The Question of Capitals

Unholy War cover artYou all know that Nicola’s taken on her very first slush-pile author, and for the last few weeks she’s been busily editing Sue Tinguey’s terrific urban fantasy Marked under my guidance (and no, that doesn’t just mean me shouting, ‘Are you crazy? Surely you know you never use a comma in that construction?’) Nicola’s obviously been a quick learner, and the first thing she put together was the Style Sheet: this is the document where we make a note of all the principal spellings as well as our instructions for the copy-editor, and/or the typesetter and/or the proofreader. In the case of JFB, that means stressing Anglicised spellings (and not Anglicized, as Word would prefer), and three spaced ellipses . . . like that, and closed-up M-dashes— for broken-off thought, word, speech or action, and spaced N-dashes – like this – when the dash is used as parenthesis or colon.

We also use this to say if we want chapters to start on a new folio or recto (by which I mean, to start on a new page, or a new right-hand page), and if there are some odd chapter-headings, or sub-headings, or epigraphs or poetry, we explain how we want them set out.

The rest of the sheet is as much use for the author as for the production staff, especially if there’s more than one book in the series. For example, I am halfway through the edit of David Hair’s magnificent Unholy War, his epic (in every sense of the word!) third volume in The Moontide Quartet, and to my horror I have just discovered that we’d spelled one unit of currency two different ways in the two earlier books . . . so when I finish this I’m going to have to unearth the second book to see if the proofreader caught it and corrected it . . . and if not, we’ll have to correct it in future printings. Whilst no one else but me is likely to notice, now I have, I can’t let it stay!

There’s another really important use for the Style Sheet, and that’s when it comes to questions of capitalization and hyphenation, as sources most definitely don’t agree. Nicola had capitalised six-shooter, as that’s how it was most often shown when she checked it out on the interweb – but the truth is, six-shooter is a description, not a trade name – Smith & Wesson made six-shooters, and so did Colt (lucky for her I’m married to a military historian who owned and competively shot his much-missed Smith & Wesson model 686 .357 Magnum, and I myself have ghost-written military memoirs! Lucky, lucky, lucky . . .) But the truth is, as long as it’s consistent throughout the book, that’s probably more important. It’s when capitals start appearing willy-nilly that readers start to notice.

So I’m back to David, to pretend I’m not really upset at missing the whole pfennig/fennick thing, and Nicola can get on with Marked secure in the knowledge that she’s doing an excellent job.

Something else to leave you with: a couple of nights ago I found myself staring at the night sky, as you do, and wondering the eternal question (no, not ‘will @LitAgentDrury have my gin-and-grapefruit ready when I get home’, or even ‘has Ian’s daughter Sophie invented the perfect Sophie cocktail yet?’) No, I was thinking about alien life . . .

So it must have been sheer coincidence that the following day, Ian sent me this link to an excellent feature on the Fermi paradox – which can be summed up as ‘Where is everyone else?’ I’m not going to repeat everything so succinctly written by Tim Urban (with support and brainstorming from Andrew Finn, I have no doubt! On the Wait But Why* website) because you can and should check it out for yourself – but it did remind me again – not that I ever need a reminder! that I have always loved SF because clever writers are busy imagining what might be out there – or what could have happened to them. And just because we haven’t met anyone yet doesn’t mean we won’t . . .

Jo

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