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A Font of Information

Recently, sleigh made a post titled Let's give this message to the Courier..., in which he brought up the question of how necessary it is to use the Courier font when submitting manuscripts. His post was in response to queenoftheskies, who asked similar questions in her post Ask a Stupid Question.... (Her post was more about formatting a synopsis, but the question of what font to use quickly came up.)

sleigh noted that he never uses Courier, and that it's never been a problem for him as far as he knew. Now, I always use Courier, and happen to love it, but the question got me thinking. Do editors still expect and require manuscripts to be in Courier font? Eleven years ago, when I attended Clarion, I remember Damon Knight insisting over and over that manuscripts had to be in Courier, and he admonished anyone who used a different typeface. Well, times do change, so I thought I would see what two of the major science fiction markets had to say on the question.

I checked both the Analog Submission Guidelines and the Asimov's Submission Guidelines. Neither had a lot to say on the subject. The Analog guidelines had only one comment: "Please avoid unusual or very small typefaces." The Asimov's guidelines said nothing at all.

So, as a public service to you, my readers, I went straight to the sources and asked the editors directly.

Sheila Williams, editor of Asimov's, said quite simply, "I don't care about the font, as long as it's easy to read."

Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog, had a little more to say:

I have no strict requirements about font and would not reject anything just because of its font shape or size. However, I think most editors would agree that we spend so much time reading that we want it to be easy on our eyes, and a font that calls too much attention to itself calls attention away from the story. So 9- or 36-point anything, or script or German Fraktur of any size, encourages attention to wander faster than something really easy and unremarkable like 12-point Courier or Times—unless, of course, the story is a really extraordinary grabber.

I use one or the other of those fonts in most of my own manuscripts, and so do most of our regular contributors. I have no strong preference between them; some editors prefer Courier because, being nonproportional, it facilitates making their own estimates of word count. On the other hand, Times makes it easier to type a dash that looks like a dash instead of one or two hyphens. Neither of those arguments seems especially compelling to me; I'll cheerfully accept manuscripts in either of those fonts or anything reasonably similar.

So there you have it. I must admit that I will probably still advise aspiring writers to use Courier, at least in the beginning, because it does have a professional feel to it. But it looks like the Courier walls have either started to come tumbling down or are already lying in ruins at our feet.


That said, it is better to use a font with serifs, as opposed to a sans serif font such as Helvetica or Arial. On paper, serifed fonts are more readable.

Just my inner typegeek finding his way out.
The other thing that I'd heard (from editors at panels at cons) is that everyone in The Industry has it in their heads what size book it will end up being when they heft a double-spaced, 12pt Courier manuscript in their hands. So nobody has to do any math to be able to ask folks in marketing "have we got space for a 200-page mass market in our spring schedule?"
I prefer Courier, but it's definitely not a requirement. Double-spacing is mmore important to me than font.
By happy coincedence, yesterday I finally remembered to send out a sub in Courier to a magazine that didn't specifically ask for it--the magazine being Analog.

It's easier for me to read TNR, but the problem is that I'd always forget to print the mailing copy in Courier unless the guideliens specifically wanted it (and then I tend to remember only because I go over the GLs one more time before mailing the story). But I've heard enough editors say Courier is prefered for their ease of reading that I'd been meaning to make it a permanent habit.


Jayme Blaschke

At RevSF, I get sans serif subs, like helvetica and arial, every so often. I can't say how much I hate these--I'm already predisposed to rejecting them before I read a single word, just because the font is hard on the eyes. Also, when manuscripts are very obviously not some approximation of standard format (of which my definition is very flexible) I immediately think "They don't care enough about their writing to bother learning the standards, so why should I care about it?" I try to give these a fair reading, but that annoyance factor is hard to overcome.

In defense of Times

When I was reading for NESFA's short story contest, I found 12-pt, double-spaced Courier to be incredibly annoying--it generated far too much white space. I generally use 10- to 12-point Times New Roman when writing. (For APA:NESFA, I use 12pt; they're old and complain about 10pt fonts.)

Nowadays, since the files are all electronic, it's easy enough to generate a page count for whatever font and size you want. So if I were to make a professional submission, my cover letter might include "this occupies X pages in traditional 12-pt, double-spaced Courier" if I felt the information was important.

I'm still trying to steer my mom's group's newsletter *away* from sans serif fonts to no avail.

Re: In defense of Times

>>my cover letter might include "this occupies X pages in traditional 12-pt, double-spaced Courier" if I felt the information was important.

This is such a simple and elegant solution to the Courier vs. Times debate, I can't believe no one's suggested it before. It would mean one extra line in a cover letter, and might help make a sale.


Re: In defense of Times

Oh, hooray indeed for an elegant solution! My dyslexia does not like monospace fonts, so I loathe Courier - I'm a Times girl.

You would think more folks would accept electronic mss. just so they could change the font to their liking before having to read it.

And, loathesomely, I might even print it out on pastel paper, because white-on-black is also a bit difficult for dyslexics. My monitor colors make people flee in pain some days. But I would never inflict pastel or neon paper on an editor!

Re: In defense of Times

You would think more folks would accept electronic mss. just so they could change the font to their liking before having to read it.

Except that many editors are a) on a budget so they don't have the paper to print mms's out themselves, and b) already possessed of bad-to-worsening eyesight to make reading on the screen difficult. Also (and more importantly), everyone is paranoid about viruses. Almost no-one will accept an electronic submission they're not already anticipating. Always query first.

Many guidelines have recently come to say "electronic submissions OK, in body of email" (for short stories)...but then of course the font question is rendered moot. ;)

Re: In defense of Times

Yes, and heaven help you if you want to use italics or bold face or anything else that won't transmit well via e-mail. (At least, all the places I've seen which will accept "in body of mail" submissions also request non-HTML mail, for which I don't blame them.)

My bad eyesight *prefers* to read on the screen some days; I can make the screen be an ugly, high-constrast color and bump the font size up. But if one's working on an older monitor, there's just not much help there.
Excellent. I hate Courier almost as much as I hate Ariel.

(Not the Little Mermaid. Nothing against her.)

(I have a deep and abiding love for Book Antiqua, but I know I oughtn't to submit manuscripts in it. *sigh*)
Fear not, for if you spell the font the correct way ("Arial") then no one will be confused!

*snarking off into the gloom*
You've got a bit of an empty life, hm? My condolences.
No, it is full, full, full, I say! Full of snarkiness! And a deep desire to see people spell things correctly.
I'm a copyeditor, and I *hate* Courier. The white space around indivual letters and words make it very hard to red, and it creates an unnaturally long manuscript to wade through. With electronic mss, I always convert to Times New Roman 12pt first thing.
So, perhaps the wise thing to do would be to find out what the targeted editor's font preferences are eh?
Hmm. Well, I'm a copyeditor, and I love Courier. The letter spacing makes it much easier to spot typos, and since I'm supposed to stay roughly within a "ten pages per hour" rate, I don't get screwed on my pay.
My conclusion, after the long discussion here and in other places and from my own experience, is that the Courier walls are indeed down and have been for a long time.
You know, I used to hate Courier, but I've developed a kind of détente with it. I don't write in it, but I do convert my manuscripts to it before sending. I just see it as yet another one of the quirks of professionalism.

December 2016

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