QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, December 6, 2010

Underline or Italics?

More questions from our Ask QTB Extravaganza!

What is the final word on indicating italics in a novel? Use underline or use italic font?

Use italic font.

To understand why we used to underline, you have to think about old typewriters. They had a limited number of letters and symbols available. Since italics requires a secondary font (i.e. each of the regular letters set at an angle), there just wasn't enough room. However, since underlining required the user to add just one character (the underline) under each letter he'd already typed, underlining was feasible.

Now that we've moved to computer files, it makes more sense to italicize, especially because the printer is working from your submitted file, not retyping (or otherwise recreating) your document from scratch.

The only place you should use underlines in a modern manuscript is to indicate where things should be underlined in a final typeset version.

And for the record, you should also submit all manuscripts in Times New Roman, not Courier.

There is a But here.  You knew there was, right?

Word is there are a few people out there in the publishing world that are still old-school.  They like things in Courier, with underlines.  I haven't met any, but rumor has it there are still a few around.

So how will you know?  By carefully reading their submission guidelines.  If they tell you to use Courier and underlines, use Courier and underlines.  If they don't specify, use Times New Roman and italics!

One last tip for your manuscript submission: Create a running header or footer that contains not just your name and the book or story title but also your contact information (an email address or phone number is plenty) in case pages get separated.  Because if the agent or editor doesn't know who you are or how to reach you, it doesn't matter how you formatted your manuscript.

Carolyn Kaufman, PsyD writes fantasy, scifi, and nonfiction. She loves helping writers "get their psych right" in their stories, and she's the author of THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment, and Human Behavior is now available. Learn more about the book at the WGTP website or ask your own psychology and fiction question here.


lynnrush said...

Great post. Helpful information here!

ash-krafton said...

There ARE editors who still like the underlined manuscript.

I know because I've redone my 100k ms back and forth more times than I can count. Pity parties are welcomed. It was agonizing work.

I'm just glad the final version is italicized and STAYING that way. =)

My short story submissions are a different story altogether. Courier vs. TNR, underlines vs. italicized...throw in web format vs. standard manuscript format and you pretty much need six different versions of the same story. It really makes you pray the first editor buys it, just so you don't have to redo it for the next guy!

C.A. Marshall said...

Also, agents with eReaders sometimes request underlining instead of italics in partials and fulls because italics sometimes get warped when displaying. Just so you know.

Donea Lee said...

Thanks! Some great helpful info here ~ of course, we all know to read the sub guidelines and follow to the letter!

Eric W. Trant said...

TNR font? Really? I guess I'm old-school, because I write in Courier.

I'm also an engineer, though, and courier is the default and proper font for programming and for higher-level systems like unix. It allows the user to align text for text-only tabular data, charts, images, and so forth.

You said not to use Courier, but I'll ask you why that is? Why use TNR? Courier has the advantage of being (crap, what's it called...) even-spaced. What advantage is there to TNR over Arial or some other font?

- Eric

Stina Lindenblatt said...

C.A Marshall beat me to the part about agents and their ereaders. But they will tell you that in the submission guidelines if yoou should land a request.

Great post, Carolyn.

She Wrote said...

Carolyn, FYI your book must be a sell-out. Have been trying to find a copy at my Borders (the only real bookstore here in Bangor, ME). It is on back-order for up to 4-6 weeks! But I have ordered it. Call it my New Year's present to me (instead of my Cristmas present). Just extending the season.

Thanks for the explanation, too.

Glenna F.

Carolyn Kaufman said...

I don't know why TNR, Eric, exactly. I just know that every editor I've ever worked with has wanted TNR. I kept feeling embarrassed when they corrected me, and finally started just writing in TNR. I haven't been corrected since.

Excellent point about the eReaders -- thanks for pointing that out! It just underlines (pun pun) the importance of reading each agent or editor's submission guidelines!

Carolyn Kaufman said...

She Wrote -- glad you were able to order the WGTP, and wow that it's backordered for 4 - 6 weeks! We'll hope it comes in sooner! :)

Jeanne Tomlin said...

Apparently, Robert Sawyer, whom rumor has it is much published, has not had your experience.


Much less impressive to anyone out there, neither have I. I have never ever had an editor tell me to change my Courier to TNR.