An interesting discussion popped up on Seattle Writergrrls (a Yahoo group you should follow, whether you're a grrl or not). A list member asked whether she should go with the Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook for a website. Her company was letting this be her choice.
And we all replied "Pick what you love and then develop your corporate website style from there."
Which isn't the most definitive answer. But it's a fair one.
Having started out with the AP Stylebook, I like it very much. I think it is a bit quicker and simpler for fast content creation -- just like writing for a newspaper without your end product being as useful as a fish-and-chips wrapper.
If your major output is articles for newspapers, news websites, and other media outlets, you may be asked to conform to the AP Stylebook. So it is good to know the AP Stylebook basics.
The Chicago Manual of Style is an amazing resource and perfect for those academic moments that invade all writers' days, when you desire to debate the deeper meaning of very obscure grammar lore. Don't laugh! I once shared a cubicle wall with an editor who adored getting her new CMOS in the post and then checking her favorite rules for possible changes and updates. Also CMOS defends the Oxford comma. AP does not. If you are a serial comma lover, you have to go CMOS. The same editor once threatened to appear at a Halloween party as a serial comma. I threatened to come as the serial comma killer.
If your major output is books, either fiction or nonfiction, your editor probably will send you a note about following the rules of CMOS. Most likely, she's asking for those serial commas, among other things.
Not sure which stylebook that you will truly love? In these amazing days of instant communication, you can follow both AP Stylebook and CMOS on Twitter -- go to my Twitter and check the "grammar geeks" list -- and get a feel for both. Also, more seriously, check their websites.
Also, if you need a chuckle in your day, do follow Fake AP Stylebook on Twitter. Because it will make you giggle. You can find it on my grammar geek list too!
Think you can live life as a writer without a stylebook? Sorry, can't be done. At some point, you must conform to styles as well as the basic rules of grammar. Doing so makes your writing fit into a publishable model, whether on a corporate website or in a New York Times bestselling novel.
Yes, editors will beat your writing into their style if they have to. But the more work that you do for them, the happier they will be. And all writers know happy editors are best editors!
Finally, don't worry about changing styles: this does not mean the ruin of your deathless prose.
I routinely have to rewrite a piece to fit AP, CMOS, or a corporate style. It's important to remember that style, unlike certain grammar rules, is flexible. Yes the Oxford comma is nifty, but some sentences work just as well without (despite what my friend the Masked Serial Comma says). And putting in a comma or taking one out is not an enormous chore.
So embrace the stylebook. Have more than one on your shelf. It's just one more terrific tool in your writer's toolbox.