Does font matter?

I’m dragging my social media experience into my blog once again, because comment threads can only support so much exposition  before they collapse under their own wordiness. Here in blogland, I have space to stretch and rant, and I feel a powerful need to rant. 

My rantiness has been roused by seeing the same wrongheaded sentiment in multiple venues on a single day. “Font doesn’t matter,” one person said outright. Another expressed doubt that readers cared what font a publisher used, while another claimed (rightly) that a reader should be focusing through the words to the unfolding story, not noticing the letters themselves. I was nodding along with that one right up to the moment that Times New Roman was suggested as a good font for publishing a novel.

No.

Rant, RantRantRant, Rant RANT!

I don’t want readers to notice my fonts, but going one step beyond the word processor default is a must for any author who wants to be taken seriously. Only publishing electronically for friends or fellow fans? Sure, fine, whatever, use any font that suits your fancy. Electronic reading platforms provide glorious flexibility. Readers can choose their preferred fonts, sizes, and even page colors.  If you’re publishing professionally, in contrast, (i.e. asking for money in exchange for dead trees) then your work should look professional. In the world of print publication, using a font like Times New Roman for the body text of your novel is like wearing a big sign like this around your neck:

There are rules to visual presentation

Professionals treat their work with respect. When it comes to printing a novel, that means studying  the fundamentals of typography and graphic design before publishing–or hiring a pro to do the work.  Just as I wouldn’t share my writing without running a spell-checker first, I won’t share it in print form without polishing its shoes and combing its hair. So to speak. It’s the least I can do before sending my baby off to its first party.

My little example above uses Comic Sans, a font that tops every typography “Most Hated” list I’ve found on the internet. (No, I did not do exhaustive research. I quit after the first dozen lists.) Times New Roman ranks up there in the most-hated lists too. (Using red type on a bright background is another design no-no, by the way. It destroys reading comprehension)  Even if an author only puts in a bare minimum effort, the results can improve by leaps and bounds.

Eye-catching does not mean flashy

The trick to font choice is keeping the impression low-key but positive.  It’s a subtle thing, but it makes a difference, like so many, many other little details involved in this writing gig. There are excellent websites that cover font styles and explain what ones are good for what uses. Here are a few pages that also have links to more:
http://thedeependdesign.com/how-to-choose-the-best-fonts…/
http://www.prepressure.com/fonts/interesting/important-typefaces
http://www.prepressure.com/fonts/interesting/most-hated

The basics:

1. Less is more. Pick one font for main text, and one for headers & title. Word processors offer tons of options, but I don’t have to sample every choice on the smorgasbord. I didn’t even use two, in my first stab at printing. I had to pick my battles with my ancient software, and I ceded the field on that one detail. If I bother with a second edition, I would use a second font for the titles and headers. Something clean and crisp.

2. Choose wisely. A book should stand out from its fellows, but still be recognized as a member of the club. I tracked down novels that were similar to mine in content and to see which typeface the publisher used. (How? Easy! I checked the page with the cataloguing info, on the reverse of the cover page. Not all publishers mention what typeface was used, but a remarkable number do.  I could not get the perfect font I wanted without forking over money, but I got a feel for the look I wanted, and picked the closest match from what Word’s catalogue.

I went with Garamond. I’m writing science-fiction. Garamond is modern-looking like Times, so it doesn’t make people look twice, but it kerns (spaces) tighter than Times New Roman, which kept page length down without affecting readability. Also, it isn’t fussy like Georgia or Palatino. If I wanted to evoke a steampunk/antique feel, I might go with Baskerville. If I ever write a classic epic fantasy, I will  check on the font used in The Last Unicorn and my 1967 printing of Tolkien.

Will anyone notice what font I used? I hope not. Does it make a positive impression? So far, so good.
 The fate of the world does not depend on font choice, but why ignore any good weapon when you’re off to fight the publishing wars? Don’t like that violent analogy> What about this one: your book is about to be the belle of the ball. Dress it up properly for its debut.

Okay. That’s enough boring grumpiness for one post.

/kicks soapbox back under the couch to visit with all its friends.