An American Editor

February 27, 2023

Thinking Fiction: Hooray for a new “Copyediting Fiction” style guide!

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 1:57 pm

© Carolyn Haley

For many a moon, I’ve been among the fiction editors craving a professional-level style guide for our work. The Chicago Manual of Style has been our best resource, but it’s oriented toward nonfiction, so it often doesn’t address the creative anomalies that crop up in novels and short stories.

Now — at last! — we have The Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction, by Amy Schneider, copyeditor nonpareil. It not only advises about how best to handle those anomalies, but also serves as a primer for people new to the profession.

Experienced copyeditors will find the book a valuable refresher and an aid to being better at organizing their thoughts and practices. These days, many (most?) fiction copyeditors are independent, and come to their work from different directions. They’ve learned their craft piecemeal, and often had no mentors. Only in recent years have formal education programs arisen that provide systematic training and certificates of achievement.

In addition, copyeditors trained and employed in traditional publishing houses have a different reality from those who entered the business from outside and serve independent authors. The mix-and-match of our individual experiences has led to inconsistent performance in a profession focused on consistency.

This book will help reduce that unevenness by providing a reference directly relevant to our concerns. I recommend that all fiction copyeditors, whether they work in traditional publishing or indie publishing, read the book cover to cover. I have worked in both realms and find that the material in this book embraces their different and common concerns. Most valuable are the examples offered to support every technical point.

Equally valuable is the extensive coverage of style sheets. These are perhaps the trickiest and most useful tool in copyediting, yet the hardest to master.

The book also covers fundamentals such as file organization, maximizing the use of multiple monitors, and the best mindset for approaching the fiction-copyediting task.

Especially helpful is the fact that the book is not a doorstop-sized tome. It’s easy to keep at hand on the desk and find the topic you need, thanks to good chapter organization and index. The narrative is concise and presented in a friendly tone.

I have met, worked with, heard about, and/or read pieces by everyone cited in the acknowledgments, and believe they represent the cream of today’s fiction-copyediting crop. Hats off to all, but an extra round of applause and thanks to Amy for bringing it all together. I’m confident I will be a better copyeditor after reading, absorbing, and referring to this book.

Carolyn Haley is an award-winning novelist who lives and breathes novels. Although specializing in fiction, she edits across the publishing spectrum — fiction and nonfiction, corporate and indie — and is the author of three novels and a nonfiction book. She has been editing professionally since 1997 and has had her own editorial services company, DocuMania, since 2005. She also reviews for the New York Journal of Books, and has presented about editing fiction at Communication Central conferences. She can be reached at or through DocuMania.

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