Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Saving Face.

Although it's unlikely that your publisher will ask your advice (or even your opinion!) on the typeface to be used in your book, it helps to have an idea of what the arcane subject of typography is all about. The computer industry has not been of much help here, incorrectly referring to typefaces as fonts, which is technically only a size or style of a typeface. They then select a typeface for you, referring to it as the default, a word that used to mean a failure to fulfil an obligation! This usually seems to be Times New Roman, and judging from most of the manuscripts I receive, few bother to select a different face.
Times New Roman was designed for columnar work, unsurprisingly, for the London Times newspaper and has been adopted worldwide for the purpose. It is an excellent face - but not necessarily the one for your manuscript.
It is not a very good choice for a book, in my opinion, although a number of publishers in the United States do make use of it and I think your agent, editor or publisher will be happier if you choose a more open face such as Bookman for your manuscript. The more old-fashioned may still prefer Courier which fools them into thinking that you've knocked the masterpiece out on a typewriter!
But whatever you choose, steer clear of those exotic (and sometimes bizarre) selections on your word processor. I once met a businessman (well, so he claimed) who insisted on writing his official correspondence in a typeface called "Comic." It was an apt commentary on his commercial ability I believe.
Once in a while you'll come across a book that has been "designed" by some genius who uses a sans serif typeface (Arial, for instance) for the body matter. It's a grave error. Body matter for books, and also for your manuscript, should always have a face that uses serifs - it's not just a matter of convention, it makes them so much easier to read.
And, just in case you're wondering, this is written using Bookman Old Style, but for display on a computer screen, Microsoft designed a face especially for the job. Verdana is a clean, sans serif type that shows up well on a monitor.
It looks just like this - but don't use it for your manuscript!

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