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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

Ask the Book Doctor: About It’s or Its, Numerals, and Self Publishing versus Traditional Publishing

Q: Explain to me this: it's, its, and its'.

A: I always have to stop and think about it, too. The answer depends on usage, except that its' is never acceptable. Here’s the information from Purge Your Prose of Problems, my reference book for book doctors:


It’s (with the apostrophe) is the contraction for “it is.” Example: It’s okay if John comes along. (Can be written, It is okay if John comes along.)

Its (without the apostrophe) indicates the possessive. Example: The seminar had its own schedule.

The “its” words often get confused because they break the rules of possessive apostrophes. If you confuse these two words, you are not alone. Here’s a helpful hint: Every time you use it’s or its, ask yourself, “Am I saying IT IS?” If so, only then do you use the apostrophe (it’s).

Q: In my novel that you edited, you seem to have changed all numbers under 101 to be spelled out in text. Why is that? Also, do all the numbers with two words have a hyphen?

A: Chicago Style calls for numbers one hundred and under to be spelled out, and yes, numbers such as ninety-five and forty-nine are hyphenated. Dates are the exception, especially the year when it stands alone, except at the beginning of a sentence. Examples: The second chapter begins in AD 30. Nineteen ninety-two was the year the designer created seventy-three new gowns. The book was updated for the fifteenth time this year.

All numbers should be written out in dialogue, with the exception of dates. For example, “I won three hundred dollars for a four-thousand-word essay in 1994.”

Q: Should I continue shopping for a publisher or should I self publish? What kind of profit can I expect from the two methods?

A: Self-publishing is an ambitious endeavor, and before you do it, learn about the various types of self-publishing and conduct a personal inventory on how much time, money, and effort you want to spend on the undertaking. Do you want to be a publishing house and oversee design, production, distribution, order fulfillment, warehousing, invoicing, and all that? Do you want to have a few copies to take with you when you speak, so you can sell a few here and there? Do you want the book to appear in brick-and-mortar stores? You must ponder quite a few questions before you make your decision.

Send an email to to get a link for my free report on self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Read it carefully to learn the advantages and disadvantages of both paths.

I wrote Write In Style and sold it to a traditional publisher because my motivation was to reach as many people as possible with my tricks and tips on creative writing. Simon & Schuster distributes the book in America, Canada, and Australia. My profit? Less than a dollar a book, but the book reaches more people than I could have reached as a self publisher. Selling the book to a publisher, however, took me several years.

On the other hand, anyone can self publish. I self-publish other books, because I sell books wherever I speak. I make more money per book on the ones I print myself, but because I sell maybe ten books a month, I make mere pocket change, plus I reach fewer people with those books.

In the long run, I make more money on the traditionally published book, because more copies are sold than I could sell myself, even though I get less money per book. You can see how the decision to self publish or not can become a complicated one.

–Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style, and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at



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