25 lines per page?

Dear Miss Snark,

I nearly went insane this evening trying to figure out why a manuscript refused to consistently print 25 lines per page -- I thought I had everything right: 1" margins, 12 point Courier, double spaced etc. Finally, after a great deal of confusion, I noticed that I'd left the "eliminate widows and orphans" option turned on in Microsoft Word. Turning it off eliminated the problem, but now, of course, there are occasional widows and orphans (surprise!) scattered through the text.

Am I right in thinking that getting 25 lines per page takes priority in a manuscript over widow and orphan elimination? Or should I let Microsoft Word do its stuff on sample chapters I send to an agent?

Where are you getting this idea that ms pages have to have 25 lines per page OR that you should do it in Courier (which is an ugly ass font and I hate)?

Much of this depends on what stage of the process you're on. If you're preparing a document for your publisher you follow THEIR house style guide and you follow it to the letter and anything Miss Snark says be damned.

If you are sending a full manuscript, you don't want to leave single lines on a page if you can help it. It's a waste of paper. I get LOTS of manuscripts that have fewer than 25 lines per page, particularly if you're doing scene breaks.


Stacia said...

Without disagreeing with the amazing Miss S, here's how you get 25 lines per page:

In Word, go to "Format". In the format menu, go to "Line Spacing". Set it to "exactly". Next to it is a box marked "At". Set "At" to "25 pt".

There you go.

Anonymous said...

You hate Courier too? It drives me up a wall. When you have to use a boring, professional font, which I don't when I don't have to, use Times.

I can't remember where I saw this, or even when, but I HAVE seen ms. guidelines that stated "no more than 25 lines per page." I figured it was just another way of saying watch your bottom margin, although you should follow exactly what's said.

Zany Mom said...

Does font really matter? (in terms of professional manuscript fonts).

I used to hate Courier too, until I noticed that it reminded me of the old-fashioned typewriters of yore...

Anonymous said...

There'll be a whole new debate over fonts in a couple years when lots of writers have Vista. The default MSWord type in Vista is Calibri, a sans-serif typeface, which is traditionally great for reading off a screen but harsh for reading off paper.

archer said...

You don't like Courier? I thought everybody liked courier because it looks like, you know, typing. With Courier you can hear the little "ding" at the end of the line, and you can hear the carriage return and the clatter. Not only that, a lot of "How to format" material gives examples in courier, and Kerouac's roll of butcher paper or whatever it was is in courier, and all those old writerly exhibits are in courier, and--and--you can't do this to me, Miss Snark.

So what font do you like?

Sue said...

Actually, it has to do with the widow/orphan control. If a group of text with NO paragraphing takes up 25 lines on a page, then that is the "normal" setting. With widow/orphan control (found under the Format -> paragraph -> second tab on your menu bar) any lines that leave just one line at the end or beginning of a page (assuming multiple lines in the paragraph) will force that line to join its pals. It's from typesetting rules or something.

Just turn widow/orphan control off.

BorderMoon said...

In the Olde Dayes, before the computer, when writers had to type on a typewriter (In the snow. Uphill. Both ways.), we were all taught that a proper manuscript page was done in Courier 10 pitch, 25 lines to the page, one inch margins all the way around. That was what all the books and writing experts told us. It's how ms. were done in the Dark Times, Before the Internet.... It really was. This gave you an average of 250 words per page, which is how you knew a 300 page ms. was 75,000 words, a 400 page ms was 100,000, etc. Apparently that method is now dodo-dead, along with my IBM Correcting Selectric II....

Anonymous said...

FYI - most of the Romance Writers of America chapters that sponsor writing contests require Courier as the preferred font, and no more than 25 lines per page - for judge comments. Since you don't represent romance, and probably don't judge those contests, this is info you most likely don't have. But, that's where the writer is probably coming from.

Hey december quinn - thanks for that tip. I never could figure out how to set the page for 25 lines! I knew there was something I could learn from the Shark, er Snark pages someday:)

CM....a romance writer

Anonymous said...

There is a lot of bad advice out there. When Miss Snark sets her hair on fire because people obsess over type fonts and words per page rather than their writing, she doesn't realize that there are books and resources out there still giving new writers advice out of the 1970s.

Font: Courier (at least they no longer say Pica or Elite)

Italics: Never -- underline instead

Lines per page: 25, no more, no less, under penalty of rejection

Word Count formula: 250 per page, rather than just hitting TOOLS / WORD COUNT.

On and on, just mountains of advice recycled and regurgitated from the IBM Selectric days.

Submissions following these guidelines have to scream one of two things: Amateur! Or, Old Fart!

And while I am both, I'd rather make them wait until after the query before they find out.

Dave Fragments said...

I had the arguement of Courier 12 with a boss at work until I brought in a harshly worded statement from an eye doctor about how bad my eye were and how much Courier 12 damaged them. After that we used Times Roman.

A proportional font is easier to read whether it is serif or sans serif. A monospaced font causes eye strain.

Anonymous said...

As an occasional slush reader and a frequent contest judge and critiquer of others' writing, I have to say that I much prefer Courier to Times. When someone sends me a manuscript that's in 12 pt. Times I want to scream.

