Using the Right (or Wrong) Font.

by Helen Hollick

Occasionally, our team reviewers comment about incorrect fonts used by Indie authors. And I recall a Tweet by an agent who rejected a submission because it was in Comic Sans font.
I thought that a bit harsh of the agent – does it matter if a submitted MS (be it an e-copy or hard copy on paper) is presented in Comic Sans?

Well apparently, yes it does, because regardless of the content, the ability of the writer, the agent didn’t even look at it, for the simple reason  (I have since discovered) that many people find it difficult to read Comic Sans. Although as I pointed out at the time, dyslexics and people with reading/sight difficulties prefer this font as it is easier for them to read.

But yes, the type of font used when producing your book is very important – it can be the difference between accept or reject as far as your book is concerned.

The font sets the readability of your book. It attracts attention – or shuns it if you are using the wrong font. It defines the feel of the page.
You dress in your best clothes if you are attending a job interview – you want to impress, create the right image, show yourself as a smart professional. The same applies to the text of your novel! You want your reader to think (albeit subconsciously) “This is quality.”
To be honest, they probably won’t because avid book readers are usually not aware of the correct fonts used in traditional published books. They will, however, very much notice an incorrect font!
The correct font is important as the right typeface can encourage people to read what you have written. The wrong font can leave your hard work unread.

The font should be appropriate for the job it is doing,
 and is there to serve the text.
The words should be easy to read.

The Accepted Rules
(and yes I know rules are there to be broken – but some rules are there because of common sense and because they are tried and tested – and are the best option. We drive on the one side of the road because it is the Rule. If we didn’t there would be chaos.)
Fine, don’t stick with the rules, but expect your self published novel to be rejected by reviewers because to most readers it will look out of place, unproffesional and without that “quality” feel.

The text should be between 10 and 12 point.
Use the same typeface, type sizee for all of the main text (chapter headings etc can obviously be different).
Don't make your lines too short or too long. Optimum size: Over 30 characters and under 70 characters.
Make paragraph beginnings clear. Use an indent - except for the first line of a chapter. That should not be indented.
Use only one space after a full stop, not two.
Text should be set as fully justified in printed books – i.e. the margins on each side are straight, not ragged. (Websites, blogs and MS are usually left justified though.)
Don't underline headlines or subheadings. Use italics if you need to draw attention.
On a website or blog, don't set long blocks of text in italics, bold, or upper case because this is hard to read. 

Helen Hart, Publishing Director at SilverWood Books says:

" It is not just the choice of font that's important, it's the tiny measurements of space between each character and each line that makes a text readable, along with the numbers of characters per line and lines per page.These can usually only be achieved in professional page layout software, which is why laying out a book in Microsoft Word doesn't work - you don't have the tools to finesse the text in the way it needs to be finessed!
And unless a self-publisher is typesetting their own book (usually not something that works well unless they have some kind of professional training and access to the right software) they don't need to worry too much about this. A manuscript should be submitted to a publisher in something unfussy like Times New Roman 12pt double line spaced."

My UK books published by SilverWood Books are set in Palatino, which is a nice rounded serif font created in the 20th century. Very readable!
Helen Hart says: "Most book publishers will have a pallette of tried and trusted fonts which are selected for their readability. Among them will be Palatino, Sabon, Garamond, Baskerville and Swift. These fonts have one thing in common - they're simple, effective and lead the reading eye over the words so that the content can be easily absorbed by the reader."

So what are the Fonts?

Serif fonts have a little line at the end of each stroke. Some examples are:
Book Antiqua
Bookman Old Style
Times New Roman.

Serif fonts can be used for every part of your book. such as title, chapter titles, main text, contents table - everything. It is easy to read large blocks of Serif fonts printed text, and should be the only type of font used for the main body text of your book.
Except for Times New Roman, which was designed for newspaper printing presses in  the 1930’s 1932 and is not suitable for modern printed books. It can make your book appear unprofessional.

Non-serif fonts:
There is no little line at the end of each stroke in non-serif fonts.
Arial and
Helvetica the most basic of the sans-serif fonts
Trebuchet MS

These are appropriate for the title, chapter headings, headers, footers, subheadings and short lines of text, such but they are not ideal for use as the entire chapter of text or large blocks of text, such as an introduction because the font is not easily readable in a printed format

Text on the Computer Screen:
Note – reading text on a screen is very different to reading text in a printed book. If your text looks pretty good on screen in a sans-serif font, it’s readability could be very different when it appears in your printed novel (or submitted MS!)

Decorative fonts:
Are for design and artwork -  for the titles on the cover, and maybe sub titles Part One, etc. Be careful – what may look good on your computer can look terrible in your printed book.

Bold and Italics:
Need bold or italics added to your text? Make sure you use a true bold or italic font – i.e. that the font has a different font set as a normal, bold, and italic face. If it doesn’t have this capability a “fake” bold or italic will be applied and the quality of print in the final actual version could be corrupted.

Comic Sans:
So what is wrong with Comic Sans?
The word “comic” should tell you all you need to know.
It is a perfectly adequate design for children, comic books or cartoons, but it has no place in professional work. It is ill-suited for large amounts of text.
Two very good articles which will tell you more:

A font such as Comic Sans is preferable to dyslexics, and people with sight problems.
“Serif fonts, with their ‘ticks’ and ‘tails’ at the end of most strokes (as found in traditional print fonts such as Georgia or Times New Roman), tend to obscure the shapes of letters, so sans-serif fonts are generally preferred. Many dyslexic people also find it easier to read a font that looks similar to hand writing as they are familiar with this style, and some teachers prefer them. However these types of fonts can lead to confusion with some letter combinations, such as “oa” and “oo”; “rn” and “m”.”
quote from

Unfortunately, people who are not dyslexic, and can therefore read easily, do not understand the problems dyslexics have.  Many dyslexics use Comic Sans on screen – which is why they can read from the computer, but not from a printed book. I have a dyslexic husband and daughter – both cannot read very well.
And of course Kindle is popular because the reader can change the font to what is more comfortable for them.
But, as most agents and avid readers of printed books are not dyslexic, stick to the accepted formats if you want to be taken seriously as a writer.

My first edition of Sea Witch was printed in Comic Sans because I use that font at home on the PC. It didn’t occur to me to change it before I sent the finished MS to my small Indie Publisher with their even smaller mainstream imprint. I assumed they would set the typeface in house style. It never occurred to me that they would simply print what I submitted! (It came as a bit of a shock I can tell you!) This is another reason to take care if using Indie Publishing Companies. Choose a good one who will produce your book to a professional, quality, standard. And take note – Create Space, Lulu, Kindle – are basically printers, not publishers.
The end result will be what you submit.
Comic Sans included.

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