For Immediate Release: Great Barrington, MA, December, 2011
Black & white & read all over: The Berkshire Manual of Style for International Publishing
A bold little publishing company has created a style guide to share what they have learned about international publishing with other publishers, authors, editors, and academic reviewers. The Berkshire Manual of Style for International Publishing comes from Berkshire Publishing Group. Berkshire works with thousands of authors, especially from those contributing to publications such as the Encyclopedia of Modern Asia (700 authors in 65 countries), Global Perspectives on the United States (210 authors in 29 countries), and now the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability (850 authors in 51 countries).
The idea for this guide came one day last summer when Berkshire’s CEO, Karen Christensen, noticed how lengthy the company’s copyediting and author guidelines had become. She said to herself, “This is a book!” Before long, she was working with Berkshire’s senior editor, Mary Bagg, to adapt the material for a general readership. They added guidelines for authors and peer reviewers, meditations and asides on writing and word use, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and publishing lore. Karen and Mary intended the Berkshire Manual of Style for International Publishing to supplement but not replace the Chicago Manual of Style—the US authority that has indeed become an industry standard and on which Berkshire itself relies. The result is a compendium that reflects Berkshire’s passion for bringing knowledge about, and from, all corners of the world to the gardens (that is, classrooms, armchairs, and lecture halls) of the English-speaking world. Karen, an avid gardener and plant collector, thinks of it as “knowledge propagation.”
Karen Christensen is an editor and writer but admits that she is no copyeditor. On her very first day working for the formidable Valerie Eliot, widow of T. S. Eliot and controller of one of the most important and wealthy literary estates on earth, typed a letter and took it to Mrs. Eliot for signature. Mrs. Eliot reared with dismay. “My dear,” she said coldly, “Waste Land is two words.” (Karen’s memoir of working on the first volume of The Letters of T. S. Eliot was published in the Guardian Review; a link and further information is available at the Berkshire Blog.)
People often ask how Berkshire can possibly provide an international perspective. How can we explain China, for instance, when we are not Chinese? First, we all have to acknowledge the limitations of our vision. People who live in a country or culture will have knowledge and understanding that we do not. This is why Berkshire has chosen to work with non-US and non-Western authors since its beginning, even when this created extra difficulty and expense. Without our network of international scholars, which now also includes volume editors and peer reviewers as well as article contributors, Berkshire would not be the publishing company it has since become.
Karen’s Mandarin-speaking son, Tom Cotton Christensen, now lives and works in Beijing as Berkshire’s liaison with Chinese publishers and libraries. He sent us the following example of a Chinese chengyu, a special type of proverb used since ancient times to impart cultural wisdom. We think it particularly relevant to our work because it perfectly expresses the importance of maintaining distance to gain perspective and objectivity:
??????????????? Bù shí lú sh?n zh?n miàn mù?zh? yuán sh?n zài c? sh?n zh?ng.
One cannot see the complete or true nature of Mount Lu when one is standing on the mountain.
Just as publishers seek to use gender-neutral language (the Berkshire Manual of Style for International Publishing discusses this in the “Copyeditor’s Manual” at 1.2.4 and the “Author Guidelines” at 2.1.7), as international publishers we aim for language that is not US-centric. Our style guide specifies that “US citizen” replace “American,” and we use metric measurements. We think of readers elsewhere in the world when we refer to “football.” We even try not to use the word summer to mean the months June through August; an Australian editor once pointed out that this is hemisphere-centric. We instruct our peer reviewers and copyeditors to remove jargon ruthlessly and prune text to make it clear and accessible for general readers or for those whose first language is not English. We pay close attention to the voice and tone of our articles. Most importantly, we are determined to banish from our pages authorial assumptions that the US or Western approach is an absolute point of reference.
We also try to learn from others. Chinese authors writing about cities and places in the Berkshire Encyclopedia of China always began with a proverb, such as, “Above the earth there is the heaven; on the earth there are Suzhou and Hangzhou.” Western authors, however, started geographical articles with population and area statistics. (This kind of difference is the bane of copyeditors, whose job is to create consistency, a requirement we stress throughout the 62 pages of copyeditor guidelines in the Berkshire Manual of Style for International Publishing.) The Chinese approach is more meaningful, we decided, and appropriate to the subject, so for a second edition of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of China we will adapt our author guidelines to accommodate it. Being a “global point of reference” requires this kind of constant reassessment, a broadening of our view toward our own “Mount Lu.”
Read more by clicking here for a flyer about the project.
For further information about the Berkshire Manual of Style for International Publishing and to arrange for interviews, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, tel +1 413 528 0206.