Q. I’m editing the autobiography of a delightful, elderly R&B songwriter who writes of his song reaching “#3” on the Billboard chart, but later writes of having a “top ten” hit. Are there special rules for documenting music charting, or should we spell out all numerical positions to be consistent with CMOS? In some paragraphs, he lists the many chart positions reached by his songs, so spelling out makes the section difficult to read. I don’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him that we should just summarize his chart-topping accomplishments or put them in an appendix. Egad—am I too tenderhearted to be an editor?
A. A tender heart is an asset to an editor: it helps us be ruthless in a tactful way. I’m sure you can find a way to suggest that your author “showcase” (for instance) his stats in an attractive table in order to eliminate the unsightly boogers (you can put this more delicately) in the paragraph you describe. Otherwise, yes, it’s a good strategy to modify a style in a particular area of a manuscript if the prevailing style becomes unwieldy, and in this case you could use numerals rather than spell out the numbers. You might also consider styling chart position numbers this way throughout the manuscript.