There have been quite a few posts commenting on the best fonts for manuscripts lately. Jay Lake posted in favor of 12-point Courier New (which, by the way, I have talked him into), and then C. E. Petit posted that there is no universally “correct” way of formatting, and then Cheryl Klein praised and linked a number of my posts, including the one on helping your copyeditor, but noted that she doesnâ€™t particularly like Courier. Additionally, I know that some agents set things in Times.
So, letâ€™s address a few things. First, there are a number of reasons that agents or editors might prefer manuscripts to be in Times, and all of them relate to the fact that Times squeezes half again as many words onto a page as Courier does. It therefore saves postage and copying, and it can speed up reading.
However, you donâ€™t want to speed up reading when youâ€™re copyeditingâ€”you need to go slowly in order to catch mistakes. The space between letters in Courier helps the mistakes stand out, and the punctuation, as Iâ€™ve noted before, is far, far more clear. Additionally–and this is a critical factor with me–almost all fiction publishers expect copyeditors to edit at a rate of about ten pages per hour. The number of words in a standard-manuscript-format (SMF) page is about 250 words. The ten-pages-per-hour rate that copyeditors are expected to follow is based on SMF, as a holdover from typewriter days.
Listen closely: With many (most!) publishers, when a 1000-page manuscript that one would expect to be about 250,000 words turns out to be set in Times and is therefore 375,000 words, the copyeditor is still expected to copyedit the book in the same amount of time, or get permission to take longer! Does this sound crazy? Well, it is. Does it happen? Yes, it does. It happened to me most recentlyâ€”with almost those exact numbers–just a few months ago. Sometimes, sadly enough, it even happens intentionally, in order to keep the book budget artificially down, with little regard for the freelancer or the quality of the copyedit; other times, the editor just doesnâ€™t think about it and/or goes with whatever the author sent. Agents, in general, just arenâ€™t aware that this happens; Iâ€™ve talked to a number of them about it, and all were surprised.
I have no problem with editors or agents preferring to read in Times. However, the manuscript really should be set in Courier (or at least another monospaced font) before being sent out to the copyeditorâ€”Iâ€™d think that even without the monetary issue. Despite the fact that it would be easy to do so, though, that simply does not happen; whatever font the author submits in is what comes to the copyeditor. At a minimum, the â€œten-pages-an-hourâ€ requirement needs to be ditched in favor of â€œ2500 words per hourâ€; going by pages is ridiculously antiquated in this day when authors can adjust not just font and line spacing but even kerning with just a few clicks. Do I think that will happen anytime soon, though? No. Therefore, I still prefer Courier, even though I’m aware I’ll seldom get it.