Which Courier to choose?

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A reader writes to ask:

Quick question: which font do you use when writing a manuscript - Courier New or Courier Final Draft?

Good question, though those two fonts are hardly the only Courier variants available to choose from. One could also try Courier10 BT, Courier Std, Courier Stylus, Dark Courier, and no doubt many others.

But you asked which font I use. It's Courier New, but that's really only because it's the default Courier font that comes with Windows. Courier New prints a bit light and thin for many people's tastes, so if you have Courier Final Draft (which comes included with Final Draft screenwriting software) you're probably better off to use that instead. It's a somewhat heavier and darker font than Courier New, and it looks better printed.

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A reader writes to ask:

The font I have been using for 10 years is Arial. I like it alot. Any comments. Should I check with Sheila Williams, the editor at Azimovs.

No. No. No. A thousand times no. Use Courier or Times New Roman. Do not use Arial, and do not bug Sheila about it. Do check the spelling of your intended market before you submit your manuscript. That is all.

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Cheating the format

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A reader writes to ask:

I'm getting close to done writing a manuscript, set to your specs for 250 words per page, and it's threatening to break 600 manuscript pages (about 150k, assuming no half-pages). That's going to be a heavy stack of paper when I get it printed out. There seems to be some empty room on the pages as it stands, and I'm thinking of squeezing it into 500 words per page by increasing the line length and quantity, just so I can save some trees. Would you recommend for or against this plan? Do you have any other suggestions for my big stack dilemma?

I can sympathize with your desire to reduce your big stack, if not for environmental reasons then at least to keep postage costs in check. But when you look into your heart of hearts I'm sure you know what I'm going to tell you. Six hundred pages for a 150,000-word manuscript sounds just about right.

I've examined the sample page you sent along with your question, and honestly it looks perfectly fine to me. You're using a 12-point Courier font. You're averaging about 60 characters per line, which tells me that your left and right margins are set properly. You have 25 lines of text on the page, plus a header, which means the top and bottom margins are good. In short, you're doing everything right. You're just having a hard time digesting the fact that your manuscript is so big.

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Long quotations within your text


A reader writes to ask:

Is there a guideline for when you want to include the text of some other text within your story? I'm thinking of something like Barry Malzberg's Herovit's World where parts of the novel were actually exerpts from the main character's novel that he was writing. In print these show up in a different font from the main text. How would this be done in manuscript? Would it be like a block quote? Or something different?

A very interesting question, and one that applies equally to fiction and narrative non-fiction. The material quoted in your work could be excerpts from a character's novel-in-progress, as you indicated, or could include such items as personal letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, or any other large chunk of text that your characters might read or write.

I wasn't positive of my answer right off the bat, so I polled a panel of three expert copy editors and/or book designers. The responses I got back differed in some details and caveats, but the basic meat of their answers was the same:

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Meet the Courier family

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A reader writes to ask:

I have a question about font. In your article, you suggested that only Courier or Times New Roman should be used, and you strongly recommended Courier. My version of Microsoft Word apparently does not support the Courier font, but it does have New Courier. I have attempted, to no avail thus far, to determine what I might do to change my Microsoft Word to allow the Courier font. Is New Courier an acceptable alternative (preferable to Times New Roman) or would you recommend using Times New Roman, assuming I cannot get the old Courier font to work on my Word version?

I should clarify that when I refer to Courier, I'm speaking of all fonts in the Courier family. This would include Courier New (not "New Courier"), which is the actual Courier font included by default with most computer operating systems. Courier New is absolutely fine and correct for you to use in your manuscript.

Some writers who prefer to use a Courier font find Courier New too light and spindly for their tastes. A favorite substitute for these folks is Dark Courier, which is free to download and install (at least if you're a Windows user).

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I wrote the original version of my manuscript formatting guide in 1993, modeling it after a much older two-page guide I received from Damon Knight in 1985. Back in those days, even for those who'd made the switch to composing prose on computers, the goal of formatting was to produce a document for submission that looked as much as possible like it had sprung to life rolling through the platen of a typewriter, offspring of holy intercourse between paper, typebar, and ink ribbon.

The world of writing and publishing has changed plenty in these past seventeen, or twenty-five, or God knows how many years. A manuscript used to be the mere blueprint for a printed book or story, instructions in a coded language to the typesetter who would laboriously rework the entire thing into clean, finished type. Now the gap between manuscript and book has shrunk to the size of a computer file. Electronic submissions mean that the only physical keystroke in the life history of a given letter in a published work may well be the one executed by the author himself.

The accepted and acceptable standards of manuscript formatting have evolved to reflect this. Proportional fonts are used more and more in manuscripts, while typographical tricks that were necessary on typewriters now no longer make sense. More and more writers are submitting manuscripts that would have looked unacceptable a decade ago, and more and more editors don't mind this one bit. With the almost complete dominance of the word processor, topics like word-count approximation and end-of-line hyphenation are no longer relevant to most of us. It was long past time to update my format guide to reflect this new reality.

You old-school writers and editors, don't worry. I won't abandon my Courier font and double sentence spacing (more on that topic in a future post) without a fight. If I have my way, the manuscripts I produce fifty years from now will look the same as the ones I produce today. But I did want to acknowledge that mores are changing, and that not everyone agrees anymore about what proper manuscript format even means.

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Word count vs. page count

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A reader writes to ask:

I've been speaking with an agent who has expressed keen interest in my sci-fi/humor novel, and what she's telling me is that while she really digs it, the manuscript is simply coming in too long for most publishers to take a look at. Unbeknowst to me (rookie mistake), I need to reformat the mansucript using Courier 12 point, which is blowing my page count sky-high (I wrote in Times Roman).

The agent is also telling me that I need to get it down below 480 pages Courier for publishers to be willing to look at it. My mansucript is 120,000 words and change, but is coming in at 730 pages Courier 12 point. Any thoughts about anything I might be doing wrong, if anything?

Is she on point? Is the page count more significant than the word count?

I hate being so close and yet feeling like I might be so far.

I'd appreciate any feedback you can offer me.

A lot of points to address here in this message! As far as your mechanical problem goes, without looking at your manuscript I can't be sure what you're doing wrong in your word-processing program that's making your page count so high. Check your margins carefully to be sure they are 1 inch all the way around. Check to be sure you're double-spacing your text and not triple-spacing it, because that alone would explain why your page count is about 50% higher than it should be.

480 pages in Courier 12 is going to yield a manuscript of between 120,000 and 140,000 words, depending on your margins, so your novel should be fine as-is, without any cuts, if you can just get your formatting problems ironed out.

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Looking for Bill's original properly formatted article on proper manuscript format? Click here.
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FLOG is Hugo- and Nebula-nominated author William Shunn's blog on manuscript formatting and preparation for fiction writers. It features formatting questions from real readers and writers like you. Submit your questions to format at shunn dot net. Identitying information will remain private. We regret that we can't always respond individually to submissions, and that we can't answer every question we receive.

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