find those pesky comma splices hiding among the shining pearls of otherwise perfectly formed sentences. And maybe, as in my case, those are the grammatical issues you are most blind to: the sort of natural errors that your editorial or revising eye just passes right over.

Luckily, there are resources to help sharpen that eye. For example, The Copyeditor’s Handbook and The Chicago Manual of Style can help you relearn all those pesky sentence-structure rules.

Once the studying is complete, then it’s time to move on to testing. There are several helpful online quizzes, but the best of the bunch were created by Northern Illinois University, the University of Bristol, and Villanova University.

Other options include online and digital grammar checkers like Grammarly, Virtual Writing Tutor, or Grammar Lookup.

Being guilty of using comma splices doesn’t make you a bad writer. But knowing how to recognize and revise these sentences before an editor gets hold of your manuscript will definitely make you a better writer.

Experiential vs. Educational Learning

My friends and family were naturally curious when I shared my plans to start a master’s program in book publishing. Many asked why I needed further education to enter the publishing industry. Is a bachelor’s degree in English literature just a fun way to spend four years and thousands of dollars? So I applied for internships before I dove headfirst into another educational commitment. Microcosm Publishing of Portland, Oregon, was gracious enough to offer me an internship, and my personal experiment began. Would this internship be sufficient to teach me everything I wanted to learn about the industry in order to eventually get a full-time job?

As it turns out, the answer is not a clean yes or no.

This post is about the differences and similarities between experiential learning (e.g., my internship) and educational learning (e.g., the publishing program) within the publishing industry and why both have value and complement each other. It will focus on my experiences as an intern at Microcosm Publishing and a first-term student at Ooligan Press and give examples of how what I’ve learned in my classes has directly transferred to my internship and vice versa.

Expertise vs. Infrastructure:
At Microcosm, I’ve gotten my hands dirty. I’ve proofread two manuscripts, worked on Photoshop projects (with which I have very little prior experience but with which they trust me, amazingly), stuffed envelopes with Microcosm’s “witchy” catalog before sending them to hundreds of book retailers across America, moved many, many boxes of books, and gained some incredible insight into what it means to be a small independent publisher in the big pond of publishing.

But without the expertise I’ve been getting from my classes, I would have very little context in which to understand my experiences. How would I know that Microcosm’s decision to do their own distribution and part ways with Ingram was a bold move for an independent publisher? I spent an entire day unpacking all the books that had been sent back to Microcosm, but I didn’t even know what Ingram was prior to starting the program.

Another pertinent example of the way in which my learning has positively impacted my job is my approach to book descriptions—you know, the summaries that entice readers and get them excited to purchase books and read them.

The instructions from my Microcosm supervisor were to read the back cover, skim the first couple chapters, then write a short description and avoid sounding like an Amazon review. I’ve learned from my marketing class that a book purchase is an emotional investment for the average consumer, and this has directly impacted the way I approach my book descriptions for Microcosm’s online catalog. I now understand that I’m not just regurgitating the back cover; I’m helping people find the right book by detailing not only what the book is about but also why someone would want to read it.

Undergoing both the educational and experiential learning processes has given me the benefit of being able to immediately apply concepts and theories to real-life situations. Further, I am able to filter my experience as an intern and contextualize it within the larger arena of the publishing industry.

So in short, the answer to the question of whether my internship would teach me everything I needed to know for a career in publishing is no—not on its own. However, this internship has been hugely beneficial for applying and contextualizing all the wisdom and expertise that is being taught in the publishing program at PSU.

YA Programs & Libraries: Developing and Maintaining

The Salem Public Library was my second home growing up. Half of the massive second floor was entirely dedicated to children. The thing I never thought about as a child, however, was how the “teen” books were grouped right alongside the children’s nonfiction.

They changed this right about when I moved from middle school to high school, which you’d think would have been perfect for me. The thing was, I was terrified and uncertain of this new “teen” scene—I had no idea what it was. I thought it was for older, more mature kids.

My sophomore year of high school, I started volunteering in the children’s Discovery Room upstairs. One of the librarians who had known me practically since birth recommended that I check out their teen scene. So finally, I did.

It’s an amazing place. They converted half the basement into a space where young adults could come hang out and work after school. Shelves of YA books stretch back for miles, and there are tons of endcap displays for “what to read if you like…” One section has a TV with video games and a couch. Every time I visit, there are always kids planted on that couch. Book recommendations written by teens are taped all over the walls. Over the years, as I came back more and more, I learned about the different writing programs they offered. Recently, I visited one of these after-school writing workshops to talk about Ooligan Press and the publishing industry. The kids loved what they were doing. Sonja, the main YA librarian, gives them fun, relevant writing prompts and encourages everyone, no matter how far-out their ideas might seem. On this same visit, I learned that my library had been picked to be one of twenty-five review committees that would select books for a “top ten YA” list. They had tons of advance reader copies shipped to them, and these lined the shelves in the office. The committee at each library is made up entirely of teens—they are the ones who get to choose which YA books are the best.

