Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Orlando Sunset, February 2014
(from Florida, the only state in all 50, incl. Hawaii, without snow on 2/13/14)

The other side of Florida - Frontal Boundary coming in on 2/12/14

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Not long ago an author on one of my e-loops asked a question about italics, and I was surprised because I'd been an editor for so long I'd forgotten some authors have never made the switch to the way manuscripts are typed in the Computer Age, when they can go directly from manuscript to published with only a few changes in format. I suppose I should have realized the problem, however, as I well recall the battle in the early nineties over formatting. I don't know about other book genres, but in Romance many diehard authors and editors refused to join the modern age—it was Courier, underlines for italics, and 250-words-per-page, or - @#$%$% - it wasn't a proper manuscript!)

Grand sigh . . . Shaking head . . . You've got to be kidding!

In the early nineties, when I began to write fiction, I had been using a word-processing machine with italic capability for ten years. Was I going to return to Courier, a typewriter font that had been around since the late 19th century?  And underlines? No way.  I approached this problem—which I simply couldn't take seriously—by submitting all my manuscripts in Times New Roman with italics, no matter what RWA (Romance Writers of America) said. This was before I realized their rules were strongly biased toward Harlequin/Silhouette short "category" romances, where word-count was a God worshipped by editors. (And, of course, the only time I was asked to change the manuscript to Courier and underlines was by a "category" editor who had not yet adjusted to counting the final number of pages in anything but Courier.) As for RWA contests, I simply didn't enter the ones that specified "Courier at 250-words-per-page." I figured that if that particular RWA chapter had not yet adjusted to the Computer Age, they weren't going to like any manuscript from me, as I tended to write "mainstream," not "category" aimed at H/S, as beginners were expected to do at that time.

But the whining during this transition period you wouldn't believe. The sobs, the screams - "Contestants submitting in TNR were getting more words to the page. Unfair!" I recall posting an e-mail stating I was also an editor and contest judge, and I could tell by the first page if a manuscript was any good or not, so what difference did a few extra words make?

Nearly twenty-five years have passed since those days, TNR has triumphed, electronic submissions are the norm, indie publishing is the phenomenon of the twenty-first century, and yet there still seem to authors out there who need to know more about about italics. So that will be the focus of this week's Mosaic Moments: the use of italics in manuscripts, which is now the same as the use of italics in both print- and e-books.

Basically - computers make it possible for authors to format books the same way a publisher does. (About the only time you might have a problem is if you think you absolutely have to have "dropped caps." My advice? You don't need to follow print format that slavishly. I've seen some really horrifying examples on my Kindle of what happens when even professional formatters tried adding a dropped cap to an opening word.)

In a nutshell - an author no longer has to underline in place of italics, because italics are readily available. An author can change a double-space manuscript to a single-spaced manuscript in the blink of an eye. (Well, maybe three blinks.) We can change a 5-space indent to a 3-space (publisher's) indent just as easily. And we can kick a manuscript into fully right justified. So where do we find the "rules" for twenty-first century manuscripts? The same place publishers have gone for book formatting for decades - in The Chicago Manual of Style. And, yes, there are some independent publishers out there doing their best to bend the "publishers' bible" to suit themselves, but my advice is to ignore them. Submit a manuscript that follows traditional publishers' book-formatting rules. If your manuscript is selected by a publisher who sets their own rules, then swallow their malarky and smile. That's how publishing works. I have some books where I simply hate my publisher's approach to punctuation, but did I grab up my manuscript and say, No, you can't have it? I did not. I like those monthly checks! 

Over the next two Mosaic Moments I'm going to try to present the rules of italics in manuscripts, whether you're formatting for submission to a publisher or for translation into an independently  published book. Hopefully, you'll find the list helpful.


1.  Forget you have an Underline icon on your computer. It's passé, useless except perhaps for complex non-fiction outlines.

2.  Emphasis. This is the one use of italics almost everyone understands. Some sentences simply don't read right unless you can show special emphasis on a certain word. 

Example:*  Maid:  “Perhaps ’tis just as well, miss. If you be going to the park, you’ll not want anyone to recognize you, particularly with that man. And if you be going to his part of town, then heaven forfend anyone should see your face.”

3.  Foreign words. The general rule: use italics for all foreign words unless they are common enough to be found in an English dictionary. Since dictionaries tend to vary, I sometimes use italics anyway. The latter is a subjective decision each author must make for her/himself. But there is no option for the vast majority of foreign words. They require italics.

Special note: it is expected that you will translate any foreign phrase, either directly or indirectly, as soon as you use it. Readers don't like to be left guessing. The era when French was everyone's second language are long gone. Beyond, si, oui, non, gracias, merci, señor, señora, mademoiselle, and monsieur, and maybe the Russian da and nyet, most foreign words need explanation.

Example:  Morituri te salutamus. We who are about to die salute you.

Example:* . . . as if a single glimpse of a courtesan might taint their eligibility for the ton.

Note:  In the second example, without italics,  ton, a derivative from the French, would just be 2000 pounds.

4.  Referencing. When you are referring to a word, phrase, or letter of the alphabet, not using it directly.

Example:* Nick: "Surely there must be satisfaction in flaunting yourself before him in the very carriage he gave you."

Cecilia: Flaunting? But the rest of the sentence put paid to her indignation. "What do you mean by the very carriage he gave me? Did you not sell it?"

Example:*  “Mr. Lovell says Nick’s a force of nature, and I reckon he’s right. Place seems empty without him.”

A force of nature. Yes, that description suited him.

*Dialogue from Cecilia, a Regency Darkside novella (in progress)

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More on the use of italics next week.

Thanks for stopping by.


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft & Rayne Lord, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here. 


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