Maybe I am an old fart, but I (and my publisher) prefer the old standard: 25 lines per page, approximately 250 words per page. I'm so used to it, it's how I guage my chapter lengths and pacing.

You young whipper-snappers can do it how you like, but crowding a lot of words on a page doesn't make for an inviting manuscript. And when you do it so you can fit more words into your contest entry's maximum 25 pages, you annoy this judge, at least.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'm a learning newbie and willingly admit it. EVERYTHING I have read on the web and in books re: querying and ms preparation all say: Courier (new or 12 pt)! I don't for my query letter, but my ms I redid from century schoolbook to courier due to those instructions. Does it truely really matter what font is used, is this really enough to get your ms rejected?

Mindy Tarquini said...

I don't care what the MS Word control says, the only widows and orphans I'm letting on my pages are the ones I write there myself.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe using Courier or Times will nix the ms if the writing is amazing. I'd probably draw the line at magic markers though :) I prefer Courier - it reads cleaner to me.

Anonymous said...

I like Courier. It's just so much easier for me to read.

I've said this before, but if you write well enough, you could write the damn thing in crayon on toilet paper and get published. No agent is going to read a wonderfully written manuscript and say, "I would call this writer and see if they want representation, but pages 25 and 318 had twenty-six lines on them, and page 34 only had twenty. Damn."

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark asked: Where are you getting this idea that ms pages have to have 25 lines per page OR that you should do it in Courier...?

Answer: the web. I could point you to a dozen different sites which specify 12 point Courier and twenty-five lines per page. And another dozen which flatly contradict that advice. For the inexperienced writer preparing his/her first manuscript, it can be a little exasperating.

In this comment trail alone, we have one person blaming Courier for eyestrain, and another saying she hates reading slush printed in Times. Great. I'll ask you once again: is it safe?

So far, I haven't found anyone recommending single-spacing over double-spacing, but I'm sure it's only a matter of Times...


Anonymous said...

Word Count formula: 250 per page, rather than just hitting TOOLS / WORD COUNT.

Ah, but when publishers say they want a 85,000 word book, how are you going to count the following examples?

It was a dark and stormy night. The lightening cracked and the thunder boomed.

by word count that 14 words (but only one line of type if this was a printed book)

"Did not."
"Did too."

that's only four words, but two lines of type.

Publishers want to know how many pages of printed material you ms. will be. That were the old Courier, 25 lines per page gave you the word count that translated into number of printed pages.

By the way, I use Times New Roman in my ms., but still put two spaces after the period as it makes it easier for my old eyes to read.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark asked: Where are you getting this idea that ms pages have to have 25 lines per page OR that you should do it in Courier...?

Specifically? AEI's Ken Atchity's book "How to publish your Novel" specifically states that courier is THE font to use when sending out ms to agents and editors. And above Anonymous is right, it's almost universal on the web when researching submissions.

Anonymous said...

About widows and orphans: Finished the possibly-final edit of a book last night. I found several orphans (that's the last line of a chapter that sits on a page by itself, right?). I didn't like the look of them, so I went back and cut from the chapter until the orphan was gone. It was a good reason to trim more from my unexpectedly large MS.


Zeborah said...

In the sf and fantasy field, 12 point Courier double-spaced is definitely the default. Of course if a particular publisher says they want something different, then you do what they want for them; but if they don't say anything, then Courier's the safest bet.

Virginia Miss said...

In certain genres, such as romances, contests and editors are sticklers about the Courier font/ 25 lines per page. (Some judges will automatically disqualify a contest entry if it doesn't meet the number of lines per page requirement.)

Some industry folks advise that, since fewer words fit on a page in Courier vs. Times New Roman, Courier gives slush pile readers more of a "page-turning" impression than Times.

That said, I'm with Miss Snark: Courier is an ugly ass font. I use Times New Roman 12 unless someone specifically asks for Courier. Besides, it saves trees (not to mention postage). My 325-page novel becomes 448 pages in Courier New.

Stuart Neville said...

The BBC website has a very handy (and free) little add-on for MS Word that pre-formats your doc in standard manuscript layouts for novels, synopsis, poems, etc - and, yes, for novels it sets it to double spaced Courier 12pt with 25 lines per page! I'm sure it wouldn't be hard to change your font over to Times or whatever the agent/editor you're querying prefers - and I imagine that should always be the deciding factor.

I used this handy thingummy for my recently completed novel and it was a real time saver.

You can get it here...


Just one hint - I wouldn't try to apply this to a WIP becuase it's likely to go haywire, but use it at the start and everything will be copacetic (hey, I always wanted to use that word!).

One big point that I see even experienced Word users slip up on - when you need to skip to the next page, use Page Break rather than hitting the return key again and again until it falls off the end. That way, if you change your formatting the page breaks will be left intact.

Anonymous said...

"You don't like Courier? I thought everybody liked courier because it looks like, you know, typing. "

archer, I'm a 30-year-old writer and I have never actually seen a typewriter that I can remember. Since many editors and agents are younger than me, they're unlikely to have many fond typewriter memories.

