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Ask the Book Doctor

By Bobbie Christmas

About pseudonyms, submissions, audio books and writing in English as a second language

Q: I'm publishing a book of rebuses. Should I use a pen name or my own name? I know some authors use another name when they switch genres, so readers don't become confused. Your thoughts are appreciated.

A: I love to hear when writers of one style turn to another, as in the case of your writing word puzzles. The switch to a totally different genre does sometimes trigger the wish for a pseudonym, but the choice is yours.

What’s confusing to readers? They can tell the difference between a work of fiction and nonfiction. They’re not dumb. Even if you wrote in various fiction genres, such as romance, thriller, mystery, and science fiction, each book cover explains what the book is about. How would it bewilder readers?

Personally I love my name, and the only reason I would use a pseudonym is if I were to write something in which I took no pride. Omar Sharif did not change his name when he shifted from acting to screenwriting to writing about bridge; he played off his popularity (excuse my pun).

At a book signing once I sat beside a fellow author who admitted she wrote in so many genres and had so many pseudonyms that she sometimes forgot who she was supposed to be on a particular day at a specific event. Gatherings of authors became a nightmare to her, because of her various names. At general book signings where authors were invited as a group, she brought five or six books with various pseudonyms, and no one knew who she was.

No rule applies to using pseudonyms. The choice is a personal one. Before you decide to use a pseudonym, though, think of the pros and cons. The only pro I see is that it gives authors anonymity, if necessary. The cons are too numerous to appeal to me. In the end, unless you self publish, your publisher may decide whether you should use a pen name.

Q: I am writing a collection of humorous personal experiences. I need advice on how to submit. Do I submit one or two chapters or more?

A: The answer depends on the publisher’s guidelines. After you have researched which publishers handle your type of book, go to the publisher’s Web site or check Writer’s Market or Literary Market Place at the library or go to to find the publishers’ guidelines. You may also have to write a book proposal for some publishers. Before you attempt to write a book proposal, read a good book on how to write one. I used Michael Larsen’s book, simply called "How to Write a Book Proposal."

Q: I want to create audio books. Is it better to use tape, or should I go to CD?

A: As I understand it, tape is quickly being phased out. Some tape manufacturers have withdrawn from the market. The answer is to buy a digital recorder (Sony makes a model for under $100 that’s about the size of a small cell phone), record on it, download it to your computer, and create a master CD, from which you can make your own copies or you can have a recording studio make duplicates and print the label directly onto the CD for you. You may have to learn new software, but I did it, and I’m low tech. It’s worth the trouble if you produce audio books or, as I do, audio seminars. Compact disks are the recording medium for the 2000s, so go with the flow.

Q: I have recently written a novel in Farsi, and I have translated the first seventeen pages to English. The story line has been of interest to some publishers and agents in the US and UK, but I could not get them to commit to it. I am willing to rewrite the whole book, and I would like to know how you can assist with it as a book doctor.

A: I assist in the editing phase, after the book is as polished as you can make it in English. I have worked on quite a few books that were translated from Farsi into English. I have not seen your manuscript, but the others required a great deal of work when it came to word choices, creativity and sentence structure.

Perhaps Farsi uses quite a few gerunds (words ending in -ing), but contemporary publishers prefer authors to avoid them, because they rely on passive verbs (such as forms of "to be") instead of active verbs. For example, instead of "She was planning a trip to Florida," publishers prefer "She planned a trip to Florida."

Those who speak Farsi also tend to learn British English, which is more elevated than American English, and contemporary publishers expect the writing to be at about a sixth-grade level, not college level, as British tends to be. British spelling and the use of British terms such as amidst, amongst and towards, is also discouraged.

When I work with manuscripts translated from Farsi, I not only repair technical errors, but I also point out places where the author needs to use a less-formal word or more active verb. In a separate report, I address all the elements, such as plot, organization, characterization, etc., in fiction and nonfiction. For more information, see the Editing Request Form on my Web site (

Do you have questions for the book doctor? Write to me today.

– Bobbie Christmas is author of Write In Style, 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 For her free newsletter for writers go to and click on "Free Newsletter."



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