How to Fine-Tune Your Nonfiction Book

As was the case when we looked at fiction, Mechanics is the last section of the Elements of Nonfiction Editing Checklist. Everything we’ve covered up to this point needs to be taken care of first. Then we can worry about the kind of copyediting fixes that come under this heading. For the most part, manuscript guidelines in these areas are the same for nonfiction as they are for fiction.

Punctuation is properly applied.

Usage is in accordance with convention.

Grammatical errors have been eliminated.

Spelling is correct.

The manuscript is formatted in accordance with industry standards.

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But there are a couple of items on the nonfiction checklist that don’t appear on the fiction list, so let’s take some time to look at those.

Page or section numbers in cross-references match.

This one may be for your proofreader, since page numbers won’t be known until after layouts have been done. But if in your manuscript you’ve made reference to sections or chapters, verify that if during the major editing phase things that were moved around are still correctly referenced. For example, if a passage was moved from Chapter 2 to Chapter 3, then if you have a reference to it in Chapter 10, you’ll need to update the reference.

Requirements of the chosen style guide have been met, including the format of citations.

Many new writers don’t realize they need a style guide, so none has been chosen, and that makes for an unruly manuscript. Generally speaking, if you are writing a book, you’ll want to stick with The Chicago Manual of Style, unless you know you’re writing for a publisher who uses one of the other guides. If you’re writing articles, you’ll need the Associated Press Stylebook. Remember that I don’t think writers need to buy the CMOS unless you’re doing a lot of writing for the scholarly market. Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors will suffice. If you’re writing for the Christian submarket, pick up a copy of The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, because it addresses matters CMOS doesn’t, such as Latin religious terms and capitalization standards for religious terms (e.g., Patriarch is capitalized when referring to Abraham but not in reference to early Christian church leaders).

Here are three of the most common style problems I see in nonfiction writers’ manuscripts:

Italics for quotations. In a published book, you will sometimes see block quotations set in italics. But italics are not a proper treatment for inline quotations. Here’s the difference. When I tell you CMOS says a block quotation is, “quoted material set off typographically from the text,” (Page 892), that’s an inline quotation. An inline quotation should not appear in italics.

I may also quote CMOS this way:

Block quotations, which are not enclosed in quotation marks, always start a new line. They are further distinguished from the surrounding text by being indented (from the left and sometimes from the right) or set in smaller type or a different font from the text. These matters are normally decided by the publisher’s designer or by journal style. Authors preparing block quotations should simply use the indention feature of their word processors (see 2.18).—The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, 13.9

That’s a block quotation. Pay close attention to that last sentence. In your manuscript, just indent. Don’t italicize.

Excessive use of ALL CAPS. Don’t yell at your readers. That’s what all caps signifies. You may occasionally need to emphasize a single word, but italics usually suffices for this.

Using bold, italic, caps, or other typographical tricks to mimic one’s speaking voice. Let the rhythm of the words do the work. When you try to bend the typography to this task, it only draws attention to itself and away from the meaning of the text.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m working on a nonfiction project as well as my fiction so thank you so much for your adve.

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