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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

About copyrights, plurals, grammar checkers, style, title pages and more

Q: In your opinion, is it worth it to pay to have your book's copyright registered?

A: No. You own the rights automatically, simply for having written it. The publisher, when you find one, will register the copyright in your name at the time the book goes to press. If your manuscript has a copyright notice on it, the publisher may think you are an amateur and do not understand the system or that you are paranoid and not trustful.

Do not register your own copyright unless you self publish the book, and if so, wait to do it until after all the final changes are made.

Q: I keep seeing sentences such as this: Noise, chaos and pandemonium is the order of the day. The verb should be "are." This error is everywhere. I gave up counting how many times Dan Brown of the Da Vinci code made this error in his book "Deception Point." Even people with a Ph.D. make this mistake in their newsletters. Should I continue to be scandalized?

A: Yes. I suppose the error comes from the fact that "order" is singular, and people think the singular noun takes a singular verb, but in this case the subject of the sentence is plural (noise, chaos and pandemonium). The sentence is wrong as written. We who have the editing gene must live with well-documented errors that continue to creep into our language until some people find it acceptable. "I could care less," instead of "I couldn't care less" is one formation that makes me cringe when I see it and hear it, but it crosses my path (and makes me cross) at least once a month.

Q: Computer grammar checkers follow what style, AP Style or Chicago Style?

A: Most computers are set up for business style, the style we learned in school, which is neither AP nor Chicago Style. Style guides do not address grammar issues, anyway. Style guides standardize the use of abbreviations, the use of commas, and when to capitalize or not.

Q: Do short stories need a separate title page? How many lines do I space down from the contact/author information to the title of a short story?

A: The answers depend on the guidelines of the publication to which you submit. Most accept the title, contact information and length on the first page of a short story, but never assume all do. Find the guidelines of the periodical or competition and follow them to the letter.

Here’s what "The Writer’s Digest Guide to Manuscript Formats" says about formatting a short story: The first page should have the author’s name, address and social security number on the far left at the top of the first page. On the far right state what rights are available, such as First North American Rights, and two lines down on the far right give the approximate word count. Eighteen to 24 lines down from the top, center the title of the story in all caps. Two lines down from that, type "by," then drop down two more lines and type your name as you want it to appear, especially if you use a pseudonym. Drop down four to six more lines (at least two double spaces) and start the story.

Remember to indent each paragraph, double space the text, and do not add extra spaces between the paragraphs except to indicate a scene change. The first page should not have a page number. The second page and subsequent pages should have the author’s name in the header at the far right and the page number at the far left. Twelve-point Courier is the preferred font.

Q: Can you give me some style examples for nonfiction? Do these rules work for all nonfiction?

A: I think the question refers to the fact that I often mention Chicago Style, which is the style that book publishers prefer. If you write a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, follow Chicago Style for standardization of when to capitalize words, when to use numbers and when to write out the numeral and when to use commas.

If you refer to nonfiction articles for periodicals, though, periodical publishers more often follow Associated Press Style, which dictates that no comma goes before "and" in a series (red, white and blue), although Chicago Style uses the comma (red, white, and blue). Another difference is that AP Style allows many abbreviations, for states, whereas Chicago Style does not. The abbreviations are specific and are not always the ones the post office uses.

Not all periodicals use AP Style, though. Some have their own style manual. To find out what style your intended periodical uses, ask the editor or see if the preferred style is mentioned in the submission guidelines.

–Bobbie Christmas is a book editor, freelance writer and author of "Write In Style: Using Your Word Processor and Other Techniques to Improve Your Writing," published by Union Square Publishing and distributed by Simon & Schuster. Send your questions to the book doctor at



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