House style

The editing is finished. The book is at the printers. An enthusiastic blurb appeared on the Legend Press website, so presumably they’re happy with it too (or perhaps they’re just happy it’s at the printers).

I am relieved and scared. I am also pondering some of the odd little changes made in the name of “house style”. It reminded me of writing for the Wall Street Journal again, where copy editors would go through your story at the last minute adding hyphens in odd places for no apparent reason. When you asked why, they just said “house style”. It was the equivalent of your parents saying “Because I said so.”

I wonder sometimes whether house style really exists. Sure, there’s that 854-page manual they slap on your desk on your first day. But maybe that’s just a decoy: they know you’ll never read it. Perhaps no magazine or newspaper or publishing house really has a house style at all.

After all, there’s no real purpose to it. Why have a house style, as opposed to usual use of the English language? Are you trying to establish your own identity: “Legend Press? Oh yeah, the ones with the odd capitalisation rules.” It makes no sense. Maybe it’s all just an invention.

Perhaps editors just wing it, making up the rules as the mood takes them, and changing them whenever a new cloud passes across the window. Perhaps writers annoy them so much that sometimes they decide to annoy writers. So they change little things, just for fun.

Perhaps “house style” is one of those phrases, like “national security” or “health and safety”, whose only function is to shut off the possibility of rational debate. House style is not a point you can argue. It just is.

Perhaps house style is nothing more than a euphemism. Perhaps “Sorry, it’s house style to do it that way” is simply an editor’s polite way of saying “Shut up and leave me alone.”

Or perhaps I’ve been reading my manuscript too many times, obsessing over too many things that nobody will notice anyway.

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