Never Going Out of Style: Style Guides and How to Use Them

Oct 17, 2022


by Hannah Zello

Maybe you’ve done some research on the front end of submitting your book to publishers, and you’ve seen the phrase “style guide” or “stylistic guidelines” thrown around online. While choosing, utilizing, and abiding by a style guide might seem daunting in theory, it’s actually going to be one of your biggest tools for finishing and/or polishing your manuscript. Here’s why.

A Primer on Style

There are a number of style guides specific to different types of written content. Most book publishers use The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) as their default style guide. Associated Press (AP) Style is used in the journalism world. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) is used in scholarly research settings much of the time, except in humanitarian and language studies, where MLA is more prevalent.[1]

The first step to ensuring that your body of writing conforms to your publisher’s style requirements is finding out which style guide they use for which types of work. At Four Rivers Media, our publishing imprints largely use CMoS as our style guide. Access to The Chicago Manual of Style is available in both print and online versions—in fact, you can even subscribe to the manual here.

Doing Your Homework

Once you’ve nailed down your guide, it’s time to get well-versed in it. How does it handle citations? What regulations does it have for sentence, paragraph, and chapter structures? Does it include templates for bibliographies, works cited, or acknowledgments? Not only will a little homework save you editing time later—it will streamline the process between you and your publisher, as well. If everyone’s—you’ll forgive the expression—on the same page, it’s going to be a lot easier to pinpoint and correct errors and changes.

Devote an hour a day, or several hours per week, to learning the ins and outs of your style guide. Look at examples of books or writings that abide by that style, to get a better idea of what your work should look like. Look at the books your desired publisher(s) has already put out to increase your understanding of what they’re looking for in your work. You’ll be surprised how natural styles can become once you’ve immersed yourself in them for a little while.

Don’t Let Perfectionism Hold You Back

At some point, you’ve got to query, submit, and hope for the best. If you’ve written, edited, and received feedback from close friends on your work, don’t get too stressed about the style of your writing being perfect. Editors and publishing teams exist for that reason exactly. Instead, do your best and then submit your work, knowing you’ve done everything you can do make it the most fitting for your desired publisher(s).

Style guides can be a huge help! So invest some time and a little money to learn your desired style guide(s), and stand apart from the other submissions that your publisher receives!


[1] https://thewritelife.com/writing-style-guide/#Who_uses_AP_style


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