Monday, December 16, 2013

Question: will italics consign me to the dustbin of slush?

I read (First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman) that seeing italics in a manuscript is cause for an agent to ditch the manuscript immediately into the "delete" bin.

My m/s uses italics heavily, not for emphasis in sentences as many writers do, but to transmit understanding that we are now inside a character's head, either thinking, or communicating telepathically. If I remove the italics, it pulls the reader entirely out of my characters' heads and onto the sidewalk, observing rather than experiencing. I am very hesitant to change everything over. However, the point of the whole thing is to sell my story, and if nobody will read the m/s because they see italics, then I have not accomplished what I set out to do and the whole thing is pointless. Please, do you have any helpful insights here?

This is advice that falls right into the "are you out of your mind" bin.

I've seen some other advice credited to this book ("Send your queries by Fed Ex! for attention!") that is also bin material.

I'm not sure if "no italics" was ever the case but it sure isn't now.

For starters, since everything is electronic, changing format is no big deal.  For finishers, EVERY SINGLE agent I know, have heard of, worked with, heard tell of, or otherwise poured in to a cab after a night of revels is looking for projects they can sell. If it happens to arrive in ALL italic font, well, that's not good, but it sure as hell isn't going to stop me from reading it.

Yes, it's a smart idea to format your work properly but last I looked that meant the following:
1. TNR or Courier
2. 12 point

3. White space in email pages
3.5 Double space on .doc attachments

4. 1" margin in .doc attachments

5. Page numbers on .doc attachments

6. Name/TITLE upper right header in .doc attachments

You'll notice it doesn't say anything about BOLD, italic, underline or strike out.  Those are tools for you to use, not forms for you scorn.

And honestly, I've had people (clients even!) who've sent me stuff that was so oddly formatted I ran it through Google translate to see if it was actually in English, and even then all I did was send it back and say "hey, no fancy shenanigans here, plain old TNR and light on the interrobangs."

And why the HELL are you reading a book on how to submit queries that is 13 years old?  The ONE thing that has changed a lot in 13 years is how authors query.  (Hint: electronically)

Quit worrying about this. Start worrying about what you're buying me for Christmas. Start worrying about world peace.


Unknown said...

While I was relieved about this whole italics thing (I freaked out for a moment until your response reassured me), but now I'm stressing about what to buy you for Christmas!

J. F. Constantine said...

I didn't read this in Lukeman's book, but I saw somewhere else on Twitter a prominent agent who said something similar about italics in a Tweet.

I thought it was bizarre & I ignored it, because who in their right mind bans the use of all italics? You see one word in italics and pass? smh...

There are proper uses for italics. I don't write a whole book like that, but I do occasionally use them - within a properly formatted ms, with the correct fonts, margins, etc.

I don't get it. I'm wondering where this particular bit of "advice" is coming from.

J. F. Constantine said...

And, I almost forgot. Robert Crais (new co-Grand Master of the MWA) started his ultra-fabulous book "The Watchman" with a Prologue in italics - a beautiful, amazing prologue (and I usually hate prologues). This one was wonderful and all in italics. Just sayin... :)

Tom Nelson said...

So should we not use italics in our manuscript to indicate we're presenting the thought of our character? I was informed once this is how it should be done. I always thought it was a little strange because I do tag rumination in some way: "she pondered" or some such.

Glad to know you're not picky about such things.

french sojourn said...

I've always felt that italics were beneath me. Boy was I wrong.

I was wrestling with an intimate scene where there were two different languages being exchanged. It was important for the mood...and to keep things flowing.

The solution was real simple I used red font for the Romulan and green font for the Klingon.

The interpreter; Crewman Rappatizo's dialogue was of course was in italics as he was Italian. Originally I had him as Greek...but what would you use for that?

Another very helpful post. Thanks Hank

Unknown said...

I've had a few fellow writers quote Lukeman's work to me like scripture as we've swapped our querying stories, and I'm SOOO happy to see you put in writing what I've quietly thought for awhile: this guy is nuts. It seems to me he decided that adopting a forceful, confident-seeming ethos would be enough to convince rightfully nervous writers to invest in his words, and that throwing in some of his own pet peeves as chapter and verse was just part of that effort.

To me, it seems like an attempt to capitalize on the worries of an already over-worried populace with the appearance of absolute authority. That's why I stick to reading Query Shark, your blog, and the blogs of some other reputable agents when I want guidance.

Italics throwing you in the trash, indeed!

Anonymous said...

Once again, I was biting my nails as I read about the use of italics.

Here's something I just found out...I used to use Courier New, 12 pt. When I took my current WIP and changed it to TNR, 12 pt,(I like how it looks) it shrunk my ms by about 30 pages. I think I knew this in the back of my mind, but it was hard to keep it on TNR. I was psychologically tied to that page number for about three days until I said - stop whining, it's still the same word count. And to that point, I guess word count is more important than page number.

What in the world would a shark want for Christmas anyway - except a nice slurpy bucket of chum. (??)

Bonnie Shaljean said...

That reminds me of something I've been wondering about but cannot find the answer to anywhere: In TNR 12 (I loathe & detest Courier) I get about 300 words per page, allowing for margins and line spacing. So how many words should the "3-5 pages" be? I was figuring a max of 1500 in TNR 12, since "pages" is not really a relevant concept in email. Is this figure in the ball park?

Also, the mighty QOTKU hath commanded No Indents in emailed text, so I assume this means block paras, with the blank line in between them?

Lance said...

I was going to use italics, but it was just too much trouble to change the ball on the IBM Selectric that I'm renting.