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Criticism, Dark Fiction, Fiction, Genre Fiction, Publishing, Ruminations, The Writer's Life, Writings

They Write About the Future, Yet Live in the Past

My first revelation on entering the world of genre fiction was this: submissions must be made using Courier font.

Courier? You mean that archaic, outdated, difficult to read, throwback to tribal runes, Courier?


According to an editor in my genre group, and according to the official instructions on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America web site, Courier is the default style, not Times, not Caslon, not anything remotely readable.

How antiquated is Courier? I cannot type anything on this blog that will display it. I must show you a picture:

Seems odd that a group that often writes about the future is mired in a typestyle designed in the 1800s for use on typewriters, and which went out of style more than 20 years ago when computers (I’m sure they’ve heard of them) came into use.

Here is their official rationale: Courier is a monospaced font, which is different from a proportional font, where the number of characters on a line can vary immensely, throwing off the numbers and word count, because editors lay stories out based on vertical lines, not number of words.

Here (prepare yourself), is the official SFWA method for counting words:

1.     Count the number of characters in an average, mid-paragraph line.

2.     Divide by six. This is the number of words per line.

3.     Count the number of lines on a page. (This includes any # for blank lines.)

4.     Multiply #2 by #3 to get the number of words per page.

5.     Multiply by the number of full pages (plus any fractional pages), to get the total number of words.

6.     Round the number to the nearest hundred. Authors tend to round up; editors round down. This is the number you put on the front page of the manuscript.

I see editors slaving away using strips of copy pasted down with melted wax, and slicing lines with X-acto knives to edit.

I see lots of harrumphing going on at genre publications about this is the way it’s always been done.

I have 25 years experience in the graphics and printing biz, and as a graphic designer, former or otherwise, the use of Courier is anathema. During those years I laid out thousands of newspapers, magazines and other publications, and proportional fonts were never a problem for me. I have submitted hundreds of stories to literary journals, all in Times Roman, and it has never been a problem for them.

Here’s a tip for all those supposedly forward thinking SFWA editors: In Word, double-click on the word count box. You’ll get a count of words, lines, characters with spaces and characters without spaces. You need a line count? You need a character count? There they are. Case closed.

I am new in this world, so I will comply. But it is time to change this archaic, convoluted and frankly, blockheaded practice.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


2 thoughts on “They Write About the Future, Yet Live in the Past

  1. This made me laugh. But seriously, just use the count in Word. I don’t think anyone actually uses the SFWA official way to count words. Unfortunately, us genre folk do typically use Courier unless the guidelines say otherwise.

    Posted by cpurcel1 | March 17, 2011, 2:33 AM
  2. Bravo. I agree. I will now dedicate myself to leaving courier behind.

    Posted by ssternberg | April 4, 2011, 7:52 AM

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