The Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction

Amy J. Schneider (University of Chicago Press, 2023), 240pp, £15 (pbk)
ISBN 978 0 22 676737 6 (pbk)

Reviewed by Bryony Leah

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Amy J. Schneider’s The Chicago Guide to Copyediting Fiction is a detailed, confidence-boosting resource for fiction editors at all levels of experience. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in editing fiction, especially those new to the profession who want a deeper understanding of how to work with novels specifically. Where other guides tend to default to non-fiction editing, leaving fiction editors to apply rules at their own discretion –which can generate plenty of self-doubt, and the potential for poor editorial decisions to be made due to lack of clear guidance – Schneider puts the spotlight on fiction editing, writing with authority and a deep understanding of a fiction editor’s specific needs, and the hands-on experience to provide useful solutions to plenty of common issues.

The book is split into three parts, each one with individual chapters clearly laid out using separate headings for different topics, making this an easy read to pick up and put down in between other tasks. Schneider also includes three detailed appendices that I found very informative, along with an extensive list of recommended resources even the most experienced of editors will benefit from. A treasure trove of links, books and editorial toolkits!

I’m a British editor and I edit US fiction full-time, so one aspect of this book I particularly appreciated was the section on editing UK fiction for a US audience, and the various ways in which an editor might approach this. While this was a relatively small heading in the grand scheme of the book, it was refreshing to have some of the processes I regularly use validated by Schneider. Again, it’s uncommon to see these types of editorial decisions mentioned in general guides despite this being another area where expectations differ between non-fiction and fiction editing.

A standout topic for me, however, was Schneider’s comprehensive road map to creating a style sheet: an entire part split into four detailed chapters documenting best practice for building a fiction style sheet. This is of course a huge aspect of copyediting, and in this book, I found one of the most thorough and engaging explanations of style sheet creation I’ve read outside of professional training courses. (Dare I say this was actually a more detailed explanation than some I’ve seen within training courses? I was inspired to do a complete overhaul of my own style sheet templates by the end of this part!) I was particularly impressed by the detailed examples given, both within the main text and in the relevant appendix, as seeing real-life examples of other editors’ work in practice has always been a more valuable learning tool for me than ‘just reading about it’. With that said, I found Schneider’s explanations to be well-rounded and logical, giving real-life examples of why certain elements need to be included on fiction style sheets, all of it presented clearly and efficiently, while offering plenty of tips on how to streamline the process with the use of templates and other time-saving tools.

The style sheet guidance alone would be enough to make me shout about this book to all editors everywhere and insist they buy a copy immediately, but some other important focus areas include the section on conscious language (with a dedicated heading in the recommended resources section at the back of the book for further reading) and the final chapter on how to draw the distinction between fact and fiction in novels, and when and how to (tactfully) query any such possible bloopers.

This was an excellent addition to The Chicago Manual of Style that offers definitive answers to common questions fiction editors might otherwise have to guess at, inevitably saving editors (and thereby publishers, authors, proofreaders, etc) time and potential errors. A worthwhile read, I’m sure you’ll agree!

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