Review: The Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction

Review: The Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction

I can’t believe how long editors have been surviving without this book. Even as a non-fiction editor, I have already bookmarked nine sections relevant to my work in the first half! I’ve quoted many passages to my editing students at SFU & TMU and added quotes from it to my blog posts on this site.

bright yellow cover of the Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction, containing a collage of line drawings of characters and plot points

It’s taken me forever to write this review because I don’t know how to sum up 212 pages of really helpful information! Some sections make great fodder for a checklist. All of it reveals that what copyeditors do is so, so much deeper than a spelling check, or even deeper than making sure that eye colour doesn’t change.

What makes the CGCF worth buying?

The information on what to record in timelines alone is worth buying this book. I often think, “Amy, your style sheet would be a solid start on a Coles Notes study guide!” (That’s Cliff Notes, for the Americans.) Her description of building a style sheet is detailed and specific; the depth & scope of your copyediting will improve immediately. Structural editors (line or dev too) would be wise to use Schneider’s system too!

The parts on “voice” is especially valuable, as it’s one topic that is rarely addressed, and that editing students find difficult to wrap their heads around. And this book addresses both the author’s voice and the voice of each character.

Everything in this book adds to The Chicago Manual of Style — both the go-to for all editors* and previously the only resource for fiction editors. None of this is found in CMOS, from a fiction point of view. And then there are the unique concerns like: naughty words and dirty talk, dialogue, and when “rules” are quite effectively “broken” for artistic effect. Professional editors will still need CMOS as well.

Even writers should buy this guide

Working through every page of Schneider’s book with your manuscript in hand would be a most excellent step. It might save you a ton of money in the editorial process. Especially if you provide the editor with the style sheet, you make along the way!

The parts on dialogue are worth it, alone! But do not fear, none of the guidance is set in stone. Fiction, second only perhaps to poetry, is a place to play with language, not to impose tight “rules.”

Writers revising their own work may not need CMOS at all; just leave those parts to your copyeditor.

How to use it

An engaging read cover to cover, and well organized for dipping into as needed. Keep your flags and Post-its handy! There’s a very useful index and also an ebook version for even easier searching and noting up.

*Sure, there are different style guides for different fields (like APA and CP), but CMOS is the backup even to those.

Note: Schneider is a personal friend and I am continually in awe of her expertise. I receive no compensation for this review but did receive a review copy of the (now well dog eared) book.

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