Publishers and writers looking for the definitive resource on religious publishing will find it in the newly released The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, 4th Edition (Zondervan, $34.99). This new edition features a quarter to a third revised material from the last edition, released in 2004, with the rest new or heavily revised.

Ann Byle

“Our aim is to be comprehensive, to think of everything under the sun,” says Robert Hudson, who compiled all editions. “As I edited manuscripts and came across issues not mentioned in the 2004 edition, I made a note to add them to the new edition. Two-thirds of the fourth edition is things not mentioned in other style manuals.”

He stays consistent with the book publishing industry’s “bible,” The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition, “with lots more detail on religious writing,” and is about 85 percent consistent with the AP Stylebook, used by journalists.

“The publishing industry is divided into niches, with the religious market probably the largest macro niche after the general market,” says Hudson, who is a senior editor-at-large for Zondervan and has nearly 40 years’ experience in publishing. “Anyone writing for that macro niche, the Christian marketplace, is going to need this book.”

The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, inches thicker than its predecessor, is divided into two main sections: a style guide and a word list. It also includes sections on abbreviations, capitalization, pronunciation guide for audio books, permission guidelines for quoting the Bible, and numbers.

“Perhaps the most controversial issue in the 4th Edition is the possessive of Jesus. Traditionally Christian publishers have used “s’,” a rule established by the Chicago Manual of Style,” says Hudson. “But the new edition changed that, and I decided to follow [it]. A consistent rule seems to be a good thing.”

So instead of “Jesus’ disciples,” the guide calls for “Jesus’s disciples.” Hudson talked to the staff of the The SBL Handbook of Style, 2nd Edition, used by scholars in biblical studies and related disciplines, and they, too, are using “Jesus’s.”

“There was a howl from academia, with one post saying ‘this is a faith changer,’ so I hedged a bit in [the guide],” he says. Another controversial area is capitalization of the deity pronouns “he” and “him.” “When the capitalization originated, it wasn’t to show respect but to distinguish between general and specific,” says Hudson. “It feels very Victorian; I recommend using lowercase for deity pronouns.”

Sales totaled 20,000 for all previous editions of the style manual, with the last edition selling about 13,000.

“I have a passion for this stuff,” says Hudson. “I want to help the reader receive an author’s ideas most effectively and smoothly. The words and mechanics should become invisible to the reader. But it’s amazing how emotional some of the discussions on these topics can get.”

Hudson is working on other books as well, including a modernized version of Thomas Decker’s prayer book written during a time of plague in London, and a parallel biography of Thomas Merton and Bob Dylan that shows the influence of Dylan on Merton’s life and writing.