Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Questions from my e-mail

Question: I finally sold the book we worked on together when I was your student. At the time, I had many reservations about your usage advice, as it differed greatly from what I had been taught in English 101, at college. Now that I'm working with a professional publisher, he is asking for all the same changes you did. Just wanted to say, I should have listened and how did you know?

Answer: Congratulations Janie. Is it still entitled MANY RIVERS? You had a good one going, as I recall.

To answer your question, all educational institutions teach students of English 101 to write exposition. That is written and punctuated far differently from fiction. Each English Department chooses its own teaching tools and the "rules" come out of whatever stylebook they choose to teach from.

Stylebooks vary. Kate Turabian's rules are quite different from E.B. White's, as given in Strunk & White. Many colleges use Strunk & White stylebook. Mine did. But it varies. Strunk is published in Great Britian and both its authors were British. So they follow (and teach) the rules of usage according to the United Kingdom. But the stylebook most professional publishers use in the United States is the Chicago Manual of Style, a US publication. It is a publisher and printer's tool.

Style and spelling varies greatly between the United Kingdom and the US. In Britain, you say, "Heigh ho!" to your neighbour, pay your bills with a cheque, and carefully leave off the final s in possessives if the name ends in an S. But in America, you say, "Hi-ho," to your neighbor, pay your bills with a check, and must make sure to add the final s in possessives (Zeus's, not Zues'), if the name ends in s.

In America, ONLY plural possessives get the apostrophe, without the following S.

All this may seem very picky to those who are not grammar buffs. But if a publisher puts out a book that doesn't follow the rules for his country, it makes him or her look like a dolt. You may not know it, but when I'm not wearing my writer's hat, or my teaching hat, I wear my publisher's hat, so I do know.

I recently was called to account by none other than, because of purportedly "missing pages" in a book file. It seems the book started on page 3 and they wanted to know where pages 1 and 2 were. I have more than 550 books on All of them are numbered accordingly. This is the first time they I can only assume that some customer complained to them.

Every professional typesetter knows that page 1 is the cover of the book, page 2, is the inside front cover, and the text starts on page 3. Any "Front Matter" -- title page, dedication, and so on -- gets numbered in roman numerals. The text of the book always starts on page 3. If you don't believe me, pick a book off your shelf and look. If it was published by a real company, it will start on page 3.

If you see it otherwise in a PDF, it means the book was self-published, or published by someone who had no clue how a published book should look. It is also as described by the Chicago Manual of Style.

E-book files, because they are recreated and renumbered by whatever program converts them from a text.doc to the format needed for a specific brand of reader, will not be numbered that way, unless the typeset PDF was used to create them.

My late business partner, Sandra List, God rest her soul, was a professional typesetter for the GPO. I had set type at the newspaper, but had no clue about books. She gave me a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style and taught me what I needed to know so our books would look like they came from a "real publisher." I have followed her rules ever since.

So to answer the final part of your question, without Sandy, I wouldn't have had a clue.

1 comment:

  1. Now maybe at long last I'll be able to remember that it's good American to write Jess's book and Zeus's lightening bolt.
    Have a devil of a time remembering when those ssss's come up.