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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

Chicago Style (free offer!), Presenting Self-Published Books to Agents, Disclaimers and Trademarks

Q: What is the difference between Chicago style editing/grammar and the regular business style editing/grammar?

A: The answer is not what you think. Chicago Style does not dictate grammar. Instead it standardizes variables such as when to capitalize and when to lowercase letters. It addresses when to write out words and when to abbreviate them. It dictates when to use a numeral and when to write it out. It even covers when and how to use commas and other punctuation. Style details such as those vary according to whether you are writing a business letter, a magazine or newspaper article, a legal document, or a book.

Book publishers generally prefer Chicago Style, set out clearly in The Chicago Manual of Style published by The University of Chicago Press. The book is more than 900 pages long, though, and you don’t need to know everything in that book, which not only covers style but also production, printing, bookmaking, and more.

I’ll condense a little of the information to show the differences in style, and I’ll make you a free offer.

In business English we learn to use formations such as this one: "The compartment takes twelve (12) batteries." In journalism we learn to spell out numbers under ten and use numerals for anything above nine: "The compartment takes 12 batteries." Chicago Style says to spell out numbers up to ninety-nine: "The compartment takes twelve batteries."

In school we learned to capitalize the word "president" when it refers to our American leader, but in Chicago Style it is capitalized only when it appears with the person’s name: "The crowd watched President Carter walk up the stairs. The president waved to the crowd."

In Chicago Style we put a comma before "and" in a series, although most of us were taught in school not to do so. Many writers are still confused by that variable, especially because AP Style, used by most newspapers and magazines, calls for no comma before "and" in a series.

The details are too numerous to list here, so I have an e-report that helps even more. E-mail me and ask for free Report #105, Chicago Style Variances. It will give you an idea of some of the major differences between business style and Chicago Style. For a comprehensive list of differences, buy The Chicago Manual of Style.

Q: Please give me some thoughts as to presenting my first novel to an agent. Perhaps it could be republished along acceptable channels, even if it required a rewrite. What about rewriting the book and presenting it as a new novel? I own the copyright.

A: Never stop dreaming, please, but most agents do not handle books that have been self-published, because they are nearly impossible to sell. Only a few books—those that have sold thousands of copies on their own—have been sold to traditional publishers after self -publishing. We hear stories about books such as "The Celestine Prophesy," that went from self-published to traditionally published, but only a handful of books can boast such a move, and they had a good sales record on their own, first.

Completely rewriting the book is the best solution. You've learned much from writing the second novel. You can apply that knowledge to the first in your rewrite.

Q: I wrote a short essay in which I use Avon, the company, throughout. In fact, the name is in the title. I have a disclaimer at the bottom of the page as follows:

"All trademarks, brands and names used here belong to Avon Corporation and/or its subsidiaries, representatives or associates."

I realize you're not a lawyer, but do you think this is enough to avert possible legal trouble if published? Have you heard of similar situations?

A: I’m not a lawyer and am not the person to resolve legal issues. I don’t know if the disclaimer is necessary or even legally valid.

My recommendation: Look for ways to avoid legal confrontations. Any company, especially those with deep pockets, can sue if it wants, and only a judge can decide if the suit has merit. You would have to defend yourself, no matter what, and that defense could be costly. To avoid the issue, let me ask this question: Is the Avon name essential to the essay? Would the essay have the same impact, for example, if you referred to the corporate entity simply as a well-known cosmetics company?

If your essay says good things about the products and the company, you probably won’t be in danger. Highly published author Cec Murphey says, "These days, most companies LOVE to have their products mentioned (in a good context). It's good advertising for them. That's a big shift from a decade ago. I mention products by name all the time in what I write. It's much stronger to write ‘a Honda Accord’ than it is to say ‘a gray car.’ Last night I finished reading a novel in which the author mentioned Chevy at least a dozen times."

—Send your questions to the book doctor at Bobbie Christmas is a book editor and author of the award-winning book "Write In Style: Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing," available in bookstores and online. "Write in Style" is published by Union Square Publishing, an imprint of Cardoza Publishing, and distributed by Simon & Schuster.



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