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The sentence is:

“Where do you want these?” Jon’s publisher asked, bobbling a box with the word books scrawled across the side.

What do I do with the word, "books"?

Do I quote it (as above)?

Should I italicize it?

Is there a rule here or is it predominantly an issue of style and/or author preference?

What do you think?

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I think it's author preference. Either of these would be okay:

“Where do you want these?” Jon’s publisher asked, bobbling a box with the word “books” scrawled across the side.

“Where do you want these?” Jon’s publisher asked, bobbling a box with the word books scrawled across the side.

I would use the italics, but it's purely a preference, not a rule.

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    Thanks for weighing in. I felt like it was a preference from all that I've read, but I couldn't find any good examples in the books I skimmed. I like the italics also; the reading is more fluid. I feel like quotation marks would chop the dialogue and action in half. – user249705 Aug 6 '16 at 17:44
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I agree with @Lauren Ipsum that it is a matter of preference/style, but I disagree with her preference. I prefer the quotes:

“Where do you want these?” Jon’s publisher asked, bobbling a box with the word “books” scrawled across the side.

I feel that it is comparable to quoting what the box has said:
The senator said, “guilty.”
The box said, “books.”

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