The New Christian Writer’s Manual of Style

When I heard that Zondervan was coming out with a 4th edition of The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, I preordered it immediately. Since a portion of my Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors references the CWMS, I wanted to make sure I got my copy as soon as possible. So I ordered the 4th edition from both Barnes & Noble and B&N delivered my copy a couple of weeks ago. CBD says they’ve shipped it and it’s on its way to me. (Amazon is still listing it as available for preorder.)

Having recently returned from a month of traveling, I had a lot of catch-up to do before I could dive into this book. But I finally had a chance to take a look this week, so I wanted to share my first impressions with you.

To begin with, the new Christian Writer’s Manual of Style is longer. It’s 624 pages, compared to 431 in the previous edition. It’s also organized into two sections. Part One (the first almost 400 pages) is “The Style Guide,” while Part Two (the rest of the book) is a “Word List.”

I was relieved to see that most of the rules that are referenced in my Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors haven’t changed. They still, for the most part, match the guidelines in The Chicago Manual of Style. The new CWMS also mentions when other handbooks have different rules (similar to what I did in my proofreading book with guidelines from The Associated Press Stylebook).

Part One of the new edition of CWMS contains a lot more guidelines. Most of the new guidelines aren’t specific to the Christian market, but apply to writing for publication in general.

Part Two is a list of words that writers might have questions about regarding spelling, definition, usage, background, capitalization, political correctness, etc. Again, not exclusively Christian words, but religious terms are included in the list.

The explanations for many entries in this edition are more extensive than they were in the previous one. For example, the new book has three paragraphs explaining when the word gospel should be capitalized and when it should be lowercased.

Unlike my Proofreading Secrets book, The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style does not provide rule numbers for Chicago Manual of Style guidelines. In some cases, especially when other resources have contradicting rules, The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style will indicate what “this manual” recommends.

At the end of the book, the Notes section states, “These guidelines outline Zondervan’s own policies and are solely for the information of authors under contract with Zondervan.” That kind of surprised me, since many Christian publishing houses have been using The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style as an authority for years—usually right below The Chicago Manual of Style and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Sometimes a step above the dictionary, especially when it comes to religious terms. While every publishing house has its own “in-house style guide” that delineates which rules they choose to follow that differ from the standard reference books, most follow CWMS guidelines pretty closely. And they don’t publish their own guidelines as a “manual of style” for Christian writers and offer it for public sale.

The Note goes on to say, “Other publishers may have different guidelines, and the information given in this manual should not be referred to in connection with any book that a Zondervan author may be writing for another publisher.” That also seemed odd. I think what they’re saying is that authors (whether they’ve published for Zondervan or not) shouldn’t insist that their publishers follow CWMS guidelines—that authors need to follow whatever rules their own publishers choose.

I suspect, in spite of this “Note,” that major Christian publishing houses will still use The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style as an authoritative resource for their editors and proofreaders.

Personally, I really liked the previous edition’s list of Capitalization of Common Religious Terms. When I wanted to know whether a Christian-specific word should be capitalized or not, it was easy to locate the word in the list. (I have a sticky note on the first page of that list so I can turn there quickly.) Maybe I just don’t like change, but it seems to me as if the two-hundred-page word list that comprises the second half of the new CWMS would not be as user-friendly from that perspective.

As I go through the 4th edition, I will post about specific things that I think my readers will find interesting and/or beneficial. (Oh, sorry. The new CWMS says that writers should avoid using and/or whenever possible. They say it sounds “stuffily precise.” I think I might have a hard time with that one.)

Do you have your copy of the 4th edition of The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style yet? Have you preordered it and are waiting with bated breath? (Yes, CWMS says that’s the correct spelling—not baited breath.) If you’ve already got yours, I’d love to know what you think—especially if you’ve found anything surprising or super-helpful or confusing in it.

If you’re a writer, editor, proofreader, or publisher, and you haven’t ordered your copy yet, I encourage you to do so. At the time I’m writing this, Amazon is offering it for $19.24 (paperback) or $22.99 (Kindle). Barnes & Noble has it listed for $21.12 (paperback) or $22.99 (Nook). CBD has it for $17.99 (paperback) or $22.99 (e-book).

Oh, wait. CWMS says it prefers ebook without the hyphen. But the CBD website shows “eBook.” And Webster’s Collegiate has “e-book.” This word isn’t in The Chicago Manual of Style, but when their online Q&A got this question, their authoritative response was “Flip a coin?”