Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I've lately noticed that authors have started typing their book titles in capital letters on many social forums. I suppose this trend began on sites that didn't allow for formatting. Properly, book titles should be typed in italics like this: My Best Book

Italics are also used for the titles of:

TV shows

Another curious and recent practice comes from news services which have decided to blare their headlines in all caps. This, too, is incorrect. Quotation marks are correctly used to enclose headlines. Quotations are also used for other shorter works like the titles of:

Short stories

So there you have the rules as they stand today, subject to public abuse and change, of course. Do any items on either list surprise you?

Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours yahoogroup which teaches authors how to promote their books with a virtual tour. Next class starts May 1. She is a founding member of The Blood Red Pencil. This time of year, she can usually be found in her two-acre garden trying to whip the grow-y stuff into some form of visual interest if not beauty. Occasionally, she may edit.

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  1. Dani,

    I'm in a quandry now in editing a book that is being formatted as a journal in a script font. I can't use italics for book title, thoughts, etc. since the font being used can't be italicized. I'm using quotation marks but am not happy with that decision. Any suggestions?

  2. I concur with you on this - all of it.

  3. In a similar vein, a writing contest judge lambasted me for writing my chapters headings in upper and lower case. She said they must be in UPPER CAS eg. Like CHAPTER ONE. Although this didn't reflect content, I took it to heart and changed all my chapter headings. Is the judge correct?

    Thanks for editing posts. I need them!!

  4. Fabulous! I've made a sticky note of the lists. Now I have no excuse for getting it wrong. Basically we use italics where we used to use underlining.

  5. Lillie, can you use the opposite - in other words, regular font for the titles? My second thought, strictly from a visual and artistic perspective, bold the titles but leave them in italics. Your situation really goes beyond "correctness" and becomes a question of specific style choices to accomodate your situation.

    It also begs the question of using quotations for titles on forums that don't allow for formatting. Well like here, for example. If I'm talking about the book, Atlas Shrugged, is this clear enough? Probably.

    Judges. Hmm. Everyone has an opinion. What are the judge's qualifications? Remember that publishers have house rules they follow, and there are no credentials that I'm aware of that an editor must have to create rules. That doesn't mean they are correct, does it? We all see examples of blatant language abuse every day. In a contest, follow their rules, and then go back to doing it correctly later. Also feel free to ridicule said judges in private for their ridiculous stupidity. Okay, maybe too dramatic. We're not talking about brain surgery here, after all. LOL.


  6. For the longest time, I've used bold for book titles and the like. I think I was taught that way. But lately I have been reading that they should be italics. Was there ever a precedent for bold?

  7. Same judge told me NOT TO ITALICIZE. She was a published author.


  8. I think it's safe to say that being a published author doesn't necessarily make you an editor or good judge. It's such a complicated publishing world right now, with great shifts occurring on many levels. The opportunities to get into print our endless and affordable. The complication is that everyone, including bad writers, can be published. Add to that the warp-speed changing of grammar and print rules as I mentioned before. Well, it can be a mess and become very confusing, not just for beginners but for old hands. Don't you tear your hair out, Lillie? Even the grammar books sometimes contradict each other.

    By the way, I highly recommend you check out some of the new grammar books lately published. Some are very good, and there is always something interesting to be learned.


  9. I have no problem with ALL CAPS for titles on the internet, especially where rich text formatting may not be available. More important is to address titles consistently the same in a document or site.

    Lillie: The book's own title needn't be italicized. Typically these are done in a different font or size. For thoughts, an alternate to italics is to use the "he thought" disclaimer. Really, it's too bad they are using a script font. This is hard on a reader's eyes and not generally recommended for full text.

    Christine: It isn't a given that chapter heads must be all caps. When I approve manuscripts, I ask authors to use "Chapter One" as the header format before sending the book to our editing team.

    Every publisher's requirements are so different that format is a ludicrous criteria to judge...UNLESS the contest sets their own. Then they can award points based on how well it's followed.


  10. Oh, I think I know where the all caps for book titles came from - most agents tell you to use all caps for your title in queries. It was the first I'd seen it, but I've been using all caps for books since.

    My bad. We'll revert to all caps for queries and italics for reference in blog posts, etc.

    Great post. Thanks.

  11. Thanks so much for the input! I am going to use it as I format my chapters for the MS. This site is an excellent place to learn about the writing industry.

  12. We started using all caps for book titles 'cause that's what Publishers Lunch does when it reports publishing deals - and it makes us feel cool, like we're part of the publishing world.

  13. Sara, I think you have the right attitude. Know the rules, but have a little fun sometimes. It's easy to get too stuffy.

    I'm with you, Lisa. I think that script font in Lillie's edit is going to be murder for the readers.

    Remember in the old, old days when we hand-wrote things and titles were underlined? Hehe.


  14. In a manuscript, words that should be italicized are underlined, instead. This makes it easier for the person formatting it into a book to spot the italics.

    Since most of the whole publishing process has gone digital, some publishers now request that the author use italics instead of underlining.

    Most NY publishers still insist on the underlines.

    Using capitals for book titles is smart on the web since format disappears so easily, particularly in blogs and emails. Putting your title in capitals also helps capture the reader's eye.

  15. Based on comments I see on social networks, readers may notice the titles in ALL CAPS, but they often are offended by them. Remember that it was "the Web" that determined this meant yelling, and much to do was made of it. Now, suddenly, it's become fashionable to capitalize titles and headlines, but I still think there's a great risk of irritating. It's also difficult to read - at least I think so. Anyone else?


  16. Lillie, as someone old enough to remember typewriters you should know that underlining is an acceptable alternative to italics in these cases!

    Anyway, this was always summarized for me as, "If you can buy it as a stand alone work, italics. If you can't, use quotation marks." This gets complicated with things like newspapers, magazines, and series (which I notice you haven't mentioned here, but I would go with italics). The Godfather trilogy, for example(it gets confusing with series whether the "the" grammatically belongs to the title or the word "series/trilogy". I have no idea whether to italicize "the"). Again though, with the miracle of box-sets, you can buy whole series intact. Also, music albums should be italicized. I can't remember if the names of paintings and sculptures should be, but I believe they should be (following the above stand alone volume standard).

  17. What about pub names? Also,I'm sure I've seen theme parks italicised, is that incorrect?

  18. Thanks Dani. I've been seeing so many instances of titles in caps, I've been wondering if the rules changed again and I missed the memo.

  19. You know, I don't have a clue about pubs and theme parks. We might want to run that one by Grammar Girl. Let me do some research first.


  20. I worked for a major movie studio for awhile and anytime a title appeared in a script, whether it was the title of the work itself or alluding to another project, it was printed in all-caps. Its possible authors are adapting to script format in literature, not knowing the two formats follow different rules.


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