Growing up around this library program and watching it flourish over the years inspired me to take a deeper look at young adult programs in libraries for my thesis. How have they developed over the years? What makes them “successful,” and what defines success? How are librarians identifying and then meeting their communities’ needs?

As I’ve been diving into this research and studying different programs over the last decade, I’ve noticed several themes among programs that seem to be doing well and gaining attention. The first of these themes is the most critical: teen involvement in the decision-making process. Like the Salem Public Library, many libraries have committees or teen advisory boards made up entirely of young adult patrons. They give their input on everything from the kinds of books they want to read more of to their favorite authors to the programs they want to see at their own libraries. Another common theme is proper staff training. Libraries who employed a YA specialist rather than just a general librarian saw a significant increase in the number of students who visited and checked out books. One last theme was that students were more likely to come when the YA section was in a comfortable physical environment that allowed them to socialize with their friends. The days of the harsh, shushing librarian are over—the library is now a social space, one where teens can talk and debate and discuss the things they’re reading or simply enjoying in the world.

My hope as I continue to do this research is that I can create some kind of framework or best practices guide that can aid librarians as they continue to develop and maintain programs targeting teens. In this way, hopefully we can match the growing genre of YA with the space that teens need to find their identity.

Enactivism as a Goal in Digital Learning

Ooligan Press hosted the Transmit Culture: The Future of Children’s Reading panel last October, which focused on how ebooks were shaping children’s education. One thing that interested me was hearing that teachers were specifically looking for digital books designed for multimodal learning—learning that engages different sensory modalities like sight and sound to fit different learning styles. It seems like a perfect way to make interactive learning engaging.

I studied philosophy in my undergraduate years, and my school’s philosophy program had a big focus on the philosophy of perception. I studied Molyneux’s Problem, which asked if different sensory modalities communicated the same information by asking if someone who had touched a cube and a sphere but never had the faculty of vision would recognize the shapes if they were suddenly granted sight. If the corners and curves are understood right away, the senses themselves hold information about what corners and curves are. If the person doesn’t understand right away, it’s experience with a sense that teaches what a corner or a shape is in relation to the sensory modality.

Problems like this made me pay special attention when I came across the idea of enactivism. Enactivism, as Alva Noe explains at the beginning of Action in Perception, holds that “perception is not something that happens to us, or in us. It is something we do.” Instead of treating perception as something to be analyzed in snapshots, as often happens in the philosophy of perception, enactivism holds that perception is to be understood over time, with an active perceiver manipulating what they’re perceiving. Ask someone to close their eyes and place a ring in their hand, and they’ll move the object in their hand to get a sense of its shape. Forbid them from moving their hand, and they’ll have a very difficult time figuring out the shape from touch alone. The more opportunities Molyneux’s newly-sighted person has to manipulate the cube and sphere, perhaps by moving their head or body to see the shapes from different angles, the more opportunities they’ll have to understand what they’re perceiving and relate it to what they know of these shapes from touch.

Though it’s treated as a theory of perception, it offers insights into how learning may work. The perceiver’s ability to manipulate what they’re trying to perceive lets them understand what it is. This is surely what is meant when people say they learn best by doing. And learning what a real object is involves learning the agreement between the different sensory modalities—one can see there is a relationship between the feeling of a ball, the sight of it, and the sound it makes when bouncing off different kinds of surfaces.

What’s interesting about digital platforms, and what makes them challenging, is that the agreement between the senses has to be created by a programmer. A programmer can make tapping on an object create a sound, leave it silent, have it create a delayed sound, or create any other reaction they want. Because these connections are authored and because they’re not inherent to the type of object being depicted, what one learns about these interactions may only be true in one case. What we learn about a baseball is going to have relations to all baseballs, but what we learn about an app may only be true for that one app. Added to the problem is that there’s no connection between touch and what is being represented. The tactile sensation of interacting with any two apps on an iPad is identical.

I’m a big believer in digital reading, but the benefits of digital reading for young learners are difficult to realize, especially without a lot of thought about how sensory modalities relate to each other and without a strong emphasis on how young learners can manipulate what’s represented on the screen. One novel approach is suggested by Nintendo’s new Labo line of toys. Nintendo has designed papercraft accessories for their Switch gaming console, which users have to physically assemble to play with. Nintendo has found a way to extend the functionality of the tablet-like Switch using a form of print, adding tactile manipulation to give a new dimension to play. It’s worth investigating whether this enactive union of electronics and print has any applicable lessons for publishers trying to bring enactive learning to digital publishing.

Interning as an Oolie

The best thing about the Ooligan Press graduate program, as I am sure you are aware, is the opportunity every student has to work on and publish actual books. This experience is what helps set Ooligan apart from other programs, and it sets the students up for success. While I haven’t yet experienced how the skills learned at Ooligan can be applied to full-time publishing jobs, I can speak to how Ooligan has helped me with my time as an intern.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had several internship opportunities with a wide range of publishing houses. My role and the types of tasks I’ve performed at each have ranged from contacting authors and bookstores to setting up author tour dates to “I totally forgot the intern was showing up today, does anyone have any envelopes that need stuffing?” And while the first option can definitely feel more rewarding, I can say from experience that there is a certain satisfaction in sending out countless advanced reader copies. It’s true that the vast majority of work you will perform as an intern may be relegated to the “busy work” category—compiling various lists, searching the internet for potential contacts, and the aforementioned stuffing of envelopes—and as tedious as the work was at times, absolutely everything I did as an intern was greatly appreciated. Generating contact sheets or sending out books for review aren’t the most glamourous assignments, but without those steps a book is doomed to failure. What allowed me to do these things well—to create useful contact lists and write outreach letters that had a chance of getting a response—was that I had plenty of practice from my time in Ooligan. Every now and again there were a few instances where I got to do the cool book marketing stuff, and when I told my mom what I did all day at my internship, those were my main talking points. The coolest thing I ever got to do was schedule a book tour for one of the more well-known authors at a publishing house. This included contacting stores, calling hotels, and coordinating with the author’s talent agent (yes, that’s right, talent agent) in order to have a successful book launch.

Aside from the actual work that was done, the best part of being a publishing intern is simply being inside an actual publishing house. Simply being around professionals in the industry and listening to the way they bounce ideas off of each other was the most beneficial part of my time there. One of my internships was for a small, two-person business, and witnessing the amount of hustle those two had when it came to procuring, producing, and promoting their titles was intoxicating. There are some things you can’t learn in school, and the grittiness required to run a successful small print publishing company is one of them. I’ve taken something away from all of my internships, and I’d like to think I’ve given something back. Through all of them, it was impossible to miss how the work I’ve done at Ooligan Press has helped set me on the path toward a career in the publishing field.

Sword and Sorcery and the Classroom

Reading has been linked to learning and developing empathy, but a study published in Cognitive Development in 2015 believes that fantasy stories in particular could be linked to better learning. Whether it’s magic or the supernatural, fantasy elements in stories are as old as civilization, and people in a variety of cultures have found a fascination with the seemingly impossible. Maybe it is time to consider a new benefit to fantasy stories: more success in the classroom.

The study looked at how kids learn through storytelling. Deena Skolnick Weisberg and her team at the University of Pennsylvania gathered participants from low-income preschools and used stories and play sessions to teach them new words. One group used realistic stories set on a farm, and the other group used fantasy stories with dragons. Weisberg found that both groups—the realistic story and the fantasy story—showed improved learning. However, the group that learned with the fantasy story had a much more dramatic understanding of the new words. Their conclusion said, “stories focusing on fantastical elements encourage greater learning.”

Weisberg has a few different theories on why the kids showed better learning using the fantasy story. The first is that “fantastical elements may require greater cognitive processing.” Simply put, fantastical details happen outside what is possible in reality. Young readers have to process information that is outside their normal scope of reality, and when that processing takes place, learning happens. In the midst of learning new laws of what is possible in the story, they learn the new words introduced in that story as well.

Weisberg also took into consideration the possibility that “the fantastical story may have encouraged children to think more flexibly,” which helps with problem-solving tasks. Rather than purely learning the words through the stories and games, the children in this group may have had better practice at inferring their meanings by learning new ways to look at meaning through the fantastical elements in the story.

And, of course, Weisberg included the possibility that “books and play materials exploring a fantastical theme may simply be more interesting to children.” Many agree that there is a draw to fantastical stories, and the children in that group may simply have been motivated to pay more attention to the relatively exciting story.

So what does that mean for publishing? Fantasy—along with science fiction, romance, mystery, and other types of genre fiction—usually take a backseat to the highly esteemed literary fiction. It’s affected award winners, author esteem, and book sharing. The debate has been going on for decades, but this study is another check in fantasy’s value column.