One of the most dreaded and most often repeated discussions on
writing newsgroups and lists is the one that starts:
"Can't I use Arial or Trebuchet or Futura in my manuscript when I send it to an
editor? Courier looks so boring and unprofessional!"
The short answer is:
But since this is usually is not persuasive enough for those
who asked the question in the first place, here's the long
Although the preference for Courier among editors stems from
those days of yore when writers had to use typewriters, there are
several practical reasons as well, the most important of which is
that it is a monospaced font. That means that all the
letters are the same width, which in turn means it's easier for
typesetters to calculate how much space a story is going to fill
up in a magazine. If you use 12 point Courier, double-spacing,
and one inch margins all around, as every article and book
dealing with manuscript format will tell you to do, you will have
approximately 250 "words" (calculated as six characters) on each
page, just like everyone else, and editors will know at a glance
whether your story literally fits in this issue or the
Another reason I've heard that editors prefer Courier is
because it's easier to edit. So the same reason many beginning
writers don't like Courier -- because they think it looks like a
draft -- is precisely one of the reasons editors value it.
The manuscript looks like a manuscript, and mistakes are easier
I am not an editor, never have been an editor, and probably
never will be an editor. But I have had to look at a lot of
"manuscripts" (papers) in my day, and the analogy may perhaps
make the importance of using Courier a bit more understandable. I
taught English at several different universities, and I used to
always spend a whole session each term telling my students what a
page is supposed to look like, what a footnote is supposed to
look like, and what a quotation is supposed to look like. I
printed up and handed out excerpts from the MLA and Chicago Style
manuals (both were acceptable). And every semester I recieved
papers that had all of it wrong, even down to paragraph formatting.
So while on a purely theoretical level, it is only the content
that counts, at the same time, things like manuscript format are
usually standardized for a reason. Citations are standardized to
allow the reader to find the information she wants quickly.
Fiction submissions are standardized to allow editors to
calculate space requirements quickly.
It's common courtesy to play by the rules. And as opposed to
an editor, a professor is required to read the complete
manuscript, no matter how irritated she is by the lack of respect
the student shows her by ignoring everything in the guidelines
she handed out. (There are a number of editors these days who will
also accept Times New Roman, but before you send a manuscript, you
might want to make sure your editor is one who does.)
An editor who gets many manuscripts and has no obligation
to read everything might just on a bad day decide he or she is
uninterested in reading a manuscript in a patently incorrect format. It's
not professional, it's a sign of a complete beginner, and
if you don't wow the editor with a first sentence better than
anything she's seen in a month, she's going to toss the 1.5-
spaced Arial pretty fast, I bet.
For more details on how to format your story or novel, see Vonda
Gregory Betancourt's or Chuck
Rothman's articles on manuscript preparation.