Budgets and manuscript pages

Someone wrote to ask me what I meant in the last post about the budgets being kept artificially low by having books set in Times New Roman rather than Courier.

Here’s what happens at many publishers (big publishers are worse about this than small ones, generally, simply because they’ve been doing things the same way for so long): The production budget—copyediting, typesetting, proofreading, etc.—is set based on the number of pages in the manuscript, not on the number of words or characters or anything that would be sensible in the computer age. Just the number of pages. That might make sense if those publishers required a certain format for manuscripts, but they don’t. I get manuscripts from them in all kinds of fonts and point sizes and spacing. So a 100,000-word manuscript that is set in Times gets a lower production budget than a 100,000-word manuscript that is set in Courier.

Now, do the people in production know that this doesn’t make sense? Well, the ones I’ve asked about it certainly do. It’s just that publishing is very hidebound that way.

For myself, if I know that a manuscript is set in Times New Roman (or line-and-a-half spacing or 10-point type or whatever else), and if I know that the publisher will give me grief about going beyond the ten pages per hour they generally expect, I simply won’t take the project. I will spend the time on the book that it needs, and I turn down enough work that I’m just not willing to eat those extra hours.

17 thoughts on “Budgets and manuscript pages”

  1. OK… so here is a question. And I have been looking for a solid answer for ages now.

    When submitting a manuscript what is preferred to calculate word count? The antiquated word count time 250 words per page in TNR formula or the computer count?

    I have been told agents like the computer count, publishers and small presses that you submit to directly… like the page count times 250.

    Any insight?


  2. My manuscript currently has 237,000 words per MS Word, but its only 527 pages. Per the 250 words x 527 pages formula, its 131,750 words. Obviously this is a huge difference. Which is it? Can I use the lower figure in my query letter?

    1. No, you definitely need to use the Word word count. The 250 words per page assumes that you actually do have close to 250 words per page, which yours apparently does not. (Perhaps you’ve set in Times, for instance, which skews that number hugely.)

  3. thanks Deanna. it was a pretty silly to question to begin with, but what confuses me is that most of the paperbacks I read have 40 lines per page, with 10-12 words per line. I hate these fluffy, new age books like High Fidelity, et. al., with old-people font to fill up the pages. 250 words per page seems awfully skimpy to me. 400 would be closer to my preferred reading.

  4. Well, the finished book won’t be set with the same font, font size, and spacing as your manuscript. The manuscript needs all the extra white space so that there will be room for edits, which are still often done on paper.

    1. Can you please explain why Times would be so much different then Courier? Is Courier more condensed? So many agents ask for Times. My manuscript is around 500 pages in 12 pt. Times. I’ve had the novel pre-read by over 100 people (not friends…people I’ve never met so they wouldn’t be afraid to hurt my feelings) and the comments that are most consistent are “I don’t want this story to end.” I’ve tried to edit it down some, but I don’t want to lose plot or continuity.

      So my question is: If the story is engaging enough for people to want more…what is the solution? Try to split it into two books? I’ve thought of that too, but I’m unsure if the plot would work if it were split. I’ve begun a sequel, but it has a new plot line….

      Any suggestions?

  5. Hi, Kahlen. Publishers will be paying attention to the number of words in your manuscript, regardless of what font it is in. Most first novels I see are around 100K words.

  6. Deanna,

    Thank you for your response.

    I only asked about the font due to the previous comments. So are you saying I should scrap my novel because it’s longer than 100,000 words?

    If I have to write a shorter story first in order to prove my skill set, then I can do that, however in my first story the plot needed more than 100,000 words to tell it completely. I don’t want to shortchange the story just to fit into a mold. I will try to edit the word count, but not at the expense of the plot or the character arcs.

  7. No, I’m not saying you should scrap it at all. If yours is a bit over, that shouldn’t be a concern–there is no magical number. You may have more difficulty selling a very long first novel, though.

    1. Kahlen, the main reason why Times and Courier often give radically different answers is due to the fact that the first is a proportional font and the second a fixed width.

      In a proportional font like Times every character only takes as much physical width as it needs on the page. In a fixed width font like Courier every character is specifically designed to take *exactly* the same width, whether it be a slim letter ‘i’ or a wide letter ‘w’. If you follow that through to it’s logical conclusion that means that, for example, the word ‘lilly’ in Times is quite narrow and yet in Courier is quite wide, almost double in fact. Which means therefore that when printing in Times, or any other proportional font, you will fit more words onto a single line and so the eventual number of words per page will vary quite significantly, with Times being far more economical on space.

      Thus the end result – a document in Times will take less pages than one in Courier, with the discrepancy growing as the document lengthens.

  8. Hey, Deanna:

    I am a thirteen-year-old boy (almost fourteen), and I take writing and English very seriously. I have begun writing novels for the teen/young-adult audience, and am wondering if I were to submit to an agent, do you think there would be a preference for font? Do you think it matters greatly? I mean, as long as I don’t send it in something like Chiller, I’m good, I would think.
    My current favorite font is Palatino. . . . Would that be manuscript-okay, do you think?

    1. Hi, Hayden. Sometimes agents will ask for submissions in a particular font, like Times Roman. If they do, you should follow their guidelines. Otherwise, I am sure you’re fine with Palatino.

      1. Thanks.
        Do agents usually have specific requirements attached to their response to your query, or do I have to seek out that information?

      2. Thanks.
        Do agents usually have specific requirements attached to their response to your query, or do I have to seek out that information myself?

  9. Thanks so much for answering all of my questions!

    And is it true that agents don’t like unpublished writers to have prefaces or prologues?

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