Manuscript Impressions (Part 2)

Today we’re going to talk about setting your manuscript in the proper font.

Before I even go any further, I’m going to remind you about The Big Caveat from yesterday’s post. Always check the guidelines for the market you’re submitting to, and follow them to the letter. Market guidelines will always trump anything I tell you here or anyone else tells you elsewhere.

Always. Check. The. Guidelines. Are we clear?

Okay, I’m going to acknowledge up front that at least half of everyone I ask (at least those of the writerly persuasion) seems to hate Courier/Courier New. They say it’s ugly, old-fashioned, outdated, and should have gone away when typewriters did.

Well, there are still some typewriters around, and so is Courier. The reason is simple: it’s an easily-readable font. Editors faced with the task of reading piles of slush every day like easily-readable fonts. (No, Courier is not the only readable font, before anyone starts sending me indignant messages about how wonderful their favorite font is. And there are editors as well who don’t like Courier, and prefer–and ask for–something like Times New Roman, for instance. But think about it–why are some fonts preferred, in general, above all others? Because above all else, they’re easy to read.)

The most easily-readable, preferred fonts for print, the ones that turn up most often in guidelines, are Courier/New and Times New Roman. This is an interesting dichotomy, since Courier is a monospaced font (each letter takes up the same space as every other letter) and Times New Roman is a proportional font (letter widths are variable) which makes them very different in appearance. It’s likely that these preferences are due at least in part to familiarity–both of these fonts have been around a long time and in widespread use. If guidelines do not state a preference, use one of these two fonts, and the safest bet in most cases is Courier.

You may have read or heard discussion that the most easily-readable fonts for print are not necessarily the same as those for on-screen reading. The general consensus seems to be that sans-serif fonts (like the one you’re reading now) are best for on-screen, and that the most preferred of these are Arial, Trebuchet, and Verdana. While this may be true, don’t get excited and think that because a market accepts electronic submissions, you should move to one of these on-screen fonts for your manuscript. Unless the guidelines tell you that it’s acceptable or preferred, don’t do it.

If you seriously hate Courier and Times New Roman, to the point that looking at them saps your inspiration and creativity and renders you unable to write a single word, I have a suggestion for you. Use whatever font you want for the composition of your manuscript. Really, go ahead. Make yourself happy. Write in Comic Sans or Brush Script or Old English if you want. No-one is going to see it but you.

Then, when you are ready to start editing your manuscript, select the entire text and change it to Courier or TNR. The advantage of this is that the change in font will make it easier for you to spot typos and other errors as you go through the editing process. It no longer looks like the same thing you’ve read several times by now, so your eyes are not as likely to skim over what you think is on the page as opposed to what is actually there. This also gives you time to get used to the look of your story in the format in which you’re going to send it out.

And again–why is it so important to follow guidelines and give editors what they are expecting to see in your format? Because you want your manuscript to make a good first impression. You want it to say that regardless of what the editor thinks of the particular story they’re about to read, it was written by someone who is taking this whole writing thing seriously, and is also taking the time to do things right.

So, a brief recap. Guidelines. Courier. Times New Roman. Unless otherwise specified. Give the editors what they want.

I think tomorrow we’ll be ready to move on to ~ layout. More fun and games then!

Manuscript Impressions (Part 3)
Manuscript Impressions (Part 1)
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  1. I have a friend who is currently in year 2 of trying to find a publisher/agent for her novel. She consistently ignores the guidelines. They’ll ask for 5 chapters in “standard format” and she sends them 2 chapters in Arial, single-spaced.

    And no amount of me telling her that her refusal to give them what they ask for is no small part of why she hasn’t had any nibbles gets through.

    Me: “They want five chapters. Shouldn’t you SEND them five chapters?”

    Her: “They don’t need five chapters. I’m sending them two.”

    “And…it’s in Arial. Didn’t they say ‘standard’? Standard is courier, 12 point, double-spaced.”

    “Oh, they don’t care what font it’s in. I’m not going to change my font for every agent/editor.”

    Yep. Whatever.

  2. Sherry I like this new thingie of yours. You have so many thingies going these days. You are an inspiration even though I have not been productive myself. I have been in California for over a month now but will return to C.B. eventually. Lots on my mind these days since Dad passed in November. It is like re-evaluating my entire life focus and I am not sure what direction I am moving.
    I started a journal over two years ago about writing and it suddenly disappeared from my docs and my pc and my backup as well. It was called “STUMPED” and I was planning to use it in my new and first personal website which is virtually empty right now. It was going to be the beginning of my blog or whatever they call it these days. So I guess the only thing to do is start over. Any suggestions? I know. You are going to say yes, start over. Anyway I love all the things you are so motivated to write about. Your imagination is something else and I admire you. Good luck in this website and I will go and look at the rest of it.

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