Beware the fussy writing styles of book publishers

Of all the reasons for intrusive editing, imposing a book publisher’s standard “house style” is the silliest. For a newspaper or a magazine, a case might be made that it is advisable to avoid jarring the reader with abrupt changes in writing styles. But for a book publisher? It is hard to believe that any reader knows or cares what their house style is. Can you imagine someone going browsing in a bookstore, thinking: “I’m in the mood for a book from Random House” or “This is my Prentice-Hall day”? Maybe the reader is in the mood for a book by John Kenneth Galbraith (I never am) or Saul Bellow or Danielle Steel. But it is hard to imagine that anyone goes looking for a book written in the “house style” of Doubleday or Macmillan or Alfred A. Knopf. What then is the point of having a “house style,” if nobody else really gives a d—n?

My two cents

Random House
Random House (Photo credit: Alexander Smolianitski)

Take that, book editors and publishers! I agree with Thomas Sowell, especially the part about “I’m in the mood for a book from Random House”! The book is the end, and the publisher is the means, not the other way around.

I guess publishers’ house styles would be like a record company saying to their musicians that they can only play melodies in certain key signatures or modes. (As if a listener would be pining for that.)

I wonder if certain book editors feel like that imposing a house style is some kind of favour or service to readers, when it’s more like an existential way of feeling good about one’s self or brand.

Quote source

Sowell, T. (2001). Some Thoughts about Writing. Available: Last accessed 5th Mar 2013.


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