BTW: An editor I with a major NY publisher that I spoke to last week wants computer wordcount, TNR or any other serif font is fine, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins. But she said if something was good enough, she'd take it in crayon on a used paper towel. :-)

Anonymous said...

I currently have a partial out for review in Times New Roman (per the agent's request).

I have an editor who insists on receiving everything in Times.

I have another editor who prefers to receive everything in Courier.

The best response? Ask if you're not sure.

Miss Snark said...

No no no.
Do not call me to ask what font I want to see.
do NOT do this.

Courier is ugly but it' fine.
TNR is fine.
Anything except some bold ass italic 8pt font is fine.

If I can read it I will read it.

Courier is just ugly, it's not illegal.

Jillian said...

Am I the only one who doesn't know what widows and orphans are...?


Anonymous said...

I'd hate to think I was rejected because my manuscript was printed with Times New Roman instead of Courier.

If an agent/editor requests Courier, I'll send it to her in Courier. Otherwise I'm sicking to Times. Courier is too hard to read.

I think I'll listen to Miss Snark. It's the writing that counts, not the font.
CJ Parker

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who doesn't know what widows and orphans are...?


archer said...

archer, I'm a 30-year-old writer and I have never actually seen a typewriter that I can remember.

Impossible. You must at least have heard the sound on a phonograph.

Anonymous said...

Okay, question from a (sort of) newbie: A previous commentator mentioned underlining instead of using italics. Personally, I can't stand this. I write with italics and then go back through with a search/replace to change them to underline, but if that's old advice and no longer necessary....

Is it better to do anyway, just in case the agent you're sending to cares? Or am I going to find out that just as many agents can't stand it and would prefer italics and I'm screwed either way?


tt_rage said...

Widows and orphans are when one line of a paragraph gets left behind on the previous page (widow) or the last line of a paragraph spills over to the next page (orphan).

Switching on "widows and orphans" ensures that at least two lines of a paragraph appear on a page.

Anonymous said...

Impossible. You must at least have heard the sound on a phonograph.

Sure. I also once got one of those things people used to write with them. You know, emails on paper? ;-)

Katie Alender said...

Well, my ms was in Arial, and after they beat me with a piece of lead pipe for offending their sensibilities, they bought it.

So you just have to be willing to suffer for your art.

Mindy Tarquini said...

No no no.
Do not call me to ask what font I want to see.
do NOT do this.

*puts down phone*

Mindy Tarquini said...

I hate to send people into a tailspin, but Spinetingler magazine asks for submission in Arial.

Go figure.

Anonymous said...

LOL, I gotta admit, I about dropped my teeth when I read Miss Snark's shriek. What, there's an agent who doesn't demand Courier? LOL! But I agree with her - Courier IS an ugly-ass font. Give me TNR to read any day. But ... I do submit my manuscripts in Courier 12pt.

For the record, maybe it is only amateurs or old farts - (I'm 44 and I learned to type on a manual typewriter) - who worry about Courier Font, 250 words per page and 1" margins. But that's because when we amateurs go out educating ourselves on Proper Manuscript Presentation, that's the advice we find! Everywhere you look, someone is explaining how to get 250 words per page and use mono-spaced fonts and so forth, so we can give a reasonably accurate word count.

As someone pointed out, the computer counts much differently than the more mathematical word-count methods. For example, a document my word count says is 43,250 words comes up as 39,000 in my Word tools thingie. That's a descrepancy of over 4,000 words. Granted, that's more critical in short stories than novels, but I'd hate to end up with a 10,000 word descrepancy for a novel.

Anyhow ... my point being, maybe today's standards don't demand Courier and so forth any more, but, since I am an amateur, I'd rather go with the standard I keep seeing espoused, than risk having my manuscript canned because I tried to get clever with my formatting.
Cheers ~

G. Atwater

Miss Snark said...

Those people at Spinetingler are deeply deeply suspect.

They probably say Arial thinking it's spritely.**

**obscure tempestuous reference

Mindy Tarquini said...

Those people at Spinetingler are deeply deeply suspect.

They are stormy, stormy lot, especially that multisyllabic one, Typhoon Mindy.

Anonymous said...

Courier is the font left over from the ice ages, or rather the typewriter ages. And I sold my first manuscript in Palatino font, despite being raised in the RWA Courier 12 pt or die rules. I've turned in manuscripts in Courier, when they were shorter books, and turned in manuscripts in Palatino or Times New Roman when they were longer books. No one's complained, or cared. The publisher seems to be able to figure it out and make the font in the actual published book the right size.

What it boils down to is the words written in those fonts. If they suck, you can have the prettiest font in the world, and it won't matter.

(and FWIW, I still underline instead of italicize. So there!) ;-)

Miss Snark said...

Better typhoon Mindy than typhoid Mary!!!

Sandra Ruttan said...

"Better typhoon Mindy than typhoid Mary!!!"

LOL! It's a close call, though!

Anonymous said...

The Rejector weighs in with her opinion.


Times New Roman - 12pt is what she likes.