Should I Use The Chicago Manual of Style for my Book?

Q: In my writing I strictly follow the rules in The Chicago Manual of Style. For example, in a sentence joined with an “and,” I place a comma after the last word before the “and” when the first part of the sentence is a complete sentence. I have received a rejection with the first page sent back and the editor’s deletion marks are in contradiction to the rule in the Chicago Manual. Should I follow the Chicago Manual in my fiction writing or not?–Carolyn Boyles

A: According to Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript (and editors I’ve spoken to at conferences), most book publishers use The Chicago Manual of Style—or some variation of it—as a formatting guide for their books. So when writing your novel or nonfiction work, it’s best to follow those guidelines. But if you haven’t been using The Chicago Manual of Style or an editor comes back with changes that contradict it, don’t panic.

The key to writing any manuscript is to be consistent—in other words, no matter what style you are using (Chicago, AP-style, your sixth-grade English teacher’s rulebook), stick with it. Publishers and editors tend to be forgiving when reading a manuscript that doesn’t embrace their style, but are less forgiving when the formatting is all over the place (e.g., using a comma in a parallel sentence structure sometimes and not using it other times; italicizing book titles in the first few chapters but underlining it others.) This lack of consistency looks unprofessional and lazy—two traits that could potentially cost you a deal. To a writer it may seem like nitpicking, but to an editor it shows discipline and an author who values the craft.

Most magazine and newspaper publishers, on the other hand, use The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual as a guide for their publications. Although many, like Writer’s Digest, take a few liberties with it to fit their own particular house styles. So don’t read too much into style edits.

It’s probably wise for all writers to have both the Chicago Manual and the AP Stylebook on their bookshelves—along with maybe a good luck charm.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Tuesday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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8 thoughts on “Should I Use The Chicago Manual of Style for my Book?

  1. Mylorac

    I see that this thread is pretty old, and I don’t even remember what I was looking for when I happened across this discussion, but wanted to add my two cents.
    I’m currently half way through a program to obtain a certificate in professional editing: I eat, sleep, and read (in every novel, not just the reference) The Chicago Manual of Style.

    Janet and Anna got it exactly right: according to Chicago, a comma and a coordinating conjunction are used to join two independent clauses (complete sentences). A semicolon or a colon can be used in place of a comma, and the conjunction should be removed when those types of punctuation are used.

    Commas are snarly; my strategy as a writer is to stick with what I know is correct, and study to expand my knowledge. My sentence constructions have changed considerably since adopting that strategy, but my descriptive writing is now more clear, concise, and engaging.

    1. Mylorac

      See my mistake? I shouldn’t have a comma before “but” in that first compound sentence that contains a compound predicate. I suppose I could argue that the second independent clause is non-restrictive/parenthetical, and that the commas are appropriately placed to indicate that.

      Sometimes, it depends on the meaning of the sentence and how you read it.

      1. Mylorac

        And another one in the first sentence of my last paragraph. In that instance, there’s no getting around the fact that it is a mistake: there should not be a comma before the phrase “and study.”

        Ah, well. At least I caught the mistakes.

  2. Anne Fox

    My first thought was what Janet refers to–knowing the difference between a compound sentence and a compound predicate. I come upon the incorrect use of the comma with the compound predicate over and over. People are so confused about this issue.

  3. Mary E. Ulrich

    Commas make me despair.

    No wonder.

    So when I have a question on punctuation and/or grammar and consult my shelf of manuals, I could find different answers depending on which book I choose? Some books only have a couple examples of commas and others have pages and pages. It never occured to me that the rules would be different.

    On my computer it asks if I want to use Chicago or AP style. But neither program seems to help with commas. Semicolons, yes. Commas no, nada.

    Who would think such a small punctuation mark would cause such havoc?

  4. Mary E. Ulrich

    Commas make me despair.

    No wonder.

    So when I have a question on punctuation and/or grammar and consult my shelf of manuals, I could find different answers depending on which book I choose? Some books only have a couple examples of commas and others have pages and pages. It never occured to me that the rules would be different.

    On my computer it asks if I want to use Chicago or AP style. But neither program seems to help with commas. Semicolons, yes. Commas no, nada.

    Who would think such a small punctuation mark would cause such havoc?

  5. Janet Hays

    The questioner here speaks of a sentence joined with an "and" when the first part of the sentence is a complete sentence, but she does not describe the second part of the sentence. The Chicago Manual prescribes the comma before the "and" in a compound sentence but not before the "and" in a sentence with a compound predicate. (see sections 5.30 to 5.33, in the 14th edition).

    Could it be that the editor removed the comma from a sentence with a compound predicate? In any event, I like your suggestion to be consistent in punctuation and style.

    Janet Hays

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