How to handle italics

CAUTION: This post may become out-dated at any given point in time, so if you’re reading this more than a month or so after I write it, verify that things haven’t changed.

And, as always, follow any submission guidelines first and foremost.

Ok.  Now that we’ve addressed the preliminaries.  As I’ve noted before (in the one space versus two space post), people have pretty strong opinions about manuscript formatting.  (I may have at some point touched on Courier vs. Times New Roman as well, but I’m lazy today and that post didn’t have such an obvious title, so no link.)  And, if you’ve read those posts, you’ll see that I tend to be pretty old school in my approach.

Well, today I’m going to write about my personal decision with respect to handling italics in my manuscripts.  (I tried to track down the posts I’d read by actual published authors that led me to this decision, but I wasn’t having much luck at it this morning, so sorry.)  I know I’ve run across at least three long-term professional authors who advocate the same stance and for the reasons I’ll list below.

So, without further ado: I choose to underline italics in my manuscripts.

The reason I do this is because it is my understanding (which may be outdated even now) that most large publishers are still typesetting the books they publish.  It may be done in a different way these days, but it’s still typesetting.  Writers use any variety of computers and word processing systems and lots of those have funky code embedded somewhere in the text.  (I  think that’s the reason for getting rid of smart quotes, for example.)

The publisher needs a “clean” copy to work with where the right italics, quotation marks, em-dashes, etc. are used.  So, they don’t just take the e-file sent in by the author and use it.  (Note: I am very much on the fringe of my knowledge here, so no quoting me on this.  Go track it down.  I also suspect that this is not true for some of the on-line short story publishers and perhaps not for some of the smaller e-publishers.)

It’s my understanding that the big guys may leverage a basic electronic file, but they still typeset it.  (Chances are they strip what an author sends in down to basic unformatted text and then build it back up from there.  That’s pure guess, though.)

As anyone who has looked at a printed manuscript can attest, underlined text is much easier to see than italics.  And typesetters are used to seeing underlining used for italics.  Also, when I have to (hopefully, some day) read the galleys for my novel, it’ll be easier for me to tell if all of the italic text made it into the final version if I have it underlined.  See here and here for a couple posts by James D. Macdonald advocating underlining for italics.  And here for a really old, but good post by HapiSofi on how the process works and also advocating underlining for italics.

Also, I can’t find it now, but I know I’ve read at least one horror story by an author who decided to transition to straight italics instead of using underlining.  When she received her galleys, none of the italics had made it through.  So, she had to search the entire manuscript and add them back in (by underlining the hard copy, btw).  Since they were in italics in her version as well, it was not easy.

So, bottom-line.  Most of the arguments I’ve heard for using straight italics these days are that it should work that way because things are electronic and it’s stupid that it doesn’t.  Most of the arguments I’ve heard for underlining involve a knowledgable explanation of how the process actually works at major publishers and a few horror stories of how the new approach has failed.

Obviously, with changing technology and industries, this could change any day.  But, for now, I’m defaulting to underlining anything I want in italics.  If nothing else, it’ll mark me as someone a little old-fashioned who at least knows what traditional manuscript format looks like.  Go the other way and what’s to distinguish between someone who has no clue and someone who’s made an intentional choice to be more modern?

And, again, as always, follow the submission guidelines for wherever you submit.  That’s the rule that trumps them all.

About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
This entry was posted in General Musings, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.