Ask the Book Doctor: Are There Special Rules When Using a Pen Name?

Question: I am simply a hobby writer. I do get the occasional “how-to article” published in magazines; however, I want to write some western fiction novels. One problem, as I see it, is my surname. It is of eastern European origin and sounds strange to most Americans. If I write under an alias, are there any special rules that might apply to using a nom de plume, like getting paid under the assumed name, copyrights under that name, et cetera?

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Answer: I’m not an attorney, but as I understand it, pseudonyms are not a problem in the publishing business. Your publisher will know your real name and send your checks to your legal name. Once you produce a written piece of work, the copyright automatically belongs to you (under your real name) until and unless you sell those rights, and the rights will belong to you no matter what pseudonym you choose to use when publishing your book.

What would you like to ask a book doctor? Send your questions to Bobbie Christmas at This article republished from the Self Publishing Advisor archives.

Ask the Book Doctor: Self-Publishing and Editing?

Question: I plan to self publish my book. My book was written and designed and ready to go to a printer, but somebody warned me that it needed editing.  I sent it to an editor, but he said he can’t edit it when it’s already designed. Why not?

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Answer: A manuscript should always be edited before it is designed into book format, and the reasons are simple. If you plan to have the editor work on the hard-copy (i.e., printed-out version) of your manuscript, it has to be in standard manuscript format; that is, twelve-point Courier or Times New Roman type, double-spaced, with margins of at least an inch on all sides. This format is standard in the industry and gives the editor room to make the edits and suggestions. If the book is already designed, it won’t be in standard manuscript format; it will be in book format.

If you plan to have your editor work on your electronic file, the format won’t matter, but it must be in a word-processing document, not a design program or a PDF. Most editors are not designers and won’t possess the prowess to redesign your book after they’ve edited it. (What if they end up removing an entire paragraph, or an entire page? There goes your editing).  If it is in a PDF file, most editors cannot change those files electronically. Worst of all, even if the editor has the capability of opening the design program or manipulating a PDF (which some do), editing a book after it is designed will surely interfere with the design. After the file is edited you’ll have to return it to your designer to get it redesigned, anyway, and there will certainly be an additional charge for that service.

As you can see, it’s cheaper and easier to follow convention. After you have made all the revisions to your manuscript that you can make, get it professionally edited. After it is edited, reread the manuscript for a final proof before submitting it for publication.

Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at This article republished from the Self Publishing Advisor archives.

Self-Publishing News: 11.19.2019


And now for the news!

Some highlights from this month in the world of self-publishing!

The news we first covered last week about the continued rise of self-publishing is still making waves around the Internet. This week, the science fiction and fantasy site Locus uploaded their own coverage of Bowker’s exciting report, an exciting development since science fiction and fantasy make up one of the top genres in respect to both publishing and reading. We look forward to seeing what current and future authors of SFF do with this information!

This week, Jonathan Giammaria of the McGill Tribune covered the happenings at Expozine 2019 in Montreal, Canada–an event which drew over 15,000 visitors this year. Writes Giammaria, “Zines have often been associated with fringe issues, speaking for and about marginalized people and providing a platform for countercultural ideas and movements. Since zines have often had small circulations due to their DIY nature, their distribution has generally remained within the communities that produced them.” There, are, understandably, many connections between zine culture and the world of independent and self-publishing industries. And at Expozine, “In contrast to mainstream conventions like the upcoming Salon du livre de Montréal, […] value comes from showcasing a variety of artists whose eclectic niches might otherwise be overlooked.” This is a sentiment most self-published authors know very well indeed, and we’ll be keeping our eye(s) on Expozine in the future as another place to showcase our niche stories.

Are we, or are we not, living in the end times of traditionally published media? Dave Winterlich, chief strategy officer with Dentsu Aegis Ireland, thinks we just might be … at least, we might be if traditional media doesn’t take a long and hard look at its underlying principles. This week, Winterlich wrote for the Irish Times website that the combination of free content and the migration of advertising revenue into a digital space dovetailed with a loss of purpose within the industry itself to create a kind of crisis. (At least, it’s a crisis if you don’t buy into self-publishing.) But it doesn’t have to end there, writes Winterlich: “Traditional publishers can continue to run quality paid newsrooms while still providing a platform extension for self-publishing.” We’ve already seen how fluid the boundary between traditional media and independent publishing can be, with authors creating their own individualized approaches based on services available and their personal needs. Radio and the gaming industry have begun to experiment with self-publishing, and comics have been working in this liminal space for decades. We hope that Winterlich revisits the idea in future articles, and delves a bit deeper into what this new both/and modality might look like.


As a self-publishing author, you may find it helpful to stay up-to-date on the trends and news related to the self-publishing industry.This will help you make informed decisions before, during and after the self-publishing process, which will lead to a greater self-publishing experience. To help you stay current on self-publishing topics, simply visit our blog each month to find out the hottest news. If you have other big news to share, please comment below.

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Ask the Book Doctor: Are Book Titles Protected by Copyright?

Q: I’m considering a title for my novel that is already being used on another book. Can titles by copyrighted?

A: Titles are not eligible for protection under current copyright law (a search on Amazon will often reveal many different books all sharing the same title).  However, titles can be trademarked if used to cover more than one item in a series, such as a cluster of seminars based on a book of the same name. Or try self-publishing a book with “Harry Potter” in the title and get ready to hear from some lawyers.

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While you can legally use a  book title that has been used by someone else, a better idea is to change the title and make it different, so people who search for your title will find only your book, and not others.  This is your chance to come up with something memorable and unique, and you’d be a muggle if you didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.

Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at This article republished from the Self Publishing Advisor Archives.

In Your Corner: Preparing for NaNoWriMo!

That’s right, it’s almost #NaNoWriMo time!

For those who’ve seen the acronym around but haven’t yet been read in on what the deal is, National Novel Writing Month is an annual tradition among writers looking to kickstart new projects through a dedicated month of drafting. While you can read more about NaNoWriMo’s origin story on the nonprofit organization’s website (, suffice it to say this has been a big deal for a very long time. As the NaNoWriMo website puts it, “before there was the Beyhive, or Nerdfighters, there were Wrimos” (participants in NaNoWriMo). The community has built up since the early days of the Internet to create a diverse set of resources for those interested in participating—or maybe in learning from the process even if writing 50,000 words in a single month is a bit much.


There are two kinds of Wrimos: pantsers and plotters.

Pantsers are those who go through NaNoWriMo “by the seats of their pants” or however that expression goes, and plotters are those who prepare, or plot out their book outline, extensively beforehand. I myself have participated in NaNoWriMo several times, once as a pantser, once as a plotter, and once or twice just casually taking part in the prompts and sprints and group writing sessions without aiming to get to the 50,000 word mark by month’s end. These days I fall somewhere between these Wrimo alignments, as many writers do.

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With only two weeks remaining between now and the beginning of NaNoWriMo (my next post, for context, will arrive on the day before NaNoWriMo begins), I feel as though now is the time to encourage those of you who are plotters or plantsers or otherwise in-betweeners to start digging deep into the resources you will need in the month of November. Even those of you who are pantsers or who are not at all interested in participating in NaNoWriMo on any level might find it valuable to tap into the extensive writing-related resources that Wrimos have compiled over the years. These are the kinds of resources anyone can turn to at any time of year, not just during the official NaNoWriMo period.

First, I want to point you to the NaNo Prep 101 Workshop, which is hosted by the organization that really started it all. It can be completed at any time of year for free and provides tips on the following:

  1. Developing a story idea
  2. Creating complex characters
  3. Constructing detailed plots or outlines
  4. Building a strong world
  5. Organizing your life for and around writing
  6. Finding and managing your time

You can find out more about that workshop here.

I also want to point you to NaNoWriMo’s incredible collection of author pep talks, which include several from self-publishing successes like Andy Weir as well as a number of traditionally published authors whose names you might recognize (James Patterson, anyone? Neil Gaiman? Sue Grafton? No?). Those are all available (again, for free) at the link.

I also really recommend that you spend some time looking into all of the many other excellent resources that writers all over the world have compiled on their own blogs and websites. Every author’s experience is different, and chances are that any author you meet is going to have opinions about the usefulness (or lack thereof) of NaNoWriMo to their own process. It’s pretty definitely proven, though, that there are many amazing books in the world that wouldn’t otherwise have been self-published (or traditionally published for that matter) without that core group of writers and organizers who got together and made NaNoWriMo a thing.

So, will I be participating? I’ll let you know … in two weeks. I honestly haven’t yet made up my mind, and I’m okay with that.

You are not alone. ♣︎

Do you have ideas to share? Please don’t hesitate to drop us a line in the comments section, and I’ll make sure to feature your thoughts and respond to them in my next post!


ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.