Styles Clash

I began working as an editor for the Portland State Vanguard, PSU’s student-run newspaper, over the summer, and while there are a variety of similarities between editing books and newspapers, the steepest learning curve I encountered was in the differences in house editing styles.

It might sound odd if you’re not already an editor, but the differences in style guides at publishing houses can be a tedious affair if you’re not at least a bit fluent in the main English-language house styles.

Like most book publishing companies in the US, Ooligan Press mostly adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style when it comes to editing decisions. Grammar, punctuation, diction, and more: all of these details are often decided by whatever the most updated of CMOS states. At the Vanguard, though, we use a variation of AP Style, similar to what most national papers often use.

One major difference between Chicago and AP is how numbers and number-centric icons are rendered. For example, on actual numbers themselves: In Chicago style, the style I “grew up” with, all numbers below one hundred are written out. However, in AP Style, all digits (0–9) and the number ten (10) are written out, while anything higher than those would be written in their numeral form.

LeBron James scored ninety-three points last night. (Chicago)

LeBron James scored 93 points last night. (AP)

Another instance that tripped up a neophyte editor like myself was the assortment of differences between how ellipses and em dashes are rendered in each respective style. AP Style often calls for one space followed by three consecutive periods and another space, as opposed to a space between all periods in Chicago style. This difference is best understood with an example:

I’m sleepy . . . but ready to hit the road. (Chicago)

I’m sleepy … but ready to hit the road. (AP)

To compound this editorial burden, the Vanguard closes spaces before and after words.

I’m sleepy…but ready to hit the road. (Vanguard house style)

I can tell you firsthand that the reason for these decisions usually has to do with space on a page; there simply isn’t enough room for all of the content sometimes. What this taught me was to closely examine whatever medium you’re working in as an editor. Is what you’re editing going to be read on large newsprint with small text? Will it be published online or in print, or both? Understanding why publishing houses choose to customize their style guides often depends on what exactly the publisher plans to print.

Titles in print are published in different ways, again depending on the house style the publishing house uses. Quick examples using television titles:

“Stranger Things” (AP Style)

Stranger Things (Chicago)

At the Vanguard, we’ve recently opted to go with italics for all television titles—same as Chicago. Again, this has to do with the concept of space, or rather, conserving as much as we can on the page. If we at the paper went back and forth between using AP Style most of the time and using Chicago when it’s convenient, you would end up with an inconsistent looking newspaper.

Ultimately, becoming fluent in both Chicago and AP Style will help a new editor build a professional skillset readymade for the freelance world. Being able to work in both frames of mind will not only expand your career prospectives but also train your eyes and brain in a sharp, rigorous way.

The Times Supremacy

I went to a résumé workshop a few years back. I showed the workshop leader my pitiful excuse for a résumé, and she said, “Times New Roman is a little old-fashioned. Try using a sans serif font.”

I was shocked. Don’t use Times New Roman? But this is my résumé—it’s supposed to be official! Every teacher I ever had told me to submit papers typed in Times New Roman, twelve-point font, double-spaced; I assumed it was the end-all and be-all of professional typefaces. Times New Roman was so ingrained in my being that the idea of using another typeface hadn’t even occurred to me. This got me thinking—where did Times New Roman come from, how did it gain such prominence, and what role does it play in an age of increasing digitization?

Times New Roman can trace its origins to a simple challenge. In 1931, a typographer named Stanley Morison criticized The Times for their stodgy, old-fashioned choice of Didone typeface. The esteemed London paper asked Morison if his typeface design company (Monotype) could do better. He collaborated with The Times draftsman Victor Lardent to create a typeface that was easy to read and could accommodate the maximum number of words on a newspaper page. Lo, Times New Roman was born. The Times ran their first paper with the new typeface on October 3, 1932, and held exclusive rights to it for a full year before sharing it with the world.

Since The Times was one of the most respected newspapers in the world, its use of Times New Roman meant something. Other periodicals followed suit, including Woman’s Home Companion in 1941 and The Chicago Sun-Times in 1953. Times New Roman went on to grace the pages of books despite The Times‘ assertion in 1932: “It is a newspaper type—and hardly a book type—for it is strictly appointed for use in short lines—i.e., in columns.” Through the decades, Times New Roman became the standard typeface for print—legible, reliable, distinguished.

Of course, Times New Roman didn’t end typography design. Just as The Times‘ Didone font was deemed old-fashioned in the last century, so is Times New Roman old-fashioned in this one. As digital media becomes more prominent, other typefaces have a chance to step up. Though serif typefaces (Times New Roman included) are ideal for print, sans serif typefaces are widely considered easier to read on on the screen. When browsing your favorite online news sources, you’re more likely to see Arial, Helvetica, and other sans serifs. The Times doesn’t even use Times New Roman anymore—instead, they use Times Classic for their body copy and Times Modern for their headlines. You might say, “The times they are a-changin’.”

So where does that leave the rest of us, who are just trying to make our résumés look good? If you’ve typed a paper recently, you know that Times New Roman is still the standard in academia. As long as your professors specifically request Times New Roman, you’re best off using the classic typeface for assignments. When it comes to your résumé or your new blog, however, feel free to branch out—there are many excellent typefaces out there.

Editor as Cowhand: Rounding Up the Wild West of Journalistic House Style

When a freelance journalist completes an article and passes it on for copyediting, the reluctance can be palpable. Writers pour their heart and soul into their work, and freelancers submitting work for periodical publication are no different. Placing one’s precious composition into the hands of another requires a delicate, tactful dialogue.

Every newspaper and magazine has a dedicated house style, often an amalgamation of Associated Press, Chicago Manual of Style, and preferences determined by in-house staff. From a copyeditor’s perspective, in-box article submissions can carry a vibe akin to the Wild West, with authors throwing around rambunctious punctuation all willy-nilly: random ellipses with ambiguous intent, dashes dropped seemingly at random, and the mother of all punctuation faux pas, the exclamation point! What’s a periodical copyeditor to do?

Just as in any professional relationship, one key to success is communication. In the venue of the periodical, numbers of contributing writers might amount to dozens or hundreds. This is where contact lists, trends, and communication interface. When observable trends in malformed writing occur, copyeditors keep notes of recurring errors and play them back for the infringing writers with clearly articulated examples of correct and incorrect usage. Doing so without placing blame or judgment, and without pointing fingers to specific names or egos, can alleviate formatting errors happening repetitively and streamline efficiency in an organization’s ability to publish fast-breaking items. Effective editors communicate clearly and often.

Additionally, knowledge is power. There is no benefit to a copyeditor hoarding information or maintaining a false sense of authority by withholding style preferences from contributors. Editors who share house style manuals with their writers and incrementally check in for reiteration of key stylistic nuances diminish the necessity of nitpicking punctuation placement and allow greater opportunity for organizational editing. Well-formatted stories afford the ability to restructure the ideas contained therein.

Another important technique is the side-by-side collaborative edit. In the digital age we often exist and interact virtually, but personal interaction still reaps great rewards. The ability to spend fifteen minutes in conversation over a writer’s work can unlock doors to clarity and eliminate pesky errors from weaseling their way into published work. It’s a given that meeting in person isn’t always possible, especially when writers might submit to magazine offices on opposite coasts. However, often when writers see their work combed through with fine attention to detail for the first time, they approach their own final read-throughs with increased reverence and attention to detail.

Communicating, sharing information, and collaborating: these three aspects of copyediting periodical writing can help round up the wilderness of contributing authors and nurture an efficient process for moving journalistic articles from ethereal ideas into publication faster and with better form. When writers and editors work together in uniformity and keep the common end-goal in mind, everyone benefits. When relationships of trust and open dialogue are established, all parties involved can reach their full potential and produce crisp, clear copy.

The Battle for a Digital Pricing Model that Works Part 2: The Fall of the Old Republic

By Rebekah Hunt
The Economist reported, in August of 2006, that print journalism has been in decline since 1990. Jobs in the industry fell by 18% between 1990 and 2004, Knight-Ridder sold off its newspapers, and New York Times share prices had been cut in half within four years.The obvious explanation, and the one most often given for these trends, is the mercurial rise in internet use over the past decade.
It is most likely true that the free availability of information on the internet has seriously impacted the public’s interest in reading a physical newspaper, adding up to large losses in the newspaper sector. But what about book publishers who, as the Times reports, aren’t faring much better than the papers? Has the rise in worldwide availability of digital media contributed to book industry losses as well? In the same way that Apple killed the arena-rock star, has the internet killed the print media star?
The short answer is yes, but it’s not as simple as that, so don’t go into mourning for the paper trade just yet. According to the Times, a steep decline in paperback book sales began in the 1980s, before the widespread adoption of the internet as a primary media source, “when retail chains that edged out independent bookstores successfully introduced discounts on hardcover versions of the same books.” This accomplished two things: it crippled the already wobbly publishing industry, and it changed consumer expectations of what a book should cost. I am going to repeat that, since it is essentially the crux of the entire issue: changed consumer expectations.
Reread that, breathe it in, take it to heart, because consumer expectations are the soul of the market. However much we may love our books, the print media are not the beleaguered Rebel Alliance, and the internet and Apple are not the evil Galactic Empire. It’s not a David and Goliath struggle here. Just like Sony, Geffen, and BMG, publishing houses are massive corporations with bottom lines and products to sell. The real Rebel Alliance is made up of consumers, bloggers, independent authors, self-publishers, and content creators of all types. Basically, people who write stuff and people who want to read stuff. To follow the analogy even further along this line, the internet is the Force, in that it “surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together” (in the immortal words of Obi-Wan Kenobi).
The most important effect the internet has had on the publishing industry is that it has changed consumer expectations of what media should cost, how easy it should be to access, the scope and variety of options that should be offered, and the level of control the consumer should have over purchasing options. The immediate availability of every type of media online, the relative difficulty of the acquisition and consumption of printed media, as compared to things like songs or television shows, and the initial resistance of publishers and authors to offer their books digitally created an uncertain place for book publishers in the market. This point was proved when book giant Borders filed for bankruptcy and shut down its stores.
Since newspapers and book publishers deal not only in information, but also in a physical product, they are experiencing some difficulties producing and selling their products in tandem with their digital content. If their digital content is offered for free, it cannot replace the revenue from sales of the physical product. By the same reasoning, the physical product cannot fund the free digital content if it is already losing money. Since publishing companies have been forced to cut budgets everywhere they can, downsize staff and reduce page counts, it seems impossible for them to retain the readership they so desperately need. The mainstay of the newspaper industry is in advertising dollars, but the book industry only sells content. So, how will the book industry harness the power of the Force and make money in the new digital universe?
Again, the music industry is a good place to look. According to a recent article on electronicbook-readers.com, the Napster/iTunes effect on the music industry is a leading indicator of what is possible for the future of book publishing. “CD sales have declined thirty percent in the last five years and digital downloads have not completely made up that gap created by the technology.” They say; however, “…different means of consumer consumption and distribution are responsible for the economic decline of the music industry.” They explain that it is the choice that consumers now have of listening to music before they purchase it, along with a sharp decrease in consumer perception of the value of digital content that are responsible for the decline in sales.
There are multiple giants for publishing houses, magazines, and other print media to slay if they don’t want to follow Borders into the tar pits of history. The largest of these, as with the music industry, are the challenges posed by digital distribution. The music industry has undergone massive change in response to the consumer-driven popularity of digital download sites. While this change was painful at first, most of those resisting it were at the top of the industry food chain making millions of dollars on overpriced, overexposed, overprocessed, records anyway, and the market has enthusiastically ignored their plight. As a result, the industry has been forced to evolve. With the rise of iTunes and pay-as-you-listen consumer sites like Pandora, the music industry is alive and well, and poised to take on any challenges the new market presents. But how will the publishing industry fare?
Stay tuned for next week’s blog, the Dark Side of the Force (digital piracy)/A New Hope (the publishing market evolves); and the week after that for the Return of the Jedi (an ebook pricing strategy that works).
Image by Declan Fleming. Used with permission under Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic.

The Truth is Out There: Fact Checking in Editing

By Rebekah Hunt
There are a lot of things that are considered to be common knowledge. For example, did you know that karaoke is Japanese for tone-deaf? Did you know that Mr. Rogers was a Navy SEAL? Did you know that chewing gum takes seven years to pass through your digestive system? Well, unfortunately for common knowledge such as the above items, most of it is completely untrue. So why did I start this blog with a bunch of lies? I am merely attempting to illustrate a point. Because “common knowledge” often happens to be common garbage, fact checking is imperative in the publishing process, particularly in the editing phase.
Since we at Ooligan are editing books, we are likely to run into fewer instances of “common knowledge” misinformation than we would if we published a newspaper or magazine. However, factual accuracy is just as important in books. Fortunately, we live in the age of boundless information. The internet is out there. Use it.
While a quick Google search might not ensure indisputable scientific veracity of every fact, it is far better to do due diligence than to assume the information is correct. That is how errors slip through. As an editor, to let errors get into print is to do your author a great disservice. Whether the inaccuracy was an error in their knowledge, or simply in their typing (it happens), it is your job to attempt to spare them the potential embarrassment. Setting the facts straight benefits you too, since a published book is a sample of your work as well as your author’s. While your fastidious fact-wrangling may cost you a few extra minutes now, it can be of tremendous importance when shopping your work to potential future employers.
But what about fact in fiction? If a book is all made up anyway, why does it matter if the information is correct? And, in the case of sci-fi and fantasy stuff, how do you even verify it? Let’s handle those one at a time. With general fiction, the stuff the author has made up relies heavily on a world full of actual facts to make the story real to the reader. Inaccuracies can destroy the consistency for a reader and take them right out of the story. Say your author has set his story in 1950’s Georgia and the manuscript lists Augusta as the capital city. Check. This kind of mistake could alienate a lot of readers from the story. Say another of your authors has her heroine romantically wasting away from consumption and the manuscript says that she contracted it by drinking milk. Look it up. In this instance, if your author has set the story before pasteurization of milk was practiced, you can applaud her for her historical acumen and nothing has been hurt by checking on it.
Fact checking matters in sci-fi and fantasy too. Just like in general fiction, anything that represents the real world must be factually accurate to root the story in reality and make the fantastic parts more believable to the reader (think Starfleet Academy in Star Trek, which is located in NE San Francisco and features views of the Golden Gate bridge in its descriptions). If the universe in which the story takes place is invented from whole cloth, facts can and must still be checked. However, for this kind of fact checking, the author is your main source. Facts should be verified by query and, if the work is part of a series, by reference to earlier works in the series. Query, query, query!
Whatever the genre you’re working with, in fact, don’t be afraid to ask your author a lot of questions. You may notice something they didn’t, or you may have made a mistake yourself (it’s possible!), and working together will only strengthen the final product. If you find yourself in a dispute with the author however, always remember it is ultimately their book. If they want to claim that eggs can only be balanced on end during the vernal equinox, there’s nothing you can do about it but grin and bear it, and maybe write a blog about it later.