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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

Ask the Book Doctor: About Commas, Ebooks, and Pseudonyms

Q: How would you punctuate the following sentence? Would you delete the comma after the first "that?" Would you delete both commas?

Mr. Smith concluded with the vague assertion that, if he ever gets a handle on the IRS situation, he will attempt to pay the client and asked that we call him in ninety days.

A: I would delete the first comma and let the first part of the sentence act as a single introductory phrase. I would also separate his conclusion from his request, so I would write it this way: Mr. Smith concluded with the vague assertion that if he ever gets a handle on the IRS situation, he will attempt to pay the client. He asked that we call him in ninety days.

You could argue that both commas could be left, thereby setting aside the nonessential phrase, “if he ever gets a handle on the IRS situation.” I stand by the fact that what he concluded and what he asked should appear in separate sentences.

Q: I am working on formatting and editing a nonfiction book designed to be both an ebook and a published hard-copy book. I will also likely end up doing the work to get this work accepted by a publisher. Can you tell me, have ebooks become popular yet, or is the core of publishing still in paper and not looking to move forward?

A: Most publishers I know who help authors produce ebooks and printed books are not traditional publishers; that is, they produce print-on-demand books and do not stockpile books or distribute them to stores. They simply print one at a time when they are ordered, so there’s no major investment on their part and no advance on royalties to you. Basically if you sell a book, you get a percentage of the profit, but if you yourself don’t sell it, the printer won’t go to any trouble to sell it for you.

As far as the popularity of ebooks, several companies have tried to produce machines (Kindle and others) to make ebooks more attractive to readers, but still ebooks lag far behind printed books when it comes to sales. Still, after an ebook is created, you incur no further cost to reproduce and distribute it when sold, so ebooks can provide one-hundred percent profit to authors who have a client base and can promote their own books or sell them through their own web sites.

Seriously stop and think before self-publishing a book in any format (even as an ebook) if you hope to sell it to a traditional publisher. Many traditional publishers do not accept books that have already been on the market in any form, unless you can prove you sold 5,000 copies or more. If you hope to sell to a traditional publisher, it’s safer to save self-publishing for later, after having exhausted all attempts at finding a traditional publisher.

[Editor’s note:

Some of the principals in SPAWN present an alternative to the conclusion stated above. Given that
  1. an author may spend years trying to get a new book accepted by a traditional publisher
  2. an author must plan to do most of the book marketing whether the book is self-published or published by a traditional publisher

We suggest that an author who can self-publish properly may well have a better publishing experience than the author who pins all hopes on finding a traditional publisher. We have SPAWN members who have had their books picked up by traditional publishers after selling 3,000 to 5,000 self-published copies.

Q: I am simply a hobby writer. I do get the occasional how-to article published in a magazine; 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, getting paid under the assumed name, copyrights under that name, et cetera?

A: Not being an attorney, I cannot give you the full and legal answer you deserve, 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 until and unless you sell those rights, and the rights will belong to you no matter what name you may choose to use when and if you register the copyright.

What would you like to ask a book doctor? Send your questions to Bobbie Christmas at

– 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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