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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

Trademarks, Commas, ISBN numbers and More

Q: I wrote a science fiction short story that uses fictitious drugs. I know of two science fiction stories that have done the same. One is "Vurt," by Jeff Noon. The other is "The Pickup Artist," by Terry Bisson. Bisson puts a TM by his drug names; Noon does not. I'm wondering if the TM is solely a style thing, or if it offers some type of protection against derivative work.

A: I am not an attorney, but I think the author used the trademark symbol to give the name an air of authenticity. I doubt any author would go to the trouble to legally trademark a name of a fictitious product. As you may know, you do not have to legally file a trademark application to use the TM symbol.

As an editor, here’s my opinion: The use of TM in a work of fiction gets in the way of the story. I would not add it, any more than I would use asterisks or footnotes or anything else that jumps out at readers and detracts them from the mood and illusion of the story.

Q: Which of the two following sentences are properly punctuated?

Jim walked over and said, "Hi."


Jim walked over, and said, "Hi."

A: The first sentence is the correct one: Jim walked over and said, "Hi." It's not a compound sentence, so it does not need the other comma. If it went like this, it would have another comma: Jim walked over, put his hands on his hips, and said, "Hi."

Q: It’s time for me to order my ISBN number and bar code for my self-published book. Do I simply go to to order them? Any suggestions before I do it?

A: Have you set yourself up as a publisher? Do you have a name of your business, even if it is just a DBA? Do you keep separate books for it, so you can deduct these costs? If not, shop around at various banks. Most charge monthly fees for a business account, but I know of at least one that doesn’t.

It will be essential to have a separate business account, if you plan to deduct expenses on your taxes. For IRS purposes you don't have to make money; you just have to show that you intended to make money.

After you have your business in place, then you can order your ISBN and bar code from the Bowker Web site with confidence.

Q: Do you have a marketing/publicity link or advice?

A: I don’t have a direct marketing link, although I do know that will list almost any book, even self-published ones.

As far as publicity and marketing tactics, for my book, Write In Style, I used many of the ideas in a book called Jump Start Your Book Sales. It had hundreds of ideas, and I followed many but not all of them. The best idea had to do with broadening the appeal of the book by adding a chapter geared toward a separate audience. I added a chapter specifically for nonfiction and business writers, and that chapter has gained my book more national publicity than the rest of the entire book. I strongly advise writers to read marketing books before they finish their own books, to glean information to make their book even better before looking for a publisher or agent.

- Do you have questions for the book doctor? Send them to Bobbie Christmas. Bobbie is author of Write In Style, First-Place winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for education and Best in Division at the Georgia Author of the Year Awards, available at local bookstores and Internet retailers including, and Ask the Book Doctor: How to Beat the Competition and Sell Your Writing, an e-book for $8.95 available at



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