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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

Ask the Book Doctor: About Titles, Parts, and the Right Time to Edit

Q: A title I'm considering for my novel is [title removed]. says that title is already in use. Are titles copyrighted?

A: As I understand the law, titles are not eligible for copyrights the way longer works are; 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.

Although you could probably legally use a title that has been used by someone else, consider it an opportunity to change the title and make it different, so people who search your title will find only your book, and not others. It’s your chance to come up with a memorable, unique title with a play on words, alliteration, or rhyme.

Q: I plan to self publish. 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?

A: 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 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 work. 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 have the design program used to design your book. 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, 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 edited. After it is edited, reread the manuscript for a final proof before getting the manuscript designed into a book.

Q: Is there any technical reason for a novel to be broken up into parts? I want to break my next novel up in a way that I haven’t really seen before.

Part 1 – Introduction of the main character (the good guy). Provide plot and conflict.

Part 2 – Introduce opposing character (the bad guy)

Part 3 – Good and bad characters clash, and conflict is resolved.

The first twelve chapters focus on the “good guy” perspective. The “bad guy” is introduced in Chapter 13. If I spend the next twelve or so chapters telling the other side of the story (the bad guy’s perspective), will readers forget the plight of the good guy in the first twelve chapters?

I really want to have the two sides (good and evil) make compelling arguments. By breaking up the novel this way, I hope the reader will be conflicted going into the third part of the book. Any thoughts?

A: The reason you can't find any specific material on the subject of breaking a novel into parts is that (at least to my knowledge) there is no absolute rule regarding it.

The only problem I can perceive is that according to your outline, all the clash occurs in the final part, so what will make readers continue reading through the first two parts? Yes, it says plot and conflict will be provided in Part 1, but if there’s only one character in that part, how can there be conflict? Conflict and tension are the elements that make readers turn pages and keep reading.

That said, I can't judge the book without seeing it, so if you sense that it is working the way you are writing it, trust your gut and move forward. I have seen good books broken into parts for the characters; Franny and Zoey by J.D. Salinger comes to mind, for one.


– 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



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