AP Style Basics for Self-Publishers

ap style basics for self publishers

Are you writing a book and considering using a standard style guide? Maybe you are deliberating between using the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS) and the Associated Press Stylebook (AP), but you don’t know which one is better suited to your writing. Truly, both of these are awesome style guides! They are different in some respects, and today we are going to have a look at the basics of AP Style for self-publishers.

However, suffice it to say that when deciding between the 2 major style guides I mentioned above, consider your audience first and what they would most like to see or maybe what they are most familiar with. If you are writing a literary or academic book, definitely go with CMOS for its beautiful and complex rules.

But if you are writing a blog post, news article, or perhaps even a self-help or business ebook, use AP Style for its no-nonsense cut-and-dry rules for fast-paced reading. The bottom line is that AP Style might be easier to use for its clear-cut rules.

As its name suggests, AP Style was developed by the Associated Press for American news journalists. The Associated Press Stylebook is published every other year. You can buy a hard copy, or you can purchase a yearly subscription to the online stylebook.

A quick note before we move on to the basics of AP Style: Note that AP style is not the same as APA style, which is the style guide used for the American Psychological Association.

Now that you know what it is and why you should use it, what are the basics of AP Style?

Titles of Works

Most of us were taught in school to either underline or italicize the titles of works, but as academic institutions, schools tend to teach the more literary style of CMOS.

AP Style does not underline or italicize any titles of works. Simply put the titles of works—books, songs, TV shows, etc.—in quotation marks. Note that magazines and newspapers do not even need quotation marks—just the proper capitalization.

Stay off the internet if you want to avoid "Game of Thrones" spoilers.
The Wall Street Journal published exclusive articles leading up to the Watergate scandal.


Always use figures to express dates (that is, use numerals only, no need to add st in 1st, nd in 2nd, rd in 3rd, and so on). See how easy AP style can be?

July 9, 2018
Aug. 2, 1974

Abbreviate the following months when expressing a date like in the above examples: Jan., Feb., Aug., Sept., Oct., Nov., and Dec.

But if you need to refer to a month alone, spell it out and of course use a capital letter.

Chinese New Year is celebrated in February.


Here is where I see many writers struggle to create consistency in their writing. I find that AP Style has the easiest rules where numbers are concerned, so if you’re not sure which style guide you want to use, or if you want to develop your own style guide, start with AP and tweak it.

AP says to spell out cardinal numbers under 10, and use figures for numbers 10 and above.

I wanted to buy 12 eggs, so I bought two cartons of six.

Even ordinal numbers follow this basic rule:

I placed the 12th egg in the second carton.

There are 2 (easy-to-remember) exceptions for this basic rule for numbers. The exceptions apply to percentages and monetary amounts:


I see a lot of my clients using percentages in their writing to quote statistics. Here again, AP makes it easy to achieve consistency: use a numeral plus the word “percent” spelled out.

The clientele of this hotel is 90 percent American.

When dealing with ranges, don’t use a hyphen. Instead, spell out the connecting word you need:

We need to vaccinate 70 to 80 percent of the population to achieve herd immunity,
but only 60 percent of the nation’s individuals agree to the voluntary vaccination.

Monetary amounts

Always use figures and the currency symbol to express money, and spell out cents and million, billion, etc.

The sale price of the book was $12.80.
She paid $1.2 million for her Beverly Hills mansion.
He was only 5 cents short of a balanced checkbook.

No courtesy titles

AP does away with courtesy titles (Miss, Ms., Mrs., Mr.), unless you are talking about 2 people with the same last name, and you need to differentiate for clarity.

Wellington likes evening walks.


Mr. Wellington likes evening walks, while Mrs. Wellington prefers morning walks.

Note: Official titles, i.e. not courtesy titles, should be used in AP Style, but you need only to write the abbreviation of the title in your first reference, and then you can just continue on using the last name.

Dr. Shepherd is a spinal surgeon.
Along with a team of specialists, Shepherd succeeded in reversing a woman’s paralysis in January.


When expressing time, use figures, except for noon and midnight. Morning and afternoon are expressed as a.m. and p.m. (not AM, not am, etc.). Easy!

We ate our lunch at noon, followed by coffee at 1:30.
The 8:35 a.m. train gets into Paris around 10:30 a.m.

No Oxford Comma

I’ve already spoken about the Oxford comma here on the blog. The Oxford comma, also known as the serial or listing comma, is subject to much debate in the publishing world!

Whether you love it or hate it, AP Style says NO to the use of the Oxford comma.

The colors of the American and French flags are red, white and blue.

More AP Style Resources

Need more AP Style resources? Check out these links:

Using AP Style doesn’t have to be difficult! I’ve given you a brief overview of some of the basics, but of course there is no substitution for picking up the latest edition of the style guide and following any updates that AP puts out throughout the year.

With practice, you’ll soon become a pro at AP Style. And if you need help getting your writing to conform to AP Style, why not hire an experienced copyeditor? Contact me today to discuss your project and how it can benefit from the no-fuss style of the Associated Press.

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