Font, yet again

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 doesn’t particularly like Courier. Additionally, I know that some agents set things in Times.

So, let’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 don’t want to speed up reading when you’re copyediting—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 I’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 recently—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 doesn’t think about it and/or goes with whatever the author sent. Agents, in general, just aren’t aware that this happens; I’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 copyeditor—I’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 “ten-pages-an-hour” requirement needs to be ditched in favor of “2500 words per hour”; 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.

10 thoughts on “Font, yet again”

  1. I have a friend who has a zine she just took to print and she insists on TNR — she says it looks clean and professional to her. I hate TNR because it’s incredibly hard for me to read. Meanwhile, the small press I’ve just started at uses Book Antigua, which reads fine, but looks odd to me.

    I’m with you. Courier, PLEASE! ;)

  2. I hate Times with a vengeance – the proportions are all wrong for me, and I find it unreadable to the extreme. (I know a lot of fancy fonts I find more readable).

    Give me Palatino or Cochin or any of a gazillion of proportional fonts, but not times.

    And I much prefer Courier over Courier new, with a special soft spot for Dark Courier as a Print font.

  3. One of the first things I do when I get a new project is figure out whether it’s really longer than it looks. Most of the people I work for are pretty cool with my charging whatever I think is reasonable, within limits. I’ve never been called out for charging too much–well, maybe once, but I talked them out of it. Still, I used to sometimes underestimate the time it would take to finish a book by thinking, Oh, it’s only 250 pages. How long can it take?

    I don’t have a particular preference for a typeface, as long as it has serifs. I’ve more than once had to decifer MSS. in sans-serif type, where the l’s, i’s, and 1’s all look alike.

  4. At work (a textbook publisher) the most common font manuscripts we receive are in Times. Which is helpful, to me, because we typeset most of our text in either Times or Arial (for heads and subheads). But in the above post are the fiction manuscripts received actual paper manuscripts or attached Word documents? I like the look of Courier because it reminds me of a typewritten manuscript, but I tend to use Arial in my own manuscript. Is Arial easy to read as a whole manuscript for copyeditors?

  5. I very much prefer to edit in TNR — 11 pt if I can blow the page up without losing text at the sides, 14 pt if I have to read at 100% zoom.

    But, of course, I edit onscreen.

    Can I just take this opportunity to comment on how bizarre I find it that a publisher would budget based on a page count instead of a word count? Do these people have no idea how inaccurate a measure page count is??

  6. I don’t know if electronic copyediting is budgeted the same way. Probably.

    There’s no incentive on the part of publishers to change the budgeting system. It only can cost them more money. Copyeditors need to collectively point this out again and again, and request the option for extra hours, as you do, with a strong explanation.

    If writers really, really object to Courier as “ugly,” you should suggest they use 12pt Palatino. The punctuation-readability issue isn’t as bad as with Times, and the words-per-page is comparable to Courier.

  7. I hate Courier or any other fixed space font; but you make a good point, which I will remember when I manage to get to the copyediting point. The publisher always changes the font anyhow